The thought of keeping skunks as pets can be a bit unnerving for some people. However, others see these fuzzy animals as not much different from cats or dogs. If you fall on this end of the spectrum, you may be wondering if a skunk is a suitable option for your home.
While skunks are typically wild animals, domestic skunks are quite different from their wild counterparts. In fact, some have been bred under human care for generations and may have different personality traits than you might expect. Skunks can be good pets for some folks but it depends on several factors.
In this article, we take a look at everything that you need to know about owning a skunk as a pet.
Are Skunks Legal Pets?
When considering owning any pet, your first question should be, “Is it legal?” While cats and dogs of all sorts are legal in most places, it often gets complicated when you’re considering adopting a more exotic animal.
In some areas of the United States, skunks are legal pets if they are purchased from a licensed animal shelter, a non-profit skunk organization, or a breeder with a permit. Generally, baby skunks are available during the springtime, as that is the skunk’s natural mating season. Usually, you have to look hard to find a pet skunk, but some are available at pet stores.
The exact laws on skunk ownership will vary from state to state. In many states, it is illegal. In other states, you need a permit. In some areas, the skunk must have been bred in that area. This is to prevent the spread of diseases. Some states have specific care levels that must be met, such as specific cage requirements. Others require health certification.
For example, Oregon allows owners to bring skunks from other states when they move. However, skunks cannot be sold within the state of Oregon. South Dakota has a limit of one skunk per person, and South Carolina changed their laws in 2004 in that current skunks are allowed, but no more will be approved.
Rabies is often a key issue in making pet skunks legal. There is no approved vaccination for rabies for skunks, which are known carriers. This may play a large role in why some states do not allow pet skunks. Clinical trials have yet to be done on skunks and rabies vaccinations, though many owners use the IMRAB®3 vaccination that has previously been approved for ferrets.
Can Pet Skunks Spray?
As domestic skunks are essentially the same as wild skunks, they can indeed spray. However, many owners opt to have their spray glands removed when they are about a month old. This is an elective procedure to prevent them from spraying inside the home. In the U.K., it is illegal. More countries may follow suit, as this is somewhat of a controversial procedure. It does nothing to benefit the animal or the skunk community as a whole. It also removes one of their few defense mechanisms, which are important should the skunk become attacked or get loose outside.
How Do Pet Skunks Behave?
Pet skunks behave similarly to wild skunks. The major difference is that pet skunks have been socialized with people, so they are typically fonder of handling than a wild skunk would be. Most are significantly less scared of people than their wild cousins simply because they have been around them their whole life.
Skunks are intelligent and curious. They need constant supervision and entertainment. They will get into just about everything. Puzzle toys and similar entertainment options are a must.
They can also be rather stubborn, as they have not evolved next to humans. They are not that trainable. Though they can learn things and are smart, they are likely to completely ignore you when you ask them to do something. Unlike dogs, skunks have not been bred by people for their obedience, so they typically don’t have that tendency.
These animals are nimble enough to open cabinets, drawers, and just about anything else. They will open your fridge and eat everything inside it. They are known for stealing items like towels and blankets to make beds, even if you provide them with a soft bed of their own.
Their sleeping schedule can vary considerably. In the wild, they are usually active around dusk and dawn. However, when surrounded by humans, they may become more active whenever others are around.
As natural diggers, they will dig into carpets and other floorings. They may scratch furniture, especially if they do not have enough toys to play with. Digging is fun for them, so they will often seek out places to do so. Many owners have digging boxes for this purpose, which are typically full of felt pieces to prevent the animal from making a huge mess.
They are social animals but aren’t adapted to the human mode of communication. It can be a little difficult to figure out how to interact with a skunk. While cats and dogs have evolved to understand people, this is not the case with skunks. They are typically quiet animals, though they will make noises to express their emotions, like chirps.
Like all animals, skunks will bite if they feel threatened. Socialization is important to prevent them from becoming scared and biting people outright. No rabies vaccination is available for skunks, so rabies is a constant possibility.
What Do Pet Skunks Eat?
When you have a pet cat or dog, it is often easy to feed them. There are many commercial foods available at a range of prices. However, you typically can’t go to the store and purchase skunk food. There are a few pre-formulated diets for skunks that are available online, however.
Most skunks need to be fed multiple times a day. Younger skunks will need to be fed more than adults.
