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Skunks

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The striped skunk is one of the most feared animals in the Midwest.  Studies have shown that grizzly bears, mountain lions, and coyotes stay FAR away from skunks, and that no species really hunts the skunk.  Skunk versus anything – Skunk wins.  The thing to remember is that they KNOW it.  Many of us in the wildlife management community sincerely love the skunks.  Even when they a little babies, they have the ego of a skunk.  Skunks do not care if you see them at night.  These are not animals that you shine a light on and they scatter.  They just don’t care about you, or your dog, cat, or even your car for that matter.  To a skunk, nothing is a threat.  Do you know why you smell skunk when one gets hit by a car?  It’s not because they naturally release their scent upon death.  You smell them because the skunk saw the car coming, and they sprayed the car to make it stop.  It never occurred to the skunk that the car wouldn’t back down – everything else does.  The most common misconception about skunks is that if you go anywhere near them they will spray you.  This is not necessarily the case.  Skunks are comparable to a human being with a loaded gun.  If a burglar breaks into your home and you have a loaded gun, you plan to threaten and scare the burglar off by saying ‘I have a gun’.  You don’t REALLY want to shoot the burglar.  You don’t truly want anyone to get shot.  It’s just a scare tactic, and if necessary you will fire.  Skunks are the same way.  They don’t WANT to spray you.  It’s not fun for them, and they only have so much spray.  They don’t want to waste any of it on you or your dog unless absolutely necessary.  The true secret to coexisting peacefully with skunks is to stop being afraid of them and ignore them as much as they ignore you.  We get a lot of calls about skunks at the hotline, and here are a few of our most common topics.

Dog Sprayed By Skunk

Dogs tend to be the most commonly sprayed by skunk.  Amazingly, some dogs get sprayed multiple times, not learning from the first time.  Most dogs keep a good distance after the first spray though.  When a dog approaches a skunk, the skunk will stomp its feet

and fluff its tail straight up.  It will then dance around in circles stomping the whole while trying to intimidate the dog.  The skunk will keep its head low and tail high, much in the same way that we play with our dogs.  In the dog world, nose down-butt up is a play position, and running in circles around something or someone is a fun behavior, not a defensive one.  Because of this, dogs are confused by the defensive posturing that a skunk uses.  Dogs want to get close to the skunk and give it a nice sniff-sniff-nice-to-meetcha but the skunk is not at all interested in being friends.  When the dog finally goes in for the pounce, the skunk sprays and the poor dog usually gets it right in the face.  Then here comes Mom and Dad to help the dog.  You get the hose and start to try to wash off the dog, but water makes this situation MUCH worse.  Tomato juice won’t help, and any shampoo that you have to use water for, just makes things more unbearable.  If your dog gets sprayed by a skunk, try the following recipe:

One Quart 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
1/4 cup baking soda
1 tsp dish detergent like Dawn

Mix the ingredients together with your dog in the bathtub.  Do NOT pre-rinse the dog.  Apply solution to a dry, skunked dog.  Put the stopper in the tub so that you can sponge on the mixture and soak the dog all the way through.  Make sure that your dog doesn’t get too cold during this process, and make absolutely sure that he/she does not DRINK any of the solution.  If they do get a lick of the solution, your dog will begin vomiting and you may need to consult your veterinarian if it does not resolve quickly.  Do not get the solution in your dog’s eyes or ears, and do not attempt to “store” this solution for later use.  The chemical reaction will cause the solution to react in a sealed bottle and the bottle will explode.  It is possible that your dog will end up with some ‘highlights’ in their hair after this solution, but at least they won’t smell like a skunk!  Soak the dog in the solution for 3-5 minutes, then rinse with warm water.  If needed, you can reapply multiple times.

*If your pet uses a topical flea/tick product like Frontline, Advantix, Revolution, etc. you may have to reapply that product after bathing in this solution.  Consult your veterinarian.

