Skunk Toxic Shock Syndrome in Jack Russell Terriers

A discussion of the potentially serious outcome of an encounter between the common North American Skunk and Jack Russell Terriers

American Skunk Toxic Shock Syndrome in Jack Russell Terriers

by Michael Bilbo

Date: February 4, 1995
Place: Colorado Springs, Colorado
Elevation: 5,500 feet apx.
Temperature: About 50 degrees F.
Time: 09:00
Victim: Jack Russell Terrier (Male), 1 year of age, 15 lbs

A Sequence of Events

A friend of mine and I were out for a day of hunting our Terriers in the area of Colorado Springs. We approached a known Fox Set on a beautiful Saturday morning at about 9:00 am. Weather could not have been any better. It had been unseasonably warm for the previous week so most of the frozen surface ground would once again be digable. As we approached the set I staked three of our five terriers about 20 feet away from the entrance to the Fox Den. We initially brought one of Pat's younger bitches who has had a lot of ground work to the entrance. She showed a very keen interest in entering the hole, so with the tracker collar securely attached, Pat let her have a go at it. Within about 15 seconds she was actively working at a quarry. She kept this up for about 30 to 45 seconds when she backed out of the hole. She entered once again and repeated the above performance in the same amount of time and once again backed out. Pat looked at me to ask what I thought. We both put our faces well into the entrance of the hole to see if there were any scent of skunk. Neither of us could detect any scent what so ever. He asked if I wanted to try my Terrier and I thought it seemed like a good idea, my dog being a little more aggressive, maybe we could get the fox to bolt. Upon entering, he too was very actively working a quarry for about 15 to 20 seconds when he backed out looking somewhat confused. We let him enter once again, and again he was busy baying and growling at a quarry. Pat said lets begin our dig. I ran about 10 yards to the side of the mound to get a second shovel when Pat yelled to hurry back because he had a very distinct smell of Skunk spray. I ran back quickly, listened for the dog's baying, which had stopped completely, called his name and commanded him to come several times with no results. The time now being about 09:15.

The dog had been in the den about 2 minutes. We both began digging furiously calling for the dog as we continued to dig. Time now about 09:20.

We were about 5 to 6 feet into the side of this bank and broke a chunk of dirt loose which exposed the dogs rear legs. I could see that the dog was laying on his side and in convulsions. I crawled into the hole and grabbed him by the legs and yelled to Pat to pull me out by my legs. The smell of the skunk spray was almost overwhelming. The dog was unconscious and not breathing, and still in convulsions. I breathed into his nose a few times and he started breathing on his own almost immediately. I set him on the ground to see if he could walk, but he was too disoriented. He began regurgitating and then would lapse into unconsciousness. After about 10 seconds he would wake up and then regurgitate again. Time now about 09:25.

I picked him up and ran him over to a stream where I sat him down and splashed cold water on his face and rubbed wet sand all over his front end in hopes of ridding him of some of the skunk spray. He was still regurgitating about once a minute. He was beginning to be able to walk on his own now so I walked him back up the stream bank and toward the truck. He was now trying to rub the skunk spray off on the grasses and bushes we walked by. Time now about 09:30.

He was still regurgitating and apparently quite sick to his stomach as well as being a little disoriented. We had a bottle of Skunk Off with us and we applied the entire bottle and worked it into his fur very thoroughly. The dog at this point seemed to be doing better, so we packed up our gear, the other dogs and headed for an area where we might find some raccoons. Time now about 10:00.

We arrived at the ranch and let all the terriers out for a walk, including my little skunked friend. He seemed to be acting normal and except for the very bad smell you could almost not tell anything had happened. We bolted a couple of rabbits hiding in an old shed and enjoyed watching the little white hunters streak back and forth for about 3 to 5 minutes having a good sporting chase. My fragrant little friend was right out there with the rest of them apparently having no problems at this time with either breathing or running.

Our day continued on for a good while, driving to some badger sets, although not being able to either locate one or catch up with one while he out dug our best efforts. The dogs all had a wonderful time running to their hearts content, taking in alot of sunshine, and just generally enjoying being the energetic terriers they are in the outdoors. Looking back at the whole day I feel very fortunate that the outcome at that first fox set was not much more tragic. I can not emphasize enough how important it is to be prepared for any possible scenario which may occur while out hunting. The most obvious mistake that we had made was not switching the tracking collar to my terrier when we had entered him. Fortunately for both him and us we were able to get to him within just a few minutes. I really feel certain that if he had been another 10 feet into the tunnel, that because of our inability to have an accurate location to dig to he would have died before we reached him.

Approximately 2 to 3 days after the encounter with the skunk he began showing signs of little sores or ulcers breaking out along the edge of his lips. He also began suffering from diarrhea. Both of these additional symptoms began to clear up right away fortunately and now are all but gone. At the time of this writing which is 10 days after the incident he looks and acts perfectly normal and apparently has suffered no serious ill effects from the spraying. The purpose in writing this is to once again reemphasize the potentially serious outcome of an encounter between the common North American Skunk and our Jack Russell Terriers. We have all seen articles in True Grit from time to time talking about this problem, but like myself, maybe you tended to not pay close enough attention to them. I hope for the sake of your dogs and the emotional stress that you would experience due to the untimely death of your terrier that you heed this article and others like it.