Obesity is still the number one challenge mentioned in speaking with Veterinarians who see pet skunks. So today I would like to take a few minutes to discuss portion sizes for some of the most common foods fed to pet skunks. An obese skunk will not live a long, healthy life and will likely suffer from one or more painful health conditions. Read more about obesity in pet skunks here.
As mentioned previously, skunks in the wild need small portions of nutrient dense foods. Pet skunks need the same, from foods that are nutritionally similar to what their wild cousins would be getting. I often get calls from concerned owners who know their skunk is too heavy, but don’t understand why. Skunks in the wild do not have access to processed foods or very many simple carbohydrates other than wild berries, limited fruit and their favorite, wild honey. Their diet is primarily insects and insect larvae supplemented with eggs from ground laying birds and left overs from larger predators.
Skunks have been kept as pets for a while, but there has not been enough time pass for evolutionary changes in diet from their ancestral diet. This means they have not evolved into an animal that can burn carbohydrates as fuel like humans do. When skunks are fed a diet high in carbohydrates, their body stores the carbs as fat. We know this is true for several reasons. One, a wild skunk’s diet is at least 85% insects and larvae. In the fall, there are less insects available and more foods higher in carbohydrates like nuts, and berries or other fruits. The wild skunk intuitively knows to eat the higher carbohydrate foods so it can bulk up for winter. Their very life may depend on how much fat they have to protect them from the cold in northern states.
Reason two, skunks do not secrete amylase in their mouth like humans and other animals who were intended to consume carbohydrates. Amylase is needed to start the digestive process of simple carbohydrates. If skunks are fed diets high in carbohydrates, this puts a strain on the pancreas to produce more amylase than it would normally need for a species appropriate diet. Eventually this can lead to insulin resistance, diabetes, weight gain and other inflammatory conditions.
Since a wild skunk’s primary food source is insects and their larvae, it is recommended that a minimum of 50% of the total calories fed to pet skunks should be from a variety of feeder insects. Insects contain mostly protein and fat.
The exoskeletons of insects are made of chitin, a modified composite, carbohydrate. The digestibility of chitin in mammals ranges from 2-20%. In animals that produce chitinase, an enzyme to break down the chitin, the digestibility is higher. In those that do not produce chitinase, the digestibility is lower and the chitin would be processed similar to fiber.
As a general rule, omnivores like the striped skunk should consume 30-40% protein, 30-40% fat and 20-25% carbohydrates. The upper end is used for young, active skunks and the lower end is used for senior skunks. Percentages are based on calories consumed, NOT volume of food! The carbohydrates should be from unprocessed, or minimally processed plant matter. You can easily reach that by giving nuts as treats or incorporating small amounts of fresh mushrooms, sprouts or soaks.
Below are suggested pet skunk portion sizes for an average sized skunk, 7 to 8 pounds, fed twice daily, that is not obese. This is for the average size male and large size female. Junior skunks, depending on size, usually get more frequent meals than twice per day. Small skunks should get slightly smaller portions. A large male or very active skunk will need 25% more than shown. When feeding a kit, make sure you start small and feel their belly after they eat. The belly should not feel bloated! Kits need at least 5 small meals per day, evenly spaced.
Keep in mind that a large skunk has a stomach about the size of a Kennedy half dollar. If you are giving a larger amount of food by volume, the stomach will be bloated. If you were to view an x-ray of a skunk that is overfed, you would see pockets of gas and the overfilled stomach pressing against other organs. The discomfort can cause behavior issues in some skunks.
Portion Sizes for Skunk Proteins
Since skunks are scavengers, it is advised to rotate the protein sources. Each protein item is a separate meal. The plant foods are portion sizes as part of a larger meal. It is not advised to mix the protein meal with the plant meal as the foods digest at different rates.
Stomp (Chicken, Duck or Turkey)-1/4 cup per day, split into 2 meals or 1/8 of a cup per meal. Older skunks should get less, larger or high energy skunks, should get slightly more.
Feeder insects-dried mealworms, 1 Tablespoon; live super worms, 8 to 12 depending on size; live crickets, 10 to 12; silk worms, wax worms, butter worms or horn worms, 6 to 10 depending on the size.
Chicken necks-one 2 to 3 inch piece.
Chicken hearts or gizzards-3 to 4 pieces total depending on size.
Chicken foot-1 is a meal.
Turkey necks-slice into pieces 1 inch wide, one piece is a meal.
Quail Eggs-3 are a meal.
Chicken Eggs-no more than half. Quail Eggs are a better choice as the shell makes it a balanced food.
Fish-1 to 1 1/2 sardines; salmon, 1 heaping tablespoon; squid, 1 heaping tablespoon; smelt, 1 small.
Marrow bone-1 is a meal.
Feeder Mice or Chicks-Pinkies, 1 to 3; Fuzzies, 1 to 2, Chicks, 1 to 2.
Portion Sizes of Plant Foods
Nuts raw Pecans & Walnuts– 1 to 2 halves as part of a meal.
Nuts raw Almonds, Hazelnuts, Cashews– 2 to 3 whole as part of a meal.
Nuts raw Brazil-no more than 1/2 per day as a snack or part of a meal. (High in selenium.)
Pumpkin seeds raw, hulled-1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon as part of a meal.
Sunflower seeds raw, hulled-1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon as part of a meal.
Hemp seeds raw-1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon as part of a meal.
Sprouts-about an 1/8 of a cup as part of a meal.
Wheatgrass– a pinch. Skunks generally chew it but don’t swallow.
Soaks-chick peas, adzuki beans, lentils soaked over night and sprouted for 12 to 24 hours until a tiny tail appears, 1 to 2 tablespoons as part of a meal.
Mushrooms– button, crimini, oyster, enoki, shiitake or other fresh, store bought, mushrooms only, 2 small or 1 medium as part of a meal.
Coconut oil or Extra Virgin Olive oil– 1/2 teaspoon over the sprouts, reduce portion of hemp or nuts. Do not use if skunk’s lipase reading is above normal range.
Buckwheat or Quinoa-2 tablespoons of one or the other as part of a meal. Note: neither are grains, buckwheat is a fruit seed that is related to rhubarb and sorrel. Quinoa is a seed that comes from a plant called goosefoot and is related to spinach and beets. It is preferable to sprout them. If that is not possible, they can be cooked.
A sample of a balanced plant meal would be a serving of sprouts topped with hemp seeds and nuts. Obviously I have not listed every appropriate food for the pet skunk, just some of the most common foods fed. I did not include dairy products as they worsen the calcium:magnesium ratio. If you choose to feed dairy, you will need to add foods high in magnesium to counter balance this or it can result in MBD or other health issues like calcified discs and heart valves. I only use a teaspoon of cottage cheese or yogurt when de-worming as the looser stool makes prolapsing less likely. Dog and cat kibble is not listed as it is not recommended to feed. Grains are not listed as they are inflammatory and not recommended.