Wildlife: Skunks

Are you experiencing an issue with wildlife in your area?  If you have an urgent concern, please get in touch with us right away.  If you are looking for more information, please click on one of the questions below to expand the content and find your answer.  If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at DFW Wildlife Coalition.

Baby skunks should always be accompanied by a mother with a few exceptions. If the babies are playing at the entrance of the den, which is normally an excavated area under a sidewalk, deck, or other structure, mom may be inside napping. On occasion, when the babies are very young, she may leave the den during the day. She is opportunistic which means she may hunt at night or day, whenever the intended prey is available such as insects, small rabbit, mice/rat, or pet food. It is normal, as the kits get older, for them to be playful and adventurous. Young skunks should retreat to the den when they see you. If they do not it is possible something happened to the mother. Babies will leave a den 24-48 hours if mom doesn’t return.

Observe for a couple of hours unless the animal is in distress. If warranted and you can safely do so, place an inverted laundry basket over the kit(s) to contain, while you wait for the mother to retrieve. If the mother skunk does not retrieve the young kit(s), consult with the hotline and or a wildlife rehabilitator specializing in skunks. It is important to keep wild babies with their family. Unfortunately, humans can cause disruption of the family by trapping, killing, and or by hitting with an automobile.

The skunk kits may need to be rescued if any of the following are applicable:

  1. The kit is continually vocalizing. An orphaned skunk appears frantic.
  2. Fire ants or flies are present.
  3. Obvious injury.
  4. You have observed a dead adult in your neighborhood.
  5. You are aware that an adult was trapped or killed in your neighborhood.
  6. You or your neighbor have used rat poison.
  7. The kit is lethargic and very thin.
  8. Eyes are closed, and the baby appears to have crawled out of a den.
  9. The den is flooded.

NOTE: Young skunks and adults will stomp their feet and flip around with their tail up. This is how they warn you to leave them alone. Typically, they will repeat this warning several times. If the threat persists, they will then spray which is their only means of defense. Speak softly when you are around a skunk.

If rescue is appropriate, and an adult can safely rescue, please wear gloves, as the baby’s life depends on you being careful. Gently cover the baby with a T-shirt to reduce fear and to protect yourself from a possible spray. Lift baby into a box with a lid and/or a pet carrier. DO NOT LET CHILDREN HANDLE BABY SKUNKS. Your actions influence the decisions of how the rehabber will rehab the baby skunk. Caution must always be exercised with rabies vector species. Gloves and the T-shirt protect you and the skunk’s life.

If a rescue was warranted, proceed to “Quick Tips” in the upper right of our website.

Don’t be alarmed about a skunk family. It is easy to discourage the mother to relocate her family with a humane eviction.  Read the FAQ titled “How to Encourage or Evict a Skunk from Your Home”.

Please reference our “Quick Tips” located in the upper right corner of our website for instructions on containing, transporting, providing life saving heat, and finding a wildlife rehabilitator.

Do not let children touch a baby skunk.

 

Nocturnal wildlife will, on occasion, forage during the day. This is common with lactating mothers or wildlife that have been accustomed to dining on reliable resources of pet food.

If you observe a wild animal traveling from point A to point B, this would be considered normal healthy behavior.

Behavior to be concerned with is an animal that is lingering and not aware of the dogs or humans nearby.

Raccoons, skunks, fox, and coyote are susceptible to canine distemper and parvo. Bobcats, raccoons, skunks and fox are susceptible to panleukopenia. Responsible pet owners vaccinate their pets annually for these diseases. However, wildlife does not have the benefit of vaccines. Symptoms include any one or a combination of the following:

  1. Out during the day.  The difference is the animal is just lying in the yard and does not care what is happening around them such as barking dogs or people.
  2. Dragging hind legs, twitching, seizures, symptoms of the nervous system.
  3. Appearing to be tame.
  4. Staggering.
  5. Matted eyes, or nasal discharge.

These symptoms can also be rabies.  In Texas, there are very few incidences of rabies in the raccoon, coyote, fox, or bobcat however eastern states do report a greater incidence of rabies in the raccoon.  In the DFW area, we see an occasional skunk with rabies.

A sick animal needs to be removed by your city animal services and euthanized. Distemper is not curable. As the sick animal lingers, it spreads the air borne virus. Animals with distemper can spread it to others 12-15 feet away. Removal protects the rest of the wildlife. Most wildlife rehabilitators do not have the resources to euthanize for the public, as well, do not want to introduce viruses to the animals in their care.  People cannot contract distemper. 

