Skunk: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Skunk in grass

yhelfman / Twenty20

When born and raised in captivity, skunks can make for friendly, intelligent, and unique pets. They can learn to be comfortable when handled by people, and they 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. But 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. This is why it’s critical to keep a 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. Plus, it can 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.

Species Overview

Common Name: Skunk

Scientific Name: Mephitis mephitis

Adult Size: 15 to 35 inches long, weighing up to 18 pounds

Life Expectancy: 6 to 10 years in captivity

Skunk Behavior and Temperament

Skunks are not low-maintenance pets. In addition to feeding and cleaning up after your skunk, 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. And 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, they generally enjoy being handled by and playing with their human family members. And 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 no rabies vaccine is approved for skunks. So 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.

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Watch Now: What to Know Before Adopting a Pet Skunk

Housing the 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. And some people 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 its 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.

Food and Water

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% lean protein, such as cooked chicken, eggs, fish, or feeder insects. The rest of the diet should primarily be fresh, cooked, or thawed frozen vegetables. Avoid canned vegetables with salt.

Nuts, cooked grains, a small amount of dog food, and plain yogurt can also be mixed into the diet. Fruit can be given as a treat but not every day. Avoid chocolate, as it is toxic to skunks. Also, try to offer your skunk foods high in calcium and taurine, or give it supplements that provide these. Consult your vet for the proper dosage.

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.

illustration of pet skunk care sheet
Nusha Ashjaee / The Spruce

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.

Skunks should be spayed or neutered at a young age, usually when they're 4 to 6 months old, to prevent aggression and potential health issues due to their hormones, such as cancer. 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 seizures, diabetes, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and obesity. A proper diet can prevent or minimize many of these problems, so regularly discuss your pet’s diet with your vet.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Skunk?

You should never take a skunk from the wild to keep as a pet. This is illegal in most places unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabber.

The majority of states ban skunks as pets. And most of the areas that allow pet skunks have stipulations, such as requiring permits or necessitating that the skunk was bred within the state. Make sure you know all of your state and local laws before committing.

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 $200 and $500.

It's typically 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 or mucus around the eyes, nose, or mouth, which can indicate disease.

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  1. Spaying Or Neutering Your Pet Skunk. Avian And Exotic Veterinary Medicine, 2020