“Why would someone even think of having a skunk as a household pet?!” might be anyone’s initial reaction to the idea of a pet skunk. But really, we can’t blame them. Skunks are infamously known to “smell bad,” making them a nightmare when they drop by for an unexpected visit during summer camps. Their scent is known to be so bad that it sticks to clothing for a few days even after washing. Which leads us to the question: can you really own a pet skunk? Here, we answer some of the questions about pet skunks.
Pet Skunk FAQs
Whether you’re interested in getting a pet skunk or you’re just looking to expand your knowledge, The Furry Companion has your back. While skunks often get a bad rep for their pungent smell, they might not be as bad as we all think. Allow us to break down the 101s on skunk for you.
Skunks are also known as polecats and belong in the Mephitidae family in the Carnivora order. They also come in a variety of sizes; some are ranging from 15 to 37 inches long, with a height of 15 to 28 inches tall and a weight between 0.5 to 8.2 kilograms. The bodies of skunks are moderately elongated with well-muscled legs. Usually, skunks also have long claws to help them dig.
Contrary to popular belief, skunks themselves don’t smell bad; it’s their spray which is the culprit. Before you think about getting a pet skunk, know first that a skunk is known exactly for secreting this foul-smelling oily liquid from its anal glands. Their skunk spray smells extremely pungent because it contains a mixture of chemicals with sulfur. Sulfur is highly notorious for giving off a nauseating odor—basically how rotten eggs smell. Skunks use this as a defense mechanism, spraying the juice from its rear end whenever any threat comes by.
Beneath the tail of a skunk lies their two anal glands. These release the stinky liquid while the muscles around them help the skunk project the liquid quickly with incredible accuracy toward its target. This spray consists of seven major volatile organic components which can be divided into two types of compounds. These are thiols and the acetate derivatives of thiols. “The secretion itself is a yellow oil that will cling to most surfaces that contacts; like all oils, it does not mix with water,” Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH says.
It is not advisable to turn wild skunks into household pets. However, the discussion is different for domesticated skunks. Domesticated skunks have been bred in captivity for almost six decades. Thus, they are known to be docile and loving to humans. But it doesn’t mean that keeping a pet skunk is as easy as taking in, say, a dog or a cat. A pet skunk requires a lot of work for it to be both healthy and happy.
What differentiates domesticated skunks from wild skunks is that the former lacks scent glands. Because they are domesticated early on, this type of skunk is “descented” at the age of two to five years old. They grow up without the liquid-spraying armor. However, there is currently a discussion on whether descenting is humane or not. Some say that doing so defies the laws of nature because skunks are practically left defenseless.
At present, only 17 states allow owning a pet skunk: Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In some states, you would need to pass a special permit first, as well as follow a lot of other rules and regulations.
There are a lot of things you have to consider before deciding to be a pet skunk owner. Potential pet skunk owners should do some research to figure out what they need to have a great pet. They also need to be well-equipped to provide the necessities and proper care for a pet skunk. First, make sure that owning a pet skunk in your state is legal. Also, see to it that you know of a nearby veterinarian who can offer care for your pet skunk even at its young age.
They come in different patterns and colors; most are black and white striped, but there can also be spotted patterns. A majority of striped skunks weigh at around 14 pounds while spotted skunks are smaller, weighing only between 1 to 3 pounds. Sadly, for potential pet skunk owners, the lifespan for these tiny creatures are not as long as other types of pets. Pet skunks can only live for as long as a decade.
Baby skunks are extremely cute. Skunks are naturally adorable with their soft little ears and the small white stripe up their nose. Pet skunks are also known to be as friendly as cats and as graceful as pet dogs. You can also take them out for a walk, given that you find the perfect rhythm and mood for them.
Skunks are not born with rabies. But unlike other pets, there is, unfortunately, no available rabies vaccine for skunks. According to Roger Ross DVM, “Skunks can apparently be carriers of rabies without showing any symptoms themselves and without dying from the disease for quite some time.” When your pet skunk bites someone, your skunk needs to get tested for rabies immediately. For animals without an available vaccine, this means euthanasia for rabies testing. While there are so-called distemper vaccines, these usually come in with adverse reactions, which do not make them a great option.
For skunks, the breeding season begins during late February. Their gestation period usually lasts between 7–10 weeks. Baby skunks are born in early May with either 2–16 babies per litter. Skunk litters are generally just one per year. ” At birth the young are called “kits” or kittens. They are devoid of hair, blind and weigh about one ounce or the size of a full grown mouse,” Elroy C. Jensen, D.V.M., M.S. adds.
During planning, you would ideally want a skunk as young as you can get, right before they hit their sexual maturity. You want this because the skunk must be descented to remove their scent glands and prevent them from spraying in the future. Typically, descenting is a surgery performed before the skunk reaches six months old. Aside from this, it is also essential to neuter the animal. However, even after both procedures, your pet skunk might still have a slight odor, but this is totally normal.
