Living with skunks

Minnesota is home to two skunk species, the striped skunk and its smaller and less common relative the eastern spotted skunk.

Both species have a bushy tail, black and white fur and are capable of spraying a stinky pungent odor some 10 to 15 feet.

Striped skunks live and thrive in rural and urban environments throughout Minnesota. Eastern spotted skunks are generally found in open lands that have riparian woodlands, shelterbelts, thickets and brush. In agricultural areas they prefer cover made by humans, including outbuildings, corncribs, trash piles, rock piles and haystacks.

Regardless of the species you don’t want to mess with a skunk. In addition to the obvious reason, skunks can carry rabies. Even though the number of skunk with rabies cases is very low in Minnesota it is best to avoid them, even cute baby skunks. Moreover, avoid any skunk that exhibits symptoms such as disorientation, impaired movements, paralysis, poor coordination, unprovoked aggression, strange vocalizations, excess saliva or an unusually friendly behavior. If you see any of these behaviors notify your local animal control officer .

Dealing with an aggressive skunk

Skunks typically keep their distance from people. Skunk attacks are highly unlikely but skunks, like all wild animals, are unpredictable when startled, sick, habituated to people or feel threatened. So, be cautious if you see one.

If you have been attacked, bitten or scratched by a skunk immediately clean the area with soap and water for several minutes then see your doctor as soon as possible (ideally within 24 hours for advice and treatment.

Skunk and pet interactions

If your pet was bitten or scratched by a skunk call your veterinarian for advice. It is best not to touch your pet since if the skunk was rabid the rabies virus can remain alive on the pet’s hair and skin for up to two hours. If you must handle your pet protect yourself by wearing gloves and protective clothing. If you have handled your pet without protection consult your doctor for advice.

How to eliminate potential den and burrow locations

Skunks will often create dens underneath porches and other protected areas. You can prevent this by taking the following actions:

  • Remove wood, rock and debris piles or other cover that would attract foraging skunks.
  • Remove food sources around your home, such as pet-food bowls and low-hanging bird feeders and clean up any birdseed that is on the ground.
  • Place all trash in cans with tight-fitting, locking lids.
  • Cover window wells with plastic or metal mesh covers.
  • Close off the space beneath your porch and deck to keep skunks from denning. You can skunk-proof these areas by using heavy gauge galvanized hardware cloth. To prevent digging, bury hardware cloth or weave fences two inches below the ground. Bend the mesh at a right angle and extend it at least 12 inches outward. If you live in an area of loose or sandy soil increase the depth you bury the mesh as well as the length of the L-shaped bend. Also, if you live in northern Minnesota, where skunks have more motivation to find shelter, you may need to bury the mesh deeper.
Skunk repellants often do the trick

Another way to keep skunks from living under a porch, deck, trailer, shed or other structure is to use a repellant. Commercial granular repellents are available at many gardening and agricultural retail outlets. They often work quite well.

Another option is to make your own hot pepper repellant. Hot pepper repellants last only three to five days but are very effective until their potency wanes. Skunks that get hot pepper in their mouth from chewing or using their tongue to clean their feet soon feed and live elsewhere. This mixture does not harm birds so it can be used at bird feeding stations.

To make hot pepper repellent mix one chopped yellow onion, one chopped jalapeno pepper and one tablespoon of cayenne pepper into two quarts of water. Boil the mixture for 20 minutes then strain it through a cheesecloth. Your home-made repellant can be applied with a small spray bottle or a larger gallon-sized lawn-and-garden sprayer.

Beyond granular and liquid repellants a number of firms manufacture motion-sensing sprinklers that will spray skunks that come into range. These typically involve attaching a garden hose to a battery-powered infrared sensor and sprinkler. The spray is harmless but usually sufficient to get most skunks to den elsewhere and forage in a less perturbing place.

An additional approach to dealing with stubborn skunks
p>A liberal application of hot pepper spray around a den area is perhaps the best method to evict skunks from under trailers, sheds, porches and the like. You may even want to spray some pepper mixture into the hole but be cautious if you do. If a skunk is in the den you may be on the receiving end of a spraying too.

A way to determine if a skunk(s) are still using the den is to sprinkle a layer of chalk dust, corn starch, or flour about two feet around any opening they use to get in and out of the den. After dark, check for tracks leading out.

If you doubt that all skunks are gone, you can place a one-way door in one opening that will allow skunks to leave but not re-enter. Before installing the one-way door on the main entry, seal all the other openings with hardware cloth, bricks, or lumber. Bury hardware cloth around the perimeter of any known or potential entrance to a depth of at least twelve inches to keep skunks and other wildlife from digging their way in. Once you are down 12 inches, if you can, bend the mesh at a right angle and extend it at least 12 inches outward for the best protection. Install the one-way door in the main entrance and extend the hardware cloth around that entrance as well. Leave the one-way door in place for three to seven days. One-way doors can be made out of wood, or pre-made doors can be purchased from commercial sources.

How to get a skunk out of a window well

An effective method to remove skunks that have fallen into a window well is to carefully lower a small covered and baited cage trap into the well. Another effective but slightly riskier method is to carefully lower a baited, five-gallon bucket down into the well and wait for the skunk to enter. Once the skunk is inside, carefully lift the bucket out.

Skunks are not good jumpers or climbers but they will leave a window well on their own if you lower a rough wood plank down into the well to serve as a ramp. The ramp should have wire or carpet along its length so the skunk can get good traction. Lower the board slowly and quietly into the well, leave the area and allow the skunk to calmly exit.

How get skunk scent off your pet

According to the American Kennel Club, the best solution for removing skunk smell from a pet is to combine in a bucket ¼-cup of baking soda, 1-2 teaspoons of mild dishwashing detergent and one quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution. While wearing rubber gloves work the foaming mixture into your pet’s coat and leave it on for five minutes. Then, rinse with warm water. Follow with dog shampoo if desired.

DNR does not respond to skunk calls

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources does not trap, shoot or relocate skunks. Where necessary, removal of skunks is the responsibility of the landowner or tenant. For information on pest control operators consult your local phone directory or browse website listings.

Do know that when it comes to lethal control measures Minnesota classifies striped skunks as an unprotected species but the spotted skunk is classified as a threatened and protected species. As such, it is legal to kill striped skunks year-round without a hunting license but there is no open season on the spotted skunk, sometimes referred to as a civet cat.

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