Skunks

How to Identify and Get Rid of Skunks in the Garden

Skunks-Thinkstock

Skunks are docile animals but may spray if threatened.

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Hey—What’s that smell? If you think you’ve got a skunk hanging around your yard, it’s time to act! Here’s how to identify and deter skunks from your yard and garden.

What Are Skunks?

Skunks are nocturnal animals that are naturally mild-mannered and non-aggressive; they prefer small animals and insects for dinner instead of your garden. They occasionally visit gardens and if they do, it may be because corn or other plants are close to the ground.

The skunk claims homesteading rights from coast to coast. Distributed across the country are 4 species of skunks, including the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) and the spotted skunk (Spilogale putorius). The common striped skunk lives mostly in sparse forests and fields.

Skunks can be very nice to have around because they dig up and feed on the larvae of cutworms, Japanese beetles, hornworms, and other crop-destroying insect life. However, skunks are not only partial to insects; they will eat leaves, buds, grasses, grains, garbage, any fruit or berries within reach, and even small game. They also may disturb your plants while digging for these grubs. This is what can make them a bit of a nuisance to gardeners.

Although their nocturnal wanderings around our fields and gardens, lawns, and flower beds cause us occasional inconvenience and uneasiness, these are minor faults which can be readily overlooked by the time the Harvest Moon begins to shine. It is then that the skunk’s appetite for the pests that plague our gardens helps make it possible for that Moon to glow over a cornucopia brimming with plenty.

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Why and How Do Skunks Spray?

Skunks are famous for their skunk spray—you can smell an angry skunk from over a mile away. Furthermore, a skunk can “shoot” you from 10 to 12 feet, sideways, up, or down, with little apparent effort. Most gardeners worry more about a skunk spraying in the garden, on the gardener, or on a pet than about a skunk chewing up some veggies.

Under a skunk’s tail are two pouches equipped with a pair of ducts which, in peacetime, remain hidden, but which quickly expose themselves when danger threatens. Their foul ammunition is a golden-yellow liquid whose active ingredient is the sulfide mercaptan. Each of the two pouches contains enough ammunition for six rounds. After the supply is exhausted, a week’s time is required to replenish it. This spray has made skunks creatures feared by nearly all animals, including most of mankind.

A skunk’s warfare is purely defensive. When confronted by a menacing man or clamorous dog, skunks will try to sidestep by ambling off. This means that if you find a skunk, simply turn back and you should be fine. If pursued, skunks will turn, face their aggressor, and stamp their forefeet. This is their first warning. At this point, you should really be running!

The second warning comes when their tails, all but the tips, are hoisted. Then, this ultimatum failing to establish peace, the white tip rises, and spreads out, and the skunk, snapping into a U-position with snout and rear toward the target, delivers a charge of spray. At this point, it is simply too late, and your dog probably smells foul.

People usually get sprayed when they are walking through their yards in the dark (if you can’t see a skunk, you can’t run away), or if they disturb a skunk while eating. Those are good reasons to keep skunks out of your yard in the first place—and to always carry a flashlight!

    Identification

    How to Identify Skunks in your Garden

    The typical striped skunk has prominent white stripes running down its back and black fur on the rest of its body. It is the size of a house cat and is the most abundant species of skunk in the United States. Spotted skunks are smaller and have white spots as well as broken white strikes amid their black fur. Skunks have short legs and proportionately large feet with well-developed claws that are perfect for digging.

    Tracks can be helpful in identifying skunks. Skunks are often mistaken for raccoons because they both have five toes. Sometimes, the fifth toe is hard to see in skunk tracks. Their heels usually are not part of the tracks, and their claw marks are usually somewhat visible. Skunk droppings also often contain undigested insect parts.

    Often, the best way to identify skunks is—unfortunately—by their odor. Hopefully you don’t have to deal with the skunk spray in your garden, but you’ll know for sure that you have a skunk as soon as they decide to spray.

    skunk-tracks-identification.jpg
    These tracks from a striped skunk could help you identify the skunk in your garden. Photo Credit: Ohio Department of Natural Resources. 

    Skunk Damage

    If your lawn or flower bed has lots of holes in it, you may have a skunk problem. Skunks dig up the turf looking for grubs. They move around at night and dig in grassy areas, making distinct 3- to 4-inch deep holes. Skunk activity increases in the spring and then lessens naturally, so any problems may stop all on their own. 

    Skunks sometimes feed on corn, but they tend to only eat the lower ears that they can reach. If a corn stalk has been toppled over, the culprit is more likely a raccoon. Planting taller varieties of corn can minimize this damage.

    Of course, skunk spray is a common sign of damage. If your dog smells foul, you probably have a skunk!