Wild skunks typically have a short lifespan of three years. However, domesticated skunks can live for as long as ten years! Of course, this is if the skunk owner observes proper care and diet. Some skunks can even live up to 12 years and even more.
Skunks are stubborn and headstrong. Truth be told, they are high-maintenance pets. But they are also friendly, loving, entertaining, and playful. Be prepared for training your pet skunk to sleep during the night while you take a rest too. In their natural habitat, skunks are usually crepuscular—most of their activity is concentrated toward dawn and dusk. During the day when they are awake, your pet skunk would require a lot of love and attention on your part. They can be very playful, which requires lots of stimulation.
Be careful not to leave them alone all day, as they are prone to be mischievous and sometimes destructive. Skunks have long claws that they use for digging up insects and worms. In a house setting, they might use this to open doors, cabinets, drawers, and anything they can get their claws on. Therefore, your house must be “pet skunk-proofed” to limit the damage. They are also attracted to soft items like sweaters, towels, or blankets, which they might bring to their sleeping den.
You might also wonder about the natural behavior of your possible pet skunk and whether this will affect their quality as a pet. They can honestly be a challenge to live with because skunks are highly active and are very curious creatures (yes, maybe more than your cat). As mentioned, they will repetitively try to steal random items from your house to make their beds softer. Unlike dogs, they can also be more challenging to train due to their stubbornness. But with lots of patience, they have the potential to be excellent pets.
As long as you appropriately educate your children in handling pet skunks, they should be safe to interact with kids. Still, skunks must be supervised as much as possible around small children. Either your child or your pet skunk can get hurt if both are left unsupervised. You must teach your pet skunk not to bite, and the best time for this is when they are still babies. It is better to wait after your child has grown before committing to having a pet skunk.
If you have other pets that will share your home with your skunk, you’d be glad to know that they usually go great with other domestic pets. Nonetheless, there are still cases when the opposite happens, and this will largely depend on your pets’ personality. Be careful not to establish any “food chain” situation. Skunks are natural predators, and you should avoid putting them together with prey animals. If you must, take the extra effort to separate your pets from each other.
Yes! Skunks can be potty-trained, although it may not be the easiest thing to accomplish. Skunks like to do their dirty work in corners. They will let you know which corner they like better for their litter boxes. Just a heads up, a single litter box will most probably not suffice. It may take a few more litter boxes spaced throughout your home to satisfy your skunk’s needs. They may also change their mind about the locations they want. You should be prepared to change the placement of the litter boxes from time to time.
A pet skunk is not meant to be caged and resting all day. Keeping them in a confined small space can make them restless and aggressive. If you are more interested in a pet that will stay locked in a cage for extended periods, a pet skunk may not be the right choice for you. They thrive on being able to roam around freely and may act out if caged for any length of time. As a redeeming quality, however, they are possible to be potty-trained, so you don’t have to worry about cleaning up after them.
It is also crucial to keep your house escape-proof since your pet skunk might have the natural inclination to return to its outdoor habitat. Once they escape, they may face grave danger. Skunks can travel long miles throughout the day and a lost pet skunk, if not found, will be in trouble. They do not have the same instincts as dogs and cats who find their way home. Without scent glands and wildlife training, pet skunks might have no way to defend themselves from potential predators. Their biggest threat is coming across moving vehicles—responsible for most skunk deaths each year.
Your best bet is to keep your pet indoors. Inside, you can give a large dog kennel, as big as you can find, for your skunk. Your pet skunk will need that safe place. That way, if you have to be away from home, you can keep them in the kennel to ensure the safety of your pet skunk and your house. In your backyard, build a pen of at least 6 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 3 feet tall where they could play. To complete it, also add a nest box for the most natural experience.
Pet skunks can be very demanding eaters as their natural diet is known to be eclectic. Your pet’s diet should have lean protein such as fish or chicken, some fruits and vegetables, and cooked grains. Take note that all these must be fresh. Unlike dogs and cats, they have trouble digesting processed food. Commonly, they feed on roots, berries, fungi, grasses, nuts, and leaves. Some will also eat insects, larvae, rodents, and lizards. In some instances, they will also feed on frogs, snakes, eggs, birds, moles, and salamanders if they catch them. However, pet skunks have a tamer taste for food, so you don’t have to worry about your pet skunk suddenly bringing home a dead snake.
