Behaviour.

Enrichment

for skunks Many captive animals run the risk of developing unnatural / stereotypical behavior. By encouraging natural behavior this is prevented and keeps the animals fit and healthy. Enrichment works only when something is changed regularly. Limit it to a few new things each time. If everything suddenly is changed stress can occur due to overstimulation. There must always be a stable and emotionally safe place. There are several ways to enrich a skunks life. Skunks are animals with a good sense of smell. Food can be hidden in a container with bark or hay, paper bags or can be offered in feeder balls / tubes. The nesting material can easily be used as enrichment. Sometimes hay, then straw or blankets. By using different detergents or fabric softeners a blanket gets suddenly a very different smell that is enriching. The normal natural behaviors such as using their nails can be a fine distraction. A sandbox for digging or pruning wood waste produces results quickly. Conspecifics or other animals can also be seen as enrichment if they do not bother each other every day. There must be a click.

Games for dogs and home made games are excellent to enrich a skunks life. Toys that are present every day are no longer a challenge as they become part of their territory. Swapp old toys and put new in their place every few weeks.

Spraying

A skunk has at the end of the rectum two anal glands, like cats, dogs, ferrets and other Carnivora. In skunks thay have the size of a bean and they can aim with it (most Carnivora can not). The odor is that is created there contains mercaptans, the same substance that is added to give the normally odorless natural gas the typical and very distinctive smel. If a skunk sprays the concentration of these substances is so high that it attach to the mucosa and could be smelled for days without the surroundings smelling anymore. The odor is different for everyone. Many people disgust it but there are people that even like the smell. Many descriptions are used, garlic, burnt rubber, rotting cabbage, natural gas and a big joint. An adult skunk that is well socialized doesn't use his glands.

How do you recognize that a skunk will spray? First, there skunk must be under a lot of stress. The skunk is then on his guard. Usually it tries to get away, if this fails it will start threatening by hissing / sniffing and the tail raised and spread wide and stamp its feet. If the danger than persists the skunk turns his butt at the assailant and bulges out a bit of rectum. If this still does not work then in a moment appear two little nipples (the anal glands) and out comes with great strength and a radius of gland fluid accurately aimed to the attacker. A skunk uses its glands only when it sees no other way to flee and think it is about to be killed, it is the last resort that a skunk has, and as the skunks themselves are not fond of the smell. Moreover, it takes another few days before the glandfluids have been replaced with new after spraying and during these days a skunk is defenseless. This means that you would have to chase a skunk, corner it and then have to grab the skunk very roughly in order to be sprayed. In practice this doesn't occur with captive bred skunks kept as pets if they have a caring and responsible owner. Only very young skunks lack full control over their anal glands and may "leak". Well cared for skunks have a neutral smell and often take on the smell of their surroundings. This is because the coat can absorb odors due to a special hair structure. A skunk that sleeps in straw will smell like straw and when they sit a while in the lap of someone wearing perfume it will, after a few minutes, smell like that perfume. A well cared for skunk doesn't smell as unpleasant as you might think ...

Removing skunk odor.

There are various means which is said it can be used to remove the skunk odor. The MythBusters tested these but only the following recipe really works properly.

Recipe;

1 liter of hydrogen peroxide, 3% ¼ cup of sodiumbicarbonate (baking soda), 1 to 2 tablespoons liquid hand soap.

Mix the ingredients together in a plastic container with a wooden or plastic spoon. Do not use metal objects, which can be oxidized. Bring the foaming mixture to the affected areas. If used on humans or animals make sure it doesn't get into ears, eyes and mouth. Allow the mixture to do it's work at least 5 minutes and rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water. If necessary repeat one more time if the smell has not completely disappeared.

 

Housebreaking

A skunk is willing to use a litter box, but sometimes he is lazy and does not want to travel any great distance to the litter box when he can do his duty nearby. Sometimes he may not use it at all, but choose another favorite location usually in a corner. Changes in the environment, such as a new born baby, a divorce, another pet, disease etcetera can be causing unsanitary habits of the skunk. During the mating season many skunks are known to get a little too preoccupied with their hormones and forget to use their litter box... Staining the floor with urine and excrement.

 

Other pets

Many people wonder whether skunks can be kept around other pets. Rabbits, rodents, birds and reptiles are a prey item for skunks, so it is advisable not to keep them within reach of the sometimes very rapid skunks. Skunks are very agile and can also use their strong legs and claws to open cages.

Cats, dogs and ferrets that tolerate the skunk may go well together. Sometimes they get along so fine that they play and sleep together. If the cat, dog or ferret has a hunting instinct it is asking for trouble sooner or later.

Making a mess

Skunks have powerful claws and they use them as tools. That can include tearing up a newspaper, dragging clothes all over or even opening the refrigerator! While searching for a place to sleep they can open up a kitchen cabinet and toss your pots and pans all over the kitchen floor... Imagine the noise in the middle of the night!

Curiosity

Skunks are very curious and inquisitive animals. You must keep the windows and doors of your house closed at all times, so they can not slip out in an unguarded moment and you discover that he could not be found after hours of searching. Be alert to visitors, they must close the door firmly behind him. A skunk that has wandered of usually don't find his way home again. He will be distracted by the many new impressions that he gets in his nose and starts to explore. In case of trouble he will hide and wander further from home. Runaway skunks are hard to find and can fall victim to dogs, traffic or people who regard them as pests. Have your skunk microchipped and registered, this way a skunk can quickly be reunited with his owner when he escapes and is found.