    Control and Prevention

    How to Get Rid of Skunks

    • Spray a mixture of castor oil and dish-washing detergent diluted in water. Skunks find the smell offensive. Spray the area at night when the skunk is away foraging. 
    • Probably the best skunk repellent is a light. Skunks are nocturnal and their eyes are very light sensitive. A bright light or a motion sensor flood light will scare skunks away.
    • Most animals, including skunks, dislike the smell of citrus fruits. Place orange or lemon peels around the yard as a natural skunk repellent.
    • Predator urine (dogs, coyotes) can be used to repel a skunk. These are commercially sold in garden centers. (Note: Use a responsible source for predator urine to make sure that the animals are treated humanely and the brand complies with state and federal regulations.) 
    • Many readers have found success placing ammonia-soaked rags around the yard, however, these need to be replaced often.
    • If the skunks are in a smaller garden patch, put bars of strong–smelling soap or a room deodorizer near your garden. Ironically, skunks hate strong scents.
    • If nothing works, there are humane ways for professionals to trap raccoons and skunks and transport them elsewhere. Often, skunk removal by trapping is the only answer, and there just isn’t a lot you can do if it is a skunk. However, be aware that many species of wildlife do not survive when placed in a new territory, and it may not even be legal to trap and relocate wild animals in your area.

    birdphotos.com
    Striped skunks. Photo credit: Tom Friedel, BirdPhotos.com

    How to Prevent Skunks

    • As skunks love to find lots of grubs in your garden, one of the best preventative methods is to treat your lawn so that you get rid of their favorite snacks. Spray your lawn with milky spore disease or beneficial nematodes. This will also help to control Japanese beetle larvae, so it’s a win-win! Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for suggestions. 
    • Fencing may also be a good idea for small areas, such as a garden patch.
    • If you don’t want skunks living under your deck or shed, seal these areas with chicken wire. Leave at least one foot of additional wire on the ground extending from the structure to prevent skunks from digging under to enter.

    What to Do If You Get Sprayed By a Skunk

    Oh no! We can all smell a skunk from miles away, but it’s truly awful to have that smell on you. If you or your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, try a mixture of 1 quart 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup of baking soda, and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid dish soap. Shampoo only the area sprayed by the skunk. Wet the area and work the solution into the skin or fur with your hands (avoid the eyes). Rinse. (This remedy may dry out the skin. If so, use a good-quality crème rinse to replenish moisture once the skunk smell is gone.) 

    Do you have any special remedies that you use for skunk spray? Let us know below!

    Plants Affected

    Reader Comments

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    Skunks

    I used a super soaker squirt gun, one of the bigger ones, and after a couple nights of squirting it with water I never saw it again. They shoot far enough you don’t have to be very close

    Deterrent

    Moth Balls works as a deterrent however you do have to replace them when the scent is gone.
    Skunk Spray Wash Formula
    1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide
    1/2 cup of Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)
    1 teaspoon of liquid soap
    Mix together to make a shampoo for your furry pal.
    Rinse well to remove the shampoo from the fur after vigorously shampooing.
    You may need to double or triple this recipe depending on the weight of your dog.
    The wash works great!

    Skunks

    I never try to discourage skunks from my yard because they eat yellow jacket nests during their nightly forages. I've never had a problem with yellow jackets as long as skunks have visited my yard. One year, a neighbor poisoned the local skunks, and the yellow jacket population skyrocketed; I don't believe this was a coincidence. Yellow jackets are notoriously aggressive--skunks are not.

    Repelling Skunks

    My dog was a pup and sprayed last year...she quickly found out not to investigate that animal. I washed her in Dawn dishwashing soap which removed the scent entirely from her body. Unfortunately there was a faint odor still in her nostrils and took a few weeks to dissipate. Following the use of Dawn, I then used her doggie shampoo which is vet purchased, soap free and rehydrating to get her skin and coat back to the right pH.

    Repelling skunks from your yard

    Skunks used to come in the back yard through the iron fence. A store clerk told me I might want to try putting out moth balls along the back fence. (All woods behind the the fence) I threw moth balls all along the length of the fence (into the wooded area). Have a large back yard so it took two boxes. No more skunks. I did that every two month from spring to fall, no more skunks, well that is until the next spring...dogs were sprayed again the next spring...now I do it all year round. I smell them every now and then but dogs have not been sprayed again so I figure they get close but not at the fence line. Hope this helps someone.

    Pet or human bath for skunk spray removal

    I have used dial soap, the orange bar, not the liquid one. Soap up dog, avoid their eyes, leave 3 min and rinse. Smell is gone, I keep one bar with my doggie bath supplies at all times. It works.

