Diet

The Pet Skunk Diet Demystified

Welcome to the wonderful world of pet skunks! As pet skunk owners, we are faced with certain challenges. The first is what do I feed my skunk to help ensure a long, healthy life? After you have been bewitched by a skunk and decide to take one home, now what? You cannot run to the store and pick up a bag of skunk chow. While there are several companies who produce a processed food for skunks, none offer any proof it has been tested for long term use. The ingredients are not something I would feed my skunks. In fact, the unhealthiest skunks are those that are fed dry pet foods.To decide what you should feed your skunk, you need to look at what wild skunks eat. Pet skunks have been around for less than 100 years. This means there has not been enough time for evolutionary changes in their diets. By now you may be wondering what the difference is between a wild skunk and a pet skunk. The main difference is that pet skunks are bred to be sold as pets and are descented by the breeder. Pet skunks are captive wildlife that retain the predatory instincts and nature of wild skunks. They become good pets only when handled correctly by their new owners who must be patient and realistic about their expectations regarding skunks as pets.

Wild skunk diet

Even though skunks are omnivores, they primarily eat insects in the wild. The majority of their diet, more than 90%, is animal matter. Because they are omnivores, they can also eat plant matter. The skunk’s diet varies throughout the year. In the spring they may eat mice and other rodents, eggs from ground laying birds and insect larvae. Summer diet includes grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and other insects. In the spring and summer when their favorite food, insects are plentiful, they eat very little plant matter. During the fall and winter, skunks eat equal parts of plant and animal matter. The plant matter consists mostly of berries and fruits in season, but nuts, grasses and vegetation are also eaten. In the winter when food is scarce, they eat mostly rodents and other small mammals. Skunks are also known to eat carrion, reptiles, fish and crustaceans. They are opportunistic feeders and will eat whatever they come across.I’m sure you thinking none of this sounds like pet food. Obviously you can’t be expected to scrape up road kill for your skunk’s dinner. Some thoughtful substitutions must be made to accommodate the skunk’s dietary needs in the family setting. In order to come up with appropriate substitutions, you must take into consideration certain factors. First, look at the type of teeth your skunk has. The sharp pointed teeth are for ripping and tearing meat. In the rear of their mouth, they have small molars that are used to crush their food. A skunk’s jaw has a simple hinge and cannot move from side to side chewing food like our jaw does. They must crush the food in small enough pieces to swallow it. These characteristics rule out certain foods like kibble that pet food companies produce. Dogs have more teeth and a larger surface area to crush kibble than your skunk does. If you feed your skunk kibble, the molars can become worn, and bacteria may be introduced into the body. At the very least, your skunk may develop expensive, painful dental problems and in some cases, it may reduce the life span of your skunk. The chemical preservatives commonly used in pet food can cause allergic reactions in pet skunks, yet another reason not to feed pet food. It is not uncommon to see the white fur of a skunk turn orange when fed dry pet food.

Understanding the digestive system

Next you must understand the digestive system of your skunk. Omnivores, insectivores and carnivores have very similar digestive systems. They have short intestines, 3 to 6 times body length, and an acidic stomach capable of secreting large quantities of hydrochloric acid. The chunks of animal matter that were crushed and swallowed are digested by this acid. This acid is what breaks down proteins and kills the bacteria in raw meat. Since this acid is the primary way proteins are digested, the quality of the protein is extremely important. Plant based proteins, like grains, need amylase for digestion. Skunks do not secrete amylase, an enzyme used to break down carbohydrates, in their saliva like we do. They are dependent upon their pancreas to secrete amylase. Feeding grains stresses the pancreas and causes inflammation. This leads to other serious health problems.A human, on the other hand has the digestive system of an herbivore. Our intestines are 10 to 12 times body length and our stomachs much more alkaline. Our digestion begins in the mouth with saliva that contains amylase. Plant matter takes longer to digest and actually ferments as it travels through the small intestine which allows us to make use of the nutrients. A skunk’s digestive system is 4 to 6 times body length, slightly longer than a carnivore’s, to allow for the longer time needed to digest plant matter.

