Coexisting with Skunks

 


The following topics will be discussed on this page:

  • I can smell skunk spray in my house - what should I do?
  • My dog has been sprayed.  How do I remove the stench?
  • There's a skunk in my window well; why doesn't he jump out?
  • How do I get a skunk out of my garage?
  • Skunks are digging up my lawn! How do I stop this?
  • How do I get a skunk family out from under my deck / shed?
  • I have a cat door and found a skunk in my house.  What do I do? 
  • There’s a skunk in my pool.  How do I get him out?
  • I see a dead mother skunk by the side of the road surrounded by babies. What should I do?
  • I set a trap for a woodchuck and caught a skunk.  How do I get him out without getting sprayed?
  • There is a skunk with a yogurt cup stuck on his head.  What do I do?
  • Do skunks carry rabies?
  • There is a skunk in my yard during the daytime.  Isn’t the skunk rabid?
  • There’s a baby skunk running around by day. Is the baby rabid?
  • Do I have to worry about my children being attacked by a skunk?
  • Do I need to pay a nuisance control trapper to solve my problem?

Skunks are one of the most misunderstood wild animals.  People don’t realize that the skunk is actually a very docile, benign animal whose severe near-sightedness often gets them in trouble.  Their odor is famous and strikes fear in everyone who encounters them.   A skunk’s only defense is a certain noxious odor created by a sulfuric acid “fired” from the anal glands.   But skunks have a limited supply of ammunition. They don’t waste their defensive spray because they can’t “re-load” very quickly, so they don't waste their defensive spray. Instead, they stamp their front feet as a warning if another creature gets too close, giving ample opportunity for the “threat” to back off.

Skunks have a hearty appetite for grubs, frogs, insects, mice and baby rats. People soon find that their rodent problems disappear as soon as skunks take up residence.


Q:  I can smell skunk spray in my house - what should I do?

A:  The non-toxic deodorizer "Odors Away" can be inexpensively purchased ($5) at hardware stores. It will instantly neutralize any bad odor indoors. Just put a few drops in a bowl, and place it in any room that smells. Add a few more drops every 24 hours.  The odor will dissipate quickly.


Q:  My dog has been sprayed.  How do I remove the stench?

A:  There are a number of home remedies ---such as tomato juice—which are widely publicized yet ineffective at removing skunk odor.  Wayward dogs can be instantly deodorized by a magically simple recipe:

  • One quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of liquid dish or laundry soap

Mix these 3 ingredients together, then dip a washrag in the solution and rub down the dog. Rinse and the odor will disappear within minutes!  This recipe can also be used for clothes, sking, etc.

**A word of warning: Hydrogen peroxide may give a dark-furred animal “rust-colored highlights,” or may bleach clothing.  Be sure to mix the formula fresh and use right away.

 


Q: There's a skunk in my window well; why doesn't he jump out?

A:  Skunks are not good climbers. They often tumble into window wells and can't get out. If the window well is shallow (under 2 feet), place a piece of wood at an angle less than 45-degrees to serve as a plank. Make sure the board has a towel or chicken wire tacked to it for traction.

If the window well is at all deep, place smelly cheese or canned catfood in the far corner of an animal carrier (or plastic rectangular garbage can tipped on its side) and slowly lower it into the window well. The skunk will be enticed by the food and will walk right in.

Slowly raise the can or box to ground level, elevator style, keeping your hands on the outside of the container so you don't risk being bitten.  The skunk will soon amble out.

Skunks have terrible eyesight and will NOT spray you if you move slowly and talk softly.  Remember, skunks also give a warning by stamping their front feet, which gives you a chance to back off!  It’s vital to then purchase or make a window well cover (out of heavy mesh) or this situation will repeat itself.


Q:  How do I get a skunk out of my garage?

A:  Skunks commonly wander into garages when the door is left open. Just open the garage door before dusk and sprinkle an eight inch band of flour under it so you can watch for exiting footprints.  Close the door after you ensure that the skunk is gone.


Q: Skunks are digging up my lawn! How do I stop this?

A: This is a very seasonal problem usually associated with periods of heavy rain or over-watering.  The skunks are merely digging up grubs that come close to the surface of the soil when the ground is wet. As soon as the soil dries out, the grubs will descend, the skunks won’t smell them, and grubbing activity will cease. Although unsightly, this activity will not permanently damage the lawn or kill the grass.

The best solution is to rid your lawn of the grubs, rather than the skunks, because the grubs will continue to be an attractive food source to many wild animals.  A long term, ecological solution is to apply the product "Grub Away Nematodes" to your lawn (www.gardensalive.com).  Nematodes are tiny, microscopic organisms that target both japanese beetle grubs as well as the masked chafer beetle grubs.  Nematodes are non-toxic and an envinronmentally sound choice for grub control.

“Milky Spore” is another ecologically sound product, found at most local garden stores, that can be applied to the soil in your yard to control grubs. This natural bacteria will spread and get rid of the grubs, but it takes a long time to work (1+ years).

