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Rural Living for August 6, 2009

Skunks

by Carol Dunn

    It’s not unusual to see skunks scurrying through town at night, particularly during their mating season of February and March.  They are about the size of an average house cat, weighing about ten pounds.  They adapt well to living around humans, and sometimes, to a homeowner’s dismay, will den under sheds, decks, porches and in crawl spaces.

    Use fine wire mesh to seal up all holes of four inches or greater that give access under buildings.  Since skunks will dig to gain access to a den location, you may need to bury the mesh six inches below grade.  Once a skunk has established a den, you may be able to live trap it out or use chemical repellants.  Some homeowners report repelling skunks by placing mothballs, or rags soaked with bleach or ammonia just inside the entrance to a den site.  If you do trap a skunk, do not kill it on your premises because it will frequently release its musk in death.

    Skunks eat fruits, insects, small rodents and berries, but they will also raid your garden for vegetables, your henhouse for chickens and eggs, and your storage room for grain.  They are most active at night and will search out pet food left out overnight.  They will also tear open bags of garbage that are not secured in a can.  Once they find food, they will keep coming back for more.  Skunks do not typically climb fences, so protect gardens by fencing them.  Make sure any holes in the henhouse and grain storage are closed off.  

    Skunks prefer darkness, so an outdoor light on a motion sensor may deter skunks from hanging around your home.  You can also sprinkle cayenne pepper in areas where you want to discourage skunks, but it needs to be reapplied every three or four days.  

    If you have a dog, you know how miserable a skunk encounter can be for both of you.  To get skunk odor out of a dog’s fur, mix together in a bucket one pint of hydrogen peroxide, 2/3 cup baking soda and one tablespoon of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  For an extra hairy dog, you may need a double batch.  Wet your dog down, then, using rubber gloves, rub the mixture into your dog’s fur as you would shampoo, let set five minutes, and rinse with clean water.  You may need to treat a second time.  Do not get this mixture into your dog’s eyes or nostrils, because it will sting.  Some dogs learn their lesson the first time, for others it takes longer. 

    With a little extra effort, you can continue to live in harmony with skunks.