Why you should never shoot a skunk with a gun to euthanize it. Their spray is flammable.

This blog entry is for people who have found a severely injured skunk and want to euthanize it humanely in the field. You would think a bullet to the head would be humane. When it comes to skunks, that may not be the case. 
Skunk spray is highly flammable. Below is a segment from Nature’s program “Is that skunk?” He states it is flammable and that is the truth.
If you have a severely injured skunk, he may have sprayed. He could have spray around his anal area, tail, maybe even on his legs. When they are hit by a car or are dying sometimes they spray or it just seeps out of them. If you shoot them with a gun at close range, the spark will ignite the spray. You will instantly see foot tall flames on the areas where there was spray. That would cause the skunk intense pain. Not only that but he may start running into the fields, your house, garage, under your car….not good scenarios. 
The skunk could have also sprayed you. The spark will ignite the spray that is on your skin and clothing. Another reason why this is not a good option.
If you think the skunk has sprayed, please, use another method of euthanasia. A vet can give a shot of pentobarbitol in the peritoneal cavity. If you are in the field, severe and quick blunt force trauma to the head would be the quickest and safest for you. Normally cervical dislocation would be the most humane but if the skunk is alive, he could bite you causing you to have to get the skunk tested for rabies. You may end up needing a round of shots as well, expensive and painful. 
Here in California where I live bats are the most common rabid animal, then skunks, then raccoons. In other parts of the country skunks and raccoons are number one and two. 
And remember, just because you see a skunk out in the day time does not mean it’s rabid. Make sure the animal is exhibiting signs of potential rabies infection before you decide to euthanize it. See below from skunk expert DeDee Walker of http://www.wildskunkrescue.com .

The most important thing is for you to stay safe. Don’t touch bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes with your bare hands. Better yet don’t touch any wild animal with your bare hands. They could bite, scratch or may have infectious disease. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator or animal control officer. Thanks.

