Food & Diet

Updated by Sue Creedy - 22nd March 2015

Introduction

There is not enough research available about skunks for anyone to know what the perfect diet should be and any use of supplements is simply guesswork as to what might help prevent common health conditions. This means that a person can find many different diet suggestions and a whole list of potential supplements after just a few minutes on the internet. On this page you will find some different ideas discussed and some help with what food should and should not be included in a pet skunk’s diet. What needs to be remembered is that every skunk is an individual and will have its own likes and dislikes. Skunks also have seasonal preferences in both food types and amounts they would like to eat. Skunks also seem to have changes in metabolism at different times of year, so the amount of food to keep a stable weight in the summer will become fattening in the autumn as metabolism slows. It is up to the skunk owner to take in all knowledge they can, check the facts and then aim to provide a balanced diet while preventing the skunk becoming over or underweight. Easier said than done!


Should we feed the diet a wild skunk would get?

Skunks are foraging omnivores. In the spring and summer, insects (both adult and larval forms), spiders, toads, frogs, lizards, snakes, mice, chipmunks, turtle eggs and bird eggs are eaten. In the fall and winter, a variety of wild and cultivated fruits, carrion, and a variety of grasses, leaves, buds, and nuts are consumed (Penn State University, 2002). Many sources indicate that animal matter makes up 70-90% of the diet in spring and summer and equal measures of plant and animal matter in autumn and winter. Food scarcity and much reduced activity leads to as much as 25% loss of bodyweight during winter.

It would be very difficult to feed a wild diet to a captive skunk. It would also be very difficult to provide a wild lifestyle for a captive skunk. Wild skunks can have a home range of up to 5km² (Storm and Verts, 1966) and spent many hours each day foraging. Our pet skunks have warmth, shelter and food provided, so their energy and nutritional needs are very different. Perhaps our aim should be to provide food sources in as close to their natural forms as we can to match the skunk’s digestive system, yet try to provide the nutrients in amounts to keep our skunks healthy and active.

Over the years the skunk diet has been up for debate and in the UK the skunk diet consisted of 90% veg 5% fruit and 5% protein, then changing to 80% veg, 5% fruit and 15% protein. It is now believed that the high amount of veg previously recommended for skunks is unsuitable, but perhaps it is the approach to the diet that is also wrong. Using percentages to portion a diet might result in malnutrition and obesity through the amounts being fed. One person could feed 15g protein, 5g fruit and 80g veg, but another could feed 150g protein, 50g fruit and 800g veg. The percentages of each are the same, but the amounts fed are dramatically different and both would likely lead to health problems.

A different approach is one using portion sizes, as follows:

Protein: one portion = a chicken wing = a medium egg = a sardine = a tablespoon of raw bone-in chicken mince = 3 sprats = tub of bugs = 4-5 pinkies

Fruit and Veg: One portion = a heaped tablespoon

With these portions, a general diet for an adult skunk could be 1-2 portions or protein + 3-4 portions of veg + 1 portion of fruit. This balance seems to fit the more recent ideas about skunk nutrition with a higher protein value and lower veg value. The aim should be to feed as wide a variety of foods as possible to take advantage of the different nutrients provided by them and avoid a picky skunk. Fruit should never need to be more than one portion, as most are high in natural sugars.

When selecting your skunk’s food keep to one rule; keep it natural.


Protein

Chicken: raw minced bone-in pet mince, any whole raw chicken parts with bone in, cooked chicken must have bones removed.

  • Eggs, either raw with shell, boiled (with shell), scrambled Insects: mealworms, morioworms, locusts, dubai roaches
  • Hulled seeds and raw nuts, whole nuts, Almonds, Linseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pecans etc. (it should be remembered that nuts are also high in fat, so should only be fed sparingly in adult diets)
  • Pinkies (frozen baby mice)
  • Fish: raw sprats, sardines, salmon, tuna, canned fish in oil or spring water.
  • Cottage cheese

Vegetables

A small amount of most veg is acceptable as part of a balanced diet, so the list below is not an exhaustive one. Some people like to cut the veg very small or grate it for easier absorption of nutrients. While this can be useful for young kits or for adding a new veg to the mix, providing such finely chopped food means that the skunk is not exercising its jaws or needing to work at its food. Food will be consumed faster. Feeding larger chunks provides enrichment and exercise and is also the natural way a skunk would encounter its food. There is also the option of cooking veg to improve digestion, although some nutrients will be lost during cooking.

