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Is that skunk I smell?

spacer2.gif Patient #0036 in his pen. Photo by Alison Hermance
  Skunk patient #0036 probably got into a fight over a mate— a fight he lost. Photo by Alison Hermance
  Skunk patient #0036. Photo by Alison Hermance
  This little skunk, feeling much better, contemplates spraying photographer Alison Hermance
  The wrong end of the skunk! Photo by Alison Hermance
  Patient #0036 shows us his full and healthy tail. Photo by Alison Hermance

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Questions about skunks? WildCare's  Living with Wildlife Hotline is available to help you with wildlife questions and concerns!

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  Skunk photo by Kirk McCabe
  Striped Skunks are common in North America; you can tell individuals apart by the unique shape of the striped pattern.Photo by Kirk McCabe
  Western Spotted Skunk baby. Photo by JoLynn Taylor
  Western Spotted Skunks are smaller and less common. While WildCare admits 15 - 25 Striped Skunks each year, only four Western Spotted Skunks have been admitted since 2000. Photos by JoLynn Taylor
  Skunk under anaesthesia. Photo by JoLynn Taylor
  Skunk patient under anaesthesia at WildCare. Photo by JoLynn Taylor
  Skunk claws. Photo by JoLynn Taylor
  Their long claws are a good indication of the skunk's supreme ability to dig and burrow. Photo by JoLynn Taylor

WildCare patient #0036 lost a fight. No doubt a lovely lady attracted his attention with her elegant black and white stripes, but another suitor proved stronger, and our little patient was left disoriented and with a sorely disheartened attitude.

Greenbrae residents woke in the middle of the night to the sounds of animals fighting and the smell of skunk, but they didn't worry about it until morning when they spied a huddled black and white figure sitting shivering and unmoving near their front steps.

Aware that a shy and mostly nocturnal skunk shouldn't be crouched by their step in the daylight, the residents called the Marin Humane Society (MHS) to bring the animal to WildCare. The MHS officer said the skunk raised his tail when he approached, but was easily captured.

Once at WildCare, Medical Staff examined the little skunk thoroughly and found that he was chilled and shivering but had no injuries, a result confirmed by x-rays and bloodwork. A few good meals and a warm place to recover seemed the best prescriptions. Indeed, after two days in care, during which he exhibited no signs of distemper or other illness, this young male skunk was deemed healthy.

He was released Sunday night... hopefully next time he'll have better luck in the skunk version of The Dating Game!

When Love Is in the Air

His was not an isolated incident. January through March are the months when carnivores like bobcats, raccoons and skunks seek mates. Hearing the vocalizations that bobcats or raccoons make when they mate, you might think the animals are attempting to kill each other. And a skunk's quest for love includes another very obvious component— perfume!

Male skunks begin to roam widely at this time, often leaving their own territories in search of a mate. During this time, the males are very excitable and may spray more readily. Between these territorial disputes, males fighting and females spraying males they don’t approve of, a lot of skunk odor is generated in early spring. WildCare fields a lot of calls during this time from concerned homeowners who fear they are developing a skunk “problem.” They usually aren’t.

Odor is not always a reliable indicator of the presence or absence of skunks. Especially in this season when skunks are at their most active, you may smell their eye-watering musk and be convinced that the animal is right under your house, when in fact a dispute over a mate in the next backyard is the source of the stink.

Identifying the Culprit

Skunks dig holes in lawns, golf courses and gardens, as do several other species of animal. Digging done by skunks normally appears as small, three- to four-inch cone-shaped holes or patches of upturned earth. Long claw marks may be visible.

Skunks hunt by scent and use their long front claws to dig up beetle grubs, earthworms, roots, and fungi in the soil and under dead leaves. Skunks don’t climb well, but they will eat fallen nuts, fruit and bird’s eggs, along with pet food and anything that smells good in the trash can after raccoons have tipped it over. Field and house mice are regular and important items in the skunk diet, particularly in winter.

Skunks become a “nuisance” when their burrowing and feeding habits conflict with humans. They may burrow under porches or buildings for shelter or for a place to have their young and keep them safe until the babies are able to travel.


In winter, or when you are absolutely certain that not adults or babies will be closed in, you can prevent skunks from denning under buildings by sealing off all foundation openings. Cover all openings with wire mesh, sheet metal, or concrete. Bury fencing 1 1/2 to 2 feet in areas skunks can access by digging. Seal all ground-level openings into poultry buildings and close doors at night. Use tight-fitting lids to keep skunks out of garbage cans.

Properly dispose of garbage or other food sources that will attract skunks. Debris such as lumber, fence posts and junk cars provide shelter. Skunks are often attracted to rodents, so poison-free (!) rodent control may be the first step to solving a skunk problem.

Click for WildCare's useful 24-point Self Home Inspection to help you make sure your home won't attract denning skunks or other wildlife.


There are no registered repellents specifically for skunks, but lights and sounds may provide temporary relief from skunk activity. Most mammals, including skunks, can sometimes be discouraged from entering enclosed areas with ammonia-soaked cloths, however remember to never place ammonia or other chemicals in an enclosed space— the fumes can be fatal to animals. However, repellents are only a temporary measure. Permanent solutions require exclusion.

WildCare Solutions

If the smell of skunk is truly excessive and has become a problem, WildCare Solutions can help. A trained WildCare Solutions Specialist will conduct a home inspection, and if a skunk or other animal has take up residence, we will humanely and non-lethally evict the nuisance animal, and then permanently seal up the entry points to keep the skunk and other wildlife outside. 

This WildCare Solutions approach is called "humane exclusion" and is the only long term solution that works. WildCare never kills healthy animals

Call 415 453-1000 X23 for a free phone consultation.

About that scent...

If cornered by a persistent attacker, the skunk will arch its back, raise its fur and stick its tail straight up into the air. This makes the skunk appear to be bigger and more ferocious.
Before it sprays, a skunk may also stamp its feet as a warning. As a last measure, the skunk will turn its face and tail toward the attacker, in a sort of U shape, and shoot streams of butyl merccaptan from glands on either side of its anal area. This fluid can burn the eyes and nose of the attacker and even cause nausea.

Skunk smell cannot be washed off with tomato juice, ammonia or gasoline. These just mask the odor. A suggested treatment for odor removal is:
1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide
¼ cup of baking soda
1 teaspoon of liquid soap

The peroxide and baking soda neutralize the odor; the soap removes the oil that holds the smell. Be careful, though. This solution may bleach hair and other materials.