Do skunks stink as pets?

previously published on Medium

Everyone knows a friend of a friend of a friend who has a pet skunk.

But I have a confession. I’ve always kind of wanted to be that friend with a skunk.

Can you blame me? They look so soft and cuddly. And I mean, just look at this adorable face!

those nails tho

But the only skunks I’ve ever encountered have been huddled under my front porch, lumbering across the lawn, or eternally resting on the side of the road. I’ve never had the chance to pet that luscious black and white fur.

I wonder what it’d be like to cut out those degrees of separation and actually pet a skunk. Thankfully, real life skunk owners do exist and they’ve shared their thoughts on the topic.

Do they stink?

Alright, let’s just get this one out of the way. We’re all wondering it. It’s the first thing anyone asks when the topic of pet skunks comes up. Heck, it’s the first thing anyone mentions when the topic of skunks in general comes up. Their smell is so iconic, it’s synonymous with their name.

Do pet skunks deserve that level of infamy?

Short answer

No. Well, maybe.

Long answer

Did you know that skunks don’t always smell? They spray their odor from a scent gland near their tail (I’m putting it mildly here) and otherwise smell no stronger than any other pet. If you can tolerate ferrets, you’ll have no problem with skunks.

Pet skunks that were born and bred in captivity (as all legally obtained pet skunks are) often have their stink glands removed in a process called descenting. Like declawing a cat, this is a controversial procedure since it takes away the animal’s entire self-defense system. But like declawing a cat, if it’s an indoor-only animal that might otherwise be surrendered after using its defense mechanism, it’s something to consider.

But…

The legality of owning a skunk is surprisingly snarly and one state actually prohibits the practice of descenting on the grounds of unnecessary mutilation akin to debarking a dog. So if you live in Wisconsin, your skunk’s gonna stink.

Another but…

Skunks only spray when they feel threatened. If skunkie was raised right, has no predators, and has gentle and loving human companions, it’ll probably keep its stink to itself for the vast majority of its life. But if your animal is sick, injured, or startled, you’ll need to get out the tomato juice.

Anyway, it’s just smell. It’s not like the odor can kill or even injure you.

So do pet skunks smell? No. Well, maybe.

Are pet skunks nice?

They’re as sweet as they look! They’re cuddly, curious, and very playful. Also sneaky — if you’ve lost your favorite teddy bear or guest towel, check the skunk cage. They like to line their “den” with soft squishiness.

If you start with a baby skunk, the best way to bond is to keep it tucked into your shirt or sweatshirt pocket. I can’t even. There’s nothing cuter.

Photo by Bryan Padron on Unsplash

They enjoy tug of war, roughhousing, and puzzles. Got a mysterious stain? Have a particularly interesting hiding place? Your skunk will find it!

This only applies to domesticated skunks, of course. The ones that live under my porch will never make good pets.

And like all pets — especially exotics — YMMV. You absolutely cannot predict your pet’s temperament. I had a hedgehog once and everyone on the internet swore up and down it would be a lovable, snuggly little pincushion, but he wasn’t. All he wanted to do was ignore me, run in his wheel, and eat hamburger meat.

Are they smart?

As a matter of fact, they are!

Skunks are scavengers, as you may have noticed when late-night wildlife gets into your garbage. They’re curious little critters, always looking for novelty and/or bugs. Skunk-proof your house or make a special playpen full of toys, blankets, and treat puzzles like those made for dogs.

They don’t make much sound, either, so that’s a plus if you know what it’s like to live with a yappy dog.

They can learn basic tricks and yes! They can be litterbox trained!

What do they eat?

Skunk food! Who knew, right?

If not skunk chow, feed your stinky pet human-grade fresh food like vegetables, cooked chicken, nuts, grains, and crickets. The Skunk Haven website has a full meal plan worked out and honestly? It looks more nutritionally complete than mine.

Skunks love bugs. If you have a spider problem in your home, get a skunk and boom. No more spiders.

How hard is it to care for a pet skunk?

Skunks can weigh between 15 and 20 pounds, live up to 10 years, and grow to 35 inches in length. They’re like large cats that way.

Not many vets want to work with skunks, but it’s important that you find one who will. Aside from distemper shots and flea/tick treatment, you’ll want to get your skunk neutered or spayed (hah! almost wrote sprayed) because they can get pretty riled up when the female is in heat, resulting in more than just more skunks. I’m talking about scratches, bites, and property damage. They get rowdy.

Keep your skunk in the biggest dog kennel you can find. They’ll need some room to move around in there since they’re crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and twilight. You’re probably not.

They do not like being in their cages and will need toys, things to dig, and plenty of stuff to play with. Ideally, you’d devote a corner of your garden to your little stinker’s digging habits. Those nails are no joke, and if they don’t have the opportunity to use them for foraging, well…

Can pet skunks live outside?

Nope. Without their stinkiness, they have no way to defend themselves from predators, making them a juicy morsel for your local coyote population.

But what if it still has its stink glands?

It still shouldn’t be kept outside. Pet skunks are accustomed to people and will gladly approach a smiling human face… and that might not go over well. Imagine Pepe le Pew going in for cuddles from your local cat lady. Or worse, your varmint-hating neighbor with a 12-gauge. Not going to end well.

Also, they can really move if they want! It’s no problem for skunks to wander for miles at a time and no, they don’t have a good sense of direction. Your descented and domesticated skunk is a goner if it gets lost.

What about rabies?

Ah yes. Rabies.

Wild skunks are vectors and you really don’t want to get bitten. Unfortunately, there are no approved vaccines for pet skunks, so if your pet bites a human or another animal, it will be euthanized on suspicion of rabies. You definitely don’t want that to happen, so it is absolutely vital that your skunk is not aggressive and has been properly socialized. Eliminate all chances of skunk bites and you’ll be fine.

Is it even legal to own a pet skunk?

Depends on where you live. In the United States, only 17 states permit pet skunks and only two provinces in Canada. And it absolutely must come from a licensed breeder, pet store, etc. There are permits and legalities all over the place.

Bottom line. Should I get a skunk?

Skunks are basically cats but stinkier, pickier, and higher maintenance, somehow. But they’re cuddly, curious and just a lot of fun to own — if your expectations remain low. Not to mention the phrase “I have a pet skunk” is an incredible icebreaker.

So should you get a pet skunk? Probably not. Just see if you can track down that friend of a friend of a friend who has one and get your stinky fix that way.

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