Getting the Sticky and Stinky Stuff Out

Getting the Sticky and Stinky Stuff Out

In This Chapter

  • Making foxtails and burrs a less prickly problem
  • Handling really messy problems
  • Removing sticky stuff from your dog’s coat
  • Stopping the stink — the definitive answer to skunk spray

Dogs get into some of the darnedest things. Stickers, burrs, foxtails, tar, and other substances are fairly typical of the stuff that gets caught in dog fur. Even if your dog spends most of his time indoors, he can get into the craziest things around the house, like bubble gum and oil, but don’t panic when your dog looks like he rolled in — eww! — What did he roll in? Whatever it is, you have to deal with it.

The trick to handling these substances is not to panic and take out the scissors to make an even bigger problem. Don’t forget: Clipping can be foul when working with a dog’s coat. Instead, take a deep breath, look at the problem, and plan your strategy accordingly. This chapter can help. If the mess your dog gets into is a big hairy one, you may have to call in the pros for help — assuming your pooch hasn’t gotten into something at 7 p.m. on a holiday when no vet or groomer is available! Yes, that happens frequently.


The first step to combating the ick that your dog inevitably brings home in his fur coat is to keep on hand a few select items that I like to call my Anti-Stick/Stink Kit:

  • Baking soda
  • Medium- and fine-toothed combs
  • Cornstarch
  • Paper towels
  • Detangler solution
  • Tweezers or forceps
  • Hydrogen peroxide

  • pH-balanced dog shampoo and dog conditioner
  • Electric clippers
  • Rubber gloves
  • Grease-cutting dishwashing liquid (like Dawn)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Mat rake and splitter

Taking a Walk on the Prickly Side

Burrs, stickers, and foxtails abound in all sorts of wild (and not-so-wild) places, from the neighborhood park to an undeveloped lot in the city. These prickly things can be more than just an annoyance — they can be downright dangerous. The following sections explain how to safely remove them from your dog’s coat and skin.

Getting rid of burrs and stickers

Sticker burrs tend to collect in a dog’s hair faster than anything else I know. They’re seeds from various weeds and plants that latch onto an animal’s fur (or other means of transportation) so they can be deposited somewhere else as the animal moves from one place to another. Unfortunately, when they get caught up in dog hair, they often cause tangles and make a terrible mess.
The best way to avoid these obnoxious plants is to keep your dog out of dense brush where burrs and stickers get caught in paw pads and fur feathering; otherwise, getting rid of them can be an annoying experience. These areas also are prone to ticks, so keeping your dog out of the thicket makes an infinite amount of sense.
No one ever said, however, that a dog has enough sense to cooperate and stay out of the brush on hikes. So if your dog comes home with stickers in his fur, get them out right away. Working on them section by section is probably the best way, so just follow these steps:
1. Examine the paw pads.

Burrs and stickers are most painful here and can cause your dog to limp. Pick up and inspect each foot and run your fingers between the webbing on the paw pads to feel for anything prickly.

If you find something prickly, look at it. If it’s a burr or prickly foreign matter, use tweezers or forceps to remove it. If it seems to be part of your dog, take your dog to the vet to have it examined.

2. Check your dog’s legs for burrs.

If you find one, try separating it from the fur with a medium- or fine-toothed comb.


Sometimes rubbing a little cornstarch through the fur helps smooth out the prickles and loosens the hair. If you use cornstarch, you have to rub it into each of the burrs and then work them out with your fingers.

3. Check the underside of your dog — the belly, chest, and genital areas — for burrs. Pay particular attention to genital areas, where burrs can be most distressing.

Remove burrs from sensitive areas gently with your fingers. Use a comb and cornstarch to work any burrs loose from the chest and belly.

4. Examine your dog’s ears (inside and behind) for burrs.

Burrs with minds of their own somehow love to hide in the fluff behind the ears and inside the ears. Use your fingers to remove burrs from these sensitive areas. Don’t use cornstarch in the ears because you may leave behind a residue.

5. Check the rest of your dog’s coat and the base of his tail, looking for those darn prickers.

Remove them with cornstarch and your fingers or a comb.

If the burrs cause serious mats, don’t use scissors to cut them out. Try to loosen them first with cornstarch and your fingers, but if that doesn’t work, you may have to get out your electric clippers and gently shave the burrs from your dog’s coat. Note: Keep your hand between the electric clippers and your dog’s skin.
If too many burrs make the task ahead look too big, you may want to seek professional help from either a veterinarian or a professional groomer. They’d rather help you take out the mats than have to suture a cut you inflicted on your dog’s skin.


After you get the burrs out, consider bathing your dog because of the greater risk that he’s picked up external parasites running around in all that brush. Follow up the bath with a good systemic flea and tick treatment if your dog isn’t already using one (see Chapter Grooming Emergencies: Knowing Doggie First Aid).


