Skunks are essentially harmless woodland creatures—at a distance. When they find their way into your lawn, garden, or home, however, they are a pest that demands immediate removal. Trapping, relocating, or killing skunks is always difficult, but many homeowners can avoid skunk removal problems with these essential skunk control tips.
Skunks have teeth and claws but their preferred method of self-defense is their spray. Even newborn kits whose eyes are not yet open can defend themselves by spraying. Striped skunks can spray, hooded skunks can spray, spotted skunks can spray, and even 3-inch (8 cm) long pygmy skunks can spray. You will always need a barrier between you and any live skunk that is within 15 feet (5 meters).
Skunks in the lawn or garden are problematic, but skunks under or even in the house can do enormous damage. Wherever there is a crawl space between the floorboards of your house or a porch or deck and the ground, make sure you have steel mesh, with openings no larger than 1/2 inch (12 mm) from the floorboard to the ground and then 6 inches (15 cm) into the ground. This will keep skunks from building burrows and nests under your home.
Skunks seldom transmit diseases to humans or pets directly, but their droppings are often loaded with parasites, especially roundworms. The eggs of parasites mix with the soil after the skunk manure decays, surviving up to a year. If a child eats contaminated dirt, or a pet rolls in contaminated dirt, or you work in contaminated dirt with bare hands, even a year later, you can become infected by the parasite. Keep skunks out of flower and vegetable beds.
Sometimes frustrated homeowners shoot skunks under or inside their houses. The skunk gets its revenge by unloading its entire cache of stink spray as it dies, leaving an overwhelming odor that will permeate clothes, fabric, drapes, upholstery, and hair for weeks or even months. Never try to kill a skunk inside the house.
Instead, gather up children and pets and evacuate your house. Leave skunk bait about 10 feet (3 meters) outside an open door and wait for the skunk to emerge on its own. Eggs, sardines, tuna, and raw chicken parts usually work well, although the skunk will emerge on its own time table. Barking and loud noises will cause the skunk to hide inside your house. You should avoid speaking above a whisper while waiting for the skunk to emerge.
Keeping some kind of protective barrier between you and the skunk at all times, close the door and run once the skunk comes out. Excluding the skunk from your house stops the damage—and it is much better to allow the skunk to come out voluntarily than it is to confront it indoors.
Like many other small animals, skunks do not care for the odor of mothballs. Tossing a few mothballs at entrances to crawl spaces underneath your house or outdoor tool sheds will keep skunks out as long as the mothballs stay dry. You can also discourage skunks from entering specific areas of your property by putting out fox urine, which comes in crystals or spray. Bobcat or mountain lion urine will also work. Any kind of predator urine product has to be reapplied after rains, and loses its effectiveness almost immediately if it is dissolved while you are watering your plants.
Keeping pet chickens and ducks in the backyard has become something of a craze in the United States. Even if you would never turn your pet into Kentucky Fried, any skunk in your neighborhood is likely lying in wait for the first opportunity to start lickin’ on chicken, or at least to swipe a few eggs. Make sure chickens are in skunk-proof pens before dusk until after sunrise. Skunks are unlikely to attack your lawn or garden unless you have freshly laid sod or you have a compost pile that doesn’t have enough manure to allow it to heat up and kill grubs.
Americans who grew up on farms are usually very familiar with electric fences. Most farm children either play pranks with electric fencing or are the objects of pranks involving electric fencing, such as one child grabbing another child’s hand and then touching the electric fence with the other hand. Most farmers even develop a “feel” for whether an electric fence is charged, knowing just how close to hold one’s hand to the wire so the skin tingles but isn’t shocked. Electric fences that are connected to electric fence chargers deliver painful but harmless shocks (although there are some reports that the shock will kill intestinal parasites).
City dwellers are usually less sanguine about electric fencing, and local regulations may require warning signs. However, two electrified wires, one 6 inches (15 cm) above the ground and the other 12 inches (30 cm) above the ground, will encourage any skunk to turn around. Just make sure the skunks are off your property before you electrify the fence.
Keeping an outdoor dog will not solve your problem with skunks. If you don’t want to have to deal with a dog that will be smelly for weeks or months, keep your pets indoors when you sight skunks or their hand-like tracks.
Skunks forage over an enormous area, sometimes thousands of acres (over 1000 hectares). They will naturally frequent any location that offers them an easy meal, such as an open garbage can or a plastic bag filled with garbage waiting for pickup at the curb. Make sure any outdoor garbage containers are topped with tight-fitting lids you keep closed, especially from dusk through dawn. Dispose of eggs, fish, and poultry scraps down the garbage disposal whenever possible (but don’t try to put duck, chicken, or turkey bones in the disposal). Use Rubbermaid garbage cans on rollers to deter any critter smaller than a bear from feeding on your refuse.