Please do not feed wildlife such as raccoons. The transmission of distemper usually occurs when someone is intentionally feeding, and unrelated raccoons dine together. The results are devastating as neighborhood populations die off. Show respect by not feeding wildlife.

For more information on rabies please the visit Center for Disease Control;

https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/surveillance/human_rabies.html

For the annual report documenting cases of rabies in Texas:

Texas Health and Human service annual report

A skunk is nomadic, as with all our urban wildlife neighbors, they are attracted to food, water and shelter. A skunk will move on once the food source is consumed or removed. An exception is the birthing season, April through June. Common choices for a birthing den are under a deck/building, an area of erosion at a sidewalk/driveway, or under a wood pile, etc. Any quiet, dark, small area protected from weather is a suitable den.

Simple deterrents will work to discourage a skunk. If you know or suspect babies the best solution is to wait until the babies can follow the mother. Watch at dusk, if the babies are traveling with the mother then seal the entrance while they are gone to prevent re-entry.  This solution is only when the young are old enough to travel with the mother.

If babies are too young to travel, patience is recommended until they can travel.

If you can’t wait, start with a simple deterrent, plug the hole of the den with fabric or newspaper, something that she can move away easily. This simple deterrent may prompt her to move the family. She will have to move each baby one at a time, therefore it may take two nights.  She is a single mother and will feel threatened to leave her babies, while she forages.  Do not attempt an eviction during extreme weather.

Another deterrent is to install a motion detected light in the area which will discourage skunk and other wildlife activity.  Visit our product page (upper right on the menu bar) for deterrents using light, sound, and/or water.  These deterrents can reduce and or eliminate wildlife activity in the targeted area.

If she continues to reside mix the following ingredients and spray around the location of the den:  8 oz dish detergent, 8 oz castor oil, 1-gallon water

The final option, if the family has not departed, is the use of light, a radio, and Apple Cider Vinegar. At dusk, because skunks are nocturnal, carefully as to not alarm the mother introduce a bright light, a radio on a 24 hour Talk or Rap station and Apple Cider Vinegar-soaked rags near the entrance to the den. Turn these deterrents off at day break. The following morning cover the opening with newspaper. If the newspaper is not disturbed for 24 hours, the family has been moved. In some cases, it may take the mother more than one night to move her family.

Once the family is moved you must cover the opening to prevent another animal from denning. If the location is appropriate, hardware cloth with a 1-inch staple is a good preventive repair. If the den site was under a deck or building, secure by constructing a “L” shape barrier of hardware cloth. The horizontal of the “L” will be at a 45-degree angle away from the structure at least 12 inches in width and submerged four inches or so. An animal that typically digs to gain access will quickly be discouraged from this barrier and will move on.

If your dog was sprayed this recipe will remove the odor. The source is The Humane Society of the United States,
“Mix together:

  • 1 quart of 3-percent hydrogen peroxide (available at any pharmacy)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid dishwashing soap

Wearing rubber gloves, wash dog with this solution immediately after the spraying occurs. DO NOT get the solution in eyes. (If you don’t have peroxide, baking soda, and liquid soap on hand, use vinegar diluted with water.)

Caution: Do NOT store this mixture or make it ahead of time, as the mixture could explode if left in a bottle.

Rub the mixture all over the dog, and scrub deep to neutralize the odor — however, if you’re washing your dog or cat, don’t leave the mixture on longer than you must as peroxide can bleach fur. Rinse the solution off thoroughly, and the smell should be gone.”

A simpler solution, Texas Parks and Wildlife recommends Apple Cider Vinegar for removal of skunk odor.

Tomato juice is not effective.

Skunks are near sighted and are not aggressive to humans. Skunks will use their defense when they or their young feel threatened. Almost always, the skunk will warn before spraying. The warning is stamping of feet with tail up while twisting their body around so that tail is facing you. They will vocalize in a manner resemblance of fussing or hissing. They may also make a short rocking like charge. All of this is to warn you to leave them or their young alone.

If you encounter a skunk while walking be still and allow the skunk time to evaluate and see that you are not a threat. The skunk will go along its way. The encounter should end without incident. If you are walking with your dog, pick up or keep dog controlled/quiet and preferably behind you, as dogs do not observe the warning of the skunk.