No matter how tempted you may be, never bathe a dog with burrs and stickers in his coat. If you don’t get them out beforehand, they’ll cause mats that are even harder to remove after a bath. And never get cornstarch in your dog’s eyes; it can be a real irritant.

Dealing with grass awns (foxtails)

Grass awns (bristle-tips) are much like burrs and sticker-type seeds, with one important difference: These things can be downright dangerous if they’re allowed to burrow into a dog’s body. Where I live, grasses produce awns that look sort of like a fox’s tail (hence the name foxtail); see Figure 15-1a. Bushy on one end and pointed on the other, the pointed end has small barbs that enable the foxtail to work its way deep into hair and eventually into skin and muscle (see Figure 15-1b).


Left alone, foxtails can cause severe damage to a dog’s body. They burrow into a dog’s coat with every movement. They’ve also been known to get inside paws, noses, eyes, and even internal organs. Because they’re a foreign body, they eventually cause abscesses and require your veterinarian to remove them surgically. I’ve heard of dogs that have lost their eyesight or had to have surgery to remove foxtails from their nasal cavities.

Figure 15-1: Keep an eye out for foxtail barbs in your dog’s coat and skin.
If these tales of horror aren’t enough to scare you into thinking these seeds are bad news, nothing can. If your dog gets into a field of foxtail, get out your brush and comb immediately and start going through his coat, following these steps:
1. Brush off any loose foxtails from your dog’s coat.

Remove the stuff that you can easily see.

2. Check your dog’s feet and paw pads for sticking awns.

Make sure you check paw pads, between toes, and in fur feathering.

3. Check for foxtails or barbs around your dog’s face and ears.

If foxtails burrow into these areas, you can run into many problems. For extra safety, look around the flews (lips) and gums to make sure your dog hasn’t gotten any in his mouth.

4. Check your dog’s belly and underside for foxtails, and brush them out or otherwise remove them.

If you find an embedded foxtail that can be easily removed with a forceps or tweezers, by all means, remove it. If, however, the foxtail is severely embedded and you’d risk leaving part of it under the skin when you try to remove it, seek veterinary attention to have the awn removed.


Watch for signs of infection — redness, swelling — around areas you know were affected. If your dog shows any hint of infection, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Shedding the Slick and Sticky Stuff

The following sections tell you how to remove gunk like petroleum-based products, tarry substances, gum, glue, or sticky and sugary stuff from your dog’s fur.
Always remember to bathe your dog in a pH-balanced dog shampoo and to apply a good dog-fur conditioner after you’ve removed the problem substances. And don’t forget to thoroughly rinse all soapy residues from your dog’s coat.
If the problem substances are overwhelming and you don’t think the methods for removing them outlined in the sections that follow will get the job done, you may want to resort to using electric clippers to remove the matted fur or even ask your vet or a pet groomer to do it for you. There’s no shame in that.


Never use scissors to cut any of these substances from your dog’s fur coat, because you risk cutting his skin and a bloody trip to the emergency vet for sutures. Furthermore, never use the electric clippers while your dog is in the wash tub. You and your dog risk electrocution.

For more about bathing your dog, see Chapter Caring for Your Canine’s Teeth, Toes, Ears, Face, and Ahem, Other Areas, and for more about using electric clippers, see Chapter Spiffing Up Short- and Medium-Coated Breeds.

Oil slick (petroleum-based chemicals)

Greasy stuff — motor oil, grease, and other petroleum products — can become sticky nightmares for pet owners and pets. Licking off a bit of oil can upset your dog’s digestive tract, so don’t allow such substances to stay on your dog’s coat for any extended period of time. Besides petroleum products, dogs can get into other dangerous fluids. Antifreeze is one such culprit that can be lethal. The more quickly you get this stuff off your dog, the safer she is.


For almost all types of oils, an emulsifying, hand dishwashing soap like Dawn is your best bet. Environmentalists who clean up oil-covered birds and other marine wildlife use Dawn to break down and get rid of the oil. Besides, it’s an extremely safe soap, provided you don’t get any in your dog’s eyes.

Here are the steps for cleaning off an oily dog:
1. Using paper towels, blot or wipe off as much excess oil from your dog as you can.
2. Draw a tub of tepid water, add emulsifying (grease-cutting) dishwashing soap, and then put your dog in the tub.
3. Apply the dish soap solution liberally throughout your dog’s coat, lathering her up well.

Be sure to work the soapy solution all the way to her skin.

4. Thoroughly rinse the soap from your dog’s coat.

You may need to drain the tub and rinse well a second time to make sure that the soap residue is removed.

5. Check your dog’s coat for any oily residues; repeat Steps 2 through 4, lathering and rinsing your dog as necessary until the oil is gone.

