If you've ever smelled a gas leak in your home, you can thank a skunk. Mercaptans, the ingredient that gives natural odorless gas its warning smell, is derived from the skunk's foul odor. This strong odor is the skunk's defense mechanism of last resort. It takes a lot of aggravation for a skunk to spray. As with most wildlife, skunks would rather flee than fight and will only spray if they feel threatened. It would be their preference to quietly disappear, but dogs do threaten them and sadly, even kill them.
The name skunk is an adaptation of the Abenaki Indian (Algonquin) name, "segankw" or "segongw." There are two types of skunks, called 'stink badgers' that are found in Indonesia, but most of the 13 varieties of skunk are found only in North America ranging over parts of southern Canada, most of the United States and Northern Mexico. Of the four primary types of skunks found in the United States, the Striped Skunk and the Spotted Skunk are the most common. Skunks can vary in size from about nine inches to 15 inches and can weigh between six and 15 to 20 pounds. Most are about the size of a house cat, and interestingly enough, one of the skunk's favorite foods is wet cat food. Mother skunks give birth to litters of two to ten young each year usually in late spring or summer. The babies follow their mothers around for several months before leaving to be on their own.
Although most skunks are the well known black and white, the colors can vary from brown to grey and cream. All have stripes or swirls on their main body and some have stripes on their legs. They all have the characteristic odor which emanates from two anal glands. Solitary by nature and slow moving with poor eyesight, the skunk will attempt to avoid contact with other animals and people. Their only natural enemy is the green horned owl which has a very poor sense of smell. Other predators, as well as humans, will attempt to avoid the skunk due to the well known defensive odor. The fluid that the skunk shoots out can burn the eyes and nose of the attacker and even cause nausea.
Skunks primarily feed at night or twilight and are omnivores—they will eat anything and therein comes the problem. Their original habitat was woodland areas where they could find plenty of worms, grubs, bees (they love bees), berries and assorted woodland food including the occasional bird's eggs or scavenged animal bodies. With the increasing development of human habitats with its associated litter, skunks have readily added urban areas to their natural habitat.
They prefer to den near running water and a ready source of food. They frequently use existing animal dens or existing human structures for their homes. Thus, they will readily den under our decks and porches, in our basements, hide in our fire wood piles, and live in unused buildings or structures near the sources of food which we provide them—our garbage sacks and any pet food which we leave out of doors.
Skunks have long sharp front claws for digging insects. If we haven't smelled them yet, four inch holes in the yard are one sign that a skunk has taken up residence on our property.
Skunk proofing your property
Skunks will dwell where there is food and water and since they will eat anything, including our garbage, one of the first measures in skunk proofing your property is the proper storage of garbage until it is picked up. A plastic garbage bag left on a deck or porch or curbside is a neon welcome sign to a skunk: "Dinner is Served" and "This House Welcomes Skunks."
So the first step in skunk proofing is to always store bagged garbage in large containers—and by the way, the standard short metal garbage can is not a deterrent. Avoid the use of outdoor wood piles which provide hiding places for skunks, keep your garage door shut, and make sure that under your deck or porch is closed off. Clean up any fruit or berries that may have fallen from plants or trees on your property. Also, it is very important to never leave pet food, especially the wet variety, outside over night.
If you have sighted skunks in your neighborhood, a more direct method of skunk proofing is to spray the borders of your property with a natural skunk repellent.
One of the skunk related web sites >gives the following directions for a skunk repellent: "To make your own skunk deterrent spray, boil together a chopped onion and a chopped jalapeno pepper, as well as a teaspoon of cayenne pepper in two quarts of water. Let the mixture simmer for at least 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool before straining into a spray bottle. You will want to apply this spray around your property as well as around the skunk's den at least every 5 days. See www.skunkfacts.net.
If a skunk has settled into your property, you can attempt to encourage it to move by shaking cayenne pepper around the den. If the skunk has taken up residence under your deck or porch, you can try to discourage its presence by temporarily blocking off its entry/exit hole with loose leaves or straw. This is annoying to skunks and may encourage the skunk to leave. It is important to not board off the opening until you are sure that the skunk has left, especially if a mother skunk has a litter. The dying skunk kits, as baby skunks are called, will release their odor and you will be stuck with it until it dissipates. Of course, you need to make sure that the skunk is not home before you start this operation. Other methods of encouraging the skunk to move on include stuffing an ammonia soaked rag in the entrance or placing an open jar with moth balls in the entrance.
The final two options for skunk removal are trapping or poisoning. This can be done on your own, although both are best left to the experts. Skunks are easy to trap, but a special skunk trap is required and moving the trapped skunk while avoiding getting sprayed is highly problematic. See www.skunkfacts.net for directions.
How to get rid of the skunk smell
The smell will dissipate over time; however, this is not the preferred method for humans or their pets. Project Wildlife gives a good set of smell removal directions: http://www.proiectwildlife.orq/animals.php?id=17.
When your pet is sprayed, the quicker you take action, the more completely you can remove the odor. Here are some suggestions:
Best Skunk Smell Remedy: 1 quart 3% peroxide, 1/4 c baking soda, 1 tbs liquid hand soap. (Some experts claim that Dawn liquid soap is the best to use.) Mix all three ingredients together. Shampoo animal thoroughly keeping out of eyes, nose and mouth. Soak 5 minutes. Rinse well. The peroxide and baking soda neutralize the odor; the soap removes the oil that holds the smell. Be careful though: the solution may bleach hair and other materials.
There are mixed opinions on the value of washing your pet with tomato juice, Massengil douche, or diluted vinegar to counteract the chemical makeup of the skunk spray. You can find people who swear this works and others who say it simply masks the odor but does not remove the odor permanently.
"Skunk Off" and similar preparations containing neutroleum alpha, available from some pet stores, are effective.
Shortly after my wife and I moved into our current home we were startled one evening by that potent skunk smell. Some animal in the neighborhood had a run in with a skunk and it took hours for the smell to leave the neighborhood. This occurred only once in the 40 years we have lived in our home.
It is important to remember that the skunk will spray only as a last resort. They will turn, stomp their feet, shake their tail, hiss and giving plenty of warning before they spray. The best advice when encountering a skunk is to turn and go the other way. We did this several times with our Kerry, who, being true to her breeding, wanted to give fight. It took some strength to get her moving in the opposite direction but we avoided the smelly confrontation. We lived for years in harmony with a neighborhood skunk which lived in a storm gate at the opposite end of the block. Occasionally we would see the skunk but there was never a smell producing incident in the neighborhood. Although some people keep de-scented skunks for pets, they are best left in the wild, and if they move into your neighborhood, left well alone.
Skunks are actually wonderful beautiful creatures and can be very beneficial to a neighborhood as they eat insects that might otherwise bother us. They are best observed from a respectful distance and their antics enjoyed through binoculars.