Some temporary repellents include sprinkling cayenne pepper on the lawn, or spraying a homemade mix of 1 cup castor oil, 1 cup liquid dish soap, mixed with a gallon of water (in a spray can) to deter the skunks from grubbing in certain areas.

We don’t recommend chemical pesticides due to their toxic effect on the environment, people and animals.


Q: How do I get a skunk family out from under my deck/shed?

A: Skunks will take advantage of cavities under decks and sheds to raise their young. However, they will leave as soon as the young are old enough. The simplest option is to wait for the skunks to leave on their own, and then seal off their entry hole with hardware cloth if you don’t want skunks to return. We don't recommend trapping because starving young are likely to be left behind. 

You can encourage the skunks to evict themselves sooner than they intended by spraying a repellent (see Repellents below) around your shed or poking some ammonia sprinkled rags underneath, yet be careful not to poke the skunks!

Eviction: If you can’t wait for the skunks to leave on their own, here are some eviction options:

  • Wait a few weeks until you see the babies come out with their mother (watch after dusk) and then seal their entry hole as illustrated below.
  • Seal up the shed (as illustrated) except for one main opening.   Place a pre-made one-way door (Sold mail-order by ACES: 800-338-ACES or Tomahawk Live Trap Company, 800-272-8727) over that one remaining exit and leave it in place for 3-7 days so all animals can get OUT but not back IN.  To ensure that all animals are out from under the deck before sealing it off permanently, put a layer of flour on the inside and outside of the door after installation, and leave it in place for one or two nights. Any footprints in the flour should be outside the door with none inside. Do not try this technique until the young start following the mother on outings. Otherwise young skunks will starve under the deck.
  • If the problem occurs in late summer/fall, and you're sure there's only one animal underneath the deck, sprinkle white flour outside the hole and check after dark for exiting footprints. You can also put balled- up newspaper in the hole.  If the newspaper hasn’t moved for three to four days, the den has been vacated.

Repellents:  The size of the denning space and the amount of ventilation will largely influence if a repellent will work.  We recommend using ammonia-soaked rags, lights and a blaring radio during nighttime hours to convert an attractive space (quiet, dark and protected) into one that is inhospitable.  Here are some repellents that have proven effective at repelling skunks under certain circumstances:

  • Castor Oil Formula:  In a spray can, mix 1 cup of castor oil and 1 cup of liquid soap together, then add 1 gallon of water. Spray around den area.
  • Hot Pepper repellent*:  Ingredients: One chopped yellow onion, one chopped Jalapeno pepper, one tablespoon cayenne pepper.  Boil ingredients for 20 minutes in 2 quarts of water. Let it cool, strain mixture through cheesecloth. Apply with spray bottle around the denning area. Don’t spray too deeply into the hole or the skunk may reciprocate! This repellent will deter just about any animal from an area where it is applied. It only lasts 3-5 days so you will need to re-apply if the animals’ behavior is not modified.  (*This information courtesy of Jack Murphy, Urban Wildlife Rescue, Inc).
  • Cayenne pepper:  sprinkle around denning area

Remember, repellents provide a temporary solution at best.  You’ll need to seal off any denning areas to prevent animals from using those same spots in the future. Don’t forget to make sure all animals are out before sealing off any space! (see above on how to do this)  Exclusion is the only way to solve the problem permanently.

Exclusion: THE NECESSARY FINAL STEP! After completing one of the above 3 steps: Create an L-shaped barrier by sinking the hardware cloth 4-6 inches into the ground and then bend it at a 90-degree angle, away from the deck (as illustrated below) for 8-12 inches to create a false bottom so they don't dig under the barrier. Check the next day for signs of digging from the inside to ensure that no skunk was sealed in.


Q:  I have a cat door and found a skunk in my house.  What do I do?

A:   Try to isolate the skunk in one room by closing all doors and erecting barriers (such as screens or boards) to gently funnel the skunk back out the way he came in.  Remember, skunks have poor eyesight and will only spray as a last resort if something comes towards them very quickly.  Gently "funneling" the skunk outside through the use of barriers will practically guarantee that the situation will be resolved odor-free.

Cat doors pose a continual problem because skunks and other wildlife - like opossums and raccoons - smell the cat food inside and can’t resist the free buffet.  We recommend eliminating cat doors altogether and training your cats to become indoor cats; their lifespan will be 13-15 years versus outdoor cats who only live 2-5 years.  In addition, outdoor cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year and three times as many small mammals.

If you absolutely cannot keep your cat indoors, put out the cat food at a certain time in the middle of the day, while nocturnal wild animals are sleeping.  If you must have a cat door, either lock it at night (remember skunks are generally nocturnal) or get the magnetic kind which only opens when signaled by a collar on your pet’s neck (available at most pet supply stores and pet supply catalogs).

 


Q:  There’s a skunk in my pool.  How do I get him out?