Please remember, your digestive system is quite different from your skunk’s. If you choose foods for your skunk based on human dietary needs, the skunk will not be likely to live a long healthy life. Raw food helps maintain the acidic environment that is necessary for the body to utilize calcium and other necessary minerals. This acidic environment encourages the pancreas to produce the enzymes necessary for digestion. Flukes and parasites are less likely to thrive in this acidic environment. Cooked food throws off the body’s normal enzyme secretion, stresses the pancreas and all the other major organs of the body. It also provides a more suitable host for parasites which further weakens the animal.

Diet

Now that you understand what not to feed you are probably wondering what can you give to keep your skunk healthy? A healthy skunk does not drink much water, though it is important they always have fresh water available to them. Foods that are part of their natural diet have high water content. So it is important to feed foods that have plenty of moisture. This includes most vegetables, fruits and poultry, also live insects and pinkies. Raw nuts and hulled seeds may not look like there is moisture but contain fat your skunk needs for energy and trace minerals for good health. Eggs have a high moisture content plus Vitamins A, D and E. They also contain all the B vitamins and lecithin, all nutrients important for good health.
You will have to decide as a skunk owner, what diet you will provide for your skunk. If you have joined any skunk groups, you have probably noticed that diet is a hot button in the skunk world. Each group promotes a different diet and it can be very confusing. Unfortunately, pet skunks have not thrived on the various diets that are based on human dietary needs. Informal studies among pet skunk owners show a 5 year old skunk is old. Not many make it to the age of 10. The ones that live longer than 10 years of age are quite rare. The 8 to 12 life span we hear about is by no means the average.The diseases that are common in pet skunks are similar to what humans get. Obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer are not uncommon. Your best chance of avoiding some or all of these human diseases is to feed your skunk a diet that is species appropriate.

Your skunk needs a diet with a minimum of 30% of the calories from fat. Seniors skunks should get a minimum of 25% of their calories from fat. You should provide both omega 6 and omega 3 sources of fat. Meat contains omega 6 fats. Fish contains omega 3 fats. By feeding a variety of insects, poultry, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds, your skunk will get all the fat it needs from its diet.
Frequently the fatty acid supplements made for pets contain soybean oil which is a polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are highly processed fats that do not belong in your skunk’s diet. They are thought to have a hormonal effect on the body. Soy of any kind is not recommended for skunks. Good fat choices for your skunk are saturated fats and mono-saturated fats. Some healthy fats are extra virgin olive oil, red palm oil and coconut oil. Sometimes skunk owners use a small amount of one of those fats to entice a picky eater.

I am writing this to give skunk owners the information they need to make good dietary choices for their skunk. Choosing a diet because others recommend it is not the best way to go. Information can become outdated, and many of the skunk diets available on the Internet have not been updated in years. New information becomes available almost every day. Please do not depend on anyone else to update dietary information. It is important for each skunk owner to know what is important and why. Many times owners have joined multiple groups and each one recommends different products or nutrients. Always ask “why”? If someone cannot tell you why a nutrient is needed, it probably isn’t. Next, look to see if the nutrient was found in the diet of a wild skunk. Remember there has not been enough time for evolutionary changes in the short time skunks have been pets. Giving synthetic nutrients may irritate your skunks liver or kidneys. If you decide your skunk had a need for the recommended nutrient, then see if it is already provided in the foods you feed. Most times the nutrient is either not needed or you are already providing it. Too many times people add an unnecessary supplement when their money is better spent on improving the quality of food given. Keep in mind, the people making the recommendations will not be the one paying your vet bills.
Not all skunk owners have the ability to put together a healthy food plan for their skunk. STOMP, pet skunk diet, is a species appropriate food for all life stages of your pet skunk. STOMP is available in both chicken and duck and can be purchased at www.petskunkfood.com and www.justskunks.com.

Supplements

Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for many body functions. Most pet foods have calcium so people are not used to thinking about supplementing this. Since skunks should not be eating kibble, you will have to think about calcium sources for your skunk. The best source of calcium for your pet is raw chicken necks. Insects and worms and eggs with the shells are other sources. Some people feed small amounts of cheese for calcium. Plant sources of calcium are spinach, kale and broccoli but are harder for animals to absorb.

