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Skunks as Pets

By Melva Wheeler (melvatooFebruary 25, 2013
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Have you ever considered a pet skunk? It's not as strange as it sounds--there are more than a million pet skunks in the United States. That is only an estimate, because many skunks are kept illegally and are not counted.

Gardening picture

(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.

 

 

 ImageStriped   

 

 

 

 ImageHognose  ImageSpotted

 

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.

 

  Image'Dennis' (skunk) and cat  ImageBaby striped skunk

 

 

 ImageRescued skunks  ImageBrown 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.

 

 ImageAn 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.

 

 ImageSpotted skunk.

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.


Credits:

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


  About Melva Wheeler  
Melva WheelerI live in Texas, but my heart is in Florida, where I was born. I am married. No kids, unless my cat is counted, which he should be. I also have a tortoise, Graham. I have always been a gardener. I have grown vegetables, herbs, and Roses! They have become a passion. I have very few modern roses. It is the antiques, that appeal to me. My interests are photography, reading, cooking and some traveling, so I can be excited to come home again!

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Southern spotted skunk FlaFlower 1 14 Mar 26, 2014 6:38 AM
Great read! I love animals! arries 2 21 Feb 28, 2013 8:25 PM
Pet skunk sstiles 0 4 Feb 27, 2013 9:33 PM
Skunks as pets MNTRYJOSEPH 1 7 Feb 26, 2013 4:08 PM
I have skunk questions Kyotma 5 30 Nov 30, 2012 2:52 PM
Which states are skunks legal as pets? mchluvspugs 1 50 Jan 29, 2010 12:57 AM
Great little fellas Sundownr 0 7 May 9, 2009 3:08 PM
Found two baby skunks at work today icebird28 1 18 May 8, 2009 1:45 AM
Always wanted one Amfm 3 33 Apr 15, 2009 9:46 PM
I Had One rvnsbrk 2 98 Apr 14, 2009 6:07 PM
they are surprisizingly smart petset77 0 28 Apr 14, 2009 2:31 AM
i had two of them. trackinsand 0 33 Apr 14, 2009 1:17 AM
My daughter brought one home one day mslady210 0 52 Apr 13, 2009 6:01 PM
I had one. LadyAshleyR 2 55 Apr 13, 2009 4:57 PM
Very cool! jlp222 3 57 Apr 13, 2009 1:55 PM
interesting article frahnzone5 3 51 Apr 12, 2009 10:12 PM
Skunk care chuck7701 4 99 Apr 12, 2009 9:16 PM
I had a pet skunk chubbydoll 0 87 Apr 12, 2009 3:19 PM
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