During the spring and summer months in Canada we see an abundance of wildlife. Deer, wild turkeys, coyotes, and depending where you live, black bears, elk, wolves, and so on. But two smaller critters have been known to create chaos on our domestic animals ‒ namely the skunk and the porcupine! Fortunately, for the most part neither encounter presents real danger to your horse, but it does present some strategic first aid for you.
Many dog owners have had to cope with a stinky hound that got a little too close to Pepe Le Pew, but horses, especially curious youngsters, can also get sprayed. The tell-tale sign is the horrible stench, the other is the yellow “oil” that the skunk emits to protect itself.
First step is to call your vet. Skunks are known carriers of rabies and your vet might suggest a rabies booster if you’re not already doing one every year, or even as a precaution. This is especially true if you can see signs of a bite! But even if you can’t, this is vitally important.
Also, if any of the oil/musk has gone near your horse’s eyes, nostrils or ears, a vet will be better advise you on what to do in this situation, including flushing the eyes with cool water if they look irritated.
Now for the cleaning part. Whatever you do, don’t take a bucket of water or the hose and try to rinse it off. This will only spread the oil and the stink! Instead, as you can Google online, the best recipe does not involve tomato juice (a total myth) but is simply 1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide (or diluted white vinegar if you don’t have any hydrogen peroxide) with 1/4 cup of baking soda plus a teaspoon or so of liquid dish soap.
Wear gloves at all times and apply this mixture directly to the affected area, rubbing against the growth of the hair. DO NOT get the solution in the horse’s eyes! Then let it sit for about ten minutes (note that the peroxide can bleach the coat, however) before washing with equine shampoo and rinsing well.
Now what if you, your tack and your horse got sprayed? For yourself, the same hydrogen peroxide recipe you use on your horse will work, followed by a long bath or shower. You can get the stink out of your clothes by using regular laundry detergent mixed with a half-cup of baking soda (or take this opportunity to dispose of your old riding clothes and get some fabulous brand-new ones!)
For your tack, a formula of baking soda and water mixed until it’s of toothpaste consistency can be applied to leather, then once dry, rubbed off.
For each scenario, bear in mind that you will probably have to repeat the treatment more than once and no matter what, there will be a lingering odour for days or even weeks to come.
If your horse came across a porcupine in his paddock and went over to say “hello” and got rudely quilled for his efforts, there is no need to panic. For one thing, the quills are not poisonous, but they are barbed on the business end and this can make them tough and painful to remove.
The most common areas for quills to become embedded are the muzzle and lower legs, from either sniffing or pawing at the critter. If there are only a few quills you can attempt to remove them yourself. Assess which quills seem the most difficult or painful and try and get these out first by using needle-nose pliers. Take hold of the quill with a firm grip and pull straight out. Never twist the quill! Once removed there maybe bleeding, which can be addressed with an antiseptic solution once you’re done.
If your horse is unable to tolerate this, do not push your luck, as you may get inadvertently kicked; instead, call the vet immediately. Your vet can sedate your horse and ensure all the quills come out without leaving behind any fragments that can lead to an abscess or other infections.
Following removal, your vet is likely to suggest a course of antibiotics and pain relievers.
Good luck – here’s hoping your equine partner doesn’t become a pin-cushion or a big moving stink this summer!