An Opossum Care Guide: How to Take Care of an Opossum
Knowing how to care for an opossum isn’t all too difficult once you get the hang of it. These fascinating marsupials are thought to be pretty vicious towards humans, but in actual fact, they rarely behave aggressively towards us, though you should probably expect the odd bout of hissing.
The common opossum, not to be confused with its endangered cousins, like the fairy opossum, isn’t exactly the most likely pet. People that keep them tend to have found them abandoned or orphaned. There are certain members of the family, though, like the Brazilian short-tailed, that make for great starter pets. But if you’ve just acquired your own opossum, you’ll want to know what it takes to provide the best possible care and understand a bit more about these animals. Read on for all the info you’ll need.
How Long Do Opossums Live?
The average opossum lifespan differs due to several factors, such as the breed, and whether they’re wild or raised in captivity. For example, the Virginia opossum tends to live for around four years and the common opossum for just two. That being said, any that are raised in captivity stand to live for around four years; the short-tailed opossum as a pet can live slightly longer.
Pet Opossum Behavior & Character
Opossums have a bad rep for being somewhat violent and vicious creatures, particularly the common species, but this isn’t exactly true. Sure, when they feel backed into a corner, they might attack. They might even bite or growl or hiss at anyone that comes close by. The females carry their babies on their backs, after all.
But the truth is, opossums are actually notorious for avoiding conflict wherever possible. So much so, that they’ll play dead for as long as six hours with the hopes of putting off the advances of any predators. Laying stiff with the tongue drooping out of its head is a typical characteristic of the Virginia opossum.
The truth is, they’re actually rather docile animals. It all depends on the species and some are much more domesticable than others, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll endure any volatile behavior from these predominantly wild creatures.
How to Know if Your Opossum is Healthy?
There’s no way of knowing if your opossum has internal issues without taking them to a vet. But there are a number of telltale signs you can look out for to see whether it’s healthy or not and if you need to adjust the care you’re providing. Signs of sickness include:
- Balding of its fur and skin dryness
- Froth coming from the mouth
- Sores and skin discoloration
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Be sure to invest in exotic pet insurance to keep vet costs low.
For anyone who needs to know how to take care of an opossum, having proper housing in place is the first place to start. You’ll need a cage that’s much larger the animal itself in order for it to move around, ideally one with multiple levels so you can separate the areas that it eats and sleeps.
The best cages are made out of solid iron for extra durability and are made up of individual bars. This offers your opossum the chance to climb around the cage and it means you can keep a closer eye on them too. You may want to add a sheet during the day, however, as these animals are typically nocturnal, so constant daylight and people moving around the room might be enough to startle your animal.
For optimum opossum nutrition, make sure you give a diverse diet. They’re omnivorous, so they eat a real mixture of foods when living in the wild. That means a variety of fruit, live bugs like crickets and worms, and lean meat. Should you wish to feed them dairy products, don’t make it a regular thing. This can upset their stomachs and isn’t good as part of a long-term diet.
Purchasing your Opossum
There are numerous online retailers through which you can purchase an opossum, with many taking orders on litters that are soon to be born. Otherwise, you can find short-tailed in various pet shops across America, or with private sellers of exotic animals. Since it’s not actually legal to keep common and Virginia opossums, you probably won’t be able to find anyone that’s actually selling them.
Do Opossums make good pets?
Short-tailed opossums make great pets, given they’re friendly in nature and tend to keep themselves well-groomed and clean. Plus, as they’re omnivores, their diets are easy to maintain. Common opossums, however, are actually illegal to keep unless you have a wildlife rehabilitation permit. Even then, you shouldn’t really keep them for life, unless you’re running a sanctuary. If you find an orphaned opossum, you should look to release it back to the wild after a few months.
How to hold an Opossum?
Firstly, you should never go picking up wild opossums, as you’re putting yourself at risk of disease or at the very least being bitten. The way you hold them depends on the age and size of the animal. The best thing you can do is to avoid putting your hand over its head from the back as this may frighten or threaten it.
- Come from behind and use your hand to scoop up its bum, legs, and tail. Make sure to include the tail as it will wiggle it around until it has something to lean it on
- Place your other hand from its back to its belly, putting your fingers underneath its top legs. Make sure to move slowly as fast movements may frighten them
- When lifting it up, don’t let its claws stick to its bedding or cage
Anyone that owns an opossum should know that there are a number of diseases that they’re opening themselves and other pets up to. Wild opossums especially. They transmit diseases just like other animals: by biting and scratching and through their urine and feces.
Diseases that are caught through an opossum’s waste are the easiest to spread and likely the most dangerous. For example, diseases such as leptospirosis and salmonella are some of the most commonly transmitted. The former can lead to death and salmonella, though in many ways less severe, can cause illness for up to seven days.
Some other serious diseases that can be caught through opossums include:
- Chagas disease