Skunk Evictions

Skunks love to burrow under cement and wood to make their home.  Often, this happens in early spring (March/April/May) or late fall (October/November).  In the spring they are denning to have their litters.  In fall they are seeking a place to overwinter, where they mostly will sleep and lie low, so they won’t be much trouble at all.  The most troublesome of all skunks is a mother skunk, with kits in the den.  She really will defend that area with her life, and she WILL win.  If at all possible, in these situation, let Mom stay until she is done raising the kits, and she will move on all by herself.  You won’t have to force her out.  If you must relocate her to a new area, she may not take her kits with her, and you will have created orphaned babies that have to be sent to a rehab facility.  Many of us have tried to re-release Mom in a new area and send the kits with her, but it has often ended in heartache.  We don’t necessarily know for sure why, but maybe Mom is so concerned that she cannot provide for herself in a new area, that she leaves the kits behind, or maybe because of their notoriously bad eyesight the kits just can’t follow her well enough to stay with her, maybe Mom’s just in so much of a hurry to get away from people that she forgets all about the kids.  We don’t know.  Some rehab facilities will take on Mom and the kits, and let them finish their babyhood in rehab, before releasing them as juveniles together.

Your best option is to wait a few weeks for the babies to be old enough to follow Mom out at night.  Sit up one night and from an inside window watch the area where they live.  When Mom and babies leave (they’ll all be in a little line like ducks in a row) you have the opportunity to serve their eviction notice.  Seal up the entire area with wire mesh except for one opening.  The wire mesh will have to be inserted under the ground at least 4-6 inches into the ground and bend it into an L shape at a 90 degree angle away from the shed or driveway.  The mesh should extend 6-12 inches out from the area so that if they dig, they will hit the mesh instead of being able to get under it.  Secure the wire to the shed or concrete and install a one-way door.

You can purchase one-way exclusion doors online at  Tomahawk.

These excluder doors will allow for any babies trapped inside to get out, but not back in.  You can use the flour method to keep track of who is coming and going by checking the tracks in the morning.  Once a week has passed, you can be sure no animals are left under the shed, and then you can fill in with cement, more wire, or whatever you like.

Skunk Deterrents

You can try cayenne pepper around the entrance to the den.  You can attempt the castor oil on the ground that everyone swears by.  I have had ZERO luck with either of these methods, but I know people who have said that it works.  We think that it depends on the tenacity of the skunk.  If you are dealing with a skunk mother that has kits in the den, there is very little that would keep her from those kits.  The motion detection sprinkler system is a very safe and effective tool, but it is possible that the skunk will spray the sprinkler right back when it sprays her.  So, be forewarned!

Skunks Digging Up Gardens

Skunks don’t bother vegetable gardens very often, but they do love their flower beds.  Skunks eat worms and bugs, and their all time favorite is grub worms here in the Midwest.  Chances are if you have skunks, you have grub worms.  The simplest way to solve your skunk problem is to solve your grub worm problem.  Eliminate the grub worms from your garden and the skunks will move on to Mrs. Jones’ rose garden across the street instead!  There are many effective grub control products available at home improvement stores, and there are even organic solutions that work quite well.

Skunks Digging Everywhere in Yard

Skunks are also attracted to areas under bird feeders where loose seed falls, so if you are a bird feeder, install a plate below your feeders to catch falling seed before it hits the ground.  Take a metal pizza pan with holes in it and drill a hole in the center large enough for the pole your feeder is on.  Place the pizza pan under your bird feeder and it will catch falling seed.  Clean regularly.

The other thing that might be attracting your skunks is your well meaning neighbor that likes to feed the ‘poor’ stray cats.  Remember – everything is a friend to a skunk.  Cats and skunks will eat right next to each other and never fight.  Skunks don’t want to fight with cats and cats know better than to pick a fight with a skunk.  It is very common for skunks to show up at cat feeding stations within feral cat colonies.  The only way to control this is to control the feeding of the cats.  If your neighbor refuses to stop feeding the cats, discuss with him/her feeding the cats up on a table, or somewhere high that the cats can get to but skunks cannot.  Skunks do not jump and climb the way that cats do.  Using a patio table or picnic table and putting the food on top of the table will keep most skunks from getting to it.

