IS A PET SKUNK THE RIGHT PET FOR YOU?

Are you considering owning a domestic skunk as a pet?  They are certainly cute and adorable aren't they?  Babies especially will tug at your heartstrings.  They know all the right things to do to get you to take them home with you.  It is up to you to decide if adding a skunk is the right choice for you.  You need to carefully consider whether you want to add a baby skunk, which requires more care and training than an adult or to adopt a slightly older rescue skunk that has already gone through the "baby" stage.  Our goal is to give you the information necessary to make the right decision.  Only you can decide if a domestic skunk is right for you, your family, and the skunk.  Here are a few basic facts about the domestic skunk.

  • The average life span for a domestic skunk is 8 to 12 years or longer.
  • If handled properly as babies, they are very affectionate pets.
  • They can live with children if the children are responsible and old enough to know how to handle a pet properly and not leave doors open allowing the skunk to escape.
  • Skunks may or may not get along with your other animals.  Be careful not to set up a "food chain" and allow your skunk to be unsupervised around animals that might be harmed or killed or that could harm or kill your skunk (pet skunk could and have killed pet birds, hamsters, etc.)
  • Skunks once spayed or neutered have no body odor if healthy and fed a proper diet (no cat or dog food).
  • Skunks shed their coats once or twice a year.
  • Skunks need a calm environment.  Loud noises startle them.
  • The breeding season for skunks begins in late February .  Gestation lasts 7 to 10 weeks.  The babies are born in early May.  There is usually only one litter per year.  Litters are usually 4 to 6 kits but may be between 2 to 16.
  • Skunks do not go into full hibernation but some do get less active in the winter months.  They are nocturnal by habit but get used to your schedule and are more active during the times you are active.
  • Skunks are not born with rabies, but there is currently no rabies vaccine approved for skunks.  Because of this, if any skunk bites a human (even a pet skunk) and it is reported, the skunk will most likely be put to sleep and the brain removed to test for rabies.  There are new ways to test for rabies that do not involve killing the pet but they are in limited use at this time.  If you are required to have a permit to own a skunk, it can take several weeks to obtain.  Currently in Florida it is taking FWC 6 to 8 weeks to process applications and issue permits.  You cannot legally purchase or adopt a skunk without having a permit in your possession first.  When you get a baby skunk from a breeder or pet shop, it will be de-scented but not spayed or neutered.  This should be done no sooner than 4 months for males and 5 to 6 months for females.  If at that age your skunk is still under 4 lbs. in weight, then you should wait a little longer before having them fixed.  If by 9 months they are still under 4 lbs. you should have them fixed but make sure your vet is experienced in spaying or neutering a skunk that small otherwise they can kill them by giving too much anesthesia.  If you get a rescue skunk from the Florida Skunk Rescue, it will already be spayed or neutered.  
  • Skunk require deworming on a regular basis.  We recommend  a cycle of every 4 months and to alternate between a horse paste dewormer called Strongid (pyrantel pamoate) and Safeguard (ferbenizole/pancur).  Our handbook will have further information about deworming.
  • Some household cleaners can be toxic to your skunk and can even kill them.  Skunks have very sensitive noses and products with strong smells or scents can harm them.  Try to use natural products whenever possible as they are safer for  all pets.
  • Never de-claw your skunk.  Their nails have a "quick" like a dog's nail plus they use them to hold their food.

Some of the other things to consider before adopting or purchasing a skunk are legality, veterinary care/costs, proper environment, future plans, and other pets.

The education about domestic skunk never ends.  Responsible skunk owners are always searching for new and better ways to give their skunks the best possible care.  There is very little research that has been done on domestic skunks, so a lot of information we have is from actual personal experiences of fellow domestic skunk owners and their veterinarians.

Domestic skunk owners are a supportive group and ready to help fellow owners with any questions.  There are domestic skunk organizations in various locations across the county that have websites.  As with anything, everyone has their own opinion as to what works best for them so take their advice with a grain of salt and merge all that knowledge into what works best for you and your skunk.  A good sense of humor and a lot of patience is important when living with a skunk.