    Skunks spray on a pet

    I live in Minnesota and we have skunks everywhere throughout our state. I was sprayed back when I was a young gal and it was horrible. There was only the tomato juice myth back then and I am here to tell you all it does is make you smell like a skunk sprayed can of tomato juice!! What sticks that smell to you or your pet is a protein enzyme. You need to break up that enzyme to release it. Around here at our pet stores you can purchase a box of powder called Odormute. It is a fantastic product that does just that. You can mix it as directed and wash the victim as directed or as most of us do we only wet the powder enough to make a paste of sorts. We then slather thevictim in paste from top to bottom avoiding the eyes and such. Then we let that paste dry . once dry we will wash the victim with the directions wash and bingo your pet is as good as it is going to get. *Note no matter the remedy you use all victims when rewetted for a month or so will still have a slight odor as all the protein enzymes are impossible to be removed and will take about a month to wear off. Since being sprayed I have learned so much about skunks and now value their presence in our world and have found that they are amazing in their own right. They will raise anthers young. They are family and peer orientated and quite friendly if just left to dwell alongside almost every other beast on this planet.

    skunk odor removal on dogs

    Both of my long haired dogs were sprayed last fall. I poured hydrogen peroxide directly on sprayed areas. After a bit, washed with dish soap. The scent was gone and I was able to let them back into the house. Side note... when they get wet again, there is a slight odor for a couple of weeks. My sister uses original Listerine mouthwash the same way with great results!

    Skunk Spray Removal

    Two of my Brittanie's were sprayed one night while fishing at the river. This was before we all had computers and mobile phones. The only thing I had ever heard of was a bath in tomato juice. Back then it was .89$ a can. However, it was effective. We had a skunk pass by last night, thus this is a timely article. Thanks to everyone who contributed their homemade remedies. Especially now, with one Brittany, one Yellow Labrador and a Pyrenees.

    Skunks

    My husband and I lived in a mobile home for a while. Well, the local skunk got under the home and met up with either a cat or another skunk. The next day at work his coworker let my husband know how bad he smelled. When I got home my husband was there and he had all the clothes in our closet out so the could air out. When the skunk sprayed the smell got into the closet and all of those clothes stunk. I had chosen clothing from my dresser, those clothes were not affected.
    Another time, my cat caught the tail end of skunk spray and came home stinky. For that I used vinegar and water in equal amounts and washed my cat's face, avoiding his eyes. The vinegar and water worked well but he was only lightly sprayed.

    Tomato juice

    Tomato juice as a skunk deterrent is a myth.

    Skunk chasing dogs

    I have 2 dogs and they LOVE skunk . When they come home smelling like peppy la pew. They get a bath of 1 qt hydrogen peroxide, (buy it cheaper at dollar store) 1/4 c Baking soda and 1 teaspoon Dawn, or other GOOD dish soap. There "scent" is oil based and holds on to the hair follicles. Let this set on the hair for 5-10 min what your nose will hold out for and he dogs tolerance for the bath tub are. But the longer the better.
    This is why the formula works so well, never had to rebath them.
    Apply this mixture in the same way you would the vinegar solution. The quantities listed should make enough deskunking solution for a medium-size dog (30 to 50 pounds), so use less or more as needed for the size of your dog.
    I keep this recipe and qts of hydrogen peroxide in my bathroom medicine cabinet for there next adventure.

    Skunk Spray

    My dog was sprayed so I wet her down and applied white vinegar into her fur, let sit a few minutes then rinsed off. I would guess 90% of the smell was washed away but still a hint of smell so I repeated once again and for good measure used her dog shampoo after the second application.
    If this happens again I would definitely use this same method.

    Skunk spray

    The way we treated a skunked dog was tomato juice and white vinegar. Some people claim this doesn't work, but we've had a number of dogs get sprayed and it always worked for us.

    Skunks

    As I’m reading my email at 10:30 pm I come across a timely article about skunks. Timely because I saw one in our yard tonight. We had a couple show up at our previous house, in the winter, when we forgot to bring in the cat food from the porch. I had some cat food and water out tonight trying to lure a small cat that I saw roaming around our yard. Imagine my surprise when I looked out and saw the skunk. I hope he won’t eat the kitten. My indoor kitten, who happens to be black and white, went crazy when she saw the skunk. I let her know that he was not a relative. My daughter calls me Dr Doolittle because I love to watch the wildlife. I never begrudge anything the critters eat from my yard, as long as they save some for me!

    Skunkaroo

    There are tons of skunks in my neighborhood, so many in fact, I'm afraid to go out at night! And one "goes off" almost every night and it smells very close.

    I've read that great horned owls are their only predator because they're not affected by the smell. We have lots of those in the neighborhood too.

