Skunk diet

There are many different views on feeding skunks. Some people suggest feeding 90% vegetables, 5% meat or dog food, and 5% other foods like fruit, nuts, cereals etc. In the wild, skunks mainly eat insects, dig for larvae and worms, eat some rodents, frogs, eggs, or carrion. And they supplement this with some plant material and fruit, berries from bushes or ripe fruit that has fallen off trees. They don't raid cabbage and carrot fields.

It is true that many skunks have a weight problem so I guess that is why people feed a lot of veg because it is generally low in calories. But I heard people say that they need a low protein diet because protein makes them fat. Well, in the wild, their diet is very high in protein. But in the wild they have to search for food and do a lot of walking so this gives them exercise yet in captivity they get a food dish placed in front of them. Then there are skunks that are very active and skunks that are more placid which plays a role in their weight.

I don't know how skunks can get all the nutrients they need from a diet that consists of 90% vegetables. Especially if it seems that their bodies are designed for a high protein insect diet. Many people who have skunk kits and follow the 90% veg diet, have skunks that are too thin, have bad coats and are sickly looking. Kits at least should get a higher amount of animal protein. (Update 01/08/12- look at Sparky's page, the first pictures of him are not brilliant but it can be seen that his condition wasn't great, his coat was very poor. I've just added newer pictures and he is looking sooo much better!)

I personally feed about 50% meat/ bones/ dry dog or "light" cat food and 50% vegetables. Or, for my overweight boys, I feed 60 - 70% vegetables. I chop chickens up for the skunks but take all the skin and fat off, and they also get lean turkey. I know feeding chicken and turkey isn't like feeding insects but vegetables are not insects, either.

As I said I chop up whole chickens so the skunks get calcium from bones. A lot of people who only feed meat and vegetables feed a diet lacking calcium (and adding yoghurt or cottage cheese doesn't provide enough calcium, either) and as a result a lot of skunks develop low bone density, brittle bones and suffer broken bones. So a diet of meat and vegetables needs to be fortified with calcium and vitamin D3. Skunks also need taurine which is found in muscle meat and especially the heart muscle. It is destroyed during cooking so taurine may need to be supplemented as well.

I feed fresh veg in the morning (I finally got Tyler and Peppy to eat a wide variety of fresh veg :-) ) and defrosted frozen veg at night. At night I then add some low fat bio yoghurt and supplements like fish oil or cod liver oil, vitamin E, lecithin granules, chlorella and spirulina, and ground salba and flax seeds. I don't always give everything and only started with the spirulina and chlorella when Tyler got sick. I also don't give fish oil and salba/ flax seeds together, one night it is fish oil or cod liver oil and the next night they get salba/ flax seeds.

I've also started feeding cat food. I always read that skunks shouldn't have cat food because it's too rich or fat for them. Then a skunk lady once said that it would make more sense to feed cat food because it's got added taurine which the skunks need. So I looked at a lot of dry foods and compared the calorie content of some dog and cat foods and a light cat food has got approx. the same fat and calories as an adult dog food. I supplement the chicken and turkey with a bit of dry dog and light cat food so they have more variety. At least with the dry foods I can count the calories better than with meat. I read that skunks should get 10-15 kcal per pound of body weight per day so I have been counting calories since to get my boys' weight down. They are not grossly overweight but podgy. And they have lost weight slowly but steadily. :-)

Anyway, I'm still not happy about the skunk diet and don't know how to best simulate a diet of insects. All I'm saying is that there are many different opinions out there so it's best to research the diet of wild skunks and look into all sorts of diets and use common sense when deciding what to feed. Good pages on skunk diet can be found on the Skunk Haven web site (which has a lot of good information about all aspects of skunk care) and the relatively new site of Skunk Vet Care:

Update 01/08/12

I still feed fresh veg (2/3) and meat (1/3), mostly turkey, in the morning and still frozen veg and either chicken or dog kibble at night. Every other night I mix the frozen veg with: goat's yoghurt, chlorella, spirulina, a green powder called "Keeper's Mix" from Dorwest Herbs and also 2 different vitamin / mineral supplements. One is called "Nutrobal" from Vetark and the other "VET-AMIN + ZINC" from Millpledge Veterinary. They also get Taurine powder and Acety-L-Carnitine powder from "NOW FOODS" which I order from Last not least I add either ground flax seeds or some extra virgin olive oil, the best (most expensive) I can get from the supermarket. I am trying to eat a heart healthy, anti-inflammatory diet myself and try to incorporate olive oil every day so I'm doing a trial with the skunks (and ferrets) and add olive oil to their food instead of fish or cod liver oil. Though the skunks also get ground flax seed, I try to alternate between olive oil and flax seed. I'm always surprised that the skunks not only like but devour the veg with all those powders added! And they are so healthy (if maybe a bit on the podgy side but not too bad, at least not Blossom or Sparky) and healthy looking so that encourages me to continue what I am doing.

