While domesticated and desacked skunks make wonderful pets, wild skunks can be very problematic. They will dig shallow holes in your yard in search of insects, which are their favorite diet. In addition, they may forage through your garbage or garden; burrow under your home, causing damage to wires; and their musk spray leaves a stench that is difficult to remove. Thus, if you have a wild skunk in your home or yard, it is important to remove them, although you must use caution to avoid being sprayed.
Identifying a Skunk Problem
Skunks are natural burrowers, and small holes in your yard may be an indicator of a skunk looking for food. They will also dig deeper holes near your home or other structures for shelter. Perhaps the easiest way to tell if you have a skunk is by their musk. Their infamous spray is a concentrated version of their own musk, and has an unmistakable smell. Skunk feces tends to be approximately two inches long, half an inch wide, and often contains the remains of insects.
Getting Rid of Skunks
Skunks will often seek shelter in the earlier months of winter, and a place to mate in the latter half. When a male approaches a female, she may choose to reject him, often resulting in a defensive spray which will leave your basement or foundation smelling. Skunks may have a litter of two to ten kits in late April or May, and these babies need to be handled carefully as they will spray anything that startles or frightens them.
Under Your House
The best way to deal with this problem is to find their entry point, use traps to capture the adults. If there are kits which are capable of leaving their den, you may use exclusion tactics, such as a one way door, to remove them from your home. However, if the kits are too young to leave on their own, then you will need to hire a professional.
Once the skunks are safely removed, be sure to seal up any entry points. Chemical sprays are available to remove any musk, which will otherwise permeate your home and last for six months or more.
Under Your Deck
Decks and porches tend to have relatively high clearance, and often have numerous potential entrances. This makes removing skunks both easier and more difficult. The best manner of removal in this case is exclusion. You will need to seal up all borders, leaving one entry point. Any barriers should extend one foot below ground to discourage burrowing.
If there are kits present who are too young to leave the burrow, then you should call a professional. Place your traps near the remaining exit to capture the skunks as they leave to find food. Once you are sure they are gone, you may seal the remaining entry point.
Under the Shed
Sheds and other low clearance structures are often difficult to see into. Check for signs of kits, if possible, or hire a professional to be safe. You may wish to use a repellent during the day to help discourage the skunk from returning after its nighttime forage. Seal up all but one entry point, making sure your barriers extend one foot underground.
Next, place your trap near the remaining entry point. You can sprinkle an eight inch wide band of flour in front of the entry to check for paw prints if you think there is more than one skunk present. Once you are sure the skunks are gone, seal the remaining entry point.
Keeping Skunks Out and Away from Your Yard
Even if you have driven a skunk from under structures on your property, they may still be entering your yard and causing problems. Further precautions are necessary to keep your home skunk-free. Removal may be done through one or more of the following methods:
- live traps
- professional removal
- automated sprinklers (the experience scares skunks and other animals away)
Once your yard is skunk-free, it is then necessary to create a means to keep them out or discourage them from returning. There are several methods to help keep skunks away. Use one or more of these methods to keep them (and other animals) from returning:
- Seal all trash bags and place them in cans with tight-sealing lids.
- If you have fruit-bearing bushes or trees, keep the ground clear of fallen fruit that might prove a potential food source.
- Fence in garden spaces, and remove any potential water sources.
- Install a fence one foot deep and at least three feet high around your yard to make it more difficult for skunks and other animals to enter.
Common Skunk Repellents and Their Effectiveness
There are numerous repellents on the market. However, many of these repellents contain harmful chemicals which may poison your pets or children if they come into contact with a treated area. In addition, they are often ineffective. Here are some other repellents which have varying effects:
Sprinkling the urine of dogs, coyotes, or other predators near the den often has some effect. These may be obtained at many outdoor stores (or via your own pet). The downsides to using urine is that it must be reapplied every 24 hours, can be washed away when it rains, and is only a partial solution. You will still need to take precautions, such as installing a fence, in order to keep the skunks away. Be warned that your dog’s urine may attract stray dogs if they are not fixed.
Many home remedies call for moth balls or ammonia as a means to repel skunks. While skunks do have a sensitive sense of smell, these methods are not very effective. In addition, ammonia may be washed away by rain and must be reapplied frequently. If you choose to use an ammonia to turn away a skunk, your best choice is the aforementioned predator urine.
Natural Home Repellents
Cayenne pepper, when carefully sprinkled near the entrance of a den, will help drive the skunks away. Note that this method will require a fresh application after rain, and further measures, such as fencing, must be taken to keep the skunks from returning.
Citrus peels such as orange or lemon are also quite effective. Sprinkle these around where the skunk likes to go and it will start to avoid those areas. Peels have the advantage of lasting until they decompose and will also repel many other pests. Once the skunk is out of your yard, fence him out for good.
Hot Pepper Spray
You can use also cayenne pepper to make a repellent spray. Chop one yellow onion, and some jalepeño peppers. Mix these with one tablespoon of cayenne pepper and boil in two quarts of water for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture with a cheesecloth and place into a spray bottle. The skunk will avoid anything sprayed with this liquid, although it must be reapplied once every three to five days or after rain.
