On 9/28/16, a 4 month old pet skunk was euthanized in Tampa, Fl and tested for rabies because she had bitten a Veterinary Technician. This is every skunk owner’s greatest fear and the reason why it is so important to choose the right Veterinarian. The owner had two young skunks that were housed in a skunk proofed room and Stompy had crawled under a piece of furniture to sleep. The owner found her the next day weak and dehydrated. Stompy’s regular Veterinarian was not available that day, but she recommended the owner take her baby skunk to Blue Pearl Animal Hospital in Tampa, FL. Blue Pearl also has branches in Brandon, Sarasota, and Clearwater. On their website, it shows they see Avian and Exotics, so it would seem a safe place to take a pet skunk. The Veterinarian who saw the skunk, is listed on the website as emergency care, not exotic care. It is unknown whether this Veterinarian has any experience in caring for pet skunks, and exactly what happened is not known because they took the skunk out of sight of the owner to treat. The owner was notified later that Stompy had bitten the Technician and that they were going to euthanize her so she could be tested for rabies. The owner informed the Veterinarian that the skunk was up to date on all vaccinations, including rabies.
How does this even happen in the 21 century? Someone takes their sick pet for help and the animal is euthanized, not because it cannot be helped, but because of a bite wound from a vaccinated animal to a person whose job is to know how to safely restrain the animal. If this was a dog or cat, you would be reading about it in the newspaper. Skunks are classified as rabies vector species and the law states there is no quarantine period for skunks. The rabies vaccine isn’t recommended because when the worst happens, as in this case, the authorities do not accept the rabies vaccine as protection because all vaccines are off label for skunks. Note, the very same authorities spend our tax dollars by distributing rabies vaccines in the form of consumable bait for wild animals in many states to control rabies. Presumably, someone has verified the efficacy of this before spending quite a bit of money on the program.
So what do wild skunks have to do with this? This skunk was not a wild animal, it was someone’s pet who was legally acquired from a licensed breeder to a permitted owner. The skunk was housed inside and the owner was current on more than the recommended vaccinations. So what went wrong? The skunk’s regular Veterinarian was not available when needed. It is very important to have one or more Veterinarian’s lined up because even the most dedicated Veterinarian needs a day off, a vacation, or gets sick. The chances are high, that sometime in your skunk’s life, he or she will need emergency care, and that care needs to be the same quality your regular Veterinarian provides. Just because a Veterinarian will see skunks or other captive wildlife, doesn’t mean they should. All Veterinarians should be vetted prior to arrival with your skunk. Read how to vet your Veterinarian here.
Veterinarians who see captive wildlife and their Technicians are vaccinated for rabies so a bite should be a moot issue as they are protected, or they may just need a booster. Why take a chance taking your skunk some place where the risk is so much higher? No matter how good the Veterinarian, if they don’t actually have experience treating skunks, it is not in your skunk’s best interests to go there. The wrong drug can kill a skunk, the wrong de-wormer can kill a skunk and the wrong sedative can kill a skunk. They are NOT dogs or cats with stripes!
Veterinarians who see captive wildlife employ Technicians who know how to restrain the animal for the protection of the staff and the animal. This is hugely important! The bite occurred while attempting to give the skunk fluids, not a procedure the average skunk would enjoy. I would never want one of my trusted Veterinarians or a member of their staff hurt. I have known many Veterinary Technicians who could subdue skunks that were large, unsocialized, rescues that even I wouldn’t attempt to handle because they are trained to do so. They are prepared to put the animal directly into a plastic chamber to sedate if necessary. If you are at an office where the Technician is just an assistant that is only used to handling dogs and cats, they won’t know what to do and a bite is likely. Many young skunks bite until properly socialized and even the nicest pet skunk can bite if hurt or in pain. Precautions are mandatory particularly when the animal’s life is at stake!
This tragic event should never have happened. Your skunk’s Veterinarian is supposed to be your partner in keeping your skunk healthy. The Veterinarian should have refused to see the skunk if she did not have trained staff to handle exotic pets. The Veterinarian should be held professionally liable for not warning this new skunk owner that a bite would result in euthanasia to the skunk. They could have had the owner hold the skunk if there was no trained Technician available. Another option would be for the owner to place the skunk in a chamber to be sedated prior to anyone touching the skunk. Animals can’t bite if they are unconscious! There have been cases in Florida when a bite occurred that the owner was given an option to quarantine the skunk at their expense.
This pet deserved the same care other companion animals receive! The level of care she received was far beneath an acceptable level and someone should be held accountable for this skunk losing her life in this manner. The cost to the owner was the life of her beloved pet and a fee to euthanize an animal for a bite that should never have happened.