Pet Care Instructions
The information presented here is by no means all the information
there is on captive-bred pet skunks and caring for them. The aim of
this page is to give people a good understanding of what it takes
to care for a pet skunk and where to go for more information and
help when they need it.
What Skunks Eat:
This is a very controversial topic when it comes to skunks. We feel it is
best to read all the documents you can about this topic, and choose what
works the best for you, your skunk, and your daily schedule. There are two
main nutritional diets of discussion and no one seems to agree on which
one is the best. Many folks use a "hybrid" diet to suit the needs of their
skunk and their lifestyle. The one common factor in both plans is No Cat
Food! It is too high in protein and fat for a skunks' rather sedentary
lifestyle and will cause the skunk's liver to become weakened over time
because they will not be able to metabolize it.
One approach can be found in Jane Boneís Skunk Stuff brochure. This
diet consists of a variety of vegetables mixed with a little commercial dry
dog food, chicken or tunafish. This diet also suggests a piece of fruit;
some cottage cheese; some yogurt; some vitamins and minerals; some high
fiber dry breakfast cereal; and a vanilla wafer cookie for a treat.
The other main approach can be obtained through Mary Kaye Ashley, in her
Comprehensive Guide to Raising a Pet Skunk. This booklet offers a
more holistic approach and contains a spin off of the Pitcarin diet called
Skunkie Delight. This diet suggests feeding your skunk 50 percent
vegetables, 40 percent Skunkie Delight, and 10 percent other whole
foods to meet their needs as omnivores. Skunkie Delight is made up
of millet, raw ground turkey, eggs, vegetable oil, and a variety of vitamin
and mineral powders.
With any diet make sure your skunk has plenty of clean, cool water to
drink at all times. We have seen both healthy and unhealthy skunks on both
the aforementioned diets. Our guidance stands on the fact that this is
your pet skunk, therefore it is ultimately your decision on what to feed
them and you should be the one to make that decision.
This is one area we believe strongly in. Your skunk will need plenty of play
and socializing time. Donít be afraid to get down on the floor (their level)
and play chase, stomp, tug-o-war, and ball with them. Getting enough exercise
plays a very important role in keeping your skunks weight under control. If
your skunk chooses to play bite, let them know that this behavior is
unacceptable by a stern "No Bite" followed by a pause for effect. Time outs
from playing in a place other than their normal surroundings and sleeping
spots help to get your point across. Happy skunks generally want to get
along with you and will learn biting is not good behavior easily.
Life Expectancy and Obesity:
With the proper diet and exercise, most skunks will live an average
of eight to twelve years, or even longer. Skunks have a ferocious
appetite. They will literally eat until they make themselves sick,
and then continue to eat more. Their weight needs to be maintained
at a healthy acceptance level for the skunk's size and bone
structure, usually between eight and twelve pounds. Obesity is quite
common in pet skunks, but is easily controlled by watching that your
skunk consumes only healthy foods and limiting the amount they consume
daily. Sometimes this takes a firm parent to reject all the times your
skunk will beg you for food or act as if they have not satisfied
that bottomless pit.
This is an area we get a lot of questions about. Some skunks take very
well to going in a litter box and others donít. Basically, you and your
skunk need to come to terms on where they should go to the bathroom.
The best advice we have found follows:
Start small with a large cage, large carrier, or bathroom. Once your
skunk is using the litter box on a regular basis, reward him with more
room to explore. If he misses the litter box and chooses a new spot,
make his area smaller again until he has reestablished where the litter
pan is. Sometimes skunks refuse to use the litter pan when it is dirty.
Baby skunks are very small and giving them the whole house to roam in
right away, they will most certainly get lost trying to find the litter
box. Patience and willfulness is the key to making this work for some
A skunks natural instinct is to use a corner for their bathroom.
Placing a litter pan filled with unscented litter or shredded blank
paper in the corner they select should help your skunk learn proper
bathroom habits. Sometimes they prefer to use the unshredded paper
right on the floor without the litter box. Teaching your skunk when
to use the litter pan can sometimes be a challenge. Stick with it,
sometimes it is just a battle of wills.
Vets and Medical Attention:
Skunks need to have regular yearly check-ups and be spayed or neutered
by a knowledgeable vet. Finding a respectable vet in your area (who is
willing to work with a domesticated pet skunk and has the knowledge to do
so) might be a challenging task. The time to find a good vet, is before
you own a pet skunk. When hunting for a good vet, be sure to let them
know that your skunk will be coming from a reputable breeder with the
proper paperwork and has not been abducted from the wild (a big No No).
