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Pet Skunks

Updated on December 2, 2016
aethelthryth profile image

Karen has had several exotic pets; the hedgehog was the funniest-looking, but nothing beat the skunk for getting attention!

The skunk - a common animal but the most exotic pet I've owned

We used to have a cat, two ferrets, and a hedgehog. Dad asked us when we were going to get a normal pet, like a dog. "We're looking into adopting a greyhound," we told him. He informed us that greyhounds are not real dogs; mutts are real dogs. But I don’t think Dad was really one to speak, since he bought a pet skunk when I was growing up. Ferrets are considered unusual; a hedgehog arouses curiosity as to how to pet it; but for getting attention, nothing beats carrying around a furry creature with those distinctive black and white stripes. People stop and stare; “Uh…is that what I think it is?”

And the inevitable next question, “Is it de-smelled?”

Of course a pet skunk was a big hit at Show and Tell, though nobody could remember the proper term, “de-scented”. We got asked if she was de-sprayed, de-skunked, and deodorized. One kid asked if she was defrosted.

Our pet skunk

This doubtful attitude is common among people holding a pet skunk.
This doubtful attitude is common among people holding a pet skunk.

Farmers don't have pet skunks

We had a pet skunk because Mom had a pet skunk when she was growing up. In her case, that was because she lived on a farm. Skunks are especially unappreciated on a chicken farm because they suck eggs. So when my grandfather saw a skunk coming out of a hole in the barn one day, he shot it. And he shot the baby skunks that were following it. But later he heard a noise in the hole and looked in to see yet another baby skunk. It was an albino skunk (white, red eyes, but still the hint of stripes), and he couldn’t stand to shoot it. He kept it secret for a few days to make sure it would live, then showed it to his children. Since scent glands aren’t fully developed in baby skunks, they didn’t have to worry for a few weeks about getting sprayed. They named it after Flower, the skunk in Bambi, but since it was just a little skunk, the name was Bud. Sadly, Bud died young when they took him to a vet to remove the scent glands, and the vet didn’t know what he was doing (probably he didn’t get many jobs like that.)

So, a generation later, when the local pet store had de-scented skunks for sale, we got one.

The skunk as pet

Baby skunks really are cute; in fact, skunks never lose the cuteness of those soft little ears and that little white stripe running up the nose. I’d have to say they’re cuter than ferrets, but in most ways they are very comparable to ferrets. Ferrets seem like slim, hyperactive skunks; or skunks seem like big fat ferrets with beautiful tails. Skunks dig, move, and play like ferrets, though where ferrets play-fight hopping sideways, skunks waddle sideways. One difference between skunks and ferrets is the sounds they make. Both are mostly silent pets, but when excited, ferrets make a “dook-dook” sound. When our skunk got really frustrated, she made a sound like a wind-up toy winding down. I suppose it just added to her frustration when we laughed at the funny sound.

I think skunks are as friendly as cats and as graceful as dogs; in other words, not having the best features of either. Perhaps ours would have been friendlier if my brother and I had been mature enough to pet her when she wanted petting, as compared to when we did. Dad was her favorite person. She would flatten herself out on his lap and go to sleep there.

Ferrets you can’t really take for a walk because they are too curious about everything and go every which way but forward. But we could take our skunk walking, as long as we carried her on the way out. When she knew she was headed home, she’d walk or even run to get back to the laundry cabinet where she slept.

With their black fur, skunks overheat easily in the summer sun.  Once we took her to the state fair and had to leave her at the car, so we left her on a leash so she could crawl under the car to stay cool.  It would have been easy for someone to steal her, but, like a large, fierce-looking dog, skunks do kind of deter pilfering.  Anyway, she was there when we got back.

My rankings of common and less common pets

Animal
Friendliness
Cuteness
Entertaining abilities
Ability to shock strangers
Cat
2
8
8
1
Ferret
7
7
10
5
Hedgehog
3
3
3
8
Skunk
4
8
8
10
Dog
10
4
5
1
Of course, Dad would say I wouldn't know anything about dogs.

Skunks versus bees

In the video below, there is a brief clip of a skunk eating bees. Skunks like bees so much they are one of the major hazards for a hive. One reason hives are often raised off the ground is so an attacking skunk has to stand up and expose its belly, where the bees are more successful in stinging it. As you would not mess with an unhappy skunk, stay away from a hive recently attacked by a skunk!

Skunk video montage

That eau de skunk

Both skunks and ferrets have scent glands. Though I haven’t personally experienced either because ferrets are also de-scented before sale as pets, my impression is ferret odor is to skunk odor as a pistol is to a cannon. Also, even de-scented skunks (and ferrets) have some body odor to them. It’s not an unpleasant smell in that small quantity (in my opinion; some friends of mine beg to differ); part of skunk spray is actually used as a perfume base. But dogs definitely react to any hint of skunk smell. Dogs were very suspicious of our family, not seeing why anyone would want to be hanging around with skunks.

