I read somewhere recently that someone with a pet skunk in the UK had lost it when the gate had been left open. Why on earth would someone keep a skunk I wondered. Europe doesn’t have any natural skunk populations, but there are four species of skunk in the world, located in North and South America - the striped, hooded, hog-nosed and spotted skunks, and I guess any one of them could be adopted as a pet.
If adopting one floats your boat, you would definitely need to check the legality of a skunk as a pet, as there are regulations for even the more mundane of imported pets, so be sure to thoroughly check the laws regarding ownership in advance. These laws often change over time, so staying up-to-date is essential.
Smelly or smell-less?
Skunks are small-to-medium-sized omnivorous mammals within the Mephitidae family, being well-known for their awful smell, and keeping one is notoriously difficult. Do they make good pets? In the case of wild skunks, I would say the answer is definitely a no. But captive breeding has been going on for over 60 years, and the result has produced docile and loving pets. The most notable difference between wild and domestic skunks is the lack of scent glands - domesticated skunks are de-scented when they are between two and five weeks of age, and grow up ‘unarmed.’ While a relatively simple procedure, there is some debate as to whether or not de-scenting skunks is humane. Some argue that a de-scented skunk has unfairly been stripped of its natural defences.
Their stinky smell is a unique form of defence used to ward off predators or unwanted guests when they feel threatened - when the skunk’s black and white colouring or foot stomping is not enough to warn off predators, they will resort to their potent spray, which comes from two glands located on each side of their anus – the message being stay back or get sprayed! Skunks only carry enough of this chemical for five to six uses and it requires up to 10 days to ‘reload’. It smells like rotten eggs and is so pungent it can be smelled up to half a mile away and can linger for days to weeks. It can cause stinging of the eyes, temporary blindness, and nausea, and with impressive aim, they can hit targets with accuracy as far as 3 metres away.
What do they eat?
About 60-70% of a captive skunk’s diet is protein, such as eggs, chicken, fish, cheese, and raw nuts, with feeder insects being healthy options, and vegetables would make up the balance of their diet. The things they shouldn’t eat include sweets, onions, asparagus, chocolate, processed meats, bacon or bacon fat or fried foods. In the wild (where in my opinion, they should stay) it would be totally different. Some of their favourite foods include mice, moles, voles, rats, birds and their eggs, and carcasses—also grasshoppers, wasps, bees, crickets, beetles, and beetle larvae. Skunks also eat fruits, nuts, and garden crops, and scavenge on garbage, birdseed, and pet food.
Most are about the size of a house cat, but some are significantly smaller, and with patience and a lot of training, they can learn how to use a litter box. Apparently, a skunk will enjoy freely roaming your home, but while unattended it's important that a skunk has a safe place to go. They often use their long claws to open cabinet doors or dig into something that may interest them, so ‘skunk proofing’ your house may become necessary. A ‘den’ area is important for your skunk, so you'll want to provide a cosy bed or blanket that only belongs to the skunk, just like you would a dog.
Unlike a cat or dog, skunks have really poor homing skills and letting them out of your sight outdoors could mean they would be gone forever. Many owners choose to harness-train their skunks from a young age for safe outdoor adventures.
So, where does the term ‘drunk as a skunk’ come from? Apparently, it is merely rhyming slang, and has no real connection with skunkdom!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.