  • Green, French, runner and broad beans
  • Carrot
  • Baby corn
  • Sweetcorn – high starch content, best avoided for dieting skunks
  • Snap peas and mange tout
  • Radish
  • Celery
  • Peas
  • Turnips
  • Swede
  • Chicory
  • Aubergine
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms (not a veg, but treated like one!)
  • Parsnip
  • Sweet potato
  • Cauliflower
  • Watercress
  • Courgettes/marrow
  • Bean and seed sprouts – alfalfa, radish, garlic, sunflower, mustard, chick pea, lentil etc.

Fruit

  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Strawberries
  • Goji berries
  • Melon – all types
  • Persimmon/Sharon fruit
  • Cucumber
  • Fig
  • Kiwi
  • Squashes
  • Tomatoes – limit in kits as has been linked to fits
  • Bananas
  • Bell peppers
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Orange – some do not feed citrus fruits

Treats

A common question new skunk owners ask is “Can I feed my skunk some [insert food] as a treat?” The answer is that if you would not normally consider it part of a healthy diet, then don’t feed it. A skunk will be perfectly happy to have a few extra bugs as a treat and many people keep a pot of dried mealworms handy when needing to persuade a skunk into a carrier or to stand still for a few seconds while the vet has a quick prod. Feeding unhealthy items such as biscuit or cake is not doing a skunk any good at all and is more about fulfilling a human idea of a nice treat rather than considering the welfare of the skunk.


Supplements

A supplement is simply something that is added to a diet to make up for a deficiency. If a diet is balanced, there should be no reason to supplement it with anything. We don’t know what the diet of a skunk should be and there has been no research to find out what supplements are needed or what amounts of supplements are safe for skunks. It is known that too much of some vitamins and minerals can be just as damaging as too little. As skunk owners, we have to look at what has worked in the past and what has not and then make our own minds up as to what supplements might be needed. The supplements listed below are most commonly used or mentioned for use with skunks, but not all skunk owners use them and not all skunks need them.

Taurine is an essential amino acid, meaning that is cannot be made by the body and must come from the diet. It is found in meat, fish and eggs, but cooking greatly reduces the amount of taurine in a food (Spitze et al, 2003).Taurine is important in heart, muscle, eye and liver functions and deficiency can lead to heart failure and poor liver function and blindness. The signs of taurine deficiency are very slow to develop and can only be treated if found early. If feeding raw meat, eggs or fish regularly, then supplementing with extra taurine is probably like peeing money down a drain, as unused taurine is removed in the urine. The supplements Vitaskunk and Beaphar Ferret Malt Paste contain taurine as well as other nutrients and are probably safer than purchasing pure taurine and potentially giving toxic amounts.

Calcium Skunks are prone to metabolic bone disease (MBD) and there have been many cases. Cause seems to be from poor diet – either primarily low or inadequate in minerals or a secondary condition to obesity and fatty liver disease. Skunks with MBD often present with unexplained lameness or weakness and x-rays show bones which have much lower density than they should and may even show breaks. Some cases can be treated over several months with veterinary supervision and improved diet. However, it is important to know that good bones cannot be gained by simply piling in lots of calcium, as healthy bones are produced from a number of minerals and vitamins which interact together – phosphorus and vitamin D being main ones. By feeding raw, bone-in chicken to a skunk as part of their diet, they will be getting a good match of calcium and phosphorus in a way that nature intended. Feeding eggs with shells on is also good, although some people prefer to dry out egg shells and crush them before sprinkling over the food. Natural yoghurt and cottage cheese are also fed as sources of calcium. If you are worried about calcium levels then veterinary advice should be sought as there are many products available and giving the wrong one or wrong amounts could cause more harm than good, particularly for a growing kit.

General vitamin and mineral supplements: The most commonly used products are Vitaskunk and Beaphar Ferret Malt Paste which have a range of vitamins and minerals as well as taurine.

Older Skunks: Glucosamine and chondroitin are a good idea for senior skunks (age 6+). It promotes healthy joints and it is available from many online shops (usually sold for cats and dogs).


How Many Meals?

A newly weaned skunk will be having 4-5 small meals per day and by 6 months old most people have reduced down to 2 larger meals. Once adults, many people successfully feed a single meal a day, particularly in winter, when outdoor skunks (and some indoor skunks) barely leave their beds. However, it is worth noting that some skunk have problems regulating their blood sugar levels and it is not clear why, although the signs usually appear once the number of meals is reduced.