 

 

Biting Behaviour

All animals can bite, including skunks. Skunks have a teeth and jaws that are built to be able to bite through bones. If skunks bite, then bite them fast and short but very hard. Often bloody. Fortunately skunks do not bite without provocation. By far the most skunks will always try to escape or hide. As their last resort, they will proceed to bite.

To US skunk owners;

Never let anyone touch or pet your captive born domesticated skunk or allow any of their pets near your skunk. If medical attention is needed, doctors and hospital staff are required to report bites by exotic pets to the local health department. This even means if the owner of the captive born pet skunk or family member gets bit!!!! This may lead to your skunk being seized and euthanized to be tested for rabies. There is no quarantine period. Although there are no cases of our pet captive skunks having rabies, people who do not own captive born skunks still assume the worst.

NEVER JOKE ABOUT BEING BIT BY YOUR PET SKUNK. THE WRONG PERSON EAVES DROPPING CAN STILL REPORT IT!

Biting behavior can be divided into several categories;

Food aggression: Most skunks are very fixated on food. This can express itself in food aggression. When the food dish is offered it can be violently pulled out of the hands and hand offered snacks are quickly snatched. Quite often there this results in a bite to the hand. Skunks don't see very well and sometimes bite the fingers rather than grabbing the snack. Even if hands smell of food it can happen that a skunk thinks there is something to eat and rises to the bait. This is not intentionally malicious but it is annoying. Offering snacks on a flat hand can prevent your skunk to bite they learn the same way. The mother skunk offers food to her kits and if her kits bite her too hard she will your fingers, but they do not learn from it. A very effective way to discourage food aggression is to offer snacks with a metal spoon or tweezers. After a few vigorous attempts of biting the spoon or tweezers, they quickly realized that it hurts and they take the snacks carefully. It may seem cruel, but in nature the mother also bites back.

Territory drift: Some skunks are prone to territoriality, which is usually by small housing. More space, a minimum 65,5 square feet ( 20 m2) for 1 to 2 skunks, works magic.

Fear: Fear is a learned behavior, usually by being seriously frightened of something or by a painful experience. It is very difficult to get rid of fear in an animal. Penalties will only aggrivate fear. One has to try and win the confidence of the animal.

Dominance: When biting occurs due to dominance, it is most seen in handreared animals. These see people as their own kind and want to dominate their owners also. That usually occurs around puberty period of the animal. The only solution here is not to show fear of the animal but to ignore it or push it away. Eventually the animal will realize that he can not win the battle and will give in. If this is not working spaying or neutering will be a solution.

Hormonal causes: In the mating season, puberty or during pregnancy, some skunks start to display biting. This is due to changes in hormones. Usually it is only a short period of time and goes by quickly. With persistent biting it is perhaps caused by an hormonal disbalance. This may be caused by cysts or tumors in the uterus, ovaries or testes. In case of suspicion of such the animal should be examined by a veterinarian.

Irritation: When an animal is often irritated, for example disrupting his sleep over and over, they can bite out of protest. One often sees this behavior in nocturnal animals with which one wants to be cuddling all day. When the cage/skunkhouse is in a loud or busy corner of the room it is more likely that bite incidents arise.

Character, cuddly or not?

Nurture has no effect on the character. A skunk does not become necessarely cuddly due to good nurturing. It does have influence on the manageabily of an animal. Each skunk is different with its own traits and not every one will be a lapsitter skunk, some just prefer to go their own way. Sometimes it may take months or over a year before the animal comes to you by itself for attention or to be petted on the back.

Tame is often confused with cuddly. This has little to do with each other. A cuddly character is a feature that occurs in both wild and domesticated animals. However, not all domesticated animals are the cuddly type. Cuddly means that an animal has an urge for physical contact (with people or other animals). tameness says something about the degree of manageability. Stress has an enormous influence on tameness and can make even the most cuddly, hand tame into a wild animal. And the opposite is known. A real wild animal (ie directly frostressfactorm the wild) can due to stress get into a kind of shock that makes an animal appaer tame and cuddly. But once the has been removed the actual extent of tameness becomes apparent again.

False can be confused with wild/feral behavior. Being false has nothing to do with wild/feral behavior. When a wild animal reacts offensive they are trying to defend themselves. In most cases it will first try to flee. If it feels threatened and sees no way out than to can attack. An animal is false if there is no apparent reason to attack. For instance, an animal is sitting on your lap enjoying caresses and the next moment bites out of the blue. Most animals are made false. Often false animals were once abused or may be seriously ill (eg, brain tumor or hormonal disorders).

Tameness can be divided into different degrees:

Feral, the animal is unapproachable, will try to flee once caught and makes every effort to get loose. This includes scratching, biting and kicking. In short, as a wild animal would behave. It will never eat out of the hand.

Shy, the animal will try to flee and once caught tries to wriggle itself free. It will not bite. It waits from a safe distance for food to be put on the ground, it doesn't eat out the hand.

Food tame, the animal will try to escape once caught but will not bite. If the animal is offered treats it takes the goodies from the hand without hessitation.

Hand tame, the animal is very easy to handle and takes a treat out of hand without hessitations.

References

Own experiences

The Biology of the Striped Skunk B.J. Verts

Care, Management and Biology of Captive Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) J. Wade-Smith and M.E. Richmond

Husbandry, Overwinter Care and Reproduction of Captive Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) S. Lariviére, Y.T. Hwang, W.A. Gorsuch and S. A. Medill

Economic value of North American skunks D.E. Lantz

Food Intake, Weight Changes and Activity of Confined Striped Skunks (Mephitis mephitis) in Winter M. Aleksiuk and A.P. Stewart