A fight with a skunk is never something any homeowner should want. Even if the skunk is killed, the homeowner will almost certainly get sprayed – or worse.
The best method of getting rid of skunks naturally is excluding them so they never come onto your property or into your house in the first place. And the first step in excluding skunks from your premises is to make sure you are not providing them with an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Please Don’t Feed the Skunks
Skunks eat grubs (especially under sod you just put down), insects, mice, moles, frogs, fruit, berries, mushrooms, dog food, cat food, and garbage. Their favorite food is eggs, especially of birds that nest on the ground. There is not a lot you can do to prevent skunks from preying on wildlife and songbirds, but you can keep them out of dog food, cat food, and garbage.
Skunks are most active around sunrise and sunset. Probably the most important thing you can do to keep skunks under control is to deprive them of pet food. Put out food for outdoor cats and dogs only in the middle of the day, putting out food and water for your outdoor pets after you have your own breakfast and taking both food and water bowls back inside when you come home from work.
If your pets need to eat and drink at night, bring both pets and feeding bowls inside, behind solid doors. Do not give neighborhood skunks easy entry into your house through a pet door unless it is activated by your pet’s microchip.
Your next priority is securing garbage pails. Skunks usually do not have the body strength to turn a garbage can upside down, but they are agile climbers that can lift loose lids. Make sure the lid of your garbage cans lock and make sure that everyone who uses them remembers to secure the lid every time garbage is put in (especially if you are throwing out eggs or eggshells). A sturdy trash receptacle will help you exclude both skunks and raccoons from your property.
Skunks are less likely to dine on your household garbage if you keep your garbage cans on a rack off the ground. Never leave plastic garbage bags out at the curb for pickup overnight. Raccoons will claw through them during the night, and skunks will come out the next morning looking for their leftovers.
Pick up fruit that falls from trees. And if you have pet chickens, be extra sure to cage them in the late afternoon. After sundown is too late to protect your chickens from harm from skunks.
Like raccoons and squirrels, skunks are largely undeterred by ordinary fences. Double-wire electric fences, however, help keep them off the lawn.
Only a double-wire electric fence will keep skunks off your property. A single-wire fence will not stop a skunk. Its hair insulates its body against electric shock. If it only touches the electric wire with its back or underbelly it will not feel any pain. Two wires strung about 6″ (15 cm) vertically apart surrounding the entire perimeter of a yard, however, will protect your yard against squirrels, raccoons, and skunks. Don’t make the mistake of putting up an electric fence on only one side of your property. You will just succeed in forcing skunks to walk around your fence.
The power source for an electric fence is almost always a battery. Some models store solar power, while others store battery power from household current. An electric fence is never connected directly to household current.
Before you put up your electric fence, make sure you have mowed your property so that any grass or weeds are no more than 2 inches (5 cm) above ground level. A stem of grass or a weed that leans against an electric wire can short out the fence, allowing skunks to pass through.
Place steel electric fence poles at approximately 3 foot (1 meter) intervals around the area you want to protect. Place two plastic insulators at the desired height for your fence on each pole. Then string the metal wire from pole, keeping the individual wires separate. Connect the top and bottom wire to each other with an electrical conductor (such as more wire), and make sure at least one wire is connected to your fence charger. Test your fence periodically (either by the grab-and-jump-away method or with an ampmeter) to make sure it is still working. Make sure you have a warning sign on your fence if required by law.
Neither children nor animals (nor adults) will be harmed by an electric fence with a proper power supply. Just be sure that you do not confine skunks inside your property by turning on the fence while skunks are inside the protected area.
Skunks prefer to live in dens abandoned by other animals but they will dig their own in desirable locations. One of the most desirable locations for any kind of burrowing animal is the warm and soft dirt underneath a pier and beam house.
It is necessary to exclude skunks and other burrowing animals from crawl spaces beneath your floors, porches, and decks. Surround openings beneath your house with one-half inch (12 mm) wire mesh from top to bottom also dug 6 inches (15 cm) into the ground. Before you seal openings beneath your house, make sure you do not smell the faint odor of skunk spray or see animal tracks or dropping. It’s never a good idea to trap hungry animals beneath your house.