While skunks are prone to diabetes (possibly caused by obesity), it seems that some skunks suffer from hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and related seizures without developing diabetes. The signs of severely low blood sugar are seizures and collapse, which can be immediately helped by rubbing honey/golden syrup into the skunk’s gums before taking them straight to the vet. Less severe cases show as shaking and wobbling, which can resolve after a meal. Affected skunks can be managed by feeding several small meals a day and by feeding foods or food combinations which release any sugars slowly (can be researched on websites about diabetes management).


It is not safe to feed your skunk these foods:

  • Takeaway foods – these are termed “junk foods” for a reason and skunks have died after eating them.
  • Chocolate – contains toxic theobromine which causes liver and kidney damage in many animals. The higher the percentage cocoa solids, the more toxic the chocolate is. A 100g bar of dark chocolate will likely kill a skunk. Lesser amounts can cause hyperactivity, diarrhoea and potential longer term health problems.
  • Hard or processed cheeses
  • Processed foods – these usually contain high levels of salt, refined sugar or other additives
  • Red Meats
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Tinned/pouch dog and cat food
  • Asparagus
  • All sugary foods
  • Tinned fruit and veg – unless in water or natural juices with no additives
  • Sweets – including sugar free, which contain xylitol (can cause death in animals)
  • Avocado skin or stone
  • Liquorish is poisonous to animals
  • Grapes have been known to be toxic to animals, so it is not worth the risk
  • Pasta, bread, potatoes, rice – these are empty calories and are not needed in the diet of an animal that is prone to obesity.

Kibble In the past it has been suggested to feed your skunk dog or cat kibble as part of the diet. Unfortunately, experience now shows that not only is kibble bad for a skunks teeth, but the processed ingredients can cause allergic reactions in pet skunks and also can be cause of the white fur turning yellow. In addition, kibble is a concentrated source of food and a very small amount will provide most of a skunk’s daily calories without meeting other nutritional needs. Many skunk owners are now choosing to avoid kibble completely.

In the USA there is a new freeze dried nugget available called STOMP which has been specially formulated for pet skunks. Unfortunately, though we have tried to bring it to the UK, it is not cost effective. Evidence shows that skunks fed a kibble only diet do not do well. The diet must be varied and natural as you can make it.


Baby Skunks

Baby skunks grow their teeth at about 5 weeks old and from that point they will normally start eating some of their mother’s food as well as still getting milk from her. Skunk kits are normally fully weaned by 7-8 weeks and will be having 4-5 meals a day. Good breeders send kits to their new homes with a diet sheet to advise new owners what and how much food to give. It is fine to feed raw chicken with bones in for young kits; there is no need to wait until they are bigger. Vegetables can be lightly steamed and chopped to aid digestion, but this is not essential and may even be refused if the kit is used to whole and raw foods.

Weigh your skunk weekly to ensure he/she is putting on weight.

As a general guide, from 8 to around 20 weeks feed 2-3 protein portions, 4-6 veg portions and 1-2 fruit portions per day, split into 4-5 meals. From 20-24 weeks reduce to 3 meals a day and feed 2 protein, 3-4 veg and 1-2 fruit portions per day. After 6 months old, adult rations should be introduced with feeding twice a day.


References

Storm, G. L., and Verts, B.J. 1966. Movements of a striped skunk infected with rabies. Journal of Mammalogy 47: 705–708.

Penn State University 2002. The Virtual Nature Trail: Striped Skunk. Available at: psu.edu.

Spitze AR1, Wong DL, Rogers QR, Fascetti AJ. 2003. Taurine concentrations in animal feed ingredients; cooking influences taurine content. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2003 Aug;87(7-8):251-62. .

Menu 1

Broccoli, mushroom, french beans, tomatoe, chopped pear and a chicken wing all sprinkled with vita skunk.


Menu 2

Bravo chicken, whole grain pasta, sweet potato, yellow squash, tomato, goat cheese, brocolli, bell pepper, olive oil, apple cider vinager, radish, and strawberry.


Menu 3

Raw chicken, bean sprouts, carrot, mixed peppers, a variety of cabbage, banana, pear, melon, blueberry yoghurt and vitaskunk.


Greedy Skunks
Bad skunk

Skunks are always hungry, so keep them away from your fridge.


Skunks Eating
Skunk Eating Kibble

Baby Skunk Eating

So cute.


Magick Begging

Skunks are very good at begging.