A:  Skunks fall into pools fairly often because of their poor eyesight.  You can easily save the skunk by putting a pool skimmer or broom underneath him.  Often the skunks are exhausted from swimming and may need some time to recover.  Once ashore, if the skunk does not leave on his own after two hours, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.

 


Q:  I see a dead mother skunk by the side of the road surrounded by babies. What should I do?

A:  Contact a licensed rehabilitator to help you. In the meantime, you can put an upside-down laundry basket over the skunks so they don’t wander off, and alert the police to your efforts.

 


Q:  I set a trap for a woodchuck and caught a skunk.  How do I get him out without getting sprayed?

A:  This is a common occurrence when traps are left out all night.  You can get the skunk out without getting sprayed just by knowing that skunks have terrible eyesight and only spray when something comes at them fast, like a dog.  If you move slowly and talk soothingly, you shouldn’t get sprayed.  Skunks stamp their front feet as a warning when they’re nervous, so just remain motionless for a minute until he stops stamping, then proceed.  You can drape a towel – slowly – over the trap prior to opening it. Once the trap door is opened, the skunk will beeline for home.  If you must trap and relocate a woodchuck, remember to close the trap at night so another skunk doesn’t get trapped inadvertently.  Please see the section on woodchucks for further information on why trapping and relocating woodchucks is not the best solution.


Q:  There is a skunk with a yogurt cup stuck on his head.  What do I do?

A:  Unfortunately, certain yogurt cups have a very dangerous design – the top has a small opening and rim which entraps a skunk’s torpedo-shaped head. Skunks caught in these cups soon become dehydrated and oxygen-deprived, and can starve to death.  The skunk won’t spray anything he can’t see, so hold the yogurt cup firmly, in a gloved hand.  Upon feeling resistance, the skunk will pull back and his head should pop out. Stand motionless, and the skunk will not see or spray you.

Another less “hands-on” option is to put a laundry basket or milk crate over the skunk (with a heavy rock on top) to keep him from wandering and contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.

Likewise, skunks will accidentally lodge their heads in dumpster drain holes that aren't properly screened.  Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for assistance in this circumstance.

 


Q:  Do skunks carry rabies?

A: Skunks may contract their own strain of rabies (in central US) or serve as a “spillover” species for other variants. However, this disease rarely causes human fatalities.  Since 1980, only one human death has been attributed to the skunk strain of rabies anywhere in the United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the few human deaths to rabies annually (on average 2-3 a year, nationwide) have been largely due to domestic bat strains or canine strains contracted overseas. It's important to take proper precautions by calling your local animal control officer if you observe a sick, disoriented-acting skunk in areas where rabies occurs.  To answer questions about rabies, contact your state health department.

 


Q:  There is a skunk in my yard during the daytime.  Isn’t the skunk rabid?

A:  Even though skunks are nocturnal, they sometimes forage by day particularly in the Spring, when they have young and may be extra hungry.  If an adult skunk seen in the daytime is also showing abnormal behaviors such as paralysis, circling, unprovoked aggression, screeching, self-mutilation, or uncharacteristic tameness, call your local animal control officer or police department for assistance and keep all companion animals and children away from the animal.


Q:  There’s a baby skunk running around by day. Is the baby rabid?

A:  It’s possible, yet it’s more likely that the skunk has lost sight of the mother because skunks are so near-sighted.  Watch to see if the baby finds the den or if the mother retrieves him.  You can put a plastic laundry basket upside down over the skunk to temporarily contain the animal while waiting for the mother to return.  Approach the skunk slowly and talk softly – if the skunk gives a warning by stamping the front feet, then stand still or back off.  You can approach again after the animal calms down.

As baby skunks get older, they sometimes come out to explore but most of the time they don't appear without the mother.  If you continually see baby skunks outside, they may be orphaned.  An orphaned baby will be frantic.

If the skunk appears to be truly orphaned, call a local wildlife rehabilitator for assistance.  Keep an eye on the skunk and keep all people and companion animals away.


Q:  Do I have to worry about my children being attacked by a skunk?

A:  Skunks are not aggressive.  Again, their defense is spraying rather than biting or scratching. Due to their near-sightedness, skunks may wander up to a child, or orphaned young may follow a child, unable to discern that it’s a person.  These instances are infrequent yet it is vital to teach your child to avoid any contact with wild animals and instead enjoy watching them from afar.


Q: Do I need to pay a nuisance control trapper to solve my problem?

A:  Although people's gut reaction may be to "get rid of the skunks," trapping will not solve the problem because skunks from the surrounding area will quickly replace any removed. As long as there's skunk habitat, there will be skunks. Trapping merely creates turnover in the population.

In addition, nuisance wildlife control companies charge a fee -- sometimes hundreds of dollars -- for problems that homeowners often can resolve themselves. And when animals are trapped during the birthing season, starving babies often are left behind. We discourage trapping unless an animal is stuck somewhere and can't get out, or poses an immediate threat to humans or domestic pets.  The answer is prevention through exclusion: animal-proof your home by sealing up all holes.