I walked out of my house the other day and saw an Opossum sticking his head out of the trash can. I was unsure if these were dangerous or not, so I did some research.
Opossums are not generally aggressive or vicious but have been known to attack humans. Opossums will fight back if they have to defend themselves and will attack to protect their young.
I wanted to learn more about how dangerous opossums are, and if you would like to know, there is some great information below.
Are Opossums Dangerous To Humans?
Opossums can grow into medium-sized dogs with claws that can open the most robust skins. They also have about 50 sharp teeth.
Opossums will growl, hiss, and open their mouth showing their teeth to ward off predators and humans, but very rarely will they attack or bite.
The growling and hissing can seem like the opossum is ready to strike or pounce, but the sounds are nothing more than a bluff. Opossums are much more afraid of humans than we are of them.
When confronted by a human, there are two lines of defense for an opossum. They will rarely attack, or they will play dead to avoid confrontation.
The opossum has the instinct to act dead when standing against humans or other animals. The prone position can last up to an hour from just a few minutes. Research has shown that this reflex action originates in the opossum’s brain.
Another trick the opossum will use as an additional warning while playing dead is that they secrete a green fluid from its anal glands. This repulsive smell will drive away humans and predators and smells like a rotten or dead animal.
Another tactic the opossum uses to its advantage is drooling when playing dead. This drool gives the impression that the animal has rabies.
It has to be advised that opossums can and will bite in self-defense when cornered by an attacker. This only happens when the animal believes they are in an unavoidable fight. Fighting would be their last resort, however.
Opossums have nails that they can claw with but are easily ripped out, so it is doubtful that they will use them, even in self-defense. The hands of an opossum are very delicate, so they play dead rather than risking their hands.
Do Opossums Carry Fatal Diseases?
Opossums have been known to transmit salmonella, and this bacterial disease has been known to cause hospitalizations and death in humans. Most people do not see that they have caught salmonella and recovered without hospitalization or treatment.
Toxoplasmosis is a foodborne illness in the United States and is a leading cause of death. Millions of people within the United States carry the parasite. Still, few have the symptoms due to a sound immune system that causes it from developing into any illness. This can have severe consequences for pregnant women or people with low immune systems.
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 bring and transmit the disease. If you get bitten by an opossum, then make sure you are seen by a doctor immediately.
Are Opossum Droppings Dangerous?
As discussed above, opossums can carry several diseases. Opossums are also carriers of a bacterial infection 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 do much good for humans. Although they can carry several diseases, they can be handy.
Opossums eat food, including slugs, grubs, insects, and ticks. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which is harmful to humans and carry other diseases, and opossums eliminate more ticks through their cat-like grooming than any other animal.
Opossums kill and eat snakes and have resistance to their venom. Researchers believe that opossums may help us develop an antivenom that could save people from snake bites and against scorpions and plant and bacterial toxins. This research originated in the 1940s but left until the 1990s to be rediscovered. The antivenom is effective against the Western Diamondback rattlesnake, among other snakes.
Do Opossums Attack Pets?
If an opossum is threatened or cornered by a cat, it may attack, but there is more chance of hissing, growling, and showing its teeth. The opossum may play dead and will not want to fight, given a chance.
Opossums are scavengers and don’t hunt large animals to kill or eat. A cat is much more likely to attack an opossum as the smaller ones can be a rat’s size. Opossums can grow more significantly than cats, and adults may stand their ground more than youngsters.
If your cat or dog attacks the opossum and the opossum does not play dead or run away, it might bite back, and in this case, an opossum is dangerous to your dog or cat. If you have pets, it may be worth removing opossums from your grounds.
How To Remove Opossums?
Opossums can be problems due to their scavenging nature and can turn up in many areas around the home. They have been found in attics, sheds, under decks, and chicken coops.
Other problems that opossums can cause are stealing pet food, living inside walls, spreading fleas to pets, and spreading feces around the property. Opossums are nocturnal and do not like light, so they become most active at sunset.
A baited trap would need to be set for an opossum in the home. 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
Getting rid of opossums in your yard is more complicated. The opossum is a scavenger, so they are not picky about what food they will eat. Opossums will eat from the trash cans, so ensure these are all secured and locked if possible. Ammonia can also be spread on rags around the yard, as can fox urine. However, this will be a temporary fix; the opossum will eventually work out there is no fox.
Opossums are not vicious and not aggressive to humans, but they are wild animals, and with their 50 teeth, they can provide a nasty bite. Their diseases can be fatal to humans and pets but also provide some property benefits. They have also been known to make good pets in their own right.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.