Skunks as Pets: A Good Companion or Smelly Nightmare?

Domesticated skunks are quite lovable, non-stinky companions.

Wild skunks are a pest for many homeowners and dog owners, particularly due to their scent glands that leave a strong musky odor that's hard to get rid of. They can also be quite ferocious. Domestic skunks, on the other hand, are known to make friendly companions, and pet skunk owners say these curious animals make great exotic pets.

For more than 60 years, skunks have undergone domestication to be the fun-loving, furry mischief-makers that more and more skunk enthusiasts are welcoming into their homes.

Caring for Pet Skunks

Pet skunk getting bathed in sink

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Baby skunks are ready to be de-scented at an early age — male skunks around 3-4 months old, and females at 4-6 months old — so there is never any concern of them letting loose their musky spray inside a home. Some people debate that de-scenting is inhumane, akin to de-barking, de-clawing, tail docking, and ear pinning. However, many veterinarians admit it is a simple procedure much like a spaying or neutering.

A skunk's diet is a mix of fruit, veggies, and animal protein, including insects, fish, and poultry. Some skunk foods provide nutritional balance to their diet, though it's important to limit any additives to avoid obesity and health problems. Mealworms are especially tasty and easy to breed yourself to cut down on costs.

Despite wild skunks being most active at dawn and dusk, pet skunks can be trained to have a sleep cycle that mirrors that of their humans. They love cuddling and are playful animals, offering hours of free entertainment for their pet parents. Pet skunks do have a tendency to get into things, though, much like their wild animal counterparts enjoy getting into garbage.

Can You Keep Skunks as Pets?

Pet skunk and owner in Times Square, New York

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As curious diggers, they might scratch up your home with its claws and sharp teeth if it's not skunk-proofed. It is best to have a special play area for your skunk when unsupervised. This play area can be filled with toys and blankets to engage their curiosity and cuddly nature. It's important to make sure that they are supervised if they go out in the yard. Skunks, like ferrets, lack homing instincts and can get lost easily. De-scented skunks are also missing their key defense mechanism: spraying.

Skunks can also be taught to go to the bathroom in a litter box. Just put the litter pan in a corner that they choose to go to the bathroom in. If the skunk misses the corner, try putting small amounts of vinegar on their accident spots so they associate that with something that smells bad.

Wild skunks only have a lifespan of about three years, but domestic pet skunks have been known to live up to 10 years!

States Where Skunks Are Legal Pets

When considering a pet skunk as your new family member, make sure to check legality in your area. Check out a list of exotic animal laws in your state. Skunks are a rabies vector species just like dogs and cats, but because the species still has an active wild population, some states prohibit domestic skunks. There is no approved rabies vaccine in the U.S., though it is rare for a domestic skunk to contract the infection.

States like Kentucky, Michigan, Oregon and Pennsylvania allow skunks to be kept as pets as long as you have a permit and vaccinations. In some states, like Florida, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and Wyoming, it is completely legal to keep the skunk if it was bred in the state. Before thinking about getting a pet skunk, check state laws and make sure they are legal to own in your area.

Skunk ownership is not to be taken lightly, and skunk care, proper diet and veterinary care, like for all pets, is a 24/7 job. Unfortunately, many pet skunks in the United States are abandoned when prospective owners cannot care for them. There are skunk rescues, most notably Skunk Haven in Ohio which hosts the annual Skunk Fest.

What do you think about skunks as pets? Let us know on the Wide Open Pets Instagram!

This article was originally published February 27, 2018.

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