Skunk hats, anyone?

Skunks, like ferrets, shed in the spring, but as they have thicker fur, you end up with enough skunk wool you could almost knit yourself a new skunk.  We had a sack of skunk wool saved, in case someone got around to knitting a skunk-wool hat.  I don’t suppose it’s going to become much of a cottage industry, though, since anybody with a nose could guess what animal it came from.  

Care and feeding of the pet skunk

Probably ferret food would have been good for our skunk; the dog food we fed her was lacking in skunk nutrients.  She would eat insects if she could catch them, but that was a big if.  I’m not sure how skunks ever eat in the wild, because skunks are short-sighted, not that quick, and ours didn’t know much about hunting.  One summer we had a whole lot of grasshoppers, and Mom didn’t see a reason to pay for skunk food when we had so much of it hopping around in the yard.  But our skunk rarely caught a grasshopper on her own.  So my brother and I caught the grasshoppers and held them in front of her nose while she ate them alive.  We were not enthusiastic about that. 

We thought our pet skunk should have been a farm skunk, because she did not suck eggs.  She didn’t seem to know eggs were even edible.  Once we gave her an egg as a birthday present, and she just sniffed at it.  We poked a hole in the end to give her ideas, and she still ignored it.  We finally cracked it open and put her nose in it, but she never did eat it.  

Wet pet skunk

Skunks don’t seem enthusiastic about water, but they can swim pretty well if they have to.  Our pet skunk hated baths as much as ferrets do.  Probably because we laughed so much at the way she looked.  Ferrets look pretty bedraggled when wet, but skunks have such fluffy fur that when they’re wet they look like about half a skunk.  

Skunk spray play

One of the funniest things our skunk did was when we were playing in our back yard, which had a grassy hill in it.  The way skunks play is pretending to attack, i.e. spray, you.  We would get on our knees and “stamp” our hands at our skunk; she would stamp back at us with her front paws.  Then she’d go on to making a little run toward us and she would do a bit of a handstand with the stamp, lifting her back feet off the ground.  This handstand is kind of impressive since skunks are generally pear-shaped, with most of their weight in the back.  Eventually, she would be stamping hard, really doing a handstand, and swinging her backside around to point at us as if she were spraying. 

So on this one day we were playing on the hill, and our skunk was running down the hill and stamping at us.  Finally, she did such a handstand, coming downhill, that she went right on over and did a somersault.  We laughed at her and she made her frustrated noise and looked as embarrassed as an animal without facial expressions can look.  

Skunk gymnastics

Avoiding skunk attacks

Having played with a domestic skunk, I am not worried about meeting a wild skunk.  Unless they’re suddenly scared, they give you lots of warning before they spray, starting by lifting the tail like a flag.  That lift gets the tail out of the way of the spray, but also it says “Look here; I’m a skunk.  Don’t you know what skunks do?  Shouldn’t you be leaving now?”  Then they start stamping, and running at you and stamping, and if you don’t know what’s good for you by then, well, you probably deserve the spraying.  (Dogs are not known for figuring out what’s good for them.)

Pet skunks are fun

I always hoped our skunk would have babies. Probably she was sterilized at the same time as being de-scented, but I still hoped. She did have a wild boyfriend. At least we assumed it was a boy; we weren’t going close enough to find out. But we saw one or two wild skunks passing through our back yard, apparently on social calls with our skunk. She was good at digging holes under the walls of the pen we made for her. Once she really did escape and we thought we’d lost her, but some (very thoughtful, and brave) person down the street who knew we had a pet skunk told us they’d seen a skunk who was hit by a car. It was our skunk, and she came home with a broken leg, and limped for the rest of her life, but she lived. When she did die, as best we could tell, it was of old age.

Skunks aren’t allowed as pets now where I grew up or where I live now, and I don’t know the reasons why. I think they make great pets, and I wish I had one now. They are beautiful animals.

© 2011 aethelthryth

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    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 20 months ago from American Southwest

      Sorry, GetitScene, missed your comment back then. I have read about cats on boats, but wondered how it was possible with an animal that famous for disliking water. I am now trying to picture a skunk with sea legs!

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 3 years ago from The High Seas

      I'll take it under advisement! I thought about moving my two cats onto my boat but, after having seen both of them fall off the bed at one point pr another, I figured a rolling boat would just invite disaster.

