(Editor's Note: This article was written on April 12, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be abe to respond to your comments.)
When I began writing this article I thought I knew about skunks. After completing my research, I found that I did not know much about them after all, beyond the fact they can spray a foul-smelling scent to defend themselves. Most of us have had a dog sprayed with their eau de parfum at least once.
I was surprised to learn there are four types of skunks in North America: striped, spotted, hog nose and hooded. Photos of each are shown below. A wild skunk's lifespan is only a few years, but a domesticated pet skunk can--with proper medical care and a good diet--live more than a decade.
A recent article by Palmbob looked at skunks as a problem pest in the suburban garden, but let's look at skunks from another viewpoint, as pets. It's not a new idea; skunks were kept as pets by Native Americans and later by the Pilgrims. The skunks that were kept by Indians were animals with a job: they helped to keep the village free of snakes and rodents.
As mammals, skunks can contract the rabies virus, but not all skunks are carriers. Many people fear skunks because they assume they are all rabid. In fact, only 17 states allow skunks to be kept as pets. Typically, skunks are prohibited as pets because there is not an approved vaccine to prevent rabies in skunks. Unfortunately, there is not an approved quarantine period for skunks as there is for dogs. If a skunk bites a human, it usually is killed so the brain tissue can be checked for the presence of rabies. However, the chances of a pet skunk being rabid are very minute.
'Dennis' (skunk) and cat Baby striped skunk
Rescued skunks Brown skunk and owner
In my quest for knowledge, I even joined a forum of skunk owners so I could learn more about them as pets. They are not a suitable pet for everyone, and they do require a lot of care. When asked to describe their pet skunk, the members of the forum described their skunks as smart, curious, energetic, lovable, stubborn, animated, hungry, bull-headed, funny, playful, devilish, and snuggly. The more a young skunk is handled, the better it will interact with its family and other people. A pet skunk cannot remain confined in a cage all the time--it needs to interact with its family. A house with a pet skunk needs to be pet-proofed and the cabinets should have locks on them, because skunks are very food-oriented and will go to great lengths to forage for food. Some skunks have even been known to learn how to open the refrigerator! Because of their obsession with food, their diet must be controlled and care must be taken not to overfeed them. Compounding the problem is the fact there is no commercially prepared food for skunks, so their food must be prepared fresh every day.
Many of the pet skunks originate from fur farms, and they come in many colors, ranging from black to brown, gray, and solid white. Some of the color descriptions sound like food; for example, chocolate chip and cinnamon are description of skunk colors.
An example of the different of colors of skunks.
For obvious reasons, pet skunks have their scent glands removed before they go to their home. It is also very important to spay or neuter them before they become sexually mature. Some sources recommend that skunks should be given all the regular vaccinations recommended for both dogs and cats. Other websites advise that they receive as few vaccinations as possible. It's a good idea to seek out a veterinarian experienced with pet skunks for advice and care.
Sadly, Texas is not one of the states that allows pet skunks, so I will probably never have one of my own. However, if I could have a pet skunk, I think my choice would be the spotted skunk. Not only are they unique looking, they are also the smallest--about the same size as a squirrel.
A final note of advice to new skunk owners: be diligent and don't allow your skunk to wander away from the safe confines of your house. Unlike dogs and cats, skunks do not have a homing instinct, so a skunk that gets loose probably will not return home on its own. In the wild, a pet skunk no longer has the ability to defend itself, and is at greater risk of being killed by a dog or fearful human, or hit by an automobile.
Pictures of spotted skunk 'Gracey', 'Dennis', and the cat were used wtih permission from Skunkhaven.net
Other photos taken from Wikipedia commons, inmagine and fotosearch
Photo of different colored skunks and person credited to Paul Walsh.
different colored skunks used with permission of skunkhaven.net