How to get rid of Skunks

skunks mephitidae how to get rid of

Part of the Mephitidae family, skunks are mammals known for their ability to spray a liquid with a strong, unpleasant smell, in order to defend themselves from predators. As they are not pretentious eaters, and can thrive on human waste, they can often take residence near your yard or under your decks. Present in many neighbourhoods, skunks are not necessarily a problem. They are not aggressive by nature and will not intentionally bother people, however, they can dig shallow holes in your yard and garden, looking for insects to eat and they can also forage through your garbage, make burrows under the house, and cause damage to wires and installations. Not to mention the foul stench they can leave behind.

skunks mephitidae how to get rid of

Signs of infestation

It might be more possible to smell a skunk that see it, but if you do see one, it can be easily recognised by its characteristic black and white striping. If a persistent musty smell bothers you, it can be a sign that a skunk has taken shelter somewhere in your yard, or near your house. Small, shallow holes in the lawn are also a sign of infestation, as they are created by skunks digging for insect grubs. Plants which have been knocked down and damaged are also a sign of their presence, and even though some consider them beneficial, as they protect the garden from excess insects, skunks can become a nuisance, especially if in large number. Dens can be recognised as grass-free, smooth depressions. They generally only have one entrance and will present the aforementioned smell. A sign that will indicate that it is a skunk’s den is the presence of long (around 5cm), black or white hairs.

They are usually not prone to attack and try to be threatening only when protecting their young. So, they begin with stamping their feet, raising their tail and hissing, before getting to use their scented weapon. If you have pets with you (especially dogs), be sure to restrain them, as they are unlikely to understand the significance and importance of these signals. Remember that skunks have very poor eyesight! However, if you encounter a skunk that exhibits abnormal behaviours, such as: limb paralysis, staggering, circling, disorientation, boldness, unprovoked aggression, or tameness, it is likely that it is infested with rabies. In this case, you should never approach it yourself. Be even more cautious in backing away from it.

Getting rid of skunks

As they generally are non-aggressive and can be beneficial to your garden, skunks are not regarded as very dangerous. However, they are prone to carry diseases and the fear of being sprayed can make you want to get rid of them as soon as possible. They will be attracted to your home due to the possibility of finding food and shelter, so getting rid of any attractants will be the first step in also getting rid of a skunk infestation.
Try to remove from your property anything that can easily become a food source for them. Also eliminate any hiding places they can use as shelters, and start using repellents, in order to make your property even more inhospitable for them.

  • do not feed your pets outside, or if this is necessary, remove the remaining food after they have finished;
  • do not allow bird seeds to remain on the ground after they have fallen from the bird feeder;
  • make sure your trash cans are tight fitting and have locking lids or store them in the shed or garage overnight;
  • use an enclosed compost bin;
  • remove wood piles or any other debris from your yard, as they can provide a shelter for the skunks;
  • mow your lawn, trim high grass and bushes from your garden and rake fallen leaves;
  • harvest ripe fruit and vegetables as soon as you can;
  • if dealing with an insect infestation, deal with it immediately, as this can be the main attractant for skunks;
  • close off with wire mesh any possible hiding space or access to your basement, porch or deck;
  • fill abandoned burrows with gravel;
  • close off access to sheds, barns and chicken coops;
  • add lights in your yard or on the porch, as skunks prefer dark locations.

After eliminating anything that can attract these pests to your property, you can start applying different methods of control. Skunks can be eliminated in various ways, from trapping to using deterrents and by cutting their access to your property with fencing. The best way of getting rid of any pest, however, is to mix multiple methods of control, in order to achieve a quicker, positive result.

Traps for Skunks control:

Traps are used to monitor or reduce the population of insects or other pests. They can be used against crawling, flying insects, mice, rats, cats, dogs, snakes or other pests. Mechanical traps are ideal for catching these pests, as they can be used repetitively.

Once you have established the presence of a skunk on your property, the safest way to dispose of it is by using live traps. Depending on the size of infestation and the damage the pests have caused, trapping all of them can be a little slow, but it can prove to be very efficient.
The traps can be places in areas where you have seen the most skunk damage, or where you have seen sightings of them. They are known to take shelter in tree or log hollows, underneath building structures, under porches or brush piles or in burrows. If you are able to find their den, you can also place a trap in front of it, on a levelled surface to ensure its stability.
Many types of baits can be used when trying to trap skunks. Although they are known to eat opportunistically, they are attracted to oily meals, such as fish, bacon, canned tuna or pet food, chicken entrails, insect grubs or larvae, or even peanut-buttered bread. Pre-baiting can also be used, in order to make the skunks feel safe. However, make sure you do not place too much bait outside, so that the skunk fills up before getting to the trap.