“Rabies, the dreaded topic that cannot be ignored.  I advise you to visit the CDC for more technical and in depth information on rabies than what I can give you. http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/rabies  
 However, I won’t leave you empty handed here. 
 Rabies: there are two kinds – aggressive and dumb rabies.  Their symptoms are very much as they sound. 
Aggressive rabies the animal becomes aggressive, attacking without provocation.  Think about skunk behavior for a minute.  Skunks do not normally attack, they are not fighters, they are defenders. Given every oppurtunity a skunk will run away rather than have to defend or fight.  But when they are faced with a barking, charging dog or kids with rocks, etc.  they spray to defend themselves. They do not charge and bite.  So if a situation is a skunk who is attacking, charging and biting without cause then I would advice calling animal control to kill the animal.  
   If a human has been bitten by a skunk always immediately seek medical attention! Do not delay, go to the emergency room. Rabies is almost 100% fatal, do not take chances. If a pet has been bitten then it needs to be quarantined for a minimum of two weeks.  Talk to your vet for advice on this situation. Even if the pet has had their rabies vaccination it may need another one for extra protection. But even then it is possible for the pet to contract the virus.  Yes, it is still possible to contract the virus even if one has been vaccinated.  Seek medical attention of the human or veterinary kind immediately.  Once symptoms occur it is too late. 
   Dumb rabies is when the animal becomes very disoriented, uncaring if approached by pets or humans – meaning there is no reaction to your presence, they may be sleeping in broad daylight out in open spaces. 
This is what brings on the idea that all skunks in the daylight are rabid.  But you have to pay attention to what the skunk is doing!  How it is behaving.  If it is wandering around with its nose to the ground, digging up the yard looking for bugs it is a healthy skunk.  If it is eating from your pet dish or drinking from a water bowl it is a healthy skunk. If it throws its tail up and stomps its feet when it becomes aware of you this is a healthy skunk! 
  If it acts like it is drunk, uncoordinated, uncaring, this is an ill animal. Call animal control for assistance.  Unless you are a trained wildlife rehabilitator with your rabies vaccinations who knows what you are doing I do not recommend trying to handle this animal yourself!  Always call animal control.  
  There are other illness and conditions that can have very similar symptoms as rabies, such as severe dehydration, severe parasite infestation, and distemper to name a few.  But trying to tell the difference is not a safe choice. In the case of distemper it is still probably best to have the animal euthanised as it is very difficult and costly to treat, and you risk spreading it to your other animals, wild and domestic alike.  
   The course of the rabies virus varies per animal.  First of all I must say that not all skunks carry the rabies virus! They have to be infected with it.  I like to use the HIV analogy.  An animal is infected with the virus by being bitten by another animal who is shedding the virus.  The virus can remain harbored inactive within the system for an undetermined amount of time.  It could be as long as 6 months.  To the best of my knowledge there have been no conclusive tests to determine how long the virus can remain dormant.  At some point the virus becomes active, maybe triggered by stress, or another illness perhaps, or severe parasites. 
   Once it becomes active, like HIV becoming AIDS, symptoms begin to appear.  They lose their appetite, they lose coordination and orientation, and as it worsens they lose muscle control, paralyzing them.  It is a central nervous system disease. Their system shuts down.  When they become paralyzed or even partially paralyzed their throats and mouth stop working, they cannot swallow, thus causing their saliva to drool from their mouth. This is what is commonly referred to as “foamimg of the mouth.”  Rabies is also called hydrophobia, meaning afraid of water.  This is another of those early misconceptions.  A rabid animal is not “afraid” of water, it merely cannot drink it because it cannot swallow.   This active stage of rabies virus is known as the shedding stage. 
  It is only during this shedding stage that the virus can be spread to another.  Even if an animal may be carrying the virus, if it is not in the actively shedding stage it cannot be transmitted to another.  That is the difference in rabies and HIV.  It is spread through the saliva glands thus infecting another unfortunate animal when bitten. It is logically spread more by the aggressive kind rather than the dumb by its very nature. The dumb version the animals typically do not bother anything, but rather prefer to be left alone. I do not know what causes it to be one or the other.   I do not beleive that it is commonly spread by scratching, but I cannot say that it is not possible either since saliva may be left on the paws during grooming or eating.  Once the virus starts to shed and symptoms appear the animal will die within 10 days or less in most cases.  
   I have created a simple method of determining possible rabies detection in skunks that I call the Three “A”s of Rabies, it is as follows: 
          The Three A’s of Rabies: 
   Appearance – Is the fur well groomed and healthy looking? Does it have good body posture and walk normally? This is a healthy skunk. 
  Or is the fur unkempt and dirty? Does it appear as if it is drunk, uncoordinated? This could be an ill animal.
   Activity – What is the skunk doing? Is it eating bugs from the yard, or food from your pets dish?  Does it move and react with purpose and attention?  This is a healthy animal. 
  Or is it just sleeping in the middle of the yard, or wandering aimlessly? Does it appear to be injured in the back legs or partially paralyzed? This could be an ill animal.
   Attitude – Is the skunk alert and react by fluffing its tail and stomping its feet?  Does it stand its ground in your presence and run away when you back off?  This is a healthy animal.
   Or does it not care if you or your pet approach it?  Does it attack pets or people unprovoked?  This could be an ill animal.  
   I encourage the spread of this method to help prevent the needless killing of healthy skunks. 
DeDee Walker
Walkin’ Wild Wildlife Rescue
Thank you for saving a skunk!   “

Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates is a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the USDA. Mary Cummins is also a licensed real estate appraiser in Los Angeles, California.

About Mary Cummins Animal Advocates Real Estate Appraiser

Mary Cummins is President of Animal Advocates. She is licensed with the California Department of Fish & Game, USDA and the City of Los Angeles to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife. Cummins speaks to local community groups and students about respecting wildlife and humane wildlife control. She is also a Humane Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator. She has written manuals on small mammal rehabilitation besides numerous articles. She was born and raised in Southern California. She attended Beverly Hills Good Shepherd Catholic School and Beverly Hills High School. Besides being a member of Junior Mensa and on the Dean's list, she was a top ten national swimmer and competed on the men's water polo team. She began college at the age of 15 attending the University of Southern California on scholarship, majoring in Psychology/Sociology. After college Cummins became a licensed real estate agent specializing in income property in Los Angeles. She obtained her real estate appraisal license, real estate brokerage license and currently does real estate consulting, expert witness testimony and review appraisals at Cummins Real Estate Services.
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