The spray of the skunk is its’ only defense. Once it sprays it will be defenseless until the spray replenishes which takes several days to a week.

Watch this video from Texas Parks and Wildlife.

First an understanding of why we have wildlife in our cities.  

As our cities encroached on fields and woods the wildlife adapted. Our greenbelts and water features in our planned communities, provide shelter, water, and a place to hunt. The wildlife moves around our cities freely, utilizing our creeks/streams, greenbelts, and storm drainage systems. Further adaptions were made as smaller territories were required as an alternative food supply of garbage was consumed instead of exclusively hunting. Den choices became plentiful as wildlife discovered our homes/decks were great dens.

Two species who have adapted extremely well are the raccoon and opossum. Their populations in the cities are known to be 5 to 8 times greater than their country counterpart.

Mammal predators in our cities include, bobcats, coyotes, and to a lesser degree raccoons, foxes, skunks and opossums.  Their diets consist of a wide range of insects, lizards, frogs, snakes, mice, rats, rabbits, squirrels, and ducks. All except the bobcat are omnivores which extends their diet to also include plants such as fruits, berries, and nuts. A quick look around in your neighborhood, you will understand there is plenty of food. We have made those food sources even denser with accessible dumpsters and feeding of wildlife such as ducks at the park, bird or squirrel feeders in our yards.  In fact, food is so plentiful that hunting is not always a requirement when you can quickly dive into a dumpster and dine on our leftovers.

Life in the cities is indeed easier for the wildlife.

It is understandable that wildlife and humans will have conflicts.  As we learned to live with our wild neighbors, studies have revealed that traditional trapping of wildlife does not solve the urban wildlife conflict. With abundant resources of food, water, and shelter the remaining animals will absorb that vacant territory in a very short time. In many cases, such as the coyote, when a resident pair are removed the surrounding coyotes absorb the vacant territory allowing for the success of larger litters.  The results are a larger coyote population than prior to removal.  Studies also reveal that relocated trapped animals seldom survive, as most are territorial.

Another consideration for trapping and relocating is to keep the predator prey balance. When this delicate balance is disturbed there is an increase in rodent, rabbit, and deer populations. Increased rodent population can be a public health risk.

To effectively resolve wildlife conflicts long term, address the basic needs of life; food, water, and shelter.

FOOD

If you want to feed the birds, please put a day’s portion of seed when you can enjoy the songbirds. An overflowing bird feeder attracts rodents, rabbits, and squirrels. The prey eating the seed on the ground attracts the opossum, raccoon, skunk, bobcat, fox, or coyote. You are responsible for creating this food chain in your backyard.

Don’t allow fruit, acorns, and nuts to accumulate.

Place your garbage out the morning of pick up.  If you must place out the night before, put half a cup of ammonia in the can to discourage rummaging.  Keep dumpster doors and lids closed.  Consider purchasing animal proof containers. (see our PRODUCTS PAGE in the upper right menu) Place your containers away from walls or fences to discourage access.

Do not keep pet food out.  If you must feed your dog outside, please pick up any remaining food after 20-30 minutes.  Consider feeding indoors to prevent fire ants and flies in your pet’s food.

When feeding feral cats, put out enough food for the cats, remove any food not eaten within a short-designated time.  Any time wildlife joins the feeding, alter the time so that the raccoons, opossums, etc. arrive late for the buffet.

Do not store pet food or seeds in your garage or out buildings unless secured in a container that cannot be opened or chewed.

Compost.  Don’t put food scraps in your compost pile. When using a compost bin keep the doors closed.

Manage pets. Coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and owls consider our small pets (rabbit size or smaller) to be fair prey.  We must be responsible for their safety when outdoors.  When walking, keep your pet on a six-foot leash.  Small pets should be housed inside. Vaccinate your pets annually.

Keep cats indoors, as there are multiple dangers in our communities such as cars, disease, cat fights, dogs, hawks, owls, coyotes and bobcats.  Cats are the major cause of song birds, rabbits, baby opossums, and baby squirrels’ admissions to a wildlife rehabilitator.

WATER

Water your lawns during the day. Adjust sprinkler systems to prevent pooling of water.

The use of motion detector devices using either/or a combination of light, sound, and water can reduce visits to your pools or ponds. Visit our PRODUCTS PAGE (located in the upper right of the menu) for several recommended deterrents. Shopping on our site, supports the hotline.

