With baby season only a few months away and people deciding whether or not they want to put a deposit down on a baby skunk, I want to talk about one of what I consider the "best kept secrets" of skunk ownership. Their ability to be litter trained. I talk to people when I am out with my skunk and when they ask about my skunk's restroom habits I always gloss over them with "they're litter trained" or "they use puppy pads" and move on. There is SO much more to skunk potty training than that, and it can become a disaster if you aren't prepared for it.
A bit of background to explain this: I am an anosmic. I have no sense of smell at all. I was born that way and doctors have told me that there's no way to bring it back. I'm smell blind. This fact of my everyday life makes it twice as hard to keep my house clean, since I have chosen to keep animals who hoard poop. I don't believe skunks hoard poop on purpose. I think as babies they don't know any better, and as adults they are either angry or lazy. But it happens, and far more than a lot of us like to admit. I don't know many skunk owners who don't have at least one story of finding a poop hoard somewhere their skunk had designated as a den. This is mine:
Many years ago while I was in college I lived in a small two bedroom efficiency. The rooms had no doors, the kitchen was a tiny corner of the living room, and the couch took up most of the extra space. My friends and I would hang out on the couch watching TV or playing video games. I had purchased my first skunk, and at the time there was not the dearth of online knowledge about them that there is now. I was learning on my own and with the help of my one friend who had a pet skunk. One of the first things I had to tackle was potty training. Thankfully, I lived in a house that was fully tiled floors, so I was able to make a few mistakes (and so was the skunk) while working on this.
After a few weeks of potty training I was pleased to noticed that my skunk was mostly using the bathroom in the litterbox I had placed. At least I had stopped finding poop in random corners. (Skunks are naturally drawn to corners and back into them to poop) A week or so after I was patting myself on the back saying "that wasn't so hard" my friends started remarking that my house has a specific "eau de toilette" going on about it. We started searching for the source, my friends, champs the lot of them, helping me sniff different rooms. While we had found that it was coming from somewhere in the livingroom/kitchen area, we found no source, and so I determined that I might just have to clean my litterbox twice a day instead of once. A few days later and my friends are informing me that the smell is worse, not better. We search all around again. Nothing.
This went on long enough that I legitimately started thinking my friends were messing with me. I had moved furniture, checked places the skunk could never reach, adjusted everything, and still found nothing. Sitting on the couch and pondering the problem with a friend of mine we noticed the skunk sneak out from underneath it right between our legs. Once again we pulled the couch from the wall and saw nothing. On a whim we tilted the entire couch. My sweet bundle of joy, who I thought learned to use the bathroom so well, had stolen shirts and socks and made a nest inside the lining of my couch. Comfortable enough in there not to want to leave, she designated one corner of the inside of my couch as "bathroom" and had FILLED it with poop. We tore the entire lining off of the couch bottom and scrubbed it clean. Then, to avoid similar issues, we removed the legs from the couch and placed it straight on the ground. There was no way for PhiPhi to go under the couch anymore.
This made my skunk angry enough that she pooped EVERYWHERE again. She stopped using the restroom at all and pooped in corners, in the middle of the floor, and even once, in my shoe. An angry skunk, even a well trained one, will poop anywhere to get their point across. My house was a minefield. I had to confine my skunk to the bathroom (the only room in the house with a door) and start potty training her from scratch. Finally the training stuck and she became her normal self again. I, however, have never forgotten the lesson that phiphi started and other skunks have continued: Potty training a skunk is not as simple as you think.
Some lessons I have learned though the years about potty training:
- If your skunk is not using the litterbox, try placing it where they are using the restroom.
- If your skunk then moves their restroom spot, try a different substrate.
- Feline Pine
- Puppy Potty Pads
- Corncob litters
- Shredded paper bedding
- DO NOT use litter with crystals or chemicals, skunks wipe themselves when done and it's not healthy for them to get these stuck in their butts.
- If your skunk is wiping their butt next to the litterbox, try placing a towel or easily washable rug/pad beneath the litterbox for them.
- If using puppy potty pads, try a holder with walls, like the one pictured. This is the system I have had the most success with for the most skunks.
- If your skunk uses the litterbox when close, but refuses to walk across the house to it, you may need more than one litterbox.
- Clean your litterbox often. My skunks refuse to use a dirty litterbox, so we change potty pads at both mealtimes.
- Some skunks sleep/play in their litterboxes, I find a litterbox with a grate over it stops this behaviour.
- Block hidey holes you don't want them in, such as under the couch and under the bed, to avoid them deciding these are their restrooms.
- In a house with wood floors, if your skunk sometimes misses the box, try putting clear contact paper over the corner your skunk pees in, this will protect the wood.
Wrapping up my crappy (haha) story, skunks CAN be potty trained, but it takes a lot of work and sometimes re-training to get them to use the restroom as expected. They are closer to a puppy than a kitten in this regard and will not automatically poop in the box you gave them. Some skunks are cleaner and easier than others, but if you live in a house of pristine white carpets, a skunk will need work before you can set them loose without supervision. If you are looking for an animal who never misses the litterbox, a skunk is probably not for you.