How to Trap a Skunk
Before planning to trap a skunk, make sure that it is legal in your state to do so. In some cases, you may need to hire a professional trapper. While it is an easy matter to trap a skunk, the risk of them spraying requires some special care.
Picking a Live Trap
The ideal live trap is large enough for a house cat, but small enough to prevent the skunk from turning around or raising its tail. It is less likely to attempt to spray if it cannot clear its own tail of the jet. A spring loaded door is also an excellent choice. However, if you are in doubt as to which trap to use, call your local animal control specialists and ask for a recommendation.
If the trap does not include a cover, use an old blanket or some towels, making sure that you can cover the front as well. By covering the cage, the skunk is less likely to spray, and the cover will catch the liquid in the event that it does. Finally, attempt to get a used trap, as skunks are less likely to enter a shiny new trap.
Skunks will eat a variety of foods, but meat-based bait such as wet cat or dog food, chicken, bacon, or sardines tend to work best. If you are placing the trap outdoors and wish to avoid attracting stray cats, try using bread lightly covered in peanut butter or mayonnaise, apple slices, or even marshmallows.
Trapping and Removal
Skunks are intelligent, so it is important to camouflage the trap if you are capturing a skunk outdoors. For a skunk that is entering your fenced-in garden, locate the point of entrance. Skunks will continue using the same opening if possible, so place your trap by that entrance.
Also, attempt to find out whether the skunk has a den in the yard during the day by following its tracks. If there is a den on your property, place the trap near the den entrance and add your bait and cover. Use leaves, twigs, and dirt to help the trap blend in. As the skunk will likely not leave its den during the day, check the trap the following morning to see if the skunk has been caught.
Once the skunk is trapped, put on some thick gloves and carefully cover the front of the trap to avoid scaring it. If the trap is small enough to prevent the skunk from raising its tail, there will be no risk of spraying, but in the event of a larger cage, you must move slowly and carefully to avoid frightening the skunk into spraying.
Check local regulations to find out whether the animal can be released or must be taken to an animal control center. If you are able to release, aim for a location at least ten miles from your home. Slowly uncover and open the trap’s door, then back away until the skunk has left the trap.
When to Hire a Professional
If you are unsure about removing a skunk on your own, or you suspect there are skunk kits present that cannot yet leave their den, it may be best to hire a professional to remove the skunks. Another good reason to hire a professional is if the skunk is acting aggressive. Skunks are normally shy and will avoid humans, spraying only if they feel threatened and a warning stomp was ignored. If the skunk is being aggressive or acting erratic, then it may be an indicator of rabies. Do not attempt to capture a potentially rabid skunk on your own.
How to Get Rid of the Skunk Smell
When dealing with skunks, perhaps the single most frustrating aspect is the smell. A skunk’s primary defensive weapon is a concentrated dose of musk which it can fire up to a meter from its anal glands. This musk can permeate your entire home and last for six months or more. Thus removing this stench from people, animals, and your home tends to be a high priority.
From Your Pet
There are several methods of treating a dog or cat that has been sprayed. One method is to soak your dog in a solution of one cup vanilla extract per gallon of water for ten minutes, then bathe them.
Another method is to use a solution of one part apple cider vinegar to two parts water. Thoroughly wet the dog’s fur and then work the solution in, being careful to avoid the eyes. Let it soak in for five minutes before rinsing.
Finally, a solution of one quart hydrogen peroxide, one teaspoon of Dawn, and one fourth cup of baking soda. Wet the dog thoroughly and work the solution in, again avoiding the eyes. Let it sit for five minute before rinsing. This last recipe makes enough for a medium sized dog.
From a Person
The home remedy of using tomato juice to remove skunk musk is myth. The juice merely masks the smell and does not actually remove it. Instead, the most effective method is to use the aforementioned solution of one cup baking soda and one teaspoon of Dawn detergent mixed in a quart of hydrogen peroxide. Scrub down in the shower or tub in order to keep any mess minimal, and focus on the point of impact. Rinse after each scrub until the smell is gone. Be careful not to let the solution sit in your hair for long it it may cause bleaching.
To remove the smell from clothes or fabrics, soak them in a mixture of one part hydrogen peroxide per six parts of water for one to two hours. More delicate materials or dry cleaned items should instead be soaked with one part vinegar per four parts of water for two to three hours. Next, place the clothes in your washer with one half cup of baking soda and air dry.
From Your House
Because your home has a variety of surfaces, multiple methods may be required to completely remove a skunk’s musk. Natural sunlight helps to break down the smell in curtains and other fabrics. For counter tops and ceramic tile, try using diluted bleach. Diluting ammonia works well on wooden surfaces. It is also important to have your rugs steam cleaned.
You can place open containers of vinegar throughout your house to absorb the odor, so long as you are careful to keep them out of the reach of pets and small children. Boiling vinegar will also help remove the smell. Use a fan to keep air circulating so that the stench vanishes faster.
Potential Health Risks
Wild skunks are timid creatures, but will bite, scratch, or spray when provoked. This raises the risk of leptospirosis, a bacteria found in stagnant water. Your pets are also at risk of distemper if bitten.
Additionally, wild skunks are known to be susceptible to rabies, which is easily transmitted.
Finally, skunks generally suffer from worms and may harbor other parasites such as fleas or ticks.
Bob Vila offers many tips on removing skunk musk on his website.