As skunks are nocturnal, traps should be set at dusk or in the evening, and if nothing got caught, they should be emptied in the morning. Monitor you trap and make sure the animal does not remain trapped for too long, as that will only make it more agitated.
Once the skunk has been captured, make sure not to startle it. While slowly approaching the trap, cover yourself with a blanket, in case it sprays, and make sure you do not make sudden movements that could scare it. Gently place the blanket over the trap, as skunks do not usually spray if they cannot see. Handle it with care and relocate the pest away from your property.
Some people might tend to avoid this method, as skunks are known to use their spraying glands when feeling threatened, however, by carefully handling the trap and not startling the pest, you can get away unharmed by their spray.

Repellents

Repelling a skunk can be done through several methods. Be them motion activated repellents, organic or chemical ones, they can help you keep the pests away from your property. As mentioned above, skunks prefer dark, as they are nocturnal creatures. By installing lights in your yard, you will make it less appealing to them, and can avoid having skunks roaming through your yard in search for food, at night. However, having light outside, shining all night long, can attract other pests, such as crickets or night butterflies, so better use LEDs or yellow light bulbs. Also consider using solar lighting or energy-saving lighting to avoid paying high electrical bills.
Other electronic repellents come in the form of motion activated sprinklers. They can automatically turn on when they sense movement, and use a burst of water to frighten the critters away. They can be installed anywhere in the yard and are a great long-term solution against several types of pests. Depending on the area that you want to protect, you can place electronic repellents in gardens, playgrounds, on pathways, flowerbeds, in corn fields, parks, or near pools, woodpiles or garbage cans. They require little maintenance, and once installed, they are able to protect your property by just frightening skunks with bursts of water, after detecting motion.
Natural repellents made out of active ingredients are meant to irritate skunks and repel them as soon as they smell, taste or touch the product used. Using predator urine is the first natural repellent that you can try. Coyote or fox urine is the one that works best. The downside of it is that it will need to be reapplied quite often, especially after rain. Used kitty litter can also be used and scattered near or inside the den, and castor oil can also do the trick.
Cayenne pepper and citrus peels can also be used. Sprinkling them around areas where skunks like to roam, and they will start avoiding these places, as they will not like the strong smell. You can also make a mixture of cayenne and water, to make a pepper spray. Using this and applying to possible infested areas, will also deter the pests away. However, these types of repellents need often reapplication, in order to be effective.

If choosing to use chemical solutions, you can use ammonia or moth balls in order to deter skunks away.  The strong smell is bound to make the area inhospitable, but be careful when using these methods, as they are very toxic. Fumes from moth balls and the ammonia can also affect pets and children, so make sure to use them in areas where no one would have access to them, except the skunks.
Liquid and granular repellents also exist, and they are meant to keep skunks at bay. As with the pepper spray or the sprinkled cayenne and citrus peels, these store-bought repellents can be applied in areas where skunks are most likely to wander to. Near garbage cans or trash bags, around wood piles or on plants, grass, pathways, these are all places where skunks are going to spend time looking for food, and thus, good places for setting repellents.

Fencing

As a final method for keeping skunks off of your property, fencing can also be used. As skunks are not good climbers, a properly installed fence, even if not very tall, can do the trick. It is best to extend it below the ground, rather than make it very high, as skunks are good diggers. Preventing them to go underneath is thus more important. When building a fence to keep skunks away, be sure to make it 1,2 m above the ground, but about 60 cm below ground level. By bending the underground portion outward, you can also prevent the skunks from managing to dig underneath it. Installing mesh fencing to cover up any other openings in your foundation or underneath structures can also help, as skunks will relocate on their own, in order to find a more accessible shelter.

Due to the common presence of skunks in suburban areas, and the inevitable encounters between them and pets (especially dogs), or even humans, it is important to know how to remove the skunk odour. The most effective (and most widely recommended) is a mixture of:

  • diluted hydrogen peroxide (3%) — around 1kg;
  • baking soda — around 50g;
  • and dishwashing liquid — around 5g.

This will neutralize the smell on fur, skin, and some clothes (although these might be best thrown away). Use the solution as soon as possible after you or your pet have been sprayed and immediately after mixing it. Wear rubber gloves and, if possible, use it outdoors, rinsing after 5 minutes and repeating the process if needed. Once the scent is gone, follow up with a long, hot shower.

Keep in mind that getting rid of skunks can be a tough job, as they are quite resilient against control methods. Especially if taking care of young ones, a mother skunk can endure against a lot of repelling methods. As they breed in the spring and care for their young until fall, removing skunks from your property should be done before the breeding season begins. Remember that it is better to use multiple methods of control, to have better chances of fighting them off. Applying preventive measures will also be of help, as you will avoid having to deal with another infestation, once you got rid of the current one. For more details on how to do this, visit our related article, where you will find details on ways in which you can ‘Prevent infestation with Skunks’.

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