Skunks reek of defensive odours, pose a safety threat for pets and humans, wreak havoc in vegetable gardens and, if bitten, can carry rabies. They’re usually gentle creatures that thin rodent populations, but their smell, rummaging behavior and tendency to spray when cornered or threatened turn them into backyard pests. The best way to¬†Get rid of skunks is to remove the lures that attract them: flimsy bird feeders, garbage cans with loose lids, spilled food from pet dishes and even rotting produce. Skunks are also adept diggers and can dig under sheds and porches where they seek shelter.

Skunks tend to be nocturnal, but if the surrounding habitat isn’t supplying enough food or shelter, they may forage during the day as well. This can cause problems for homeowners, who may see mother skunks parade around with their young and smell urine, feces and musky odours from under decks and sheds.

A natural scavenger, skunks scavenge for anything edible including acorns, nuts, seeds, fruit and ripening vegetables. They often raid gardens, compost piles, discarded garbage and open woodpiles in search of these items. If you have a garden, consider covering it with a 3-foot fence to keep out skunks and other critters. Keep in mind, however, that a motivated skunk can dig under a fence; for this reason, consider burying several inches of the fence or sprinkling it with cayenne pepper to act as a deterrent, advises Mengak.

If you spot a den or other signs of skunk activity, try to evict them by making it unpleasant to stay. The odour of vinegar, which is available at most hardware stores, is a natural deterrent for skunks and other household insects, so pour a little on a cotton ball and place it near a suspected den site. Shining a work lamp into the space can scare them off as well, and if you have pesky squirrels, jingling your keys or wearing a strong odour-absorbing sponge, which can be found at many pet shops, can help to repel them as well.

If the skunks continue to hang out under your shed or other sheltered spot, seal it with hardware cloth and secure the edges. This is especially important if you have pets, as skunk urine can be toxic to them and can linger in the soil for a long time. If all else fails, call a nuisance wildlife control specialist to humanely remove the family and prevent future denning. This is not a foolproof method and the skunks are likely to move on when they find a more inviting home, but it will make their lives uncomfortable for a while. A professional will also be able to recommend further measures that you can take to discourage their return, such as plugging holes and openings on the exterior of your home or shed to reduce their hiding places.