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K9 Corner: Little known skunk facts

 BY HELEN PALMER

In the course of chatting with a visitor this past week the question came up about the number of skunks she has spotted on the roads. Yes, it is spring time and skunks are emerging from their lairs where they hibernated and they are hungry enough to look for food even in the daylight. It is also mating season (mid-February through April) for these animals.

Fortunately the April-May issue of “National Wildlife” arrived a couple of weeks ago with an article on skunks and I was able to enlighten my guest with some little known facts about skunks. For one, I didn’t know that baby skunks are able to spray even before their eyes are open. 

That brought back memories of driving home from work one afternoon on a winding country road and rounding a sharp curve only to see a parade of skunks — one mama and seven babies — walking across the road. Mama skunk stopped and glared at me as I screeched to a halt. Then it was a stand-off for at least a minute or more before mama skunk continued across the road and the babies followed single file.

The article “Notorious – or Not?” by Lynn Warren, also mentioned that there are 12 known species of skunks in the world, but the two most prevalent in our area are the striped skunk and the spotted skunk which is smaller and usually moves under cover (deep grass or shrubs) so is not as often seen. I also didn’t know until I read Warren’s article that skunks do not fire their ammunition unless really threatened. Instead, if an animal is stalking the skunk, it may raise its tail and emit a whiff of odor rather than a spray. That whiff is sometimes all it takes to discourage the hunt.

Another method of warning is to face the danger and stamp the front feet which is what my mama skunk did. Warren says they will also hiss and lunge. Some real defensive moves can occur if the predator is stalking in dense cover.  Then the skunk is capable of releasing a dense cloud of spray to discourage continued tracking. 

Which brings up the question of how much musk does a skunk carry. According to Warren, the striped skunk’s anal glands are about the size of large grapes enough for multiple blasts of concentrated musk. If the animal feels threatened, it will face the danger, arch its back forming a U and aim for the opponent’s face in order to hit eyes, nose and mouth.  

Now for the final part of our discussion: what do you do if your dog comes home smelling of skunk spray? According to Warren the latest formula is four cups of hydrogen peroxide, a quarter-cup of baking soda and a teaspoon of dish soap. Soak the fur down to the skin, leave it on for about five minutes and then rinse well.  Be sure to avoid the eyes and after the rest of the dog is “de-skunked” if the eyes are affected, take the dog to the veterinarian.