Coexisting In Harmony With Wildlife: Skunks
As the landscape in Newtown and surrounding towns continues to change, wild animals are being impacted and trying to adapt to their new environment as best they can. This can mean a variety of wildlife are venturing into areas they never have before — backyards, hiking trails, and busy roads — when searching for refuge or nourishment.
Residents are having close encounters so frequently that it is not uncommon for people to share photos of a bear investigating their bird feeder or a bobcat traveling across an unfenced yard. Many, too, are calling agencies to report wild animals injured on the side of the road or accidentally poisoned.
Summertime also means many animals are more visible as they are out and about gathering food for their growing families.
In a perfect world, animals would know the boundaries of what land is preserved for them and what is human-inhabited, but the reality is these creatures are just doing their best to survive.
In this miniseries, The Newtown Bee will consult animal experts to explain how to support these animals safely from afar and what to do if you encounter them face-to-face.
The eastern striped skunk is the species of skunk commonly found in Connecticut and it is known for its fluffy black fur. It also has a distinguishable white stripe that stretches from the middle of its forehead down to its tail. The stripe typically divides into two stripes down its back.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) describes eastern striped skunks as having “a small head, small eyes, and a pointed snout. Their short legs and flat-footed gait makes them appear to waddle when they walk. Sharp teeth and long claws enable them to dig in soil or sod and pull apart rotten logs in search of food.”
Skunks eat a smorgasbord of food, from insects and small mammals to vegetation and garbage.
As a result, they commonly visit people’s yards in search of food scraps from garbage cans that are not fully secured. They also have been known to dig in lawns looking for grubs and eat turtle or bird eggs on the ground.
Since skunks are primarily nocturnal, they are most active at night. However, they can be out and about during the day, too. Seeing them in the daytime does not mean they are rabid or that something is wrong with them. They are more active in the daytime during the spring, when they are foraging for food to feed their babies.
Between late April and early June, skunks give birth to an average of six babies that are born blind and helpless. The babies’ eyes do not open until they are three weeks old, and they only venture out with their mom when they reach the age of around seven weeks old. At that age, they are able to spray.
What To Do If Sprayed
Skunks are part of the Mustelid family and produce a strong-smelling liquid from scent glands. Skunks spray the sticky, yellow fluid from glands located on the side of its rectum as a defense mechanism when they feel provoked.
They can spray up to ten feet or more. Before spraying, though, they typically stomp their feet and arch their tail as a warning.
“If confronted by a skunk in this position, it is best to make a slow, quiet retreat. A skunk’s spray is normally directed toward the eyes and may cause temporary blindness and nausea. Rinsing eyes with water will help restore vision,” the DEEP reports.
People commonly use tomato juice or diluted solutions of vinegar to eliminate the odor from people, pets, and clothing.
If a pet is sprayed, the DEEP recommends creating a “skunk odor solution” from common household ingredients: “One quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda, and 1 tsp of liquid soap. Mix the solution only when needed. Completely soak your pet in the solution (do not get it in the eyes) and rinse thoroughly with plain water. Your dog’s fur may show a slight, temporary discoloration (due to the peroxide).”
Dr Emily Andersen, owner of ComfortABLE Critters Veterinary Care PLLC, says it is a fairly rare occurrence for her to be contacted over a pet being sprayed by a skunk, and that “Simply getting sprayed in the fur is usually a benign, albeit stinky, affair.”
However, in cases where a pet is sprayed in the face, specifically in the eyes and nose, pets may need to see a veterinarian.
“I would certainly recommend prompt medical attention if they are sprayed in the eyes or you notice them rubbing/squinting their eyes,” Dr Andersen said.
In these cases, there may be an inflammation or infection in the eyes or skin that will need eye ointment or topical skin medication to help resolve.
Dr Andersen stresses, “Please, never apply eye medications without the direct oversight of a veterinarian!”
Additionally, she says that since skunks are rabies vectors, a pet should receive prompt medical attention if there is any concern that they have been bitten.
To avoid the health and safety issues caused by a pet being sprayed or bitten by a skunk, Dr Andersen recommends that all dogs and cats are up to date on rabies shots and closely monitored when outside, and “ensure that dogs off leash (i.e., in a fenced-in yard) have a good recall, and will come when called.”
In addition to being sprayed, another common scenario people face with skunks is that they can unknowingly wander into garages.
Wildlife in Crisis, a volunteer-run nonprofit that cares for more than 5,000 injured and orphaned wild animals a year, recommends shutting off all the lights if a skunk wanders into a garage. Then make a trail of cheese or canned cat food leading out the door.
To be sure the skunk has left, put a thick line of flour across the entrance to be able to see its tracks heading out of the garage. Once it can be confirmed that the skunk is out, close the door.
Also, skunks have a tendency to fall into window wells and cannot climb very well to get out on their own.
Wildlife in Crisis suggests, if the window well is shallow enough, placing a wooden board at a 45-degree angle so the skunk can walk up and out. The board will need something like chicken wire wrapped around it to help the skunk’s feet grip it. Also, to encourage it to leave, place a trail of cheese or cat food up the board.
Aiding The Orphaned Or Injured
People can always call the Newtown Animal Control Center directly at 203-426-6900 or Wildlife in Crisis at 203-544-9913 to report any animal in need of help. When leaving a message for assistance, people should give a description of the animal and its location.
For a list of authorized rehabilitators (individuals and organizations) throughout Connecticut, visit portal.ct.gov/deep/wildlife/rehabilitator/dealing-with-distressed-wildlife.
Pet owners within a 20-mile radius of Bethel may contact Dr Andersen at 203-433-3418 for house calls.
Alissa Silber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.