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Animal Science

The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world.

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Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

Posted October 09, 2009 12:00 AM by Jaxy

Skunks are often known for their smell and black-and-white striped appearance, but otherwise, not many people know much about them. Mostly seen as victims of road traffic, skunks are crepuscular and solitary creatures.

Skunks for Pets

Keeping skunks as pets is legal in the UK, although it has been made illegal to remove their scent glands; sadly, when people hoping to keep a skunk as a pet learn this fact, the skunks are usually deemed impractical and are often dumped into the wild.

Keeping skunks as pets is only legal in certain US states and the scent glands are removed. Skunks can survive for as few as ten years and up past twenty years with a domesticated lifestyle. There is a lack of genetic diversity amongst the US varieties of skunks because the few breeders out there are using the same genetic stock. No skunks are allowed to be taken from the wild.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Skunks have excellent senses of smell and hearing, but rather poor vision. Not being able to see clearly more than ten feet away makes them especially vulnerable to road traffic. Fewer than ten percent of skunks will live past three years old, with half of their deaths being human related.

Due to their thick fur, skunks are one of the primary predators of the honeybee. Mother skunks teach their young how to scratch the front of a beehive and eat the guard bees. They are generally omnivorous and sometimes act as scavengers, eating carcasses left by other animals. In settled areas, skunks are also drawn to eat human garbage.

Their notorious anal scent glands are used as a defensive weapon as they produce the "spray" that humans and many animals fear. The spray is strong enough to ward off bears, wolves, foxes, and many other predators. The skunks' main predator is the great horned owl as its sense of smell is very poor. If sprayed, people and animals may experience irritation and temporary blindness.

Will Skunks Spray Me?

Skunks are generally reluctant to use their spray. It takes about ten days to produce a supply of the chemical and skunks only harbor enough for five-to-six uses. They will usually resort to trying to warn the threatening creature to stay away by hissing, foot stamping, and other tail-high threat positions. Although, this will not hold true for a mother protecting her kits as mothers often spray at any danger.

Regardless of whether skunks will spray first, I would rather not take my chances and give them plenty of space. I see skunks often where I reside. When I see them, my first instinct is to stop dead in my tracks, an action that I have been made fun of. I have been told that I act as if "an axe murderer is headed my way." Do you encounter skunks often? What do you do when you see them? Would you ever want to own one as a pet?



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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/09/2009 8:31 AM

Skunks! I love skunks! Seriously. And I had no idea they were crepuscular, or that there was even such a word.

Several visit my property nightly to scavenge beneath the many bird-feeders I have placed around. By quiet observation (and standing very still, just as you do, Jaxy), I can distinguish between my solitary guests. Their stripes all vary; some have more white; some actually have regular 'feeding' times.

I enjoy watching them while I'm walking the parapets. Sometimes I can approach and get within 15 ft or so before they become bothered and scamper away.

How did you get daytime photos of them, Jaxy? and whose domesticated in-the-kitchen skunk is that?

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/09/2009 12:52 PM

I wish I could say that I produced those photos single-handedly, but I did not. I wikipedia-d those pictures. I do not know whose domesticated skunk that is, but there are several people who do own skunks that probably post their story!

The only time I have ever seen skunks is in the dark. That would make for a bad picture opportunity I am sure. *Flash* "Uh-oh" The next day my dead body is found mauled by a skunk. Just kidding! But I am sure the skunk wouldn't be happy about that nonetheless.

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/09/2009 1:08 PM

I have only heard of one household that kept a skunk around purposefully. They grew a large amount of marijuana, and kept the skunk around as an excuse for the smell to the neighborhood. The got away with this fore quite a few years, until their ways finally caught up to them. Then the poor Imprisoned skunk was set free.

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/09/2009 2:42 PM

This past summer my next door neighbor had a litter of skunks living behind his garage. They became quite fond of the cat food he puts out for the feral cats in the neighborhood. Eventually the baby skunks became quite tame and would go up on his back deck at all hours of the day and night.

I never realized they did not develop their scent glands when they were very young but my neighbor knew of this. Eventually the little skunks became friendly enough that he was able to handle them, pick them up, pet them, etc.

I am not sure what has become of them or if they are still living nearby but I imagine by now he is not picking them up anymore.

