When born and raised in captivity, skunks can make friendly, intelligent, and unique pets. They can learn to be comfortable when handled by people and can be quite playful and cuddly. Native to North America, skunks are known for their scent glands that can spray foul-smelling chemicals at predators. However, captive-bred skunks typically have those glands surgically removed. This is a controversial procedure, as some people believe it strips away a necessary defense mechanism that a pet skunk would need should it ever get loose outside or otherwise be attacked. For this reason, it's critical to keep your pet skunk indoors or highly supervised during any outdoor time.
Housing a pet skunk can be somewhat difficult, as skunks tend to be curious animals that like to get into mischief. It can also be complicated to feed a pet skunk a balanced diet, as there are few formulated skunk foods available. Overall, these animals require a lot of time and expertise on your part to care for them properly.
Common Name: Skunk
Scientific Name: Mephitis mephitis
Adult Size: 20 to 31 inches long; up to 15 pounds
Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Skunk?
If you're looking to own a pet skunk, one of the first things you should do is check the laws at the state and local levels where you live. Owning a domesticated skunk is not legal in every state, and places where it is legal may still require additional permits or permissions. Currently, you can legally own a pet skunk in the following states: Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
As with all pets, it's important to consider whether or not you have the means and energy to care for a pet skunk. They have many care requirements and thus are not suitable for beginner pet owners, or those who don't want to dedicate much time to their pets.
Skunk Behavior and Temperament
Skunks are not low-maintenance pets—in addition to feeding and cleaning up after your skunk, you should expect to spend several hours per day keeping it entertained. Some of a skunk's personality traits, such as being stubborn and headstrong, can make it a challenge to live with. Fortunately, pet skunks also tend to be sociable and playful when they grow up interacting with people. They are active and curious, which means they will get into everything in your home. They can learn to open cabinets, drawers, and even the refrigerator. If certain items such as towels, blankets, and clothing go missing, your skunk might have stolen them to make its bed softer.
In the wild, skunks are most active at dawn and dusk, but a pet skunk can learn to be on its human's schedule. These animals need lots of stimulation and many enjoy playing with dog or cat toys. They're also natural diggers and might dig into a carpet or scratch furniture if they don't have enough toys of their own. As social animals, skunks generally enjoy being handled by and playing with their human family members. They can even learn to get along with other friendly pets in the house, such as a ferret or even a gentle cat or dog.
Skunks do make a variety of vocalizations to express their emotions, including hisses, chirps, and whines, but in general, they’re quiet animals. They’re also not prone to aggression when properly socialized, but they will bite if they feel threatened. This can have serious consequences as rabies is transmitted through saliva and there is not a vaccine specifically formulated for domestic skunks. If your pet skunk bites a person or another animal, authorities might seize it to monitor for rabies symptoms. Some pet skunks have even been euthanized after biting.
Watch Now: What to Know Before Adopting a Pet Skunk
It's best to keep a pet skunk indoors, as it won't have its spraying defense against predators. Most people allow their skunks to roam their homes while they are there to monitor them. Some owners even set up entire rooms, such as a small bedroom, as "skunk playrooms." This way, you can keep most of your skunk's toys and bed in one room and limit its access to parts of your home that are unsafe for it (as well as prevent it from getting into items you don't want damaged).
You can keep your skunk in a large dog kennel whenever you're away from home to make sure it stays safe. However, skunks don't tolerate being housed in a cage for extended periods, so aim to keep their time in the kennel to only a few hours. Furthermore, skunks can be trained to use a litter box like a cat or ferret. So make sure it always has access to its litter box, and plan to scoop out the litter daily.
Ensure that your home is escape-proof to keep your skunk safe. That means closely monitoring any open doors and windows. If your skunk gets loose, it can cover miles in a day. Skunks generally lack a homing instinct, so once your skunk is gone, it likely won't be able to find its way back home. However, you can safely take your pet skunk outdoors on a harness and leash for exercise and enrichment.
Specific Substrate Needs
If you choose to keep your skunk in a kennel or pen part of the time, you'll want to provide them with a soft and cushioned place to sleep. You can opt for a typical pet bed, like that for a small cat or dog, or simply provide them with a pile of blankets to curl up in.
What Does a Skunk Eat & Drink?
In the wild, skunks are omnivores, eating nearly anything they can find. As pets, young skunks should be fed several times a day while adult skunks can be fed in the morning and evening. Simply put out their meals in a bowl for them. Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate timing and quantity of food for your particular animal.
There are a few pre-packaged, formulated diets available for skunks. You're more likely to find these via online stores rather than your local pet shop. If you aren't using a formulated food, your skunk's diet should be roughly 60 to 70 percent lean protein, such as cooked chicken, eggs, fish, or feeder insects. The rest of their diet should primarily be fresh, cooked, or thawed frozen vegetables. Avoid canned vegetables, which can have an excess of salt.