A good question to ask a prospective vet is: What would you do if my
skunk bit someone on your staff?
Spaying and Neutering:
We strongly suggest getting your skunk spayed or neutered in the fall of
their first year. They can become mature adults as early as 4 months of
age. Spaying or Neutering will discourage biting habits from getting
worse, keep males from marking their territory or using your foot as a
female, and will help the females make it through their health
straining estrous cycle. In plain words, it helps the animal become a
better family member.
This is an area of much debate as well. Our vet does not suggest giving
shots to skunks. First of all, there are no approved vaccines for skunks.
This means that they cannot guarantee what will happen if one designated
for another species is used. Your skunk could get very sick from them.
Ferret vaccines are very bad, in particular, Fervac has been known to
cause illness and even death. Most of the vaccines that are used on
skunks come from the canine strains. The current shots used most widely
on skunks are Galaxy DA2PPvL+CV and Eclipse 4 given once a year as
Because of the many misconceptions around skunks and rabies, most
government officials think "all skunks that bite have rabies". A
rabies vaccine and quarantine period have never been approved and
validated on skunks. For this reason, if your pet skunk bites someone
and the bite is reported, your skunk is likely to be seized, slaughtered,
and it's brain tissue tested for rabies. Most government officials
seem callous and ill effected by the fact that this animal is your
beloved family pet. Research in this area is being pursued by skunk
experts in hopes that pet skunks will not have to be sacrificed in
Bathing is important to the health and well being of your pet skunk. Most
skunks, if introduced early and often to baths, adapt well. Some skunks
love the water and learn to swim with ease. If a skunk has been descented
properly, there will be very little, if any, odor surrounding them. Bathing
on a bi-monthly basis is usually all that is needed. Some skunks groom
themselves well and only need one or two baths a year. We suggest using a
shampoo that is gentle enough to use every day. When you bath a skunk,
they tend to smell more musky until they build up the natural oils in their
fur again. Skunks shed twice a year. They shed their soft downy layer of
fur in the spring and their longer courser coat in the fall. Shedding is
usually less than that of a cat or a dog and lasts a shorter period of
time. If you notice a white dander in their fur, it is a sign of dry skin.
This can be caused by too many baths.
Nail clipping is important to your skunk's health. Nails at the proper length
help them hold their food and help them to balance and walk correctly. Most
skunks learn to tolerate their nails being clipped. Nail clipping should be
done every couple of weeks to keep the nails at a respectable length. The
trick to nail trimming is not to cut the nail back into the "quick" or nerve
extending through the nail. A general rule of thumb is if the skunk's nail
bleeds, they will try to bite or wiggle away from you. One way to hold a
skunk while clipping it's nails that has been particularly successful to us
is this. Hold the skunk on your lap facing to one side. Extend the skunk's
leg, either front or back, back towards their tail. This makes it hard for
the skunk to bite or wiggle away. Turn the skunk to face the other side and
repeat to get all the nails.
Worming and Fleas:
Worming is needed to protect your skunk from various parasites that might
infest his body. Roundworms are the most common. Over the counter worm
medication given every couple of months and a yearly stool sample check at
the vet are recommended. Two common types of liquid wormer used on skunks
are Evict and Nemex2 for dogs. These wormers are very palatable and most
skunks readily take it off a spoon or on their food. These worm medications
are given based on the weight of the skunk. Each dose of worming medication
kills only the adult worms present in your skunk's intestinal tract, eggs
are not effected. Skunks will eliminate worms through their stools. Giving
several doses using the time slots recommended on the bottle will be sure
to eliminate any infestation they might have.
Fleas are usually not a problem, but may become one if your skunk communes
with another pet that is left outdoors often. Flea remedies can be used on
skunks, but they are more sensitive than cats and dogs, and care needs to
be taken to use one that is gentle enough for kittens or puppies.
Cages and Skunk Proofing Your Home:
Cages and carriers are good training tools to teach discipline, but are not
the solution as a home for your pet skunk. A skunk that is kept caged all
the time, will most likely feel neglected and become mean and biting,
lashing out for attention. Skunks need to have ample area within where your
family dwells in order to become well adjusted pets. Skunks are very capable
of opening almost any cabinet in your house. Some have even found a way to
open the refrigerator. Skunks can also climb. They love to investigate and
are generally not worried about safety when they explore. This is why it is
important that we protect them from danger by putting child locks on our
cabinets and blocking off areas that are not safe.