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/10/2009 9:10 AM

My late father, who was born in the early 1930's, had a pet skunk for many many years until he had to let her go loose after being Drafted for the Korean War. Her name was "Chantilly Lace" (an appropriate name for a skunk to say the least!). For those not familiar with Chantilly Lace, it was wildly used woman's perfume back then. If I remember correctly, it was Grandpa who came up with the name. He was quite the character.

Also, I was told that Chantilly Lace was a very gentle animal and as tame as a house cat (hello Del???!!! LOL), unless you handled her roughly or spooked her in some way, then you had to contend with her extremely sharp needle-like teeth and claws as she tried to scurry away or break your hold on her! I'm not sure if she was de-scented before the she was shipped to dad or not. All I know is that she had her scent glands removed at sometime, otherwise my Grandma wouldn't have permitted dad to keep her at all on the property!

My dad also told me that back then in the 30's and 40's that you could mail order pet skunks and other woodland critters, even pigeons, which were very popular with kids. He also had them too! Now, it is illegal to do mail order or even own wild animals (in most instances) in New York State.

My dad also had a pet raccoon whose name was "Joe College". He tended to be a very naughty fellow from time to time. One day when dad was a teenager, he brought Joe College to work with him. Dad worked after school at the local pharmacy in the small upstate NY village near Schenectady where he grew up. Well, to make a long story short the raccoon somehow got loose, or slipped out of his leash, and had climbed up on the pharmacy shelves and proceeded to knock the medicine bottles off the shelves to the floor below. Needless to say, there was a huge amount of glass breakage as a result of Joe needing to explore the store! Unfortunately, dad got fired on the spot for even bringing the raccoon into work with him.

I'm not sure what ever happened to the Joe College raccoon when dad left for the Army. Possibly he had to let him loose to the wilds as well.

I wish I had some of dad's old B&W photographs of Chantilly Lace and Joe College to post here to share with y'all!!!!!

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/12/2009 10:19 AM

About thirty years ago, my sister had a pet skunk. She lived in Worcester, Mass. at the time. She bought hers from a breeder and the scent glands were removed. Very nice pet, like a cat in many ways. The little guy learned to use a litter box very quickly. She had him for about three years and had to sell him when she moved to a new apartment that didn't allow pets. Even though he had scratching posts and such, he did have an affinity for the back of the sofa though. Just like some cats too.

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/13/2009 9:08 AM

I always thought Skunks were neat looking. As long as it would be de-scented would have considered owning one for a pet.

I had a wild skunk visit me once while sitting around a camp fire. It decided it wanted our snacks so it wondered into our circle and promptly started eating them. Guess being from around the campground it wasn't afraid of humans. And we sure weren't going to try and stop it. We just QUIETLY all got up and backed away & let him have his feast.


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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

10/15/2009 9:45 PM


Anonymous Poster

Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

11/17/2009 9:09 AM

I had two pet skunks as a kid. One was a baby I rescued when a farmer cleaned out around his barn, and accidently orphaned the baby. She was a very dainty little lady and a joy to have around. Later, when I had moved into the old hurricane house on our property, I rescued an older skunk someone did not want any longer. He had been descented. He and I cohabited that outside room for many years. It was accepted that under the bed was his den and his den alone. The rest of the room was communal. He was a very polite and curious roommate. One of my fondest memories was sitting on my bed with my feet on the bed rail. I would know he was awake when he would nibble my toes in the most gentle fashion. I always felt I was being groomed, as he might have done for a member of his family. Once my grooming was done, he would wind himself around my feet, then turn and look up at me with his beady little eyes and sharp little snout with that cute little nose for me to return the favor with some petting. He was quite fastidious and always went to the bathroom outside, burying his leavings just like a cat.

Being somehow related to the weasel/ferret family, skunks can have a somewhat musky scent that is external to the defensive scent gland spray. The scent on my skunks was very mild and not at all disagreeable - to mine and my families noses anyway. The scent was gentle enough that it did not linger on my hands - unlike the odor of a ferret.

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Re: Would You Want a Pet Skunk?

03/17/2010 10:53 AM

I have a pet skunk and she is the most georgeous little thing she is quite nervouse around people she dosen't and she can be very naughty like she has eaten most of my leather sofa but I still love her. She is very clean always uses newspaper to do her toilet she also causes a bit of a stir when we go out for a walk, people can't believe that skukns can be so cute they mostly expect her to spray which she never has. I'd recomend them to any body that wants a really cute pet

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