How to Tell If a Skunk Has Rabies

By John Lindell

Skunks are infamous for the odor of the spray they produce to ward off danger. However, as unpleasant as their odor might be, it is preferable to something else that skunks have the ability to transmit: rabies. Next to raccoons, skunks are the second-leading carrier of rabies among North American mammals. In Nebraska, for example, in 2006 some 44 percent of all positive results for rabies among the animals tested were skunks. Facts such as these make it paramount for people to realize what signs to look for in a rabid skunk.

A typical healthy skunk will not allow you to approach it. Skunks are fond of garbage, beetle larvae and grubs, bringing them into your yard at night to look for a meal in the trash and in stumps and logs on your property. Nevertheless, a skunk will run for safety when confronted. A skunk with rabies can lose its fear of people and exhibit aggressive behavior.

A skunk you see during daylight hours has the potential to be rabid. Skunks are nocturnal creatures, venturing forth after dark to look for food. During the day, they sleep in their dens. A skunk walking around in broad daylight is an unnatural sight and probably a sign that the animal has the disease.

Look for signs of ataxia in a skunk to help determine if it has rabies. This medical term means the skunk has lost control of voluntary movements such as the ability to walk in a coordinated manner. Watch for drooling and excess saliva, which is a result of the throat and chewing muscles undergoing paralysis from the rabies virus.

Watch for aggressive behavior from a skunk. Skunks will actively seek out and try to attack kittens and puppies in some instances when suffering from rabies, according to the "Merck Veterinary Manual" website. Biologists apply the term "furious rabies" to a skunk that has obvious aggressive tendencies toward other animals and people.

Note any odd behavior in a skunk that you can see, such as it swallowing things like stones or sticks. This symptom is one that all animals, skunks included, might exhibit as the rabies progresses.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.