Skunks: Are they Dangerous?

I don’t think it is any great assertion to say already that pretty much every single adult alive, at least in North America, knows what a skunk is and what it can do to you.


I also don’t think it’s any great stretch to say that there is no person on Earth who wants to be subjected to that hideous, gag-inducing odor of skunk spray.

That’s bad enough, it really is, case closed. But aside from the spray, can skunks hurt you? Are skunks actually dangerous?

Skunks aren’t truly dangerous to people. Their nasty spray is bad enough and can cause severe irritation of the eyes and mucous membranes, but this is temporary. It is possible for a skunk to bite you if it is cornered or handled, but this is an extremely rare occurrence.

It turns out that the number one thing that people worry about concerning skunks is pretty much the only thing you’ve got to worry about. Skunks are definitely unique animals, and their attitude about defense is equally unique.

Pretty much all a skunk will try to do in defense is spray, and you’d have to work pretty hard to get one to bite you. Even so, this is a possibility.

Keep reading and I’ll tell you more about skunks and their interactions with people below.

Skunk Overview, Temperament and Habitat

Skunks are a surprisingly common animal in North America. Although usually most active in hours of reduced light, particularly dusk and dawn, some individual skunks do show tendencies to remain active at night or in full daylight.

Most skunks are not gregarious, and tend to live by themselves unless it is a female raising her babies.

And skunks also have a territory, or home range, that they usually inhabit for the vast majority of their lives. For males this range is about 6 six square miles, although larger ranges are not uncommon.

Females tend to have smaller ranges than males. Skunks spend their time wandering their home range looking for food and often digging for it.

But, in any area where skunks are common it is equally common to see them wandering around, including right out into traffic.

Cyclist Meets Family of Skunks

This is because skunks have two things going against them: first, they have terrible eyesight.

They have a great sense of smell, and very good hearing, but horrendous eyesight and are usually completely unaware of anything that is farther away from them than 15 ft or so.

And second, most troubling for us, skunks move through the environment showing very little fear of predators, including people.

This is because skunks have very few predators that will consistently make a pass at them thanks to their secret weapon!

This means it is hardly uncommon to encounter a skunk at close range or even see one heading straight for your house or towards your pets.

Pets which are usually more than eager to investigate the skunk in kind – with disastrous results!

Do Skunks Protect Their Territory?

No. Skunks rarely show any territorial instincts, and are completely content to be left alone if some other animal is moving through their turf.

A skunk’s territory, or home range, is really just an area that it is comfortable in, one that it will inhabit for most of its life.

Do Skunks Act Aggressively Toward Each Other?

Sometimes. Skunks tend to be highly solitary, although females will sometimes den together during cold winter weather.

Skunks might issue challenges or try to run off interlopers, but most notably, skunks will never spray each other: the disgusting malodorant that is their “ace in the hole” weapon is reserved only for predators and genuine threats.

Do Skunks Threaten People?

Yes! Skunks will threaten people, and usually show an intricate defensive display prior to spraying.

Skunks will growl, stomp, hiss, and then elevate their tails in a bold, dramatic warning to any creature that might be foolish enough to push their luck.

If you see a skunk engaging in this behavior, it is time to get as far away as you can as quickly as you can unless you are in the mood for a really rough week!

Have There Been Recorded Skunk Attacks on People?

Yes, many! Dozens and dozens of people get sprayed by skunks each and every year in the United States, and many more get secondary contacts thanks to their pets or animals that either get sprayed themselves or trigger the skunk to spray and are too close to the event.

Skunk bites are not entirely unheard of, but extremely rare except in cases of the skunk being cornered or handled, or in the case of a rabid individual skunk.

What Will Trigger a Skunk Attack on a Person?

Skunks generally don’t want to mess with anyone, and they don’t want you to mess with them.

The one thing that will surely trigger a skunk attack is you being too close to the skunk, and startling it particularly.

That’s really all there is to it. Skunks that are afraid or feel threatened will posture in order to back you off, or sometimes they will spray immediately and ask questions later.

But because skunks have such horrendous eyesight, if you aren’t moving or making noise they might not even know you are there.

There are plenty of videos of skunks coming right up to people on trails and then moving on without spraying.

Just How Strong is a Skunk?

Skunks are not very strong in the grand scheme of the animal kingdom. They are strong enough to do a lot of digging and roam all over the place, and they do have fairly powerful jaws with sharp teeth that could give you a good bite.

Can Skunks Bite?

Yes, they sure can! Skunks tend not to bite, preferring to spray and then run. But if you were to lay hands on a skunk, corner it, or trap it then it is possible that they will bite you.

What Does a Skunk Attack Look Like?

A skunk “attack” is basically a comedy of errors, unless the skunk is rabid. It usually looks something like this: the skunk perceives a threat, or what it thinks is a threat, and then it will begin its elaborate threat display as described above, growling, hissing, stamping the feet, raising the tail, etc.

If you don’t back off immediately, the skunk will spray. Sometimes, a skunk gets startled and is a little quick on the trigger, aiming and spraying right away.

Note that skunks are surprisingly accurate, and can hit targets precisely out to 10 or 12 feet!

After this, the skunk will usually run, although they might hold their ground, depending upon it’s a nasty odor to drive off the attacker.

However, if a skunk is rabid it might be mindlessly aggressive, charging and attempting to bite and scratch.

How Do You Respond to a Skunk Attack?

There’s only one way to respond to a skunk attack, and that is by getting away as quickly as possible and preferably without startling the skunk. Getting sprayed is awful, but you’ll recover eventually.

However, if a skunk is charging you and trying to bite or scratch, you must assume that it is rabid, and should get away as quickly as you can.

If you can’t, shield yourself with any object you have handy and do everything you can to avoid being bitten.

Is There Anything that Works on Skunk Stink?

Let’s get real for a moment. Chances are if you have a bad interaction with a skunk it is going to result in you getting sprayed, not bitten.

When that happens, the following days, and maybe as long as a week or two, are going to be a nightmare of horrendous odors that will haunt you and your home like a ghost.

Is there anything that can be done to truly eliminate skunk smell?

I won’t get too off topic, but basically forget about all of those home remedies you’ve heard of, tomato juice, lemon juice, vinegar and the like.

They don’t work on people, and they don’t work on dogs. You’re very best bet is a commercially produced skunk odor eliminator, or else mix up a blend of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and dish soap.

A quart of hydrogen peroxide to a cup of baking soda and a couple of teaspoons of dish soap will make a paste that is surprisingly effective at eliminating skunk odor, although it will take multiple applications. This works on dogs, too!

Will a Skunk Eat a Person?!

No. Skunks are omnivores, and they do eat animal protein. A skunk isn’t going to attack you with the intention of eating you, although it isn’t out of the question that it might take a few nibbles off of a dead human body.

Can People Catch Diseases from Skunks?

Yes. And most importantly, skunks can carry rabies although they are not prolific carriers of rabies.

However, and a few specific regions skunks are actually the most commonly encountered rabid animal, so keep that in mind.

Rabid skunks are most common in California and a few places throughout the Midwest.

Remember, if you come into contact with a skunk that you think is rabid you must get checked out before the virus can truly take hold.

Seek medical attention immediately if you are bitten by any skunk. Rabies is treatable if caught early, but terminal and invariably fatal in later stages.

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