It’s that time of year again! Toward the end of April and throughout the month of May each year baby skunks are born. Normally, the public doesn’t see these babies until they are fully furred and capable of following Mom out of the den at night to go out foraging for bugs. There are a couple of different circumstances that cause orphaned babies that are in need of intervention.
- Mom was hit by a car or is otherwise deceased. Usually when an adult skunk is hit by a car or a victim of some other trauma, the residents in the area are very aware of it.
- Mom was trapped or killed by a homeowner on purpose and the babies were not discovered until AFTER she was relocated or killed.
Any time that you find baby skunks wandering around alone, with no parent anywhere to be seen, there is reason for concern. Unless the babies are super-tiny, eyes-closed babies, Mom shouldn’t be too far away from them. If you can approach baby skunks without Mom running you off pretty quickly, there is a problem. If babies are eyes-open and capable of walking around, digging, playing, and look healthy from a distance, give them some time to see if Mom surfaces. If it is day time, babies should not be wandering around outside of the den without Mom. If it is after dark, watch them for an hour or two from a distance and if you do not see Mom during that period of time, there may be a problem. Before approaching them, or just to help determine whether or not they are truly in need of assistance, please call the Wildlife Hotline to speak with a specialist, any time, day or night.
Once you have determined that Mom is no longer caring for these babies, it’s time to come up with a plan to approach and catch them to get them to a rehabber. ALL skunks, no matter how small, CAN spray and WILL do so when scared or cornered. Depending on how old babies are, you need to be concerned about BOTH ENDS of the skunk when trying to approach them. They will BITE and they will SPRAY. How hard they will try to spray or bite depends on the age of the baby and how freaked out they are. Slow and steady wins the race with skunks. When approaching, do not run at them or ‘swoop’ down on them. The simplest way to ‘catch’ baby skunks is with a cardboard box or laundry basket. (Make sure the laundry basket has a slats in it that are small enough that the babies can’t escape) Go outside to where the babies are, approaching very slowly and quietly. The babies will probably retreat into the hole when you approach, and that’s okay. Be prepared though for an angry Momma to pop out. If she does – GET OUT OF THERE. She will NOT be happy about you finding the den site, and she will warn you before spraying. HEED her warning! If you still don’t see Mom, sit down or kneel on the ground about 6 foot away from the den opening, and wait for babies to come to check you out. Older babies will come out pretty quickly, while the smaller kits will take a while to get brave enough to come out. You may have to wait a while but if you wait, then try to approach after they are out playing/sniffing, they will go back in the hole the second you come back toward them. It’s better to wait them out. If the babies do NOT retreat into the den hole when you approach, you can ‘call’ them to one spot by digging at the ground with your fingers, as though you are scratching at the dirt. Babies should see/hear you digging at the dirt and approach you, allowing you to place the box or laundry basket over them. Once you have them in the box or basket, please call the hotline immediately to get babies to a rehabber.
If you decide that you must handle them yourself, you can do so with leather or rubber gloves that they cannot bite through. Skunks are rabies vector species and are one of the two species that often test positive for the disease in our area. Even if you are SURE that these are not sick babies (and you cannot truly be sure) if you get bit by a skunk, that baby legally must be euthanized and tested for rabies no matter what. For your sake, and the babies sake – you MUST NOT GET BIT! If you do, it means shots for you, and death for the skunk. Please be careful, or let a rehabber handle it. You can always call the hotline to speak with someone who can assist you – 24 hours a day.
Please DO NOT FEED baby skunks!
DO NOT feed kitten formula, puppy formula, baby formula, cow’s milk, condensed milk, some other recipe that you found on the internet, or ANYTHING else. Every year we get babies in that have canned dog or cat food lodged in their throats from the babies trying to ‘gum’ the food down, and babies with horrible diarrhea, bloat, and MAJOR nutritional deficiencies from well-meaning finders that attempt to feed them. If you MUST feed them for some reason, please call us at the Hotline to get advice on what might be okay to feed them, if they truly need fed. We can help determine what, if anything, should be fed on a case by case basis.
Many people tell us that they had a family member, friend, or someone they knew in the past that had a skunk as a pet. There is such a thing as a ‘domestic’ skunk, but the skunks that you found in your yard are NOT domesticated. These are WILD babies, and they are not meant to be pets. It is ILLEGAL to own a skunk as a pet in Missouri & Illinois. If anyone ever finds out that you have a pet skunk, or even that you have baby skunks that you are raising without a permit, you will be fined and the babies will be euthanized. Because of the rabies risk in skunks, the laws surrounding them are HEAVILY enforced and stories of illegal skunks often end tragically. We do not see a lot of rabies in the midwest. However, the two species that we do see the disease in are (#1) bats, and (#2) skunks. Rehabbers that raise these animals have the proper pre-exposure vaccinations to help protect them from the disease. In Illinois it is illegal for skunks to be rehabbed at ALL, where in Missouri we still can rehab, but only with the proper permits.
Please do not attempt to raise baby wild skunks on your own. They are not puppies, and they are not kittens. They need formula and food specifically designed for wild skunks. Their protein and fat requirements do not match anything available for cats or dogs. The babies will eat just about anything you place in front of them, but then they will get very sick. They develop diarrhea, painful bone diseases because of the wrong amount of calcium, their hair will come in poorly and they can lose their eyesight due to poor nutrition. It is incredibly sad when a baby skunk comes in to a rehab center but cannot be saved because the finder kept the baby for a week and fed it all the wrong things before finally bringing it in for help and proper care. We know that they are very cute, and we understand that you some people would really like to keep them. However, they are very impressionable and will become ‘imprinted’ quickly to like humans, thus making it very difficult to release them back to the wild when they are old enough. At some point these adorable babies will be trying to dig up your wood floors, your carpet, play-spraying each other just for fun and stinking up the house, and they will begin going through puberty, reaching sexual maturity and starting to do some very inappropriate sexual things to their sister-skunks! They need to be released back to the wild to dig, catch bugs, mate, and be SKUNKS.
Most rehabbers and rehab centers will be happy to re-release the baby on your property when he/she is grown if you would like, and will send photos of the skunk growing up if you desire them. Please love them enough to get them to the proper people for them to get the medical care and nutrition that they need. Do the right thing for the skunk, not just what you think is right for yourself because of how cute and cuddly they are right now.
Call the Wildlife Hotline @ 1-855-WILD-HELP for any skunk related questions or concerns, anytime.