    One night I watched a skunk drag a pizza box out of my recycling bin. It tried to drag it under the car but had an awful time manipulating it, LOL.

    One year there was a family living under my shed, a mother with about 5 little skunklettes. She would take them out every evening around 7. So adorable! Even the adults are adorable.

    skunk spray

    I have used Dr. Bonner's 18-IN-1 Hemp Citrus Pure-Castile Soap very successfully on two dogs that were sprayed by skunks.

    Capturing a skunk

    Someone told me that a skunk will not spray if his feet are not on the ground. So if he was trapped in a Have-a-Heart trap once lifted he wouldn't spray. Is that true?

    CAPTURED SKUNK

    Your "Have A Heart" traps due have a bottom, so , your skunks feet will still have a solid placement.
    I have caught many a skunk in a live trap, take a blanket and as I approached the trap spoke softly, covered the trap, picked it up and set it in the back seat of my car. I drive it out in the country, retrieved the covered trap and set it on the ground. Removed the cover, knelt down, opened the trap and let the skunk waddle out, all the time speaking softly to the skunk. I was NEVER sprayed.

    skunk smell

    As to the fact that skunk spray can be smelled at least a mile away, I think that a skunk that has been killed on the road can be smelled farther away than that.

    OH! Skunks Just Wanna Have Fu-uhn!!!!

    Like someone else said-- they are God's creatures too -- and they eat mice, vermin, grubs and other things that would otherwise distress us in large numbers. The old timers used to put some skunkspray on cotton and use it to unstuff their noses-- the Native Americans used SKunkies to control mice in their granaries. Want to read a great book? "What's Wrong With being a Skunk?" by MIriam Schlein - cute illustrations, great information and all of it true. Be kind to skunkies -- let them be-- they want peace in their lives too.

    Skunks

    Time tested remedy for a skunked dog, fill the bathtub up with tomato juice and soak your dog :-)

    No to tomato juice.

    Tomato juice does NOT work.

    My Skunks

    I have a house in Rio Vista Ca and I discovered that there were three small skunks living under my cement front porch. I leave food for outdoor birds, so they were probably eating the bird seed and other stuff I leave for birds. Then the three left for some reason, and now I have only one bigger skunk, which I actually leave food for when I have it to give to the skunk. He comes to the food station at night at the exact same time, 5:15am or close to it. He eats what it wants and then the little guy wonders off to sleep during the day. I am not afraid of the skunk, even when I surprise him, he just walks away. Skunks are not like some people who are always looking for a fight. All they want is something to eat. Human take away natures way of living and then humans do not feed the animals. I leave out water everyday for birds and other creatures too, because it is so damn hot in CA during the summer. And I am sure that all of the creatures love my water when they are thirsty. I wonder why more human beings do not leave out water for natures creatures who need water to survive in the hot summer. What is the human species trying to do, kill all of the wildlife on the planet earth? I am kind to the Skunk and I am not worried that it will ever attack me, although I am careful at night and I have a flashlight in my pocket when I do go working at night on my yards. George D Patnoe. Jr!

    Thanks geo

    They consider you THEIR human. Thank you for being part of the small but faithful members of Man"KIND".
    What we do to this earth and its denizens is felt by the whole Universe. We are all connected.

    Please leave food & water

    I live in Tennessee & have only seen 1 skunk here in my 59 years. But I do put food & water out daily & nightly for all Gods creatures. I have several raccoon & a opossum that enjoy the food & cool water especially since the days have been in the mid to upper 90's going on 3 months now. everything deserves a little help!

    Odd techniques

    I've tried throwing some pebble stones..didn't make any difference..as my aim wasn't perfect...made sound with sticks on concrete patio...didn't make any difference..flashing light kind of worked ... and later I tried wolf howling sound from my smartphone.....as soon as sound was heard skunk went away quite a bit distance..albeit but not entirely discouraged...BTW I kept my distance from skunk to about 30-40 ft in case skunk changed its mind and started charging towards me...May not try this technique again because it may prove fruitless..

    Feeding Skunks

    Thank you for being so kind to animals. We leave water out also all year round, and set up shelters in the winter in our back yard by the fence which is out of the wind pattern. We are a part of nature. If we destroy it, we destroy ourselves.

    Throwing pebbles

    Try Georges approach, as he writes above. Don't bother the skunks and they won't bother you. Dogs should be leashed for evening walks or allowed out to run in a fenced yard only during the day time. Love your idea of a wolf howl on your smart phone.

    Skunks do not charge, But......

    They give you a warning -- they 1) stomp their feet 2) then they turn so that their butt AND face are facing you. THAT is their last resort -- don;t antagonize them please!!!

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