Chemical Repellents for Skunks
While you are making preparation for an electric fence or putting up barriers to entry underneath your home, you may want to use skunk repellents. Household ammonia is as unpleasant to skunks as it is to humans. Soaking several paper towels in household ammonia and placing them underneath your porch or deck may discourage den construction. Skunks are also repelled by mothballs and fox urine granules. Neither method works for very long, more than a week or so, and all three products have to put out again whenever it rains.
It is usually counterproductive to put out bait foods on public lands or your neighbor’s property to encourage skunks to leave your property. In many parts of the United States and Canada, a mother skunk ranges over an area of up to 1000 acres (400 hectares). A male skunk ranges over an area of up to 7000 acres (2800 hectares). The tasty snack you leave for skunks elsewhere may simply draw still more skunks to your neighborhood and ultimately into your backyard.
Nearly every jurisdiction in the United States and Canada permits trapping as a means of controlling skunks. Some New England states of the United States, however, require permits for trapping skunks, and only permit capture of skunks in the late fall and early winter, when females have already weaned their young. Other states permit trapping of striped skunks without permits at any time, but only permit trapping of spotted skunks when they are causing property damage. Almost no jurisdiction in North America, however, permits release of capture skunks on public land. If you cannot relocate the skunk to land you own, you must euthanize it on the spot.
The most efficient natural method of getting rid of skunks is the snap trap. As its name suggests, a snap trap closes around a skunk, either killing it outright or holding it until it can be euthanized. Any snap trap that is large enough to trap or kill a skunk is also large enough to trap or kill a cat or puppy, exposing the skunk or pet to predators if it is not killed outright. Placing snap traps on someone else’s property or on public property without written permission can result in criminal charges, and killing someone else’s pet straying onto your property will at least cause you to be severely unpopular with your neighbors.
First of all, it is important to realize that a spring trap cannot distinguish one kind of animal from another. It can catch and kill any animal about the size of an adult skunk, including household pets.
Secondly, it is important to buy the right size trap. The 1.00 inch size is suitable for trapping skunks, and it will kill younger skunks, but it may not kill older animals. A skunk that is caught but not killed by a snap trap may eat off its foot to escape, or you may have to deal with an angry skunk very ready both to bite and spray you, forcing you to have to get emergency treatment and then come back five more times for rabies immune globulin and rabies vaccine injections.
Do not set out traps in any location that is frequented by children or pets—even if they are not supposed to be on your property. Place traps in locations where you have seen skunk tracks. The tracks of skunks look a little like the outline of human hands and feet, with gaps between the paw and its five appendages and between the “fingers” and “toes” and the skunk’s curved nails. If possible, place a trap near the entrance to a den, preferably in mid-winter. Skunks rest but do not hibernate, and will be drawn upward by the scent of decaying chicken or fish you use to bait the skunk trap.
Snare traps require special skill to set, although they are baited and monitored the same as snap traps. A snare trap is essentially a hangman’s noose through which the skunk has to place its head to bite a bait. Pulling on the bait tightens the noose and strangles the skunk.
The cage trap is also useful for trapping skunks, but there is no guarantee that some other animal will not get caught in the trap. On the other hand, if you check the trap on a regular basis, there is much less danger of killing your own pets or pets belonging to your neighbors. Use a one-door trap to avoid trapping two antagonistic animals in the same trap.
If you are willing to spend a bit more, there are specially designed skunk traps that protect you from being sprayed. Designed as a spray-proof metal cylinder, it traps a single skunk without injury and can be used over and over again.
If you do catch a skunk in a cage or similar trap, you are only permitted to relocate it to your own property, or to take it to a skunk shelter. If your plan is to capture skunks live and humanely so they can be transferred to a shelter near you, make sure the shelter is accepting skunks before you start the process. For more information about skunk shelters, see How to Catch Skunks.
The Best Way to Get Rid of Skunks Naturally
The best way to get rid of skunks naturally is always to encourage them to go elsewhere. Killing skunks legally is a difficult undertaking and rescuing skunks from urban environments more difficult still. When that is not possible, then it is best to exclude them from your house, lawn, and garden.