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 3 years ago from American Southwest

      GetitScene, I'm not sure if a beehive or a skunk would be a better antitheft device, but on the other hand, both also deter friends. I don't know if a skunk would be happy on a boat, but I've heard of cats on boats, and skunks seem to hate water less than cats do...you might consider it....

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 3 years ago from The High Seas

      I have NEVER heard of keeping a skunk as a pet. Would never have thought of it! I imagine the sight of it would scare of more would-be burglers than even the biggest guard dog.

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 3 years ago from American Southwest

      LOL, Tod! I have bees, or rather, there are bees in the hive in our yard; "having bees" would suggest they actually produce honey for me or something...anyway, if skunks have been eating them, I've never noticed it. At this point, if a skunk did attack them, I would probably cheer on the skunk, and try to use the bees as bait to befriend the skunk!

    • Tod Zechiel profile image

      Tod Zechiel 3 years ago from Florida, United States

      My dad raised bees for a while. You were spot on in that they like to eat bees. I used to marvel at how they dug a depression right at the hive entrance and would eat the bees. "Marvel" was not my dad's choice word for them.

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

      You're welcome, RonElFran. There are friendlier and more elegant pets, but few more attention-getting!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Wow! You almost (just almost) make me want to make the acquaintance of a skunk. It never occurred to me that skunks might be pets. Thanks for an interesting and informative hub.

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

      shanmarie, me too! But sometimes the local "critter catchers" have skunks they couldn't return to the wild for some reason, and they are legally allowed to keep them. So, you can either call your local company like that, and see if they have one you can visit, or, if you really, really want a skunk, maybe you should start a business that allows you to keep "pests" as pets!

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 4 years ago

      I want one so bad! But they are illegal to own here. :(

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      Thank you, toomuchmint (which reminds me of another growing-up story, of learning to cook and learning what flavors DON'T go in cookies). Besides everything else, pet skunks result in stories you can be telling the rest of your life.

    • toomuchmint profile image

      toomuchmint 5 years ago

      Great hub! Skunks are more awesome than I ever knew. Thanks for sharing!

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      Thank you DearBandit. I can't think of any better way to put it than what you said!

    • DearBandit profile image

      DearBandit 5 years ago

      This is quite an amazing story. It sounds like she really gave you a fun childhood! I loved reading your story so I must vote you up!

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      DeborahNeyens - I actually had a friend who also had one. Probably bought it from the same pet store we did. I liked their skunk's name - Jinx.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 5 years ago from Iowa

      Interesting story. I've never heard of anyone who had a pet skunk before.

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      Thank you, ytsenoh. It was legal at the time I grew up to have a pet skunk in that state, but it isn't now, and I don't know what states allow or don't allow pet skunks now. I do know of someone in my home state who in effect has a pet skunk, but it's okay because they are animal catchers and are allowed to sometimes keep animals that are hurt or otherwise can't be released into the wild. I think they do presentations at schools sometimes where they show off the skunk, so there are some ways you can get to know a skunk even in states where they're not legal pets.

    • ytsenoh profile image

      Cathy 5 years ago from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri

      Well, aethelthryth (that's a good typing practice name, by the way), I have never read, nor heard of anyone having a pet skunk before. I have known two people in my life who have been sprayed by one, however. I thought it was interesting how you rated a dog and also appropriately so since they seem to be the most loyal animals. Thanks for sharing your story about having a pet skunk. Very interesting.

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 6 years ago from American Southwest

      Sorry Puppyluv, somehow I missed your comment two months ago. With all the effort skunks go to, to keep their tails out of the way, I have to wonder if skunks themselves don't much like the smell of a dog that's been sprayed.

    • Puppyluv profile image

      Serena Zehlius 6 years ago from Hanover, PA

      I love skunks! I hate the smell they leave in the vet office every time a dog comes in that's been sprayed.. but I love skunks!

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 6 years ago from American Southwest

      Well, to be honest, it's only useful if you live in a state where you can have a pet skunk. But some of the laws about these things are being challenged and changed. For instance, it looks like Denver now allows hedgehogs; as I understand it the old law against them was because of worry about feral hedgehogs roaming the city, which seems pretty funny if you know hedgehogs. African pygmy hedgehogs don't do well in anything colder than Denver's highest summer temperatures.

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 6 years ago from Oregon

      Great stories and very useful information here! I was laughing at your pet skunk's antics and imagining her personableness. Isn't it amazing how every animal has an understandable way of communicating that we can learn if we get to know them well enough? Great article!

    • aethelthryth profile image
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      aethelthryth 6 years ago from American Southwest

      Thank you, Sharyn.

    • Sharyn's Slant profile image

      Sharon Smith 6 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

      Very well written and informative. Good luck with the HubMob. I think you may have a chance here! Great story!