While lathering and rinsing, be careful around your dog’s eyes. You don’t want to get any soap or chemicals in them.

Why can’t I use scissors? (Or lessons learned the hard way)

Throughout Dog Grooming For Dummies, I repeatedly warn you about not using scissors on your dog’s fur coat, and you may be wondering why. Many well-meaning pet owners accidentally cut their dog’s skin while trying to get a foreign substance out of the coat, and they then have to rush the pooch to the emergency room for sutures. Even I’ve had an accident with scissors, which proves that even the pros screw up. No matter how careful and well-meaning you are, if your dog is struggling or you get in a hurry (or even if you don’t), you can really botch a good grooming session with one accident.
I’ve asked vets about scissors, and almost all of them agree that using scissors on a dog’s coat
is a common problem. Well-meaning owners with scissors should stay far away from their dogs. Use electric clippers instead, or have a professional groomer handle the situation.

Tar babies

Actual tar from roads and other tarry substances, like tree sap and creosote, can be a nightmare to get out of a dog’s fur. If the stuff is still soft and warm, you may be able to use a grease-cutting, emulsifying dish soap, especially if the tarry substance is petroleum-based.


Never ever use solvents or chemicals to remove the tar. They can be caustic and burn your dog.

Try one or both of the following methods for getting the tar out:

– Soak the affected areas in a mixture of warm water and emulsifying dish soap for 10 minutes to find out whether the soap will loosen the substance. Then use a medium-toothed comb to remove the tar if you can.

– Blot the area dry first. Then keep the substance warm with a warm, wet dishrag, or use the body heat from your fingers while working vegetable oil into the tarry substance. This method sometimes enables you to remove the tar.

If neither of these methods works or the tarry substance is too widespread, you may have to use electric clippers or consult with a professional groomer or veterinarian to help you get the tar out of your dog’s coat.

Gummy pups

Chewing gum is one of my least favorite things to find in a dog’s hair. It usually happens because some kid left a wad of chewed gum on the blacktop outside, and it became a gooey concoction that sticks to your dog’s hair, to shoe bottoms, and just about anything else.
You’ll probably have better luck getting most of it out while it’s still warm. Use warm water to loosen the gum and help get rid of most of it. Then try working in vegetable oil to break down the gum. Some people recommend peanut butter, but that’s about the same as using vegetable oil — instead of the oil from the peanuts.
Remove gum by following these steps:
1. Soak the gummed up areas in warm water to loosen the gum.
2. Pick out what gum you can with a medium- to fine-toothed comb.
3. Blot the area dry, and rub vegetable oil into the remaining warm gum.

The oil should help break down the sticky properties of the gum so you can remove it carefully with your fingers.

4. Use electric clippers to remove any remaining gum.

When the gummy area is widespread, you may need to seek the help of a veterinarian or professional groomer.


Glue can create a pretty sticky situation when it comes to dog hair, because so many different adhesives are on the market. Some are dangerous; others aren’t a big deal. Household or craft glues like Elmer’s School Glue are usually water soluble, nontoxic, and fairly easy to remove. (Remember the kids who used to eat the stuff? Yuck!)
However, if your dog gets into something serious like superglue or some type of ultra-strong bonding agent, you’d better read the labels to get a better idea what you’re up against. The really toxic stuff needs to be treated like poisonous chemicals (see the section on “Dealing with Downright Dangerous Chemical Poisons” later in this chapter).
Try the following for removing various types of glue:

Water-based glue: If the glue is water-based, use warm, soapy water (with a dishwashing soap like Dawn) to clean the area, and then follow up with a bath (see Chapter Caring for Your Canine’s Teeth, Toes, Ears, Face, and Ahem, Other Areas).

Contact cement: If the glue is a type of contact cement, read the label to determine the best way to remove it and follow the directions. If the directions require some pretty hazardous chemicals, seek professional advice from a veterinarian or poison-control hotline.

Corn syrup and sugary problems

Corn syrup, honey, molasses, and other sticky sweet stuff become a nightmare in a dog’s hair. The combination of sugar and dog hair pits the good news against the bad news.
First the good news: Almost all sugar problems can be remedied with warm water and an emulsifying dish soap. After all, sugar dissolves well in warm water, and the gunk breaks down when confronted with an emulsifier (Dawn works well), which helps substances mix with water. The bad news: If you don’t get the entire sugary mess out on the first try, you’ll probably have a real mess on your hands, because sticky sugar attracts dirt and causes nasty mats.
To remove sugary substances from your dog’s coat, do the following:
1. Pour a tepid bath, add an emulsifying dish soap, and put your dog in the tub.
2. Apply the soapy solution liberally throughout your dog’s coat, and soap her up well.

Be sure to work it in all the way to her skin.

If you find hardened lumps of sugar, dissolve them and work them loose with warm water and soap by rubbing them between your fingers.

