Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) in winter

As you’re pulling out sweaters, readying your fireplace, and preparing your home for holiday celebrations, skunks are also scoping out their winter housing options.

The striped skunk is the only species of skunk native to Ohio, and they are found in every county. They typically are black with a white stripe running down the back of their body, but the black hair may sometimes be brown, cream, or white.

The striped skunk is about the size of an average house cat, and males are slightly larger than females. Skunks are nocturnal, but sometimes they can be seen during the day if they’re searching for food for their young or are ill. They are most commonly found in rural areas; however, they are becoming more abundant in suburban and urban areas, as they continue to seek out food and shelter in these regions.

During the winter, skunks don’t hibernate but rather enter a state of dormancy. They can stay in this state for weeks to one month at a time. They survive on fat stores until they need to find more food and water.

Looking for food

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Areas around your home can be appealing places for skunks to spend winter and also serve as sources of food. Follow these tips to keep skunks from settling into your home this holiday season and beyond.

How to keep skunks away:

1. Keep garbage cans secured and the perimeter of your home clean. Skunks are adaptable omnivores and will dig through your garbage for food, especially in the winter months when other sources are difficult to find. Keeping lids on garbage cans and no loose food sources out will help discourage skunks’ presence.

2. Do not leave pet food out. Skunks will eat dog or cat food if it is left out. If you feed your animals outside, make sure to pick up their food once your pet is done eating, so you don’t inadvertently draw skunks—or other rodents—to your home.

3. Secure fencing and enclosures around decks and other buildings. Make sure there are no access points for skunks to crawl under your deck and that fences and walls of other sheds or outbuildings are secured. If skunks aren’t able to find shelter, they’ll move on to the next spot.

4. Fill any existing holes. Skunks often will den in holes previously dug by foxes or groundhogs. If you find holes in your yard or near your home, pack them with dirt or rocks to prevent skunks from moving in.

5. Clear fallen trees and logs. Another place skunks will den is inside or under fallen trees and logs. Removing large logs from your property will force them to find a den in a more rural or forested area—one that is further away from your home.

6. Cover window wells. Skunks are extremely nearsighted and can easily fall into window wells. Make sure window wells are properly covered to prevent them from falling in.

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A black and white skunk walking along a grassy nature path outdoors. He has his tail up in a warning to the photographer to stay away. Photo taken from a low angle, close to the ground. No people. High resolution color photograph. Horizontal composition.

Don’t remove skunks on your own

If you have spotted a skunk around your property or one has taken residence under your deck or in your yard, trying to remove it on your own could result in some serious consequences.

  • You may get sprayed: When skunks are threatened, they spray musk. That overwhelming, unpleasant, hard-to-get-rid-of odor is what they’re most known for, of course. They have great accuracy and can spray up to 15 feet. Though you might think you can “scare it away,” if you get close enough to do that, you’re likely to get sprayed.
  • It’s against the law: In Ohio, it is illegal to rehome animals at high risk for rabies, which includes skunks, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, opossum, and beavers.

Professional intervention

The only scents that should be filling your home this winter are turkeys roasting, pumpkin pies in the oven, and hot cocoa. If you want to be proactive about keeping skunks away from your home, or need help removing any wild animals from your home, call A-1 Able Pest Doctor at (800)737-8189.