Out in the wild, skunks eat different insects, fruits, vegetables, and smaller animals as a source of fat and protein. You don’t necessarily have to catch insects for your pet skunk. Thankfully, there are available formulated and pre-packed food easily purchased from pet stores. Nonetheless, it is best to feed them fresh fruits and vegetables as these are more at par with their appetites. Avoid cat food, chocolate, and canned vegetables, as these are too high in fat, protein, and salt. For variety, you can also mix in some nuts or dog kibble to add nutrients. Take note that young skunks need to eat more times in a day compared to adult skunks who only need feeding in the morning and in the evening.
As for hydration, skunks will need a fresh source of water. Most of the time, however, they get their water from vegetables. So be sure to include lots of veggies in your pet skunk’s diet.
Like other pets, your pet skunk will also face a multitude of possible illnesses. Before getting a skunk, look for a veterinarian who is willing to treat your pet skunk in case it requires special medical attention. Welcoming a pet skunk into your household requires accepting all responsibility that comes along with it. By the time your pet skunk shows signs of illness, it may already be in its advanced stage and can be difficult to treat. Thus it is vital to stay alert regarding your pet’s health. Although there aren’t any medications or vaccines specifically for skunks, veterinarians can help improve your pet’s condition.
Some health issues your pet skunk will face might be genetic and therefore cannot be prevented. The most you can do is control some factors to ensure your pet skunk lives a long life: diet, housing, environment, exercise, and health care.
The following are the four most common health concerns for skunks:
This happens when your pet skunk overeats or has a diet that is too rich in fat. You can observe signs of obesity through its physical appearance, lethargy, and difficulty in walking. You can prevent your pet skunk from becoming obese by portioning meals well. The diet you provide should be protein-rich and low in fat. To further help your pet skunk, encourage activity and regularly weighing your pet to ensure it is still within a healthy weight.
Cardiomyopathy or Heart Disease
Symptoms can also include shortness of breath, weakness, excessive coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite, and weight loss. No cure exists for this illness, but treatment can aid in helping improve your pet skunk’s quality of life.
Also called fatty liver disease. This is a common illness seen in skunks. Symptoms of this can include anorexia, rapid and sudden weight loss, vomiting, and jaundice. To treat these, observe a healthy diet and give supplements and enough fluids.
This can be as severe as rabies, canine hepatitis, and canine distemper. Vaccination is highly recommended to combat these illnesses. Look out for weight loss, hardening of your skunk’s footpads, pus discharge from eyes and nose, seizure, or fever.
A pet skunk can be quite expensive particularly during the first year you get one. A basic skunk kit can range from $150–$500. Meanwhile, spaying or neutering can cost as much as $250. The skunk itself can differ in costs depending on where you get them. Moreover, you still have to consider monthly costs for their food, cage, litter boxes, bed, toys, supplements, maintenance, cleaning, and veterinary bills, among other expenses.
The trickiest part in deciding to have a pet skunk might be finding out where to get one. The internet offers little sources for skunk breeders, but it is still possible. Of course, you first have to check whether the skunk breeder in your area is legitimate and legal. The best way, however, is to find a skunk that is up for adoption. You can find these through animal rescue associations. You can also ask a skunk breeder and their network to look for rescue skunks.
Skunk breeders can be found locally if your area allows owning a pet skunk. Most of the time, you may have to go farther away to find a reputable pet skunk breeder. If checking the internet fails, check your local newspaper for ads or visit your local pet store or shelters.
Getting your pet skunk from a legitimate skunk breeder will ensure that it is raised in good conditions. It is best to visit the breeder in person if ever you find one so you can check the breeding conditions. You can observe this through the odor and appearance. You may not always be allowed to see the breeding grounds itself, but try to ask for any possible documentation for proof.
Once satisfied by the breeder and your standards, carefully observe the skunks if you have multiple options. Ideally, you would want a skunk that is alert, bright, curious, and with a full and shiny coat. Their body should neither be thin nor obese. When in the presence of a visitor, they should not be extremely agitated. Also check their eyes, ears, nose, and rear end. Look for signs of infection or uncleanliness. If you can, try to handle them to see how they would interact with you.
As with any other pets, owning a pet skunk requires time, money, patience, and loads of dedication. They might need more attention and love, but eventually, you will find pet skunks worth it. Be ready to face different challenges. Take as much time as you need in deciding whether you want to go down this road. Most owners resort to abandoning their pet skunks once they become too frustrated with the responsibility.
The internet offers lots of information about what you should know when you own a pet skunk. You can also ask veterinarians, local pet shelters, and breeders for more information. Whatever you decide, we hope that The Furry Companion helped you in your journey. To future pet skunk owners, good luck!
Kim Reosora is a Communication Arts graduate who always had a passion for writing… and for animals! Since childhood, she has taken a particular liking towards cats. She used to take in abandoned kittens under her care. In fact, she initially wanted to pursue Veterinary Medicine to help out our furry companions. In a few years, she swears to finally be the cat mom of her dreams. Now, she loves the fact that she is able to write about one of the many things that she loves.