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DEALING WITH SKUNKS

The City of Sacramento Animal Care Services does NOT trap nor relocate healthy wildlife.

Skunks are found in every neighborhood. Over the years, we have changed their habitats into our living space and they have had no problem adapting to our lifestyle. Skunks rarely exhibit a fear of people since they are literally born and raised in our backyards.

Though you may see a skunk in the daytime, they are chiefly nocturnal animals that leave their homes after sunset to search for food and return home before sunrise. While their diet primarily consists of rodents and insects, it may also include carrion, eggs, and garbage.

Skunks are nearsighted animals, but to compensate, have a keen sense of smell and hearing. If approached by an intruder and unable to flee, they may stamp their forepaws and scratch the ground in warning. If pursued after this point, the skunk may spray. If you see a skunk displaying this behavior, back away quietly and slowly.

Discouraging Techniques

The first and best approach to dealing with wildlife in urban environments is to practice tolerance, understand and accept the natural patterns of animal life, and respect and appreciate wild animals. As useful as the repellants and scare devices described below may be, they create inconvenience and displacement or even death for the skunks and perhaps other species as well. This fact is paramount when considering their use.

Preventative measures, such as removing attractants from the vicinity of your house, will decrease the likelihood of an encounter with any wild animal. Attractants include garbage and dog or cat food left out at night, open compost piles, a pond, fruit trees and vegetable gardens. Elevated sheds, openings under concrete slabs and porches, and access to crawl spaces under houses are all attractive to skunks and other wildlife because they make ideal denning sites.

Tragically, some people feel the only solution to a resident skunk is to put out a live trap, catch the skunk, and then destroy or relocate them. Inevitably, another skunk or wild animal will move into the area and the cycle begins all over again. Skunks, like other suburban and urban wildlife, prefer to live the easy life we unknowingly provide for them and don't like a hostile environment. Taking steps to deter these animals will encourage them to move on.

Relocating an animal miles away from its - your - home is akin to you being transported to Chicago with no food, no money, and only the clothes on your back. They have a slim chance of survival against the other animals who already have established territories, who know where to find food, and where to hide from predators.

Moving an animal can also spread disease, not just between the old community and the new, but also between species. Viruses such as distemper and parvo thrive in new hosts. The practice of trapping and relocating animals risks separating mothers from their young and leaving the babies behind to die, or to be raised by financially-strapped rehabilitation centers.

Scare Devices and Repellents

Motion-sensitive oscillating sprinklers have been very successful in deterring wildlife. Ro-pel and Get-Away are taste and smell repellents available for use in target areas. You can also place regular household ammonia stations around your yard in the areas frequented by skunks. To do this, take a shallow dish or bowl, place a rag in it, and pour ammonia over the rag until it is completely saturated. Place extra ammonia in the dish so the rag will continue to wick it up through the night. Avoid lawn areas, as ammonia will burn the grass.

Dealing with Skunk Families

Skunks usually breed once a year, in February or March. Birth usually occurs in April or May and skunk kittens remain in the burrow about two months until fully weaned. Young skunks stay with their mothers until late fall. When a mother skunk and her young are present, we recommend leaving them alone for the few weeks that the young are helpless. Monitor the skunks' activity to determine when they have left for good, and then secure all entrances to the nest site to prevent re-entry. Trapping skunks is rarely necessary and should never be done when they are nesting.

IMPORTANT: If you have a mother with babies, be sure to give her extra time to relocate her entire family before you seal the entrance to the den. If the parent is gone but you are unsure whether the young are also out, do not seal the opening. The babies will starve and possibly discharge their spray before dying if trapped in the den. Consider using a mild deterrent suck as a radio to accelerate the skunks' departure from the den.

Under the House, Porch, Deck or Shed

It is important to check your property regularly to ensure that all air vents and openings to crawl spaces and other potentially accessible areas are secured. Skunks are rodent predators who often follow mice and rats into these areas. Close openings are decks, sheds, stairs, and hot tubs. Keep woodpiles elevated off the ground and pick up any debris that could potentially house a skunk den.

Place a radio near a known skunk den and keep it on loud during the day. Wait until the animal has begun their nightly foray and locate all entrances and exits. Block all exits except one and use repellents or frightening strategies to scare the skunks out. To be certain the animals have left, sprinkle flour at the exit and watch for footprint that lead away from the opening. When you are sure the animal is gone, securely close the opening.

Yards and Gardens

Skunks are one of the easiest of our wild neighbors to deter. Because they normally do not climb, fencing is a highly effective means of keeping skunks out of your yard. By attaching an extension of chicken wire along the base of your fence and burying it below the ground's surface, you will prevent skunks from gaining access by digging under the fence.

Vegetable gardens can attract skunks, although they are mainly interested in the harmful rodents and insects that can ruin your garden. While foraging for grubs, skunks may dig many shallow holes in the lawn, similar to those made by both raccoons and squirrels. A nursery or garden center can advise you about how to prevent grubs.

The most effective method of discouraging visits by a skunk is to secure metal trash containers with tight-fitting lids and to hold to the lid in place with a thick rubber strap. Make sure compost piles are in sturdy closed containers. Keep all recycling containers closed and out of reach. If you feed your dog or cat outside, be sure to bring any leftover food indoors after dusk. Replace the food and water bowls with ammonia stations during the nighttime hours.

Protecting Your Animal Companion

The best way to protect your dog, cat, or other companion animal from wildlife is to keep them inside at night. Domestic animals left in the yard where a skunk might live or forage could be sprayed anytime from dusk to dawn. Each night, lock dogs and cats indoors to keep wild animals fro entering your home or garage. Most cats get along with skunks but occasionally an overly territorial cat will be sprayed. Dogs generally are sprayed because they chase or threaten skunks. If you need to let your dog out during the night, turn on the patio lights first and scan the yard visually. If your companion animal is sprayed, we recommend the following recipe. Skunk spray will dissipate over time.

De-Skunking Recipe

1 Qt. 3% Hydrogen Peroxide

1/4 c Baking Soda

1 tsp Liquid Soap

Mix and apply immediately to sprayed areas, avoiding eyes and nose. Hose off and re-apply if necessary. Must be mixed just before using. Do not bottle!