Update 06/11/13

I've started ordering chicken carcasses and mince from Natural Instinct. That is what the skunks (and ferrets, dogs, cats) mostly have now although the skunks and dogs occasionally also get Applaws dog food. If I wasn't ordering raw food, I would still be feeding chopped chicken drumsticks (minus the splintery bone, I just chop off both ends so they have some bone and then cut off meat off the bone) and turkey thigh chunks. The vegetable feeding has stayed the same although I have not been giving olive oil any more. I felt I didn't use it up quickly enough and at times felt it went rancid too quickly and before I give the skunks rancid oil, I rather not give it at all anymore. I am getting ground flax seed from Aldi now, they do ones with added ingredients, the one I have been getting also has ground sunflower and pumpkin seeds and goji berries (I think). Sometimes I give the skunks raw egg yolk or some walnut pieces, you can also buy frozen berries which are so healthy. I try to give them nourishing foods although the most nourishing foods also seem to be the ones with a high calorie content, sigh.

Health matters

I have not written about health aspects really. Skunks often seem to have a worm problem. I have not had this problem with mine, at least they have never had visible worms. When I first got each one of them, I wormed them regularly. I never saw worms at all. So I never wormed them for a few years. This year was the first year I have ever had a problem with (tape) worms, some of the cats had them and even at least one ferret. So I have been worming all animals sort of regularly. Luckily I saw that we can buy Panacur 18.75% oral paste (Panacur SA 5g Syringe for Cats and Dogs) again, it had been unavailable for quite a few years. So I have been using the paste for the skunks as it is the best and safest one for them. Also, unlike Panacur liquid or granules, they don't mind the taste at all. I will be using it for the cats in future, too, don't get me started about cats and worming tablets. ;) I have been worming the ferrets and skunks as per instruction on the package, 2 syringe graduations per kg. A safe flea product is Stronghold (Revolution in the USA) and I have used Frontline on them, too. When I got Peppy, he was riddled with lice- the Frontline took care of that.

I get my wormers and flea products from Vet UK.

There is not much (veterinary) data out there on skunks. No skunk veterinary books. So I tend to go by what others recommend. If people who have had many, many skunks over a decade or more warn people about a certain drug or food, I do not use it. It seems Metacam is dangerous, if you need to give NSAIDS, use Rimadyl. There are warnings about Baytril so I would reserve it for an emergency only. When Tyler had this mysterious infection and we rushed him to the vets at midnight, he did get Baytril. He was okay. I didn't know about Baytril back then. Don't know what decision I would make now. I know Synulox (or other brands of the drug) is safe, and Sparky had an 8 week course of the antibiotic clindamycin. There are also many wormers that don't agree with skunks (and ferrets) so I just go with Panacur.

As far as foods are concerned, grapes and raisins have been known to cause acute renal failure in ferrets and dogs and it can happen to skunks, too. Not to every skunk, not every time you feed grapes or raisins, but I personally don't want to risk it. I have also heard about some skunks reacting to avocado but have not reasearched it. We *never* give treats, especially not things like human sweets or junk food like crisps. (Dark) chocolate is also a definite no-no, just like in dogs and ferrets (and I think cats, too).

I just looked at a German skunk web site and they have listed some meds that some skunks were sensitive to and that caused cramps and even death: Piperazine (wormer), Aspirin, Metacam, Baytril, ferret vaccines.

Skunks seem to have a problem with prolapsed (slipped) spinal discs. Similar to the dachshund. I don't know if some skunks have a genetic problem, if size or weight plays a role, or what. My Tyler had 3 prolapsed discs in his neck, was paralysed for over half a year and then put to sleep once his condition was confirmed by an MRI. Tyler was an incredibly special skunk and to loose him to such a stupid, very possible preventable thing was just heartbreaking. So I don't let the skunks run up and down stairs and try to prevent them from jumping off furniture. With Tyler, he always went upstairs and I had a ferret condo which was a 2 storey wooden "house" with a bed on ground level and one 8 or so inches up. Tyler always climbed up and of course always jumped down. I think that and going down the stairs, plus his excess weight, put too much "pressure" on his upper spine and/ or "jolted" it. (Having problems expressing what I think and feel...). Then the daily repeated jolt attacks on the spine- and it "broke".

Skunks also get heart disease hence me supplementing them with taurine and acetyl-l-carnitine. So far so good. Then of course they can get things like kidney failure, liver problems, cancer.

Tyler was the first skunk I lost, he was almost 4. Peppy was put to sleep at the age of 9, he had developed intestinal cancer. Fingers crossed Blossom and Sparky are healthy still at the age of 6 1/2 years.

I suggest every skunk or animal owner in general should do research into their animal(s), what to feed, what illnesses are common, what to look out for, what to avoid. Read as much as possible, use common sense, go with what seems to work for most people. Before you give a drug or feed some exotic food, check if it is okay to do so.

The companies I listed, where I buy what from- I am not affiliated with any of them. ;) I just spend many hours doing research, where I can get what from and where it is cheapest.

My beautiful Blossom summer 2013