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San Diego Humane Society

Opossums: Coexisting with Wildlife

There is one species of Opossum in the San Diego area and PW helps about 1000 opossums each year. They do not carry rabies but do foam at the mouth as a natural defense and are not aggressive towards humans or pets. They do not "play" dead but actually faint when they are scared. They are one of the most primitive of mammals called Marsupials and are nocturnal as well as nest builders.

What to do if you find:

Injured Adult Opossum

  • Cover the animal with a towel, and put them in a box or crate while wearing gloves or other protective equipment.
  • Do not feed or give it water.
  • Bring the animal into a licensed rehabilitation center like Project Wildlife as soon as possible.

Injured Baby Opossum

  • Put the animal in a box and keep them warm. If using a heating pad underneath the box, place half of the box on the heat source with the other half left off, as babies can overheat. Give them something to hide under such as a t-shirt or towel. 
  • Place them in a dark, quiet room.
  • Do not feed them or give them water.
  • Do not give them cow's milk.
  • Bring the animal into a licensed rehabilitation center like Project Wildlife as soon as possible.

Food & Water

Do not feed opossums.  They need special diets and their conditions can worsen when fed improperly.

Opossum Found Along The Road

Spring is the time of year when opossums are having their babies (pinkies) and moving around while foraging for food. Opossums are marsupials so they have a pouch the pinkies will go to from the birth canal and will remain there until old enough to leave the pouch. They will cling to the mom for as long as they can, even if the mom has been killed. While they roam around this time of year they are too often are hit by an vehicle.

Instructions 
  • Its very important to inform the caller that has found an opossum along the road to check the pouch and surrounding area for any babies.
  • Even if the mom did not survive, they will often stay near the her leaving them at great risk along the road.
  • Opossum rarely will bite and may foam at the mouth, hiss, play dead (actually they faint) to defend themselves and do not carry rabies.
  • Please inform the caller to place the young in a box with something for them to hide under, keep them warm, dark and quiet.
  • DO NOT FEED them anything, including milk and get them to the Care Center as soon as possible.

When does an opossum need to come to the Project Wildlife Care Center? 

  1. Babies found on their own.
    • If they are 8 inches or larger from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail, they are old enough to be on their own.
    • If it is daytime, contain them until after dark and release them in the same area.
    • If they are smaller and no mother is around
  2. They have been attacked by an animal such as a cat or dog.
  3. The animal is sick. Remember that foaming at the mouth is a natural defense and not disease.
  4. If the animal is bleeding

Coexisting with Opossums:

Opossums are often mistaken for rats, but they are not rodents at all -- they are marsupials like kangaroos and koala bears! They are not aggressive toward humans or pets, but they will attempt to defend themselves if cornered. They are also relatively disease-free, as it is nearly impossible for them to carry rabies, parvovirus or distemper. As omnivores, they are actually an excellent animal to have around your property because they eat rats, mice, snails, slugs and insects, as well as rotten fruit and vegetables -- they can even eat rattlesnakes and ticks!

Opossums are nocturnal, which means they're much more active at night and typically spend most of the day in their dens. However, it is not uncommon to see them wandering around during the day in search of food, shelter or potential mates, depending on the year. They are excellent climbers and use all their hands, feet and tail to grasp.

How to Deter Opossums From Your Yard

Please remember opossums are an excellent mammal to have around because they eat rats, mice, snails, slugs and insects as well as fallen fruit, but if you find yourself in the situation where you need to deter them here are a few tips. 

  • Eliminate all sources of food and water, especially pet food, access to garbage cans, fruit on the ground, grubs in the lawn and excess food falling from the bird feeder.
  • Block holes in fences and trim branches to block access to homes. Some people have these animals living in such places as cavities under their house, decks or wood piles.

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