From their striking fur coloration to their smelly yet effective defense mechanism, skunks are unique and fascinating animals. There are several different species of skunks, but do any of them make good pets? Are there any laws surrounding the ownership of skunks as pets? Furthermore, what sorts of needs do they have in captivity?
Let’s take a long whiff of the skunk’s history and learn why it’s become a fairly popular exotic pet despite its ability to produce an absolutely foul odor. We’ll also talk about how to properly care for them in captivity and, of course, if it’s legal to do so in your area.
A Brief Introduction to the Skunk
Skunks are small-to-medium-sized omnivorous mammals within the Mephitidae family. This group was originally a subfamily of the Mustelidae family (which consists mostly of weasels, badgers, otters, ferrets, minks, martens, and a few other similar animals). However, today, Mephitidae is its own unique family. This is because skunks are genetically distinct from mustelids.
The only other animals within this family are stink badgers, also commonly referred to as false badgers. Aside from the stink badgers, there are 10 distinct species of skunks within Mephitidae, all of roughly similar sizes and appearances.
Both skunks and stink badgers have the ability to spray an awful-smelling substance from their anal glands. Another unique quality of skunks and many stink badgers is their black and white striped “warning” coloration (a trait known as aposematism). Essentially, their fur color and pattern serve as a signal to predators to avoid them or risk being sprayed.
Skunks are generally fairly solitary animals. They are crepuscular, so they are most active in the very early morning and just before sunset, or at around the hours of dawn and dusk. Most species are native to the Americas, mostly in temperate regions with cold winters and warm to hot summers. They typically live and rest in burrows when they are not hunting or mating. Their strong claws are perfect for digging.
The average lifespan of most species of skunks is around 3 to 7 years. Even though they have a keen sense of smell, their eyesight is notably poor. In captivity, they tend to live a bit longer, at around 8 to 12 years or more with optimal care.
Can You Legally Keep Skunks as Pets?
The legality of skunks as pets varies significantly by country, state, and sometimes even by county. If you are interested in adopting a pet skunk, be sure to thoroughly check the laws regarding skunk ownership in your area well in advance. These laws can and often do change over time, so staying up-to-date is essential in order to own a skunk legally and responsibly.
The UK, for example, currently allows civilians to own skunks without a permit. Canadian laws, on the other hand, completely restrict the ownership of skunks except for in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
In the US, it is illegal to own a pet skunk in most states. However, a handful of states still allow people to own skunks as pets, albeit with certain caveats. These include Oregon, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, Florida, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In Kentucky, skunks are legal as pets only in certain counties.
Additionally, many states will require you to have a specific permit or license to own a skunk. Other states allow people to keep skunks as pets with very little restrictions, provided the animals are purchased from reputable, licensed breeders within the state and aren’t exported or imported out. Wild-caught pet skunks are specifically outlawed in many areas as well.
Do Skunks Make Good Pets?
Skunks can be good pets, provided they are captive-bred and not wild-caught. However, despite their small size, properly caring for them is challenging, time-consuming, and costly. They are not ideal pets for beginner or casual exotic pet owners. Significant research, preparation, and major financial investments are necessary to care for a skunk responsibly and humanely.
Of the 10 different species of skunks, only striped skunks, Mephitis mephitis, are widely kept as pets. Striped skunks are hardy, adaptable, and can eat a wide variety of common feeder insects and small rodents. With careful socialization from a young age, their temperaments are usually surprisingly docile and even friendly. It is even possible to housetrain them, which leads many skunk owners to allow their skunks to roam their homes and yards freely with little to no supervision.
There is also a lot of debate about the ethics surrounding the ownership of skunks. After all, they are highly social, intelligent, and active wild animals. They have not yet been widely domesticated. What’s more, most skunk owners have their skunks’ scent glands removed as babies, which is a somewhat controversial practice.
Whether or not a skunk is the right pet for you personally will depend on how willing you are to go above and beyond with meeting their care needs. They can live for over 10 years in captivity, so they are a long-term commitment. Wild animals like skunks require consistently high-quality care to survive, let alone thrive, in captivity.
What Do Skunks Need in Captivity?
Skunks in captivity need plenty of secure, fenced-in space to roam and explore freely. They cannot thrive in small spaces like apartments or homes without large yards.
You won’t be able to lock them in an enclosure like you would with a ferret or a guinea pig! Many skunk owners cordon off entire rooms of their homes for their skunks. These “skunk rooms” often have a dedicated area for their skunks to sleep and eat. Many will even sleep in typical cat or dog beds.
As these animals are used to roaming far and wide in the wild, you may need to “skunk-proof” your home and garden. Remember, skunks are very curious and mischievous! Be prepared to spend a lot of time each day cleaning up after your pet’s messes and mishaps. If you want to housetrain your skunk, do it early.
It’s also a good idea to provide them with an area in your yard where they can dig and burrow like they would in the wild. Without enough space to dig, they can quickly become bored and even aggressive. You can also provide them with various toys for enrichment.
As far as a skunk’s diet goes, they are omnivorous and thankfully not very picky eaters. They require lots of protein, ideally from eggs or fresh meats like fish or chicken. Feeder insects like dubia roaches and superworms can also be a good source of protein. Vegetables and fruits are also good treats for skunks in moderation.