Caught / Trapped Skunks & How To Release

Remember, the skunks know that you are afraid.  They are confident that you are not going to hurt them because they are confident that you are not an idiot.  Find a towel, a fairly large thick towel, that you are willing to sacrifice to this endeavor.  Wet the towel in the kitchen sink and wring it out before going outside.  Make sure it is not dripping wet, but is damp.  Approach the skunk in the trap VERY slowly and steadily with the towel.  Hold the towel in front of you like a bull fighter would for a bull, at waist level.  If at all possible, approach the trap from behind the skunk, but do not try to ‘sneak’ up on him.  You don’t want to startle him.  You want him to know that you are approaching, but not be terrified of you.  If the skunk starts to stomp its feet and get very angry towards you, just stop progressing forward and wait for him to calm down a bit.  It may take quite a while to get all the way up to the trap.  But slow is better than sprayed!  Once you reach the trap, slowly drape the towel over the skunk and the trap, leaving only the one end exposed so that you can work on opening the door.  Once the skunk is in the dark, he will become much more calm, giving you a chance to work on getting him out of there.  If you wish to relocate the skunk before opening the trap door, carefully pick up the trap with the wet towel on it entirely, and slowly walk it to where you wish to release the skunk.  If the skunk does spray, which I do not expect it to do, the wet towel will help contain the spray and have it not get on you, plus the dark, damp surrounding is the best to calm the skunk.  Once you are ready and get the door open, just walk away from the trap.  Do not shake the trap to make him leave.  Do not lift the towel off the trap.  Let the skunk set the pace here and he will leave when he is ready.  If it is noon and sunny, he may wish to wait in the (now dark) trap until dusk before he scampers off into the night.  If you do get yourself sprayed, use the same solution that is listed above for the dog, except apply it to yourself.  If you’re having a lot of trouble with this, give us a call at the hotline for assistance @ 1-855-WILD-HELP.

Skunks Out During Daytime

Skunks are rabies vector species and they are capable of contracting and spreading the rabies virus.  This does NOT mean that it is COMMON for skunks to have rabies.  If you see a skunk out during the day and all it does is run past you as though it is running late for work, this skunk is probably not sick.  Skunks sometimes lose track of time and don’t make it home until after dawn.  Skunk mothers sometimes get caught out in daylight because they are hungry and trying to procure enough food to keep the hungry kits fed and happy.  If the skunk you are seeing seems aimless, drunk, disheveled, dirty and slow, there may be something wrong with it.  Skunks, like ’em or not, are normally very clean, pretty critters.  They usually look like they just came from a grooming service, no matter how rainy and nasty it is outside.  If the skunk you see outside in the daytime looks matted, dirty, or just plain not normal, please call the wildlife hotline immediately @ 636-492-1610.  Do NOT approach the skunk, and do NOT try to trap or corner the animal.  If you are BIT by a skunk, seek medical treatment immediately and report the bite to your local rabies control office as soon as possible.  Rabies is 99.99% FATAL in humans.  If there is ANY risk of you or someone you know of being exposed to the virus, this is no time to delay treatment!  Go to your nearest emergency room immediately, no matter how small the risk.  You will never forgive yourself if it turns out someone was exposed to rabies, could have been treated, and instead died a horrible, painful death.

Skunk in Garage, Shed, etc.

This call refers to a skunk that doesn’t LIVE in the garage or shed, just wandered in to take a look around.  The best solution to this issue is to leave the doors open, at least a little bit, and sprinkle flour on the ground outside the door.  Go inside and find something else to do for a while.  The skunk will wander right back out of there eventually and you’ll see his footprints in the flour.  Close the doors and the skunk probably won’t visit again.

… A Word about Poison …

We at the Wildlife Hotline are strong opponents to poisoning wildlife.  First off, it is not a legal way to handle wildlife conflicts.  Secondly, poison never ends up only affecting the animal that you intended to poison.  These animals are part of the circle of life, and if poisoned a predator comes along and eats the dead animal which then kills the predator, which gets picked apart by birds, which then kills the birds, then the birds are found by a domestic cat and kills the cat.  It just isn’t simple issue.  Poison has proven to be a far too dangerous way to handle wildlife conflicts.  Before you decide to use poison to handle your wildlife conflict please read our ‘Poison Risks & Consequences’ page to learn more about this issue.

Skunks are tricky, and we would be more than happy to discuss different ideas on how to coexist with them.  Please call 1-855-WILD-HELP to speak with a wildlife specialist that can assist you.