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Are Opossums Dangerous?

My neighbor recently asked me if opossums were dangerous as he noticed his cat was hissing at one in his garden. Opossums look fearsome, and I see them in my garden all the time, so I told him the truth.

Opossums are not aggressive or vicious but will defend themselves against pets.  Opossums may fight back if they feel threatened and will attack to protect their young. They will also play dead, secreting a foul-smelling odor and drooling.

I wanted to make sure that he kept his cat safe, so I wrote this article for anyone else wondering.

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Are Opossums Dangerous?

Opossums are mammals that can grow up to a medium dog’s size. They have claws that can tip open the skin of most animals and have about 50 sharp teeth. 

Opossums will growl, hiss, and open their mouth to show their teeth to ward off predators, but very rarely will they attack or bite.   

The growling and hissing make it seem like the opossum is ready to strike, but these are just a bluff.  Opossums are more afraid of humans than we are of them and pose no threat to most pets.

Opposums have two lines of defence from most predators.  Opossums will either attack, which is rare, or they will play dead to avoid confrontation. 

The opossum has an instinct to act dead when at risk from other animals.  The prone position can last from just a few minutes up to an hour.  Research has shown that this is a reflex action originating in the opossum’s brain and is involuntary. 

Ever wondered why opossums play dead? Find out in this article I wrote

Another trick that the opossum will use as an additional warning while playing dead is to secrete a green fluid from their anal glands.  This repulsive smell is enough to put off most predators or pets as it smells like a dead or rotten animal.

While playing dead, opossums also drool another tactic that gives it an unhealthy appearance. This drool provides the impression that the animal has rabies.

Opossums can and will bite in self-defense if they feel cornered. Opossums are wild animals and should be treated accordingly.  However, this only happens when they believe that they are in an unavoidable fight.  This is their last resort, though.

Opossums have nails that they can use to claw with, but these are easily ripped out. Opossums rarely use these in self-defense.  The hands of an opossum are very delicate, so rather than risking injury they play dead.

Do you know if opossums can swim?  Find out here

Is It Bad To Have An Opossum In Your Yard?

Opossums can be very good for your garden. Opossums will eat nuisance pests such as snails, slugs, rodents, and insects. One of their favorite foods is ticks, and they can eat hundreds in a day, removing them from around your property.

Opossums rarely have rabies, although they can carry fleas and mites. However, they do more good for your garden than bad.

Is It Safe To Touch An Opossum?

Opossums are wild animals and can bite if handled. Opossums can get defensive if they are stroked or picked up. Opossums have 50 sharp teeth that can cause severe pain.

If you see an opossum in the wild it is best not to touch them or get too close. If you need to remove one from your property, then it is best to wear long, thick gloves or get a removal company to help you.

If you get bitten by an opossum it is likely that you may get a bacterial infection, so get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.

Are Opossums Friendly?

Opossums rarely attack and are peaceful animals. Opossums are more likely to play dead than attack. If you see an opossum that appears dead, even with a foul smell, then leave it for a while. You may notice that when you go back an hour later that it was just playing dead.

Opossums will not go out of their way to attack you, although you may hear them growl or hiss at you. However, a cornered wild animal is a dangerous animal so give them plenty of space. If they are carrying their young then opossums will defend them so make sure you do not corner them.

Do Opossums Attack Pets?

If an opossum is threatened or cornered by a cat or dog, then the opossum may attack, but there is more chance of a display of hissing, growling, and showing their teeth.  The opossum may also play dead and will not want to fight given a chance. 

Opossums are scavengers and don’t hunt any large animals to kill or eat.  A cat is much more likely to attack an opossum as the smaller ones can be the size of a rat. Opossums can grow larger than a cat, and an adult may stand its ground more than youngsters when confronted.

If a cat or dog attacks the opossum and the opossum does not play dead or run away, then it might bite back, and in this case, opossums can be dangerous to your dog or cat.  If you have pets, then it may be worth looking into removing opossums from your garden. 

Do Opossums Carry Diseases?

Opossums have been known to carry salmonella, which can cause hospitalizations and death.  Most people, however, do not know that they have caught salmonella and recover without hospitalization or treatment. 

Opossums also carry toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is a foodborne illness within the United States and is a leading cause of death.  Millions of people within the United States carry the parasite, but few have the symptoms due to a good immune system that causes it from developing.  In pregnant women or people with low immune systems, this can have very severe consequences.

Opossums are handy to have in your yard.  Find out why here

Opossums are wild animals and carry several ectoparasites such as fleas, lice, mites, and ticks. 

Due to the opossum’s low body temperature, they generally do not carry the rabies virus as it needs a much higher body temperature. However, the animal does have the potential to carry and transmit the disease. If you get bitten by an opossum, then make sure you are seen by a doctor immediately.   

Opossums have a hard time in the winter.  See how they survive here

Opossum

Are Opossum Droppings Dangerous?

Opossums can carry several diseases.  Opossums are also carriers of a bacterial disease called leptospirosis. Transmitted through opossum urine and feces, leptospirosis starts with flu-like symptoms but can also cause meningitis, liver failure, respiratory complications, and kidney damage. 

It is wise to keep pets vaccinated against leptospirosis.  If any opossum feces or urine is found, it is best to use bleach to clean this up. 

Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease that happens in the intestinal tract of different animals, including opossums. Coccidiosis can be spread through the feces of an opossum.

Are Opossums A Pest?

Opossums are often thought of as pests, but they can be handy to have around.

Opossums eat a variety of food, including slugs, grubs, insects, and ticks.  Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which is harmful to humans and carry other diseases. Opossums eliminate more ticks through their cat-like grooming than any other animal.

Opossums are also good at keeping snakes away. Opossums kill and eat snakes and have a resistance to their venom. Researchers believe that opossums may help us develop an antivenom that could save people from snake bites and against scorpions, plant, and bacterial toxins.  This research originated in the 1940s but was then left until the 1990s to be rediscovered.  The antivenom is effective against the Western Diamondback rattlesnake, among many others.

How To Keep Opossums Away From Your Property?

Due to being scavengers, opossums can be found in many different areas of your property.  They may be found in attics, sheds, under decks, as well as in chicken coops. 

Problems that opossums can cause are stealing pet food, living inside walls, spreading fleas to pets, and leaving feces around the property.  Opossums are nocturnal so become most active at sunset. 

Prevention is the best way to ensure you don’t have opossums around your property.

  • Secure garbage cans
  • Keep pet food inside
  • Remove trash from the garden
  • Seal up any holes to your property or under your deck
  • Remove vegetation and trim trees

For an opossum in the home, a baited trap would need to be set.  Please check your local laws for trapping wildlife and check with the humane society for the best way to trap an opossum.  Please remember to wear gloves when dealing with these animals due to the diseases they carry 

The average lifespan of an opossum is between 2 to 4 years.  Find out more here