Damage to Structures
Damage by skunks to structures tends to be of an olfactory nature rather than affecting the integrity of a structure. Odor can penetrate and linger in cloth furniture, clothing, and carpets. Odor from skunks can contaminate items several floors away from the original source.
Damage to Livestock and Pets
Skunks occasionally kill poultry and eat eggs. They normally do not climb fences to get to poultry. By contrast, rats, weasels, mink, and raccoons regularly climb fences. If skunks gain access, they normally will feed on the eggs and occasionally kill fowl. Eggs usually are opened on 1 end with the edges crushed inward. Weasels, mink, dogs, and raccoons usually kill several chickens or ducks at a time. Dogs often severely mutilate poultry.
Skunks prefer to be left alone. Pets, particularly dogs, with strong territorial instincts soon discover that skunks will spray. Some dogs continue to attack and sometimes kill skunks. Owners should avoid touching with bare hands pets that have been sprayed and keep them outdoors. Pets should be washed before they are handled. If possible, have the skunk tested for rabies. Owners should consult their veterinarian about further treatment for their pets and consult the local health department about their own need for rabies post-exposure vaccination.
Damage to Landscapes
Skunks dig holes in lawns, golf courses, and gardens to search for insect grubs found in the soil. Digging normally appears as small, 3- to 4-inch cone-shaped holes or patches of upturned earth (Figure 4).
Skunks typically are very precise in their digging and they are known to remove insects systematically from the turf in a section-by-section fashion. In general, damage stops after 3 weeks because food is no longer available. Several other animals, including raccoons and domestic dogs also dig in lawns. Skunks occasionally feed on corn, eating only the lower ears. If the cornstalk is knocked over, raccoons more likely are the cause of damage. Damage to the upper ears of corn often is indicative of birds, deer, or squirrels.
Health and Safety Concerns
Avoid being bitten by and coming into unprotected contact with bodily fluids of skunks. Skunk spray is not known to contain the rabies virus. If exposure has occurred, promptly seek medical advice. Have the skunk tested for rabies if possible. Some clients will respond with asthmatic symptoms when exposed to odor from skunks. Advise clients to leave the area.
Skunks will not defend themselves unless they are cornered or harmed. They usually provide a warning before discharging their scent by stamping their forefeet rapidly and arching their tails over their backs. Anyone experiencing such a threat should retreat quietly and slowly. Loud noises and quick, aggressive actions should be avoided.
Skunks are the primary carriers of rabies in the Midwest. The possibility for contact with rabid animals increases during rabies outbreaks. Rabid skunks are prime vectors for spread of the virus. Avoid overly aggressive skunks that approach without hesitation. Any skunk showing abnormal behavior, such as daytime activity, may be rabid and should be treated with caution. Report skunks that are behaving abnormally to local animal control authorities. Laboratory testing is the only way to definitively determine the presence of rabies in an animal. Rabies can be prevented but it cannot be cured once the virus reaches brain tissue.