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Little Stinkers Known As Skunks

Learn some tidbits of information about skunks, which are becoming popular pets in some areas of the United States.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: November 30, 2011, 5 a.m. EST

young skunk on a towel
Courtesy of Jerry Murray, DVM
Skunks are generally known for their black and white coat and their ability to "spray."

Recently, I had an unexpected death of a client. She was longtime ferret owner who everybody liked. She always had a smile and positive attitude, even when one of her pets had a bad disease. She was also involved in rehabbing wild skunks. In tribute to her, here is a column on skunks.

Interestingly, skunks are becoming popular as pets in certain regions of the country. Skunks are closely related to ferrets, but they are no longer classified in the same family as ferrets. They are carnivores that in the wild eat mostly small mammals (mice), insects, reptiles, worms, fish, frogs and bird eggs, along with some plants and fruits. They hunt for food at night and mainly sleep during the day. Their main predator in the wild is the great horned owl, which hunts skunks at night.

Skunks are mostly known for their cute, black and white fur coat and the very musky odor that they can spray. The spray comes from their anal glands and can travel a distance of 10 or more feet. This is their main defense against predators, but they can also bite when necessary. Skunks will normally stomp their front paws, raise their tail and walk backwards toward the target before spraying it. The smell is very potent and can last for several days. It can even cause nausea and watery eyes in people.

The main disease that skunks can transmit to humans is rabies. Skunks in the wild have a high risk for rabies, so never approach a wild skunk, especially if you see one during the daytime. Other diseases skunks are at risk for include canine distemper, Aleutian disease (a parvovirus infection), leptospirosis, and canine hepatitis. Thus it is important to keep your dogs and ferrets up-to-date on their vaccines if you have a pet skunk. Likewise it is also important to vaccinate your pet skunk. Vaccinating skunks is off-label use, so check with your veterinarian as to which vaccines are appropriate for your pet skunk. Your veterinarian can also deworm and recommend safe flea and heartworm products for your skunk. In general captive bred skunks can make good pets, but they are definitely not for everyone.

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

Posted: November 30, 2011, 5 a.m. EST

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Little Stinkers Known As Skunks

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Reader Comments
This is a brief, but good article about skunks. Where I read that the spray done by a skunk can last several days, I did not know before that it was that long lasting.
William, San Francisco, CA
Posted: 2/28/2014 1:55:21 PM
In San Francisco, Ca where I live the only place I have seen skunks is by Parnassus Ave, which is the end of the trees for Sutro Forest in the city. Have seen them running around after dark, never doing the day. Heard Golden Gate Park in the city also has skunks living there.
William, San Francisco, CA
Posted: 9/22/2012 1:59:39 PM
I want a baby skunk some time in the future , i am quite particular as to what it looks like , i want either a dark eyed white , albino or one white one with a single black stripe ! . I DEFINATLY WANT ONE THAT HAS BEEN DESCENTED AND SPAYED OR NEUTERED !!! THANK YOU , "SQUEAK MONKEY" JACK D.
Posted: 5/9/2012 8:21:44 PM
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