What is it with skunks getting their heads stuck in things?
Skunks frequently get their heads stuck in cups, jars (see a WildCare patient with his head stuck in a jar here!), and especially in narrow-mouthed Yoplait yogurt containers. One of WildCare’s ongoing advocacy issues is to encourage consumers to not buy Yoplait in the cone-shaped cup because of the risk of animals getting the cups stuck on their heads. We also ask consumers to thoroughly rinse all food containers before tossing or recycling to further minimize the risk.
Why does this happen? Skunks are curious animals, and they have a very sensitive sense of smell. A bit of sweet residue at the bottom of a container is irresistible, but they don’t have long tongues, so they push their heads into the container. Skunks also don’t have opposable thumbs, so the action of hooking a digit under the rim of whatever is stuck on your head and pushing it off is impossible for them.
We don’t know what enticed this plump, healthy female skunk to stick her head into the pipe embedded in a cinder block, but it must have smelled amazing. She pushed hard enough that she got to the point where she could no longer back herself back out. She was stuck!
Fortunately rescuers saw her struggling to release her head, and knew to call for help. A Marin Humane officer transported both the skunk and the cinder block to WildCare’s Wildlife Hospital.
Once the skunk and block had been wheeled into the hospital on a cart, it was obvious that extricating the animal wasn’t going to be an easy process. Pulling too hard could fracture the bones of her neck, and our veterinarian was very concerned that the skunk’s airway and breathing were threatened. The skunk’s head had swollen significantly due to the constriction too, which only complicated the process.
To make pulling her free easier, the team lubricated the skunk’s head and neck with lubricating jelly… you can see that process in the video below:
Pulling didn’t work. Pushing gently but firmly from the front with the plunger of a large syringe didn’t work. This was one stuck skunk!
Once it became obvious that gentle manipulation wasn’t going to do the trick, Med Staff made the decision to fully anesthetize the skunk with isoflurane gas. They had already given the skunk a sedative injection to reduce her stress levels, but the risks of further injuring the animal from more aggressive manipulation were too high while she was still conscious.
It took a remarkable amount of strength and gentle traction, but, fortunately, once the skunk was fully anesthetized, Wildlife Technician Jacqueline was able to finally pop her head free. You can watch that in the video at the top of this page.
Veterinarian Dr. Sorem was very pleased to see that swelling to the skunk’s head and neck appeared to be the only injuries. The team placed her in a warm enclosure and provided her with an array of tempting treats to help her recover.
Four days later, exam notes state that the skunk’s neck looked wonderful, her appetite was great, and she was cleared for release!
WildCare staff member Kate took the skunk back to her home territory and released her at dusk. Watch the video below of this beautiful, healthy skunk running free.
How Can You Help A Skunk with Her Head Stuck?
Skunks inspire a, shall we say, varied reaction in people, but they really are wonderful animals! They also make excellent neighbors, running around eating the slugs, snails, insects and rodents you’d prefer not to have in your garden.
Any animal with her head stuck in something needs assistance. If you see an animal with a cup or other container on her head, or if you encounter one stuck in a pipe like this female skunk, call WildCare’s Hotline at 415-456-7283.
NOTE: If you find an animal of any species with his appendage caught in a snap trap (or otherwise constricted) DO NOT remove the trap and release the animal! Bring the animal to WildCare or your local wildlife care center IMMEDIATELY! Constriction injuries take time to manifest, and they are horribly destructive, often causing amputation, even if the injury looks fine initially.
If you see a skunk with something stuck on her head, wear gloves or carry something to protect your hands and approach quietly and calmly. The animal’s hearing and sense of smell will also be affected by the container on her head, so usually you can get very close.
Although there is a possibility you might get sprayed, remember that the skunk will likely blunder into traffic or be attacked by a predator if you don’t assist. You can also often remove whatever is on the animal’s head quickly, and back away before the skunk overcomes her confusion and sprays.
Rescuer Victoria saw this skunk blundering around with an A&W root beer cup stuck on her head, and knew the animal needed help! Fortunately she also knew WildCare’s Living with Wildlife Hotline number 415-456-7283. Our team instructed her in how to keep the skunk contained if necessary, and helped her reach the Marin Humane officer on duty. Fortunately Officer Hernandez was able to come out quickly and remove the cup, but many of these rescues are done by people just like you!