Owning a Pet Skunk: The Big Decision?
Before obtaining a domesticated pet skunk, be sure to check out the laws governing them for your state. Pennsylvania is a legal state, provided you get a permit rider (receipt) from the breeder at the time of purchase. Several legitimate breeders reside within the Pennsylvania borders. Many other states are illegal, legal with a special permit, or have special laws regarding ownership. The Department of Natural Resources or Fish and Game Commission for your state should be able to give you an idea about what the laws are. If possible, a good idea is to get a copy of the laws to read for yourself and to talk to several officials at these governing locations. In the past many officials, sometimes from the same state, have been known to interpret the law differently, lending to confusion over what the actual law is. Some legal states have even instituted a new rule that lets the local townships make up the laws about pet skunk ownership. So it would be a good idea to check with your local government as well. Is owning a domesticated pet skunk legal in your area?
Skunks are only born at one time of year, in the spring, mostly during the month of May. Most breeders will descent them at 4 - 6 weeks of age and release them to their owners at 6 - 8 weeks of age (June - July time frame). Many breeders will compile a waiting list of prospective owners starting a year in advance and some will require a deposit to hold one back for you. Skunks come in a variety of colors; black & white, brown & white, gray & white, cream & white, and albino. They also have many different pattern markings consisting of stripes, spots, and swirls. Some of these colors and markings are hard to come by, so don't be too upset with a breeder who cannot supply your preference. Are you ready to contact a skunk breeder in advance about a skunk kitten? Are you willing to wait (maybe until next year) until skunk kittens are "in season"?
Diet and Life Expectancy:
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 the protein.
One approach can be found in Jane Bone’s 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 the proper diet and exercise, most skunks will live an average of eight to twelve years. 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. Are you willing to prepare nutritional meals for your skunk? Are you ready to provide an ample size area for them to exercise in daily?
Rabies and Vaccinations:
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. Will you oversee and carefully supervise who your skunk comes in contact with?
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? Do you know of a knowledgeable vet you can trust? Can you afford the vet expenses for check-ups and spaying or neutering?
Discipline and Playtime:
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 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. Do you have ample time to teach a skunk appropriate behavior and bond with them? Are you willing to be patient if the personal property in your household gets shredded, broken, or ruined?
A skunks natural instinct is to use a corner for their bathroom. Placing a litter pan filled with unscented litter or shredded paper in the corner they select should help your skunk learn proper bathroom habits. Teaching your skunk when to use the litter pan can sometimes be a challenge. Start your skunk out in a small area, like a bathroom. When they are using the litter pan regularly, increase their area to explore slowly. This way it is harder for the skunk to forget where his bathroom spot is. Slowly increase the area until it is as large as you desire. If the skunk forgets where his bathroom is, make the area smaller again and reintroduce them to the litter pan. Are you willing to cope with litter box accidents? Are you willing to supervise your skunk's prowling area to allow him or her to investigate their surroundings safely?
Bathing and nail clipping are 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 1 or 2 baths a year. Nail clipping, on the other hand, 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. 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. Are you willing and able to keep your skunk clean and clip their nails regularly?
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. 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 won't harm your skunk. Are you willing and able to keep your skunk free of worms and fleas?
Allergies to Skunks:
Many people who are allergic to cats and dogs have found that they are not allergic to skunks. However, skunks do produce a dander and some people have had allergic reactions to this. The best way to tell if you think you might be allergic is to visit someone who already has a skunk for a pet. Usually the symptoms will appear quickly if you have an allergy to them. Do you have allergies? Are you allergic to skunk dander?
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 cabinets and blocking off areas that are not safe. Are you willing to let them coexist with you in your home? Are you willing to secure cabinets and areas of danger in your household to protect your pet skunk from harm?
Noise and Children:
Skunks make a squealing noise and sometimes hiss, but spend most of their lives silent. 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. Are you willing to oversee and sometimes officiate the interaction between your children and your skunk? Are you willing to introduce your pet skunk slowly and patiently to other animals in your household?
Skunks are extremely intelligent as well as hard-headed, stubborn and curious. This can be a very powerful attitude combination when exercised together. 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. Do you have sufficient patience, spare time, and sense of humor to cope with a skunk's unique personality? Will others in your household be tolerant, adaptive, and loving towards a pet skunk?
Images, artwork, and verbiage are the sole property of the designer and
may not be used in any form without express written permission.