Nuts, cooked grains, a small amount of dog food, and plain yogurt can also be mixed into your skunked diet. Fruit can be given as a treat but not every day. Avoid chocolate, as it is toxic to pets. Also, try to offer your skunk foods high in calcium and taurine, or give it supplements that provide these. Finally, skunks need access to a dish of fresh water at all times, though some don't drink a lot. They get much of the water they need from the vegetables in their diet.
Common Health Problems
Be aware that it can be difficult to find a veterinarian who specializes in skunks, so ensure that you will be able to see one before acquiring a pet skunk. Plan on at least an annual wellness exam for your animal, but having someone to call in emergencies is a good idea too.
Like all pets, skunks should be spayed or neutered as young as four months old to prevent aggression. It's also a common preventative step pet owners can take to reduce the risk of hormonal cancers. Removing the scent glands may be done at the same time, though this is often done at an even younger age while the skunks are still with the breeder. Skunks also need to be vaccinated against common dog and cat diseases, such as distemper, as well as dewormed. Your veterinarian should be able to recommend the correct course of vaccinations.
Skunks are prone to a variety of health issues, including metabolic bone disease, diabetes, dental disease, nutritional deficiencies, cardiac disease, and obesity. A proper diet can prevent or minimize many of these problems, so regularly discuss your pet’s diet with your vet.
Skunks have moderate exercise needs, but oftentimes their needs will be fulfilled simply by exploring their home environment. Skunks can be taken on walks or played with outdoors, but you should be mindful of taking them outdoors in the early morning or evening hours, as they can easily overheat. Mental exercise is just as important to skunks, so make sure they have plenty of toys to play with and stay entertained.
Skunks have average grooming needs, similar to that of a low maintenance dog. Brush your skunk at least once a week, making sure to work out any knots, and working to get your skunk used to being handled. You should also brush your skunk's teeth at least every other week, and clean their ears and trim their nails periodically.
Skunks will go through their shedding period two times per year, in both the fall and spring. During this period of time, frequent brushing is especially important, as it helps your skunk shed their fur properly.
Bathe your skunk periodically (around once a month) or as needed if they get dirty while playing outdoors. The process is similar to how you would bathe a dog—you can feel free to wash them in your tub, and skunks will often enjoy swimming and splashing in the water during bath time. You can wash them with a mild tear free baby or dog shampoo.
Training Your Skunk
The most important aspect to "training" your pet skunk is spending time with them. The more they bond with you, the more they'll respect you and behave. Offense is important when housing a pet skunk—they are very curious creatures and will explore every corner of your home. Invest in baby gates and child-proof cabinet locks to keep your skunk out of areas you don't want them in.
Skunks can successfully be trained to use a litter box to go to the bathroom, similar to cats. Skunks will have an innate desire to use the bathroom in the corner of rooms, so your best bet is to put the litter box into the corner of the room to begin training them.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Skunk as a Pet
Skunks can be surprisingly sweet and playful companions, making them a unique pet choice for owners who live in a state where they're permitted. That being said, it's important to consider your ability to properly care for a pet skunk before purchasing one. The care and time commitment for a pet skunk is similar to that of a dog or cat, so make sure you understand what you're getting into before purchasing one.
It's also important to consider what to do if something goes wrong while owning a pet skunk. Most states where skunk ownership is legal still mandate the reporting of a skunk bite, regardless of your pet's exposure to rabies. If your skunk happens to bite someone or your vet reports an incident, it could result in your pet being taken away from you.
Purchasing Your Skunk
Always acquire a pet skunk from a reputable breeder or rescue group. Avoid purchasing an animal through the internet or from a classified ad, as you're less likely to get accurate information about its origin and health history this way. Expect to pay between $150 and $500, plus additional costs for spaying or neutering.
It's ideal to look for a young skunk, which will be easier to tame and adapt to your household. The peak availability for young skunks is in the spring, but you might have to place a deposit and be put on a waiting list. You also can see whether a rescue group has an older skunk whose personality would fit your lifestyle. Aim to interact with any animal before you bring it home. It should be active and alert. Some red flags include labored breathing, lethargy, and erythema of the skin around the eyes.
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How long do skunks live as pets?
Skunks can live up to 10 or even 15 years in captivity, which is a significantly longer lifespan than they experience in the wild. In the wild, skunks typically live no longer than three years, thanks to both natural predators and human-induced risks like cars and traps.
Are skunks hard to take care of?
Skunks take a lot of care and attention, but none of it is particularly difficult. Your biggest struggle may come from keeping them out of trouble, but they'll reward you with affection and playfulness for years to come.
Do skunks do better in their natural habitats than in a domesticated one?
Skunks live longer—and enjoy a much more comfortable life—in a domesticated environment than in their natural one. Skunks in the wild are typically regarded as pests and a nuisance due to their smell. That being said, skunks that have enjoyed the majority of their life in domestication should never be released into the wild. Without their natural defenses (like their scent), they cannot defend themselves against predators.
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