3. Rinse well, drain the tub, and rinse well again.
4. Check the coat for any sugary residues and repeat Steps 1 through 3 until the sugar is gone.

Surviving Stinky Skunk Odor

The worst thing that a dog can get into is skunk odor. I’ve never known anything as unpleasant or as stinky as a dog who’s been skunked. Skunks seem to find dogs even when the dogs aren’t looking for them. One time, my dog was in my own fenced-in backyard and was sprayed through the fence when a skunk took a disliking to him.

Smelling a skunk is all in your mind: Yeah, right!

Why do people think that some skunk remedies work when they really don’t? The truth is, at some point, your olfactory senses just get overloaded with the smell and seem to shut down.
Basically, you get used to the smell, and after a bit, it may not smell as bad as it really is. The bad news: The smell still exists despite your body’s best attempts to deal with it.

Technical Stuff

A skunk’s spray is made up of a number of stinky compounds called thiols. Thiols are the same things that make decomposing flesh and dog poop stink, but the ones in skunk spray aren’t quite the same. Skunks usually produce about two tablespoons of the spray — enough for six quick shots. When a skunk actually dumps all of it, the animal needs a week to two weeks to recharge. All this is small consolation when your dog gets skunked.

But don’t be fooled by some of the popular remedies. Here are reasons why they don’t really work:

Tomato juice: An old standby, tomato juice does darn near nothing. It may cut through the oils in the thiols, but you still end up with a stinky dog — and a pinkish colored one at that.

Vinegar and water douche: Here’s another home remedy that really doesn’t do much. Yes, it may mask the thiols a bit, but it doesn’t do much else.

Professional odor removers: These substances work okay on a variety of levels, but you’ll still know that your dog has been skunked.

So what can you do? You can use the only remedy that I know of that actually works and works well. It requires baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dishwashing soap. Always keep these ingredients on hand in case your dog runs into a skunk. When I used this solution on my own dog, he ended up smelling much better than he did even before he was skunked. So I can state from experience that this stuff really works.
Here are the amounts you need for any-sized dog:
  • One pint hydrogen peroxide
  • 1⁄8 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon hand dishwashing soap
Using these ingredients, follow these steps:

1. Combine all ingredients in an open container.
2. Draw a tepid bath and put your dog in it.
3. Apply the deskunking solution liberally throughout your dog’s coat, and soap him up well.

Be sure to cover every inch of his body, all the way to the skin.

Don’t get any of the solution in his eyes.

4. Rinse your dog well, drain the tub, and rinse well again.
5. Smell for any spots you’ve missed and repeat Steps 1 through 4 if necessary.
6. Follow up with a good pH-balanced shampoo and a good conditioner for dogs, and as always, rinse well to remove all residues.

You can’t make the deskunking solution ahead of time and store it for future use. The gases aren’t poisonous, but they can build up and cause an explosion if contained.

Dealing with Downright Dangerous Chemical Poisons

Dogs can get into plenty of icky substances, and unfortunately, many of them aren’t just a nuisance; they can be downright deadly. Lawn chemicals, insecticides, de-icers, antifreeze, and other hazardous chemicals abound out there. Some chemicals are quite caustic and can burn.


When something gets on your dog’s coat, the natural reaction is for your dog to lick off the offending substance. The problem with your dog’s reaction is that the offending substance can become even worse after it’s swallowed. For that reason, you should always have the number to a poison-control hotline on speed dial or posted close to your phone. If possible, have the substance your dog has ingested on hand, and try to be able to readily identify it.

National Animal Poison Control Center hotline

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has a nationwide Animal Poison Control Center hotline set up exclusively for pets. The number is 1-888-426-4435. The center has veterinary toxicologists available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A $50 consultation fee may apply per incident, but that fee covers as many calls about the same incident as are necessary.
You can find out more about the ASPCA/APCC hotline by visiting its Web site at
Here’s how to get rid of chemical poisons on your dog:

1. Identify the poison if you can.
2. Contact a local poison-control hotline or the national ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 1-888-426-4435 for help; proceed as follows:

If possible, try to provide your name, address, and phone number; the name of the poison, amount, and time since exposure; your dog’s symptoms; and your dog’s age, sex, breed, and weight.

  • If you know what the poison is and have the label available, read the precautions and find out whether an antidote is recommended; then follow the instructions for safe removal.


Although many chemicals require you to flush the skin with water and then follow up with a mild soap-and-water bath, some poisons don’t react well when combined with water, so don’t use water unless you’re sure the chemical won’t react with it.

  • If you don’t know what the poison is, remove as much of it as you can from your dog while wearing rubber gloves.
3. Take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough exam and further possible treatment.

This step is important, especially when your dog has accidentally ingested something.

by Margaret H.Bonham