The first thing you should do when considering a domestic skunk as a pet is to check into the laws of your State.  Do you live in a State that allows you to own a pet skunk?  Laws are determined by each State individually and vary from one State to another.  Currently there are only about 17 States that allow domestic skunk ownership.  Wyoming is the only State that currently allows you to have a wild skunk as a pet.  Once it is determined you can legally keep a pet skunk in your State, you may have to also check with the county and/or city to see if they have any rules banning skunks as pets.  If your State allows you to have a pet skunk but requires a permit, you may have to apply for and have that permit in hand before you are able to obtain your pet skunk.  Florida is one of those States, and as of this writing, it is taking 6 to 8 weeks to get your permit processed.  If you need help obtaining your permit please contact us by email or text and we will be glad to answer your questions about the process.  It is never advised to have a skunk in an illegal situation.  Keeping a skunk illegally will put your skunk's life in jeopardy and could subject you to criminal prosecution.  In some cases, when an illegally kept skunk is seized, it will be euthanized rather than the State trying to care for it or find it a legal home with a licensed skunk person, wildlife center, or zoo.  Because the skunk is descented, it should never be released back into the wild.  The skunk has never been in the wild, and besides having no protection, it would not know how and where to find food so basically you would be giving your skunk a death sentence.  Please contact a skunk rescue, they will gladly take your skunk and rehome it to a person with the proper permits, no questions asked.

Laws are constantly changing.  States can change their laws from skunks being legal one year and illegal the next.  For this reason, you should subscribe to your State's Fish and Wildlife  newsletter and monitor any proposed changes and be ready to take action and speak up against any changes that would negatively affect your pet skunk ownership.  Never assume the rules will stay the same from year to year.

Currently there are no approved rabies vaccine or quarantine period in the United States for domestic skunks.  For this reason, if your skunk bites someone, even you, and it is reported to the authorities, your pet skunk will be euthanized to test for rabies.  While there is a saliva test now available to test for rabies, it is not widely used or felt to be totally reliable, so the most common method of testing for rabies is to euthanize the animal and send its brain for testing.   While there are still misbeliefs as to how rabies can be spread in animals, the truth is that  rabies can only be spread through a bite from a rabid animal or if the an animal eats the flesh of a rabid animal and contracts rabies.  It is not spread from parent to child in birth.   You should be extremely careful who you allow to touch your skunk.  Close friends and even family members can, and have, reported skunk bites, even knowing there is no way the pet skunk could have contracted rabies.  Pet skunks are raised in captivity so there is no chance of them being exposed to rabies.

Finding a veterinarian that can properly take care of your domestic skunk should be a top priority.  Do you have or know of a veterinarian in your area that is willing and is knowledgeable in caring for your skunk?  In addition, their staff should be vaccinated against rabies and knowledgeable in how to handle a pet skunk to minimize the chance of them being bitten while treating the skunk.  Having a vet that knows skunks is important, and can mean the difference between a happy, healthy skunk, and one that does not thrive as well.  It is best to have a knowledgeable vet and one that is willing to correspond with other qualified vets on acceptable methods of treatment.  Skunk metabolism and needs differ from other pets they are accustomed to treating.  Trying to treat them as a dog, cat, or even a ferret, could be detrimental to your skunk's well-being and life.  Make an appointment to meet the vet in person, ask how long they have been treating skunks and how many skunks are seen in their practice.  Also ask the question "what is your policy if my skunk bites your or a staff member".  If the answer is the bite will be reported, leave immediately and find another vet.  This could mean the difference between life and death for your skunk.

Advance thought should be given about whether your home is the proper environment for a skunk.  All members of the household should be equally eager and excited about the new "baby".  Special consideration should be given to the other pets in your home.  While a skunk will get along with most other pets, will those pets be willing to get along with a skunk?  A skunk is a predatory animal and high prey drive animals such as a Jack Russell terrier should not be forced to live together with predators.   By the same token, a skunk would not be a good choice if you have a pet such as a rabbit, hamster, etc. that the skunk may consider to be food for them.  Be prepared to keep other these types of animals totally separated from your skunk.   Always supervise your pets when they are together and never leave them alone with each other.  There have been instances where the most loving and trusted dogs attacked a skunk while the owner was away.  We know of some skunks  and ferrets that get along, but it is not recommended to let them free roam together unsupervised.  Ferrets and skunks are natural enemies in the wild.  Don't subject your new "baby"  or other pets to injury or death because you didn't consider the entire makeup of your household.  Having a skunk in your household will require changes to your lifestyle and everyone should be willing and ready to make the changes required to raise a happy, healthy skunk.