Discipline and Playtime:
Generally speaking, the more you hold your skunk when it is little and
maturing, the more gentle and socialized it will become with people.
Skunks learn by habit and familiarity. The more they are around people;
the more they learn to trust them. Just remember, you want your
skunk to become accustomed to you, not stressed out by you or your
A skunk's teeth are very sharp and they have canine (eye) teeth that can
make a nasty puncture wound. They need to be handled gently, given
affection, and taught not to bite. Usually, biting will lessen as the
skunk grows older and becomes accustomed to your household and routine.
Skunks should be disciplined with patience. Lashing out in anger and
roughness towards them will usually result in a mean, vicious, biting
skunk. A stern voice or a loud clap work well. Giving "Time Outs" in an
empty bathtub for unacceptable behavior worked well for us. Skunks can
be taught to stand up on their hind feet for food. Patience, repetition
on the part of the owner, and good treats are the biggest assets to
teaching your skunk to do tricks. Skunks love to play with toys as well
as with you. Stomping and charging at you with their tail in the air or
playing tug of war with a special toy are some common playtime activities.
Noise and Children:
Skunks make a squealing noise and sometimes hiss, but spend most of their
lives as silent animals. As a general rule, if you have more than one skunk,
you will hear the noises more often. Skunks generally interact well with
calm, willing to listen and learn children. Grabby, aggressive, chasing
children will generally not do well with skunks, unless taught to respect
them. As a general rule, skunks do well with other well adapted animals.
We have heard of them getting along well with cats, dogs, guinea pigs,
and other skunks. Mutual respect for each other is something that must be
present or taught for a working relationship between pets or with pets
Skunks are extremely intelligent as well as hard-headed, stubborn and curious.
These are some very powerful attitudes. They are also very physically strong
for their size, and can get behind or in almost anything in your house they
desire. Rooting in anything left lying around, such as pocketbooks, laundry
baskets full of clothes, potted plants, and trash cans make a great game to
them. Skunks can be very demanding as pets. When they want to eat, they will
bug you until you oblige! The same follows for sleep, play, or snuggling.
There is usually no compromise on their part as far as time or place is
concerned. Most skunks enjoy being held and petted once you have caught
them. Some will even become "lap skunks". Most skunks will make a game out
of you trying to catch them.
Help With Skunk Problems:
There are many skunk clubs out there striving for one goal; helping the
captive-bred pet skunk have a better existence. The differences in these
clubs range from dietary needs to views on the laws to personal experience
to opinions. Any of these clubs are ready to lend a helping hand with a
sick skunk or skunk problem; and most of the time, help is just a phone
call away. Since they all offer differing opinions on pet skunks, we
encourage you to research them, listen to what they have to say, and
join the one that best agrees with your personal viewpoint.
More Skunk Information:
Much more skunk and captive-bred pet skunk documentation exists. We
encourage you to read and learn as much as you can on the subject. A
few documents we found helpful are listed below.
A Comprehensive Guide to Raising a Pet Skunk. Written by Mary
Kaye Ashley. Published and distributed by the American Domestic Skunk
Association, Inc. First Draft Edition, 1998.
Skunk Stuff. Written and available from Jane Bone in Georgia.
The Biology of the Striped Skunk. Written by B. J. Verts.
University of Illinois Press, 1967.
The Spring and Summer Activities of the Dusky Skunk in Captivity.
Written by William T. Shaw, PH. D. (Assistant Zoologist, New York State
Museum) and K. F. Chamberlain (Assistant Entomologist, New York State
Museum) 1928. Available from Watkins National History Books.
Diseases of Exotic Animals, Medical and Surgical Management.
Written by Joel D. Wallach, D.V.M. and William J Boever, D.V.M.
W.B. Saunders Company, 1983.
Please Note: The information contained in this page has
been compiled from sources such as the American Domestic Skunk Association
(ADSA), Skunks As Pets (SAP), Jane Bone's Skunk Stuff, and the personal
experiences of the members of the Pennsylvania based skunk club,
Owners Of Pet Skunks (OOPS). This information in no way portrays all the
views and opinions of these clubs and/or their individual members.
Tacy A. Kessler. Copyright © 2001
all rights reserved.
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