Pet Skunk Blood Work

Blood work should be done on your skunk’s annual wellness exam, and at other times when the Veterinarian needs it for either diagnostic reasons, or preceding surgery. Blood work and x-rays are your Veterinarian’s most often used tools in diagnosing an illness or injury of your skunk.  You should expect to have this done prior to the neuter or spay of your kit, and then annually.  The senior skunk (6 and older), may require blood work more often.

You may be wondering about how the ranges were established. The International Species Information System is the largest global network of zoological interests in the world with more than 20,000 employees of zoos, aquariums and other organizations in almost 80 countries. They establish ranges by taking a representative sample of the species and provide those blood chemistry ranges to laboratories who process the samples that your Veterinarian submits for analysis.

A full blood panel should include the following:
1) Complete Blood Count (CBC): A CBC is the measure of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The CBC can be used to diagnose an infection, anemia, low platelet count, and bone marrow disease. The Eosinophil reading for a skunk is particularly helpful in determining whether the skunk has parasites. A reading over 3, means the skunk needs to be de-wormed.  Eosinophils may increase if the skunk has an allergy, but in my experience, it rises due to parasite infestation.
2) Chemistry panel: The minor chemistry panel provides information on kidney and liver values, protein levels, and blood sugar. The major chemistry panel also includes those values, with additional information regarding liver values, electrolytes, calcium, and phosphorus. This is done to check the organ functions of the liver, kidneys, adrenals, pancreas, muscles, stomach etc.
3) Anything additional your Veterinarian feels is necessary to help diagnose or rule out a suspected illness.

Blood work can also be used to verify the skunk’s diet is working for them.  Skunks on a low protein diet, in the absence of kidney or liver disease or other illness,  will have BUN, Blood Urea Nitrogen, readings that are low, or toward the lower range of normal. They will usually have Amylase readings that are high, or the higher range of normal reflecting foods fed containing carbohydrates that are not part of their food chain. In severe cases, the Cholesterol and or Triglycerides will rise.  While certain illnesses can also cause this, an experienced Veterinarian will know how to rule out a medical issue.  Dehydration can throw off blood values, so make sure your skunk is properly hydrated, and remember that most tests will require fasting for 12 hours prior to the blood draw.

Skunks fed the high protein, species appropriate diet that is recommended, will have BUN readings that are the higher range of normal to slightly above normal range. In the absence of kidney or liver disease or other illness, this is actually optimal.  Amylase should be under be under 230 in the absence of inflammation, Cholesterol and Triglycerides should be in the low to mid range and Lipase should not be too far over the normal range. The Lipase range of 0 to 45, is widely considered too low in the striped skunk. Lipase is usually not a problem unless it is several times higher. Skunks who are fed inappropriate fats (processed foods) will always have high Lipase readings.  Skunks fed species appropriate foods, even those naturally high in fats like feeder insects and nuts, usually have lower readings.

Magnesium is a very important mineral and skunks require a calcium:magnesium ratio that is closer to 1:1 than the 2:1 humans use for reference. A species appropriate diet is high in magnesium. Generally the low protein diet is not, and also contributes to an alkaline system that makes calcium less accessible to the body.  This often results in Metabolic Bone Disease, or MBD in skunks.  MBD has crippled and killed many pet skunks. Owners are horrified when they realize it was caused by an improper diet.  While blood work is not an accurate way to diagnose MBD because the body will pull calcium from the bones or teeth to function, your Veterinarian will get information from the levels of minerals in the blood panel. Skunks with low Potassium, or high Calcium and low Phosphorus, in the absence of other illness, are probably not getting enough magnesium.  The diet should be changed to include high magnesium foods like feeder insects.  Hemp seeds and almonds are also good sources of magnesium. In the wild, skunks have access to water that contains algae which contains magnesium. A food grade supplement like PetSpan may benefit the skunk who requires additional magnesium.  Magnesium supplements are not really recommended due to the difficultly in balancing with other minerals.  Skunks who are given calcium supplements to offset a low protein or low bio available diet, will suffer the most health issues.  Skunks should never be given calcium supplements except under the specific instruction of a Veterinarian, who is monitoring usage with blood work and x-rays, for the shortest amount of time to achieve a goal.  MBD can be reversed if diagnosed early and dietary changes are made.

I have posted the current blood chemistry values for striped skunks here. The page can be found under Resources and there is link to print a pdf copy if needed.

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