Karen has had several exotic pets; the hedgehog was the funniest-looking, but nothing beat the skunk for getting attention!
The Skunk: A Common, Yet Exotic Animal
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.
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 (he probably 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.
What It's Like to Keep a Skunk as a 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.
They Make Funny Noises
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.
They're as Friendly as Cats
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.
They Can Go for Walks
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.
They Can Overheat
With their black fur, skunks overheat easily in the summer sun. Once we took her to the state fair and had to leave her by 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.
Eau de Skunk: Does It Really Go Away?
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.
Caring for and Feeding a 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.
Insects and Eggs
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 them. We finally cracked it open and put her nose in it, but she never did eat it.
Skunks Shed—a Lot!
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.
Skunks Don't Like Baths
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.
Playing With a Skunk Is Fun
One of the funniest things our skunk did was when we were playing in our backyard, 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 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.
How to Avoid 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 as 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.
My Rankings of Most to Least Common Pets
|Animal||Friendliness||Cuteness||Entertaining abilities||Ability to shock strangers|
Further Information About Skunks
- Skunks, Skunk Pictures, Skunk Facts - National Geographic
Learn all you wanted to know about skunks with pictures, videos, photos, facts, and news from National Geographic.
© 2011 aethelthryth
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on August 03, 2020:
Wow, g, let's have some specifics on what you find so abusive? I am also curious how you know so much more about skunks than someone who lived with one for many years. (How long do you think their lifespan is in the wild?)
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on July 15, 2020:
Melanie, not all vets are familiar with skunks, but I would suggest looking for one who is at least familiar with ferrets, since there are many similarities.
Cadence, we kept ours in the back yard some of the time and she was fine during winter weather, but as I recall the skunkhouse we had for her had pretty thick walls. Skunks would overheat pretty fast on a summer day, since they are nocturnal and their black fur absorbs sun well. We had her outside in Albuquerque during a summer day one time, but we kept her in the shade and made sure she had water.
cadence on July 14, 2020:
what temp do skunks need to stay in?
Melanie on June 04, 2020:
My friend has a pet skunk that is sick and we need to find out what to do, we are thinking he got a hold of something and is having a elergic reaction
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on February 23, 2016:
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!
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 20, 2014:
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 (author) from American Southwest on August 19, 2014:
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....
Dale Anderson from The High Seas on August 16, 2014:
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 (author) from American Southwest on October 19, 2013:
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 from Florida, United States on October 19, 2013:
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 (author) from American Southwest on October 18, 2013:
You're welcome, RonElFran. There are friendlier and more elegant pets, but few more attention-getting!
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on October 13, 2013:
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 (author) from American Southwest on March 23, 2013:
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!
Shannon Henry from Texas on March 22, 2013:
I want one so bad! But they are illegal to own here. :(
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on July 19, 2012:
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 on July 19, 2012:
Great hub! Skunks are more awesome than I ever knew. Thanks for sharing!
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on June 05, 2012:
Thank you DearBandit. I can't think of any better way to put it than what you said!
DearBandit on June 05, 2012:
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 (author) from American Southwest on May 21, 2012:
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.
Deborah Neyens from Iowa on May 20, 2012:
Interesting story. I've never heard of anyone who had a pet skunk before.
aethelthryth (author) from American Southwest on March 07, 2012:
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.
Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on March 06, 2012:
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 (author) from American Southwest on May 23, 2011:
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.
Serena Zehlius from Hanover, PA on March 19, 2011:
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 (author) from American Southwest on March 18, 2011:
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.
Ann Leavitt from Oregon on March 18, 2011:
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 (author) from American Southwest on March 18, 2011:
Thank you, Sharyn.
Sharon Smith from Northeast Ohio USA on March 18, 2011:
Very well written and informative. Good luck with the HubMob. I think you may have a chance here! Great story!