Can Skunks Climb Fences? How Skunks Get Into Fenced-Off Areas

by | Animals

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If you’ve seen a skunk walking around or digging in your garden, you’re probably wondering how he got in. Did he really climb the fence?  Well…

Most skunks can climb fences that are up to 6 feet high. One species, the spotted skunk, is an excellent fence climber, but other skunk species struggle to climb up fences. Fences that are made of wire mesh, chain link, or wood are easier for all skunks to climb than fences with smooth surfaces.

But did you know that skunks don’t only climb over fences? They have a few tactics up their sleeve to get into your fenced yard.

It’s good to know how skunks are getting in and why they want to, because the answers might just surprise you…

How skunks get into a fenced area

Photo of skunks in a forest

Skunks have three ways of getting into a fenced area: over, under, or through.

Climbing over the fence

If skunks really want to make the effort, most can climb and pull their way up and over a fence that is up to 6 feet high. But most skunks won’t even try to climb a fence if it is higher than 18 inches.

This is because climbing a fence is a lot of work for most skunks!

Watch as these three baby skunks struggle their way up a low wire enclosure:

Skunks don’t jump so they have to use their snout and claws to make their way over a fence. This doesn’t work if the fence is made from a smooth material, like metal fence panels or concrete pavers. But skunks can use their snout and climb their way over wood, wire mesh, or chain link fences when they are determined to do so.

If there is an object resting against your fence or very close to your fence, then a skunk might climb up that object to get over the fence.

The spotted skunk can even climb into a nearby tree and cross your fence by walking along any tree branch that reaches over your fence.

Photo of a spotted skunk

Eastern spotted skunks live in the eastern parts of the US, Canada, and Mexico. These small skunks are rare to see and their populations are getting smaller and smaller. Their conservation status is vulnerable.

The spotted skunk is the best fence climber of all skunks and is often more likely to choose to climb over a fence than any other skunk. Spotted skunks are lighter, faster, and more active than other skunks, and they have pads under their feet that help them climb trees and fences quite easily.

Digging under a fence

Photo of a striped skunk
Striped skunks are found across most of North America. These skunks have stocky bodies and long nails for digging.
Source: Photo by Bryan Padron

Skunks are excellent diggers and most of them are much more likely to dig under a fence than climb over it.

Skunks have short, strong legs and very long nails. These nails and powerful legs help skunks dig their way under fences that are up to 2 feet underground.

The striped, hooded, and hog-nosed skunks are all poor climbers and would much rather dig their way under a fence than try to climb over a fence.

Photo of a hooded skunk
Hooded skunks are seen throughout the southwestern United States.

Getting through a fence

Skunks can squeeze through fairly small holes in fences. In fact, the average adult skunk can fit through a hole in a fence that is 4 to 6 inches wide. Smaller species, young skunks and baby skunks can fit through even smaller holes in fences.

To get an idea of how wide a 4-inch hole is, open your hand and look at your palm. The area from the bottom of your palm to just below your knuckles is around 4 inches.

If there’s a hole in your fence that’s 3 inches or wider, skunks might be able to get through your fence without having to climb over or dig under it.

Photo of an American hog-nosed skunk
American hog-nosed skunks are found in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. These skunks have a thick white stripe from their head to the end of their tail, with a tail that is all white. They get their name from their nose, which looks like the nose of a small hog.
Source: Photo by NPS – (Archive link), Public Domain

Why do skunks climb fences?

Skunks sleep all day and move around at night. This is when they explore and may climb fences in search of food and shelter.

Skunks love to eat many garden pests such as yellowjacket wasp nests, grasshoppers, mice, voles, weevils, slugs, spiders, lawn grubs, hornworms, cutworms, and Japanese beetles. In fact, skunks act as a natural pest control in your backyard.

Once skunks have found a good source of food in your yard, they will often come back night after night to enjoy the tasty treats there.

But skunks make holes in the lawn when digging up these grubs and slugs. The holes are usually 2 inches wide and 4 inches deep. Though the holes are not a nice sight to see in the morning, they are good for your lawn – if left alone, slugs and grubs will turn your grass brown and destroy many plants in your garden.

Skunks may also snack on the grass, leaves, vegetables, and fruits, such as tomato plants, in your garden while visiting.

Sometimes skunks move into a house or property, making their nest and having little skunk babies under the porch or deck, in crawl spaces, in the basement, or in the shed. If you find a skunk in your yard in spring or early summer, from May to July, the skunk might have babies on your property and should not be removed.

Holes in the lawn and skunk nests are some of the reasons why people want to stop skunks from climbing the fence.

How to stop skunks from getting into your yard

Here’s a list of things you can try to stop skunks from climbing your fence, digging under it, or getting through it.

Many gardeners report that these tips and tricks have kept skunks out of their yards, but you might need to try a few methods to see what works best for you and your local skunks.

  • Build or install a fence that’s higher than 6 feet.
  • Get a motion-activated floodlight (<- Amazon link) that’s pointed at your fence and switches on if skunks arrive. Skunks are nocturnal and like the dark, and they stay away from very bright lights that hurt their eyes.
  • Get motion-activated sprinklers (Amazon link) that spray skunks with water if they come near your fence.
  • Get solar-powered red eye lights (Amazon link) that turn on at night automatically. Skunks will think these eyes belong to predators and stay away from your fence.
  • Put smooth sheet metal along the bottom of your fence. Make sure the metal sheeting is 1 to 2 feet high, to stop even the most dedicated climbers from making their way up.
  • Trim tree branches that are near to your fence or that run over your fence.
  • Don’t have any objects near to or against your fence, to stop skunks from climbing onto these objects and over the fence.
  • Install electric fencing along the top of your fence that gives skunks a light shock when they try to climb over it.
  • Spray skunk repellant (Amazon link) along your fence. These repellants have chemicals in them with smells that skunks don’t like to go near to, such as ammonia or predator urine.
  • Use treated hardwood for wooden fences, to stop skunks from biting through the fence.
  • Install a fence that’s made from a smooth material, such as PVC privacy fencing or concrete sleepers.
  • Close any holes or gaps in the fence with concrete, wood, or sheet metal.
  • Make sure your fence extends at least 3 feet underground, so skunks can’t dig their way under it.
  • Dig a one-by-one foot trench along the perimeter of your fence. Secure wire mesh or poultry netting (Amazon link) in the hole, along the fence side and the bottom of the trench. Fill the trench with dirt.
  • Put concrete paving around the border of your fence, to stop skunks from burrowing under it and getting in.

There are many more tips and tricks on how to humanely deal with skunks on your property here: from Mass Audubon and the Wildlife Rescue League.

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