What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is a condition caused by the swelling of any part of the body. Areas commonly affected in pet skunks are the limbs, joints, discs, and internal organs. Inflammation of the skin may occur if the skunk has an allergic reaction, has been bitten, or is injured. So what comes first, inflammation or the inflammatory condition? Inflammation can be a healthy body’s way of responding to an injury or illness. Inflammation occurs when the immune system has identified a problem and is attempting to correct it by sending in special cells that speed healing. For instance, if your skunk is injured, pain or swelling are actually signs that his immune system is working properly to heal the affected body part. A healthy skunk’s body should be able to correctly regulate the intensity of it’s response to the problem.
Sometimes the body is not in optimal health and the immune system over reacts to the problem by not pulling back when the crisis is over. Healthy tissue may be affected by the body’s aggressive defense, possibly causing more damage than the original health issue. An example of this would be a skunk with a herniated disc. Immediately after the disc ruptures, the body starts trying to repair the damage. There is a crucial point where the repair work needs to end. If the body does not shut down the repair work at the correct time, the continued attempts can result in calcium deposits which may possibly fuse the vertebrae. Fused vertebrae are not only extremely painful for the skunk but will likely result in some degree of paralysis.
Chronic inflammation, if not identified and corrected, will lead to more serious health issues as the immune system becomes weaker and less able to defend against illness or disease. Your Veterinarian will be able to diagnose chronic inflammation by doing blood work during your skunk’s annual. Supplements have successfully been used fight chronic inflammation.
Causes of Inflammation
As mentioned earlier, one type of inflammation is the body’s attempt to speed healing of an injury and a common reason for inflammation to be present in skunks. This type of inflammation is not a concern in the healthy skunk. The number one controllable cause of inflammation in pet skunks is diet. It is vital the skunk be fed a species appropriate diet, i.e., as close as possible to what they would eat in the wild. Skunks fed processed pet foods such as kibble will not be as healthy as one fed a species appropriate diet. Kibble damages the skunk’s teeth which were meant to tear flesh, not crush hard foods. Bacteria enters the body via the damaged teeth. Not only are dental problems common in skunks fed kibble, heart disease is also common. All processed foods are inflammatory. Processed foods are defined as food that has been changed from its natural state. This includes foods containing grains including wheat, corn, rice, oats, or any other grains that are not on a skunk’s food chain. It also includes soy based foods which are not recommended for four reasons:
1) most soy products are genetically modified unless organically grown.
2) soy is used to bulk up livestock quickly and skunks rarely need to put on weight.
3) soy protein is less digestible and a poor substitute for animal protein for skunks.
4) skunks have no dietary requirement for carbohydrates.
Aleutian Disease Virus, or ADV, is a mutated parvo virus that causes a varied immune response in skunks. ADV is an example of an extremely inflammatory type of disease. The virus itself does very little damage to the body but causes a huge increase in antibodies called gamma globulins in the blood. These antibodies combine to form plaque-like compounds that are are deposited within the tissues of multiple organs such as the kidneys, liver, bile ducts, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, blood vessels and bladder, resulting in inflammation and will eventually shut down the affected organs. Inflammatory illnesses such as ADV can cause long term chronic inflammation. In 2005, ADV rapidly spread through the pet skunk community. At first, it was discovered during necropsies. Within a short time testing was available for pet skunks. Because each animal’s immune system was affected differently, some skunks exposed to ADV never showed clinical signs, and others were symptomatic and affected in varying degrees, and still others went downhill rapidly. ADV came and went through the skunk community similar to what happened in the ferret community. I believe diet played a huge role in the progression of ADV in skunks. Our one and only ADV positive skunk lived to be 10 years old.
Vaccinations may also contribute to inflammation in pet skunks. There are no vaccines specifically made for skunks. In most cases, a large dog is given the same amount of vaccine as a tiny skunk. This doesn’t mean vaccinations are not needed for your skunk. Current vaccination recommendations for skunks are one shot of a puppy distemper at 20 weeks. Titers are recommended if they can be run by Dr Dodd’s protocol or at Hemopet Lab. If this is not possible, one more canine distemper can be given at age 3 if the animal is healthy. Feline vaccines are not recommended as there are no documented cases of skunks coming down with Feline Panleukopenia. Rabies vaccines are not required for pet skunks and not recommended. They are ‘off label’ and will not protect your skunk if a bite is reported. Annual vaccinations are not recommended. Vaccinosis has been diagnosed in cases where skunks have been given annual, or multiple, combination vaccines.
While there are varied reasons your skunk may have inflammation, a healthy diet and regular visits to the Veterinarian can keep inflammation in check. These two things are the first line of defense against more serious health issues. Both things are within the owner’s control to ensure a long, healthy, life for their pet skunk.