Skunk owners need to be aware that it is possible to pass on upper respiratory illnesses like a cold or the flu to their pet skunk. The ability of a human to pass along an illness to their pet is called “reverse zoonosis,” Surprisingly, this happens more often than you might think. Depending on the age and health of the skunk, this can range from serious to fatal so you need to promptly take the skunk to a Veterinarian if you think this has happened.
Signs of upper respiratory infections in pet skunks are pretty similar to what humans experience: sniffling, sneezing, coughing, and crusty eyes. Often the skunk will stop eating because taste is affected when they cannot smell properly. Your Veterinarian can swab the secretions and identify bacteria, if present. Generally, they may start the skunk on a broad spectrum antibiotic like Clavamox, but may need to change to a different antibiotic, depending on the results when the lab report for the swab comes back. The sooner you get the skunk to the Veterinarian, the better off he or she will be. Infections can take a heavy toll on the senior skunk and you do not want a simple illness to turn into pneumonia! If it is determined that the illness is viral, other drugs may be prescribed including an antibiotic in the case of a secondary bacterial infection.
Oral antibiotics may be helpful but inhaled antibiotics often work faster and costs surprisingly little. Even if the Veterinarian doesn’t prescribe an inhaled antibiotic, nebulizing saline 3 to 4 times per day will help break up the mucus which will make the skunk more comfortable. You will need a nebulizer or a steam inhaler. If you do not have one, you may be able to borrow one or your Veterinarian can write a prescription for one. They can be purchased online without a prescription. The newer models are small and a lot more quiet than the older models. Many run on batteries. You can use a child’s mask if you have the type of skunk that you can hold. Just place the mask over the skunk’s face. If you do not have a mask, you can use the mouthpiece and hold up it to the skunk’s face. Saline is soothing to inhale and most skunks will not mind the treatment unless you have a noisy nebulizer.
For those who have a skunk that will not allow you to hold it, you can still use a nebulizer. Try using the nebulizer at meal times. Have it ready to go and once you put the skunk’s food down, stay close to make sure the steam is directed properly. Another option is to use a small carrier or crate to put the skunk in, and cover both the carrier and the nebulizer with towels. Some people have used large plastic storage containers to nebulize a skunk. Cut a small hole to insert the part of the nebulizer that emits the steam. Place skunk in the tote with a treat. I do not like this method as it seems to stress an already sick animal. If you choose this method, make sure the skunk is supervised and that air can circulate.
It is very important to remember the following:
1) you must keep a nebulizer scrupulously clean. Inhaling bacteria into the lungs is dangerous and can be fatal.
2) if you are using a prescribed medication, make sure you fully understand the directions before attempting to nebulize it.
3) discuss with your Veterinarian, the pros and cons of nebulizing medicine and the appropriate medication schedule.
4) if you are only giving saline, make sure it is properly prepared. Saline may purchased or there are online tutorials for making your own saline solution with distilled water and sea salt.
5) if you are housing a number of skunks, it is cost effective to have a nebulizer onhand before you need one.
The next time you or someone in your household gets sick, remember the importance of covering noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing. Even if the skunk is not in the room at the time, sooner or later they will be walking on the floor that was sprayed with germs. Prevention is the best form of health care with animals that are as sensitive as pet skunks.