Typically, skunks need about 60% to 70% lean protein. The best sources for this sort of food are cooked chicken, eggs, fish, and insects. You should feed your skunk a range of different foods to ensure that it isn’t developing any deficiencies.
The rest of its diet can be a range of vegetables. Raw, fresh, and cooked veggies all work well in most cases. Nuts, cooked grains, and dog food can be used in small amounts. However, they are often not formulated well and cannot be used as a significant part of the animal’s diet.
Fruit can be provided as a treat, but fruit is high in sugar and should not be given often. Chocolate can be toxic for skunks, so it should be avoided. Your skunk’s diet should be high in calcium and taurine. If it isn’t, your pet may need a supplement.
Fresh water should be available at all times. However, skunks don’t drink that much. Most of the water they need comes from the veggies in their diet.
Often, you will need to formulate your skunk’s diet on your own, which is more difficult than simply picking up dog food at the store. Be sure to keep this in mind when considering whether you should adopt a skunk. Its diet can take up quite a bit of headspace and time.
Can You Potty Train a Skunk?
Typically, skunks can be trained to use a litter box, similar to cats. Simply put the litter box where the skunk tends to use the bathroom. The skunk will continue using that space, only now it will be getting used to the litter box as well.
Eventually, the skunk will learn to use the litter box through this simple conditioning. You’ll then be able to move it around wherever you want it.
Of course, since they are not really domestic animals, skunks are stubborn and often do not listen to their owners. This includes situations that involve their potty habits, and skunks often have accidents.
Are Wild Skunks Good Pets?
No, because once a skunk has grown up, it cannot be socialized with people anymore. It will not be comfortable around people and will be unable to thrive in a domestic situation. Pet skunks are often bred and raised by humans. They often bond with people and get along well in domestic situations. They are used to living in homes and therefore, do a good job of adapting.
You should never take a wild skunk and attempt to make it a domestic animal. It won’t end well and will likely lead to a great deal of stress on both sides.
Are Pet Skunks Safe for Children and Other Pets?
Pet skunks probably aren’t the best choices for children. However, there is nothing that makes a skunk more unsuitable for children than other small pets, like ferrets or rabbits. Skunks are not going to interact with the child like a dog, of course, but they likely won’t bite them either.
You should supervise your children around the skunk at all times. This mostly prevents injury to the skunk, as it is small and can be easily hurt by rambunctious children. If it is injured, it may lash out at the child, which can cause significant problems.
Skunks can typically get along fine with animals that are about their size. For instance, ferrets often get along fine with them. Skunks won’t try to hunt animals that are about their own size. Gentle, small dogs are often a good choice as well. Cats typically leave skunks alone, and skunks leave cats alone in return. Larger pets with high prey drives will often attempt to eat the skunk, making co-habitation impossible.
Do Pet Skunks Need Exercise?
Yes, because skunks were made to move all day long. They cannot be housed in a cage for extended periods of time. If they are, they will become bored and can potentially develop health problems. They can become restless and aggressive if kept in a small area. Instead, they must be allowed to roam freely and be given many opportunities for mental exercise. They need supervision during this time, so they are not pets that you can simply leave at home for much of the day.
Skunks can be potty-trained, but this often isn’t as successful as it is with other animals. They are stubborn and not well-suited for domestic life, so they often revert to their wild instincts when it comes to their potty habits.
You don’t exactly “walk” a skunk and shouldn’t, since it will have little way to defend itself. However, you should plan on playing with your skunk inside and provide it with plenty of room to run around. Skunks usually handle their needs fine by themselves when given the room and opportunity to do so.
Owning a skunk is similar to owning any other animal in many ways. For instance, they need exercise, a healthy diet, and plenty of stimulation. However, things get a bit complicated when you go beyond the basics.
For instance, it often isn’t possible to buy skunk food at the store, so you’ll have to formulate your own. It is difficult to find a vet that sees skunks, and there aren’t any medications or vaccinations specific for skunks, as they are rarer pets. Skunks have unique “problem” behaviors as well. They can get into cabinets with ease and will try to dig on carpets. They may even steal things and take them to their sleeping area. Many will get quite mad when you attempt to take these things back.
While skunks are getting more popular, owning a skunk is different than owning a cat or dog. They did not evolve next to people, so there are often communication difficulties.
- Next on your reading list: Dog Sprayed by Skunk? Here’s What to Do (Vet Approved)
Featured Image Credit: Geoffrey Kuchera, Shutterstock