Are Skunks Dangerous to Humans or Pets?

skunk lifting tail
Skunks are generally not dangerous to humans or pets. They’re shy and docile creatures, only spraying their foul odor if you get too close. However, there are a few exceptions. With four different skunk species and dozens of subspecies, it’s important to know which ones to watch out for and which ones you’re generally safe around. 

Read on to learn more about skunk behavior, bites, and what to do if you see one.

Are Skunks Aggressive to Humans?

No. Skunks have a timid temperament and don’t instigate attacks without reason. Even if they spot a person, their first instinct isn’t to attack—it’s to flee, back away in a corner, or emit their foul musk.

You should only be concerned by skunks if they exhibit signs of rabies or if they feel boxed in. More often than not, however, these creatures’ primary means of defense is to spray their victims.

baby skunk

Are Skunks Aggressive to Dogs?

Skunks and dogs aren’t the best comrades, but they can tolerate each other. Skunks typically won’t show aggression to dogs unless the dog attacks them.

When a dog barks, snarls, or approaches a skunk, the skunk’s primary instinct is to douse it with its offensive odor first. If the dog keeps bothering or attacking it, the skunk may bite the dog to defend itself.

While humans only need to wash the skunk odor off with soap and water, dogs don’t get off the hook so easily. Skunk liquid contains harmful toxins that can cause diarrhea and vomiting in dogs. 

In some cases, skunk musk in the eye can cause temporary blindness to dogs and other wild animals. If your dog gets sprayed, you’ll need to take them to the vet for care.

pug in the corner sprayed by skunk

What to Do if a Skunk Sees You?

When you see a skunk, move out of its way. Skunks, like dogs, can react in a variety of ways depending on their temperament and species. It’s best to move out of their sight and leave skunks alone to avoid an encounter.

Some skunks are skittish and immediately flee when they see a person, while others are calmer and observe you from a distance, especially if the area is rich in “delicious” grubs. If a skunk sees you and doesn’t run away, it’s likely trying to determine whether or not you’re a threat.

The best thing to do when they spot you is to slowly back away and give the skunk plenty of space. They will likely wander off as soon as you’re out of range—typically about 10 feet away. If a skunk is found in a suburban area, contact wildlife removal or animal control to deal with the pest.

skunk in medium grass

Will a Skunk Chase You?

Skunks don’t typically chase people or animals, as they are timid creatures who would rather avoid confrontation. However, an exception would be if the skunk has rabies.

Skunks with rabies are more vicious than normal skunks. They are more likely to exhibit abnormal behavior and physically attack anyone they see, including predators and human beings. Rabid skunks are more likely to give chase than normal, healthy skunks.

To tell apart a rabid skunk from a healthy skunk, watch out for the following signs:

  • Foamy, frothy mouth
  • Aggressiveness
  • Seizures
  • Aversion to water

Rabid skunks aren’t rare, either. In one study, out of all animals tested for having a positive rabies test, 24.6% of them are skunks. If you see a skunk behaving erratically, keeping your distance and calling animal control is best.

skunk wandering through patches of grass and pink flowers

Will a Skunk Bite You?

Be warned that some skunks may bite humans if they feel their life is at risk. But more often than not, they rely on their primary mechanism to ward off potential predators.

Instead of biting, some skunks may stomp their feet and make distinct vocalizations to repel other creatures. If they’re moderately threatened, they may raise their tail and prepare to use their primary defense mechanism and spray their signature skunk spray.

Skunks may claw or bite the aggressor when they feel their life is at risk.

Do Skunks Carry Diseases?

Aside from their distasteful scent, skunks are also a vector for many diseases. And if you’ve ever asked, “do skunks have rabies,” the answer would be yes.

These diseases may be transmitted to humans and other animals if they are bitten or scratched by an infected skunk. It’s important to highlight that skunks do not spread rabies through their spray. Skunks can only transmit rabies through bites from their mouth into an open wound.

Rabies is just one of the diseases that skunks are known to carry. Other notable illnesses they might have include:

  • Distemper
  • Parvovirus
  • Leptospirosis
  • Giardiasis 
  • Salmonellosis

Besides those diseases, skunks can be infested with fleas, mites, and ticks. If you have a skunk frequenting your lawn or porch, let an expert skunk removal specialists take care of it to avoid contamination.

two skunks foraging

Do Skunks Run Away After They Spray?

Skunks spray to warn predators that they are about to be attacked. The spray confuses and immobilizes the attacker, giving the skunk time to escape. Immediately after spraying, the skunk will usually run away to safety.

Fun fact: Skunks can only spray 5 to 8 times a day before they’d need to go into “recharge” mode. However, to regain peak odor, a Skunk needs 10 days of abstinence. Skunks are the most vulnerable during this period.

skunk wandering through a frozen river trench

What to Do if You See a Skunk?

Like raccoons, skunks are found in all 50 states, so there’s a high probability you’ll find one in the wild or any rural, secluded area.

If you encounter a skunk in the wild or at home:

  • keep your distance
  • avoid any sudden movements
  • avoid frightening the skunk
  • back away slowly and quietly

Keep at least 10 feet of distance between you and the skunk before you turn your back.

Do not approach the skunk unless you want to get hit by its foul odor. One way to tell that it’s about to spray is if it raises its tail. Once out of sight, contact pest or animal control to help you with your skunk problem.

Joshua Munoz

Most people’s first instinct when they see a wild skunk is to back away, but not Joshua. He holds a near-obsessive fascination with skunks and their behavior. Although Joshua has never been closer than five feet to a skunk, he has spent countless hours researching them. He knows almost everything there is to know about skunks, from their diet and habitat, to how to humanely trap them. Joshua’s interest in skunks is rooted in his love of animal biology. He fondly remembers topping his finals in biology class while in university. Now, as a writer, he fuses passion and expertise into one by sharing his knowledge about the animal kingdom with others.

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