Posted: November 30, 2011, 5 a.m. EST
Courtesy of Jerry Murray, DVM
Skunks are generally known for their black and white coat and their ability to "spray."
Recently, I had an unexpected death of a client. She was longtime ferret owner who everybody liked. She always had a smile and positive attitude, even when one of her pets had a bad disease. She was also involved in rehabbing wild skunks. In tribute to her, here is a column on skunks.
Interestingly, skunks are becoming popular as pets in certain regions of the country. Skunks are closely related to ferrets, but they are no longer classified in the same family as ferrets. They are carnivores that in the wild eat mostly small mammals (mice), insects, reptiles, worms, fish, frogs and bird eggs, along with some plants and fruits. They hunt for food at night and mainly sleep during the day. Their main predator in the wild is the great horned owl, which hunts skunks at night.
Skunks are mostly known for their cute, black and white fur coat and the very musky odor that they can spray. The spray comes from their anal glands and can travel a distance of 10 or more feet. This is their main defense against predators, but they can also bite when necessary. Skunks will normally stomp their front paws, raise their tail and walk backwards toward the target before spraying it. The smell is very potent and can last for several days. It can even cause nausea and watery eyes in people.
The main disease that skunks can transmit to humans is rabies. Skunks in the wild have a high risk for rabies, so never approach a wild skunk, especially if you see one during the daytime. Other diseases skunks are at risk for include canine distemper, Aleutian disease (a parvovirus infection), leptospirosis, and canine hepatitis. Thus it is important to keep your dogs and ferrets up-to-date on their vaccines if you have a pet skunk. Likewise it is also important to vaccinate your pet skunk. Vaccinating skunks is off-label use, so check with your veterinarian as to which vaccines are appropriate for your pet skunk. Your veterinarian can also deworm and recommend safe flea and heartworm products for your skunk. In general captive bred skunks can make good pets, but they are definitely not for everyone.
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