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.

Baby Skunk

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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.

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Exercise:
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.

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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.

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Litter Training:
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 skunks.
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.

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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?

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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.

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Vaccinations:
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 a booster.

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Rabies Dilemma:
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 the future.

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Giving Baths:
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.

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Nail Clipping:
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.

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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.

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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.

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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 behavior.

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.

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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 and children.

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Personality:
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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