Do you have children in the home?  Skunks need to be carefully supervised around children.  Small children especially do not always understand how to properly handle animals.  The animal or the child could easily get hurt.  Baby skunks have to be taught not to bite or your child could easily wind up with a bite.  It is also possible that the child could react out of fear or pain and hurt the skunk if they get bitten.  It is probably a better idea to wait on getting a skunk until children are of an older age and better understand the handling and care of a skunk.  They should also know enough to keep doors leading to the outside closed so the skunk doesn't escape and also to watch when going in and out of doors to make sure the skunk isn't following them and trying to get out.

Skunks require a lot of time and patience.  Baby skunks require more.  Time and attention are needed to mold them into bonded, friendly, loving pets.  Babies need constant supervision, holding, cuddling and handling.  A skunk left constantly alone and confined, not receiving proper attention on a daily basis can become aggressive and difficult to handle or want to sleep all day.  A healthy skunk  gets lots of exercise.  They are curious animals that like to be out exploring and to have the warm feeling of being part of a family.  You should allow them to roam in as much of your house as possible.  An inactive skunk can become overweight.  Obesity is the number one killer of skunks.  An obese skunk becomes susceptible to a variety of health problems, including heart disease.  Household routines may need to be adjusted to ensure your skunk gets the proper amount of exercise.  The amount of quality time you spend with your skunk will reflect greatly on your skunk's personality.

Skunks can climb, especially baby skunks as they aren't as bottom heavy as adult skunks.  Most skunks lose their desire to climb by the time they reach 1 year old but that does not mean they won't try if there is something out of reach that they really want, especially food.  You will need to put some things out of reach and possibly even out of sight or smell.  Many skunks can climb onto couches,  chairs, beds, over baby gates, and occasionally have been know to make it onto kitchen tables and even counters.

Skunks can also flatten themselves enough to hide in places that you would never expect them to fit.  You need to make sure they cannot get behind washers, dryers, refrigerators, dishwashers, under sofas, box springs, and any other place that it could be difficult to retrieve them.  They are excellent at opening cabinets, so special latches may need to be installed on cabinets where you do not want them to go and especially those with harmful products for cleaning, pest control, etc.  The magnetic child proof locks are highly recommended.  They are even able to open refrigerator doors, especially the double door refrigerators.  So far, we have not found that they can open the refrigerators with the freezers on the bottom.  If you have a refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom, you need to be especially mindful that the skunk doesn't slip behind the freezer drawer and get shut in there as they will freeze to death.  Unfortunately, we know someone who was aware of this problem but never thought to warn a houseguest of this problem and the skunk was not found until the next morning frozen to death.

Skunks need space to roam.  It is a huge responsibility to keep them safe from things that can harm them.  If for any reason you become unable to care for your skunk for a day, a week, a month, or permanently, you will need someone to care for your skunk during this time.  This may not be as easy as it sounds.  A good skunk sitter needs to know a lot about caring for your baby.  If you run into this problem, do not hesitate to contact us at the Florida Skunk Rescue and we will be glad to help however we can.

You should be financially prepared to handle a skunk.  Depending on the area where you live, some vets charge more to treat a skunk because they consider it an exotic animal.  Outside the normal costs of food, bedding, and other necessities, there are vet bills.  Depending on your skunk, wellness examinations are recommended at least once a year.  You may also need to travel to different vet for a medical solution if your vet cannot handle the problem.  You need to research an emergency clinic that can handle a skunk emergency during the hours your vet is not open.  A lot of emergency clinics treat wildlife and these usually always have a vet that would be willing to see a skunk in an emergency.  Call around and ask, or even check with your vet, don't wait till emergency arises and your are in a panic about what to do.  We all hope for long and healthy lives for our skunks, but you have to be prepared for just about anything.  As of this writing, pet insurances does not cover pet skunks.  If you have a skunk emergency occur and you do not know what to do or cannot reach a vet, do not hesitate to contact us for assistance at 727-809-0975 or 727-482-3724.

Skunks can be potty trained but depending on your skunk, it might not be the easiest thing to do.  Skunks like to do their business in corners.  Your skunk will definitely let you know which corner or corners are preferred for litter boxes.  One litter box will usually not be enough and it may take several spaced throughout the rooms your skunks goes to satisfy your skunk's potty needs.  Be prepared if you attempt to change the mind of your skunk on the choice of corners and it fails.  This is one battle you may not win.  Eventually, you will come to a mutual understanding.