Skunks do not climb trees to get fruit, but they will eat fallen fruit. They will also dine on ripe berries, and especially on overripe berries. Keep fallen fruit picked up and ripe berries picked to keep skunks out of your garden.
When exclusion does not work, relocation or euthanasia are also options. Most US states and Canadian provinces, however, will not allow you to capture a skunk and release it on someone else’s property or public land. Here are some tips for keeping skunks under control when exclusion does not work.
Different states, provinces, counties, cities, and towns have different rules and regulations for the handling of skunks. At one extreme, the City of Toronto may require you to take a trapped skunk to a veterinarian for euthanasia. At the other extreme, Washington, D.C. Laws forbid you from killing and require you to trap and release—although it is illegal to transport that same skunk into Virginia or Maryland, the only two states that border the district and the only two places that are at the proper distance specified by District of Columbia law. Some localities in Texas may charge you with felony pet abandonment, with a $1000 fine and a potential for a year in jail, if you leave a “pet” skunk (an animal that under the law belongs to you) in a location without food and water. Get up-to-date advice on your rights and responsibilities before you make any plans for trapping, releasing, or killing skunks.
Get snap traps that will snap upwards around a skunk’s neck when they are sprung – provided the center of the trap lines up with the center of the bait hung over it. Hanging the bait to the side of the trap or placing the trap parallel to the bait rather than perpendicular to the bait will result in trapping the skunk by its leg. When you come to inspect the trap, it will be “gunning” for you.
The 1.75 inch trap is right for trapping skunks. A smaller trap may not be large enough for the largest skunks, and a larger trap may allow the skunk to escape.
Don’t use snap traps in any area that may be frequented by cats or dogs, your own pets or your neighbor’s. You may be subject to both civil and criminal liability if you kill a neighbor’s pet. In most states and provinces, injury to any animal that is owned by another person may be construed as cruelty to an animal.
A situation you want to avoid is trapping your pet in the same cage with a frightened skunk. The skunk could not only spray your pet but also injure your pet with teeth and claws, possibly transferring roundworms or rabies. Single-door traps require more frequent baiting and checking, but they can save the life of your pet.
Skunks will try to squeeze into smaller traps to get tasty bait, but they won’t shy away from larger traps, either. If the trap has a height of 8 inches (20 cm) or less, an adult skunk will not be able to raise its tail to spray—although a younger skunk will.
Don’t come closer than 15 feet (5 meters) to a trap to check for skunks. If there is a skunk in the trap, approach the trap with a cardboard or cloth barrier between you and the skunk so you will not be sprayed in a direct hit. The best time to check a trap is in the middle of the day, when the skunk may be napping. Cover the trap with an old blanket or tarp you intend to throw away before moving it, speaking in low tones and moving the trap with a minimum of motion.
Skunk traps use PVC pipe or steel tubing to trap a skunk with its meal in a cage with solid walls. The cylindrical design gives the skunk enough room to rest comfortable but not enough room to lift its tail; should a baby skunk get trapped in the cage the solid walls prevent leakage of spray. The unit can be carried to the wildlife shelter or legal release location and opened, the skunk usually venturing out, tail first, after 15 to 20 minutes if the location is quiet and there are no dogs nearby.
Some New England states in the United States permit shooting of skunks during the late fall and early winter, with a fur hunter’s permit. Most cities and parks prohibit shooting skunks with city or park limits, and it is always illegal to shoot a skunk on someone else’s property without their permission even if local law permits discharge of a firearm. It may be legal to shoot a skunk inside your own home, but the skunk is sure to spray as it dies and the shot itself can cause tremendous damage to wiring, plumbing, floors, walls, furniture, dinnerware, and electronics—and ricochet may even endanger your life.
It is essentially impossible to control skunks with poison baits. Any poison that kills skunks also kills cats, dogs, and people, and would have to be put out over a 1- to 10-mile (1.6 to 16 km) radius to have any chance of working.
Where skunks are especially abundant, such as northeastern Ohio, wildlife rehabilitation centers are especially abundant, too. Be sure to call before you trap, not after.
Most exterminators charge about $500 every time they try to catch a skunk. Most homeowners will capture between 5 and 50 other animals for every skunk they manage to trap. Sometimes getting rid of skunks is not worth the effort—as long as they are kept away from your house itself, away areas your children play, and away from your pets. For that, the exclusion methods described in tips 1 through 10 are usually enough.