SHELTER

Avoid allowing landscape to become overgrown.  Trim overhanging limbs to discourage roof access. Thin brushy areas.  Keep your grass maintained.

Don’t keep junk piles or accumulate debris.

Compost piles create heat that could attract wildlife seeking shelter from the cold. If using a bin keep the doors closed.

Seal areas and/or correct any erosion that could become den sites under a storage shed, a deck, or under a pier and beam home.

For pier and beam homes check your foundation vents and replace with a sturdy hardware cloth to prevent entry.

Decks should be constructed so that wildlife cannot get under. The base can be wood, rock, brick or hardware cloth to ground level. To prevent digging bury wire from the base “L” shaped attached at a 45-degree angle with the base extending at least 12 inches away from the sides. The 12 inches will discourage digging. Buried depth is recommended to be 4 to 6 inches.

Cap your chimney.  Keep your roof and eaves in good repair to prevent entry by rodents, squirrels, or raccoons.

Our urban predators are naturally fearful of humans.  Don’t allow a food source to create a conflict inviting unnatural behavior from your wild neighbors.

Teach children to respect and never approach or touch wildlife.  Explain the wildlife’s role in our cities and to always get an adult to help if wildlife is in need. Small children should always be supervised as there are many dangers in our cities.

Share this information with your neighbors, family and friends. Through education and responsible behavior, wildlife and humans can coexist in our cities.

A good video showing predator prey in an urban eco-system

Skunk, opossum, raccoon, or armadillo enjoy dining on grub worms.  Digging activity is usually noticed after a lot of rain or overwatering from a sprinkler system.  The moisture causes the grubs to rise to the surface.  Wildlife eating grubs is beneficial and is free pest control.   Once the grubs are eaten the wildlife will continue their journey.  Patience and tolerance are recommended.

To Encourage the Wildlife to Move Sooner, adopt these changes to your lawn maintenance.

Practice deep watering of your lawn especially in August. The grub eggs require frequent moisture to hatch.  By limiting the frequency of watering, the moisture reduction will reduce the number of eggs hatching.

In late spring to early summer, reduce outdoor lighting which attracts the June bugs and other beetles.  This may reduce egg laying in your yard.

Do not cut your lawn short as this makes a more attractive site for laying eggs. Let it remain taller.

Over seed your lawn in the spring and fall.  A thick lawn is too dense to accommodate the beetles.

Use an eco-friendly fertilizer for your lawn in the spring and fall.  A healthy lawn is more resistant to pests. A good comparison with tips at this site:  http://www.greenhome.com/blog/cut-the-crap-making-your-own-eco-friendly-fertilizer-is-easier-than-you-think

Attract birds to your yard that may dine on grub worms and other insects.

These Products are Recommended for the Treatment of Grubs.

Your purchase through our product page supports the DFW Wildlife Coalition Hotline.  

Mix 1 cup Castor oil, 1 cup liquid dish soap, and 1-gallon of water.  Put in a garden sprayer and spray the area of concern. You will need to respray as needed due to rain or sprinkler system.

One longer-term solution is a product called “Milky Spore”, (not effective in Texas for the white grub), this is a natural non-toxic bacterium that will kill grubs and can be purchased online or your local garden store.

Beneficial Nematodes is another long-term solution for grubs and can be purchased online or at garden stores.  In Texas, commercially-available nematodes have shown a 50% reduction of grubs. Carefully follow instructions for the best results.

According to Texas A&M Agri-Life Extension the repeated use of spiked sandals (sold for aerating) over the infested turf may reduce grub population by 50%.

Apply Neem oil as a botanical pesticide.

Adopt the lawn care recommendations.  Encourage those insect eating birds.  And if needed the products recommended to reduce the digging activity in your yard.  Remember the wildlife are beneficial in keeping our rodent populations under control.

Resources:

Many animals have a musky smell; however, the skunk is famous above all other animals for its potent odor. The spray of the skunk is its only defense and renders it defenseless for several days to a week. Unless the skunk had to defend itself the smell you are experiencing is possibly from young skunks not a full spray. When young are present, as they mature, they often have what is commonly referred to as a fragrant “poot”. One remedy of this smell is a product called “Odor Away” which can be purchased through our PRODUCTS PAGE located in the upper right menu bar.  Your purchase through our website generates a donation to support the hotline.