The most important thing in caring for a skunk is to insure they receive a proper diet.  Unfortunately, except a product called STOMP, there are not any healthy pre-packaged foods, kibbles, or shortcuts available.  They need to be fed precise amounts and types of foods to keep them in good health.  A skunk's stomach is only about the size of a half dollar and it does not have a shut off switch to tell the skunk when it is full.  For this reason, you need to be very aware of how much food your skunk is consuming in a day otherwise you can end of with a very obese skunk.  Just like people, once the weight is on, it takes a big effort and strict diet control to get them to lose the excess weight.  Make sure all family members know not to feed the skunk snacks constantly.  Just because a skunk begs does not mean they are hungry.  They are very clever at going from one person to another to beg and act like they've never been fed.

Since the domestic skunk just made the leap from wild into the home in such a short period, their diet should mimic as best as possible the diet they would have eaten in the wild.  Feral skunks consume a wide variety of foods.  In particular they each beetles, crickets, grasshoppers and are fond of bees.  In summer they eat some fruit, rodents and eggs.  As colder months approach, they eat leaves, nuts, and carrion.  Therefore, your skunk's diet should consist of fresh fruits and vegetables, and animal protein such as superworms, mealworms, crickets, grasshoppers, raw chicken necks, cooked ground turkey or chicken, and baked chicken or turkey.  The need for supplements may be determined by blood analysis.  If a well balanced diet is not fed, deficiencies will occur.  Harm can also occur from over supplementation.  You will quickly realize that your skunk is probably eating better than you do.  The importance of a good balanced diet can never be stressed enough.

If you are a juvenile or young adult thinking about getting a domestic skunk as a pet, there are a few things you need to consider.   In the State of Florida, you must be 16 years old before you apply for a permit to have a pet skunk. Your parents should be 100% supportive in your decision to have a domestic skunk as a pet and, if you are younger than 16, they will have to obtain the permit in their name.  This would also make your parents responsible for any action your domestic pet skunk may take.  In addition, they may one day become the primary caretaker of the skunk depending on your life choices after high school.  Your parents are also the ones that will be buying the food, cleaning supplies, and paying the vet bills.  They are the ones that will be making the most changes in the way the house is cleaned and what products are used.  A juvenile considering a domestic skunk as a pet is probably in high school, or of an age where there are many unknowns which will affect your pet skunk.  High school and after school activities can be very time consuming; and that means time away from your pet.  High school is a time for your social development; offering dances, sporting events and other social events you will not want to miss and these all mean time away from your pet.  Will your skunk have to be locked up in your room while you are away, or will your parents allow it to have free roam of the house and will they tend to him/her in your absence?

Many of you will want to go off to college.  College is a big step in life and with it comes stress.  It requires a lot of hard work and study time.  There are events that are even more social in college than in high school.  This means a lot of time alone for your skunk, or you missing many activities.  What happens to your skunk if your dorm does not allow pets or you go to a school in a State that does not allow domestic pet skunks.  Even if you go to a college in a State where pet skunks are allowed, you still may not be able to legally bring your pet skunk into that State.  Will it be left behind at home with parents who do not love your skunk as much as you do and will be saddled with taking care of it?  Or will you have to give up your skunk to a rescue?

You also have to consider what happens when you move out either into a place of your own or with a roommate.  Will that place allow you to bring pets, especially a pet skunk?  Will your roommate be OK with you having a pet skunk?  Later there is the consideration of marriage.  You really have no way of knowing whom you will marry years down the road.  What will happen to your skunk if your mate does not want a pet skunk or by some odd chance is allergic to the skunk?  It is hard to know what the future may bring, but for your skunk's sake, all these things need to be considered and thought out before adopting or buying a domestic skunk.  We've gotten more than our fair share of rescues because a significant other didn't want any part of having a pet skunk or because a person once married relocated out of State and couldn't take their beloved pet with them.  It is a lot harder to move within the State or out with a pet skunk than a dog or cat.

 If after reading and considering this information, you still want to obtain a skunk as a pet, go to www.myfwc.com.  Under licenses and permits you will find the application for a Class III Captive Wildlife Permit.  Until you get your skunk we recommend obtaining the free pet permit which allows you to keep your skunk in your home and take it out only to the vet as this permit is good for 2 years.  We just never know how soon we will get a rescue for rehoming.  If after getting a skunk you wish to take it out in public, you can convert your permit to the $50.00 per year exhibition permit. 

Once you have your permit, if you would like to adopt a skunk, go to our website www.floridaskunkrescue.com and fill out our adoption application.  Just be patient and we will contact you as soon as we have a skunk that fits your needs.

If you have any questions or need additional information, email us at:  floridaskunkrescue@verizon.net.