Posted: September 3, 2014, 1 a.m. EDT
Pet skunks are becoming more popular with people who want a truly exotic pet. Most people think of skunks as stinky animals. In reality, skunks have only a slight musky odor. The odor that people associate with skunks only comes from their anal glands, and most pet skunks have their anal glands removed to eliminate that potent odor.
Skunks are intelligent and curious animals, but they are not a pet for everyone. They get into just about everything, they are high maintenance and they require a lot of time and attention from their owners. For a person with plenty of time, a pet skunk may make a good pet.
Pet skunks are prone to some medical problems related to an inappropriate diet and some viral diseases that can be fatal. The exact nutritional requirements for skunks are unknown, and very little research has been done on the nutritional needs of skunks.
In the wild, skunks eat just about anything. They are considered opportunistic omnivores. Their diet includes insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, grubs, caterpillars, bees and wasps. They also eat worms, snails, clams, crayfish, fish, frogs, snakes, mice, rats and squirrels. They also eat fruits, grains, nuts, vegetables, bird’s eggs, carrion, and garbage. In the wild, skunks have to forage for a long time to find food. This foraging burns up a lot of calories.
Pet skunks, on the other hand, tend to be more sedentary and eat too much food. This frequently leads to overweight and obese pet skunks. Other serious medical conditions can result from a nutritionally deficient diet.
If the diet does not contain enough calcium then metabolic bone disease can develop. Severe calcium deficiency can lead to weak, thin bones and fractures of these bones. This is common in diets that contain a large amount of meat and very low amounts of food containing calcium.
To avoid calcium problems, it is recommended to routinely feed a high calcium food such as yogurt, cottage cheese, broccoli, green snap beans, almonds, okra, and/or dark leafy greens. Some people also recommend adding a calcium supplement to the diet.
© Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
If a skunk's diet is calcium deficient, he could develop metabolic bone disease.
Pet skunks are also prone to heart disease. Some of these heart cases are from a low taurine and/or a low carnitine level in the diet. Taurine is an amino acid that is found in most fish, clams and animal-based protein including eggs and insects. Cottage cheese, cheese, yogurt, and oatmeal also contain high levels of taurine. Carnitine is used to produce energy from fat. The muscle in the heart needs high amounts of carnitine. Carnitine is found in most meats but is highest in beef. Some people recommend adding taurine and L-carnitine supplements to a skunk’s diet.
Most owners feed their skunks a soft diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables. This soft diet may contribute to dental disease as the skunk becomes older. Adding a small amount of dry dog food or small Milk Bone dog biscuits can provide a hard substrate to help prevent tartar buildup and keep the teeth and gums healthy. Nonetheless, pet skunks typically need routine teeth cleaning by your veterinarian as they become middle aged.
Cat food is not recommended for skunks because it is too high in protein, which may cause liver and kidney problems. Other food items to avoid include grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, candy and sunflower seeds.
The diet for a pet skunk should contain a moderate amount of protein (eggs, meat, fish, insects and beans) and a large amount of mixed vegetables (corn, beans, squash, peas, broccoli, carrots, etc.), fruits (bananas, apples, pears, berries, etc.) and carbohydrates (oatmeal, whole grain bread, rice, cereal, pasta, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.).
Foods containing calcium, taurine and carnitine should also be added to the diet along with a pet vitamin and mineral supplement like Pet Tabs. Monitoring the skunk’s weight on a regular basis helps prevent overfeeding and overweight pets.
Having a pet skunk should only be considered after understanding the care they need and checking to make sure it is legal to have a pet skunk in your town.
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