Pet skunks are the kind of pet where a little research will go a long way. Vaccines, diet recommendations, and behavior of skunks should all be researched before acquiring a pet skunk and finding a veterinarian who is familiar with skunks can be very difficult. In some states, pet skunks are even illegal to keep, but if you cover all your bases before trying to care for this exotic pet you will find yourself with a rewarding new friend, and some strange looks from your neighbors.
Skunks come in many different colors, and even patterns due to cross-breeding between species. Pet skunks range from a classic black and white to a spotted lavender and white. Spotted skunks are smaller than striped skunks, weighing in at 1-3 lbs., while the striped skunks will be upwards of 14 lbs.
Skunks only breed in the spring and produce 5-6 kits. The kits are born blind and are usually ready for adoption early to mid summer. In captivity, skunks will live about 6-10 years and obesity, heart disease, and metabolic bone disease are all commonly seen diseases.
Many states in the United States allow domesticated skunks, along with the Netherlands, Italy, the U.K., Germany, and Canada. Check with your state before purchasing a skunk, and never take a skunk out of the wild to keep as a pet. Not only is it illegal, but you are putting yourself, and any exposed pets or people, at risk for contracting rabies and parasites. Several reputable skunk breeders, along with skunk rescues, are out there.
Skunks can get rabies, therefore it is of utmost importance you acquire your skunk through a licensed breeder and not from the wild. Skunks do not have a USDA licensed rabies vaccine available so if your skunk bites someone, in many states it means the end of your skunk. Unfortunately, ending your skunk's life is the only way it can be tested for rabies. Your exotics vet may vaccinate your pet skunk with a canine or feline rabies vaccine but the effectiveness of the vaccine is unknown and states do not recognize it as a preventative measure.
Distemper vaccines are available for pet skunks, but are not approved for the specific use in skunks, so be cautious with which brand is administered. Adverse reactions to certain types of vaccines have been reported, so be sure your veterinarian is aware of the appropriate distemper vaccines for skunks.
Spaying, Neutering, and Descenting
All skunks should be fixed and descented as soon as they are sexually mature, if not younger. This is usually done by 4-6 months of age, but descenting is often done when the kits are very young and still with the breeder. Very few veterinarians are willing and able to descent a skunk so many people end up traveling out of state to have this procedure, along with spaying and neutering, performed on their skunk.
In the wild, skunks eat pretty much anything, and their diets even change seasonally. They are omnivores and cannot eat much processed food. A low-fat diet is also important because of the high risk for obesity in skunks. There are a few pre-packaged, formulated diets available for skunks but usually, they are only available online. I have had no personal experience with store bought diets but the more people use them the more knowledge we will acquire on their success or failures. Exotic Nutrition is one website that offers a poultry based pellet that is meant to be complemented with fruits and vegetables. Quite the extensive list of zoos and universities use this diet.
Fresh, cooked or thawed frozen vegetables and occasional fruits, cooked poultry like chicken, and healthy foods made with grains, such as cereal, should all be fed. Nuts, cooked grains, a few pieces of dog food, and yogurt should also be mixed into the diet. Foods high in calcium and taurine supplementation should not be forgotten as well. Young kits should be fed several times a day, while adult skunks can be fed in the morning and evening.
There is much to learn about the care of pet skunks but as more and more people keep them in their homes our knowledge base will continue to grow.