Some skunk owners supplement with calcium with varying degrees of success. It is not uncommon for skunks on calcium supplements to have low bone density, bone spurs, arthritis and fused bones because other factors needed for absorption are not present. If you choose to supplement, discuss this with a vet knowledgeable about skunks. Most will advise against supplementation. A better choice for minerals is food grade diatomaceous earth. Perma Guard has a safe and inexpensive DE that can be given to skunks. It is dosed at one teaspoon once daily or 1/2 teaspoon twice daily. DE contains all the minerals needed for healthy, strong bones without the dangers of using calcium. If you are giving a multivitamin, make sure the calcium content does not exceed 75mg.

Vitamin D is found in eggs, fish, fortified dairy products like cheeses and in insects and worms. If the skunk is not eating these foods, a supplement may be need. 100 IU of vitamin D3, 4 times per week is recommended. Animals fed a low protein diet often have problems absorbing minerals. Skunks need protein to build strong, healthy bones.

Taurine is an amino acid. It is classified as a non essential amino acid because the body can make what is needed if Methionine and B6 is present. Methionine, an essential amino acid, is present in most meats. Cysteine is thought to increase the bio-availability of Taurine. Cats are the only known species with limited ability to synthesize Taurine. There is no evidence that skunks cannot synthesize Taurine. If you look at the diet of a wild skunk, you will see they receive very little Taurine but Methionine is quite plentiful in their diet. Some food sources of Methionine are poultry, fish, cottage cheese and peanuts. If you prefer to supplement Taurine, choose a pharmaceutical grade product and give 200 mg per day or less. If you are feeding a low protein diet, supplemental taurine will not correct the problem. It may be beneficial to supplement with Taurine if you have a skunk that has a history of seizures or heart disease.

Fatty acid supplements like Linatone are often given to make the coat look shiny. If you feed your skunk properly, it will glow with health. Giving a supplement that gives an illusion of health may cover up symptoms important in diagnosing a health issue. Skunks often do not have any symptoms when they get ill until they are very sick. A dry coat would be a clue you need to get your skunk checked out.

Your skunk needs a diet with a minimum of 30% of the calories from fat. Seniors skunks should get a minimum of 25% of their calories from fat. You should provide both omega 6 and omega 3 sources of fat. Meat contains omega 6 fats. Fish contains omega 3 fats. By feeding a variety of insects, poultry, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds, your skunk will get all the fat it needs from its diet.
Frequently the fatty acid supplements made for pets contain soybean oil which is a polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fats are highly processed fats that do not belong in your skunk’s diet. They are thought to have a hormonal effect on the body. Soy of any kind is not recommended for skunks. Good fat choices for your skunk are saturated fats and mono-saturated fats. Some healthy fats are extra virgin olive oil, red palm oil and coconut oil. Sometimes skunk owners use a small amount of one of those fats to entice a picky eater.

Pet supplements made from synthetic ingredients are not recommended for skunks. The very best supplements are made from whole foods. Chlorella is the king of whole food supplements. PetSpan is a supplement made from chlorella. It is highly recommended to use PetSpan with your skunk. Not only do you have the benefit of the many nutrients provided by this whole food, chlorella also detoxifies the body and supports the immune system. Pet Skunk SUPPORT FACTORS is specifically formulated with a full spectrum of balanced vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, digestive enzymes, antioxidants, and other important nutrients that work synergistically to maintain the optimal, physical well-being of skunks of all ages. It is a convenient and inexpensive way to make sure your skunk is not missing out on important nutrients.
It is best to provide your skunk with a varied diet that contains the nutrients needed for good health. Always let your skunk’s veterinarian know if you are using supplements.
The majority of skunk owners try to provide nutrition through diet. While there are still some giving supplements, if you choose to do this, make sure they are from a whole food source.

Written by: Maria Ellis
Reviewed by: Dr.Schneider