Though most people try to avoid encounters with skunks, there are those who actually seek out these black and white mayhem-makers as companion pets, comparing them in personality to cats, dogs, and ferrets. Skunks are rising in popularity due to their intelligence, carefree personalities, and (believe it or not) cleanliness. Pennsylvania and most other states require a permit to keep a captive skunk as a pet. Before deciding to bring a skunk into your family, do your research and be sure you can handle their requirements.
History of Skunk Domestication
While the date and method of first domestication is unknown, it is thought that the first pet striped skunks were living with people as long as 100 years ago. Some Native Americans kept pet skunks raised from infancy, so skunk domestication may have begun even earlier. What we know is that skunks, when raised and socialized by humans at a young age, are friendly and playful towards people. For generations, breeders have been developing interesting patterns and colors other than the typical black and white striped pattern. Pet skunks today can be solid white with no striping at all, or various stripe and spot markings of black, silver, gray, cream, tan, and brown. This variety in color is a true sign of selective breeding and domestication. Animals born in the wild with abnormal coloring often fall victim to predators early in life. Skunks sold in the pet trade today are 100% domesticated and raised in captivity.
Skunks are illegal to keep as pets in some states. In Pennsylvania, a person must obtain a permit from the state and obtain the skunk from a breeder, who should require the permit be obtained before purchase. Since skunks are relatively new to the pet trade and highly regulated, it can be difficult to find a breeder and you may need to be put on a waiting list for babies. Pet stores are not allowed to carry skunks in Pennsylvania because there is no rabies vaccination approved for them. This is very important to remember. It is not a good idea to take your skunk out in public on a regular basis; if your skunk bites a person or another animal, it may be seized by authorities.
Find a good skunk vet before taking your pet home, not after. Most reputable breeders can recommend vet in your area who will take a skunk as a patient, and some may even require that you take your skunk in for a check up after taking him home. You should also spay or neuter your skunk and have the scent glands removed relatively young. Most of the time, this is done by the breeder before the skunk even comes home. If not, A responsible breeder will make you sign paperwork stating that you will spay or neuter your skunk and/or have the scent glands removed at an appropriate time.
Like their close relatives, ferrets, skunks are intelligent and can be trained to use a litter box. And, like ferrets, they cannot be locked in a cage all day like a hamster or a guinea pig. A skunk that is caged for more than 4-8 hours a day will probably become restless and aggressive. If not supervised, they can be extremely mischievous, digging holes in carpet, chewing on furniture, stealing things, and generally behaving like curious toddlers, if not kept mentally and physically stimulated. For this reason it is recommend that skunks be provided with lots of toys like dog chewies, cat trees, beds, tunnels, and other toys keep them occupied. A skunk is naturally keen on seeking out his food, so hiding treats in toys like kong balls, or hiding them around the house is a good way to keep a skunk occupied. Normally nocturnal, skunks can adjust to the sleeping schedule of their owners, but they have been known to wander the house at night making trouble if not crated or confined to a room.
Skunks prefer to roam the house or at least a room that is outfitted for them. Keeping a skunk proof room is a good idea so they can’t wreck your house when you are not home! Skunks are also social, so having another is beneficial, or at least a buddy for them like a ferret or a very gentle cat or dog, unless someone is home all day to keep them entertained. Skunks must be socialized and handled a lot the first several weeks of ownership. You should be willing to spend a great deal of time with your new pet to assure he grows up friendly and unafraid of people.
There is a lot of debate amongst keepers over what constitutes a healthy diet for skunks. Skunks can live for well over 10 years, if given a varied healthy diet. In the wild, skunks are opportunistic omnivores. They will eat insects, worms, snails, rodents, frogs, crayfish, bird eggs, berries, grain, nuts, and even human garbage, depending on what is available in their area. A pet skunk’s diet should consist of about 50% vegetable matter, 10% commercial or homemade skunk food, and 40% other foods such as meat, eggs, and yogurt. Because of their voracious appetites and their willingness to take almost any new food, skunks often have a problem with obesity, so it is important to monitor what and how much you feed your pet skunk. Breeders of pet skunks usually have their own regimen of feeding, so ask your pet’s breeder what he/she recommends. Skunks appreciate treats like cat food, but it should not be the main part of their diet. It is a mistake a lot of first time skunk owners make and can lead to health issues if it is the only food offered.
Thanks for reading,
Friendly Skunk image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Gary J. Wood
Skunks as Pets image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Paul M. Walsh
Skunk eating image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by outdoorcat75455