Skunk mothers move their den, which is normally an excavated area or hollow in the ground sometimes under slabs, porches, sheds, or decks, frequently in order to keep the scent from attracting predators. When the babies are under 5-6 weeks old, she will carry them from one den to another. If the mother is killed, injured, or senses danger during the moving process, the babies will be in jeopardy.
If you see a baby out during the daytime, wait to see if the baby either finds his den again or the mother returns. Once skunk babies get to about 6-7 weeks old, they start exploring outside the den, but their mother is generally not far away. An orphaned baby will generally appear frantic, more so as he/she gets hungrier. If you think the mother won’t be returning, you can either place an inverted laundry basket over the baby or babies to help you keep track of them or try to catch them and place them in a box or pet carrier.
The babies’ eyes don’t open until 3-4 weeks of age. Their teeth start coming in after that, although they can’t do any damage with their bites until their jaws get strong enough, about 7-8 weeks old. Until they are juveniles at between 10-12 weeks of age, about the size of a small cantaloupe, they usually can’t spray on purpose and aren’t very good with their aim. Usually, they are quite harmless unless they have a disease. Before attempting to capture the skunks, we would recommend wearing gloves and/or calling for assistance if you have any concerns about your situation.
If you have picked up a baby skunk who has genuinely lost his/her mother, first you need to place him in a warm, secure, quiet place away from children and pets. Young skunks, like most mammals, are unable to regulate their body temperature so we need to help them stay warm by providing a source of heat. Any of the following options will work:
- A heating pad set on low and with a couple of layers of towels between the pad and the baby. Put only half the container with the baby on the heating pad so the baby can crawl off to a cool spot if necessary
- A hot water bottle, covered with a couple layers of towel
- A sock filled with dry rice or beans that has been heated for a minute or two in the microwave. Be careful, these can get extremely hot, so be sure to insulate/protect the babies from getting burned.
Note: We do not recommend using a lamp as it is difficult to regulate the temperature and, if the bulb gets too close to the fabric/box, it can start a fire, not to mention burn the baby.
Do not attempt to feed the baby and never give cow’s milk to a wild animal. Just keep it warm and contact us. Skunks need to be cared for by trained rehabilitators, and it is illegal to have or keep wildlife without the appropriate government permits.
Skunks are very docile creatures who have no intention of harming or even interacting with anything other than their food supply. Since they live primarily on insects, snakes, frogs, lizards, rodents, eggs, fruits, vegetation and even carrion, they are very useful creatures to have in our environment. The scent gland is their primary defense, with some help from teeth and claws; however, they have a limited supply of scent fluid and never waste it unnecessarily. Skunks will always warn first before spraying by stomping their feet at a potential attacker and then waiting to see if the “enemy” backs off. Dogs are most often sprayed because they continue to rush toward the skunk after the warning.
A skunk moving about in the daytime is not necessarily cause for concern. While skunks are primarily active at night, when food is scarce and particularly when a mother skunk has babies to feed, it is sometimes necessary for skunks to search for food during the day as well. So, please don’t assume that they are sick and trap or shoot adults; it could be a death sentence for babies as well. And while rabies and other diseases can be carried and transmitted by skunks, bats and raccoons are far more likely to have diseases than skunks in Central Texas.
To determine if an adult skunk is possibly sick, observe it and its behavior. The skunk is probably sick if he/she:
- Shows no fear of people or dogs
- Behaves in a sick or abnormal way (weaving, drooling, approaching people, etc.)
- Makes a continued high shrieking noise (a kind of grunting noise is normal)
- Looks visibly sick and/or disheveled. Skunks normally groom themselves like cats, so the coat will look good on a healthy skunk.
If a skunk is exhibiting any or all of the above conditions, you should avoid the animal and call your local Animal Control. The animal may have distemper, rabies, or some other disease. Do not attempt to trap, feed, or handle the sick animal. Keep pets, livestock and other humans away from the area where the skunk was seen.
If you have found an injured adult, be aware that they can be strong and fast, even when injured. Your best course of action would be to call All Things Wild Rehabilitation to get specific instructions for your situation or contact Animal Control in your area rather than attempt to capture an injured adult. If you really need to move the animal, it is is always best to cover the animal’s head with a towel, to minimize stress and fear; to use gloves; and wear protective clothing.
Move very slowly around skunks. They are extremely nearsighted, so fast movements and loud sounds can startle them and make them spray in defense. Skunks can spray farther than you might think, and they are very accurate and will aim for your eyes. They can also spray multiple times, so don’t assume they’ll stop after spraying once. If the tail is held down aver the anus, however, there is less of a chance they will spray. If you can reach the skunk, they can be “scruffed,” similar to how cat mothers carry their babies, with one hand and supported under their bottom with the other hand while holding the tail down over the anus. Put the animal into a small pet carrier with a towel inside and keep the cage away from noise, pets, and children, preferably with a towel over it.
More information about finding wild animals:
By Allyson Jervey Sometimes it seems like all of the other volunteers at ATW have had many years of experience with either animal rehabilitation, veterinarian care, or human medical care. Not me…. I am completely and totally [...]