Scent Glands, Diet, and Environmental Enrichment

Question:
This x-ray is of my pet skunk. He is a neutered male, 10 months old. He has gone off his back legs.

Dr. Nichol:
Your skunk’s x-ray (posted on facebook.com/drjeffnichol) shows a couple of bright ovals near his rear end, suggestive of impacted anal (scent) glands. They are large enough to interfere with normal movement and may be causing significant pain. It’s time to have them removed.  The ambience of your home is also at risk.

Skunks, I am told, can make rather engaging pets, behaving a lot like ferrets-playful and entertaining. Some are wild-caught, others are captive-bred. Either way it’s illegal to keep skunks as pets in New Mexico because of the risk of rabies. But there are those among us who flout the law and flirt with danger.

Good home care for skunks starts with proper nutrition. In the wild they will eat just about anything including rodents, bugs, hen’s eggs, and vegetables. Cat food is not a healthy diet for a “striped kitty” because it’s too high in fat and protein and deficient in calcium and vitamin D. The resulting malnutrition can lead to metabolic bone disease-a gradual breakdown of the skeleton. Obesity is another common disaster.

Pet skunks thrive on ferret food mixed with a variety of vegetables. You should also add meat or fish scraps as a source of the amino acid taurine; a daily supplement sprinkled on the food would also work. This is important. Like cats whose diets are taurine deficient, skunks can develop the debilitating heart disease cardiomyopathy. Food should be carefully measured. An excellent skunk cookbook with advice on healthy weight can be found on www.skunkhaven.net.

Skunks also have the important behavioral requirement of digging, so be sure your boy has daily access to some loamy earth for this essential amusement.

Personally, I am not a skunk owner. Not only have they been unkind to my provisions in the back country, two of my dogs have been blasted at point blank range. Memories of these encounters have made this column difficult to write, necessitating one-handed typing. I don’t wish ill upon skunks but I don’t see them professionally nor are they invited for dinner at the Nichol home.