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I walked out of my house the other day and saw an overturned trash can on my porch and an opossum sticking his head out. He looked quite happy so I thought it best to leave him alone as any wild animal can attack when threatened.

Opossums are not generally aggressive or vicious but have been known to attack humans and small pets. Opossums defend themselves, especially while protecting their young, competing for food, or when cornered.

If you would like to know how dangerous opossums can be, there is some great information below.

The average lifespan of an opossum is only 2 to 4 years.  Find out why here

Do Opossums Attack Humans?

While opossums will generally try to avoid a confrontation, they are wild animals and may bite in self-defense when cornered or when in proximity to their young. Fighting is a last resort and only happens when they believe they are in an unavoidable fight. 

Opossums have nails that they can claw with but these are easily ripped out, so they prefer not to us them, even in self-defense.  The hands of an opossum are very delicate, so they play dead rather than risking their hands.

Opossums are not generally not dangerous to people or large pets, but they are opportunistic and may prey on cats.

Virginia opossums are wild animals that are native to the United States. Opossums are medium-sized animals with claws that can open the toughest skin and their mouths are equipped with 50 sharp teeth. 

Opossums will hiss and growl, and open their mouth showing their teeth to ward off predators and humans, but will only attack or bite in rare circumstances.

The growling and hissing can seem like the opossum is ready to strike or pounce, but the sounds are usually a bluff. Opossums are much more afraid of us than we are of them.

When confronted, there are two lines of defense for an opossum. In most circumstances, they will go into a catatonic state and emit a foul odor. This is known as playing possum or playing dead, and many predators will think they are actually dead. Because of the smell they are generally left alone by their attacker. This is an involuntary defense mechanism and often happens when up against a larger animal. The prone position can last up to an hour from just a few minutes. 

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 smell 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 opossum has rabies. However, although it is possible for an opossum to have the rabies virus, it is rare for them to carry rabies.

Want to more about why opossums play dead? Find out in this article I wrote.

Opossum in winter

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. In most cases, the opossum may play dead and will not be able to fight.

Opossums are scavengers and don’t hunt large animals to kill or eat. A cat is much more likely to attack as a smaller opossum can be the size of a rat. Opossums can grow larger than cats, and adults may stand their ground more.

If your cat or dog attacks the opossum and the opossum does not play dead or run away, it might bite back, causing a fatal wound.

Dogs are generally larger than opossums and the opossum will not attack. They will generally play dead or try to run away.

If you have pets, it would be worth considering the removal of opossums from your grounds. 

Do Opossums Carry Fatal Diseases?

Opossums carry various bacteria and diseases and have been known to transmit salmonella, and this bacterial disease can cause hospitalizations and death in humans. 

Opossums carry diseases like tuberculosis and toxoplasmosis and can transmit these diseases to pets and people.

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. Few people have the symptoms due to a good immune system that prevents it from developing into any illness. 

Opossums are wild animals and often host parasites like fleas, lice, mites, and ticks

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

Is It Safe To Touch An Opossum?

It’s generally not recommended to touch wild opossums or any wild animals. While opossums are not inherently aggressive and may play dead or show defensive behavior when threatened, they are still wild creatures and may carry diseases that could potentially be transmitted to humans.

Opossums in North America are known to carry leptospirosis, tuberculosis, coccidiosis, spotted fever, and tularemia.

If you encounter an opossum, it’s best to observe from a safe distance. If you come across an injured or sick opossum, it’s advisable to contact your local wildlife authorities, animal control, or a wildlife rehabilitator who has the knowledge and training to handle these situations safely.

Remember that even though opossums are not known for being dangerous, respecting their space and treating them as wild animals is essential for both your safety and the well-being of the animals.

Do you know what opossums sound like?  Find out here

Are Opossum Droppings Dangerous?

Opossums can carry several diseases, and also carry leptospirosis, a bacterial infection.

Transmitted through opossum urine and feces, leptospirosis starts with flu-like symptoms that can cause meningitis, liver failure, respiratory complications, and kidney damage. 

It is wise to keep your pets vaccinated against leptospirosis. If 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, and can also be spread through the feces of an opossum.

Are Opossums A Pest?

Opossums are often thought of as pests but are actually very handy to have around your home.

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

Opossums also kill and eat snakes and have developed resistance to their venom. It is believed that opossums may help us develop an antivenom that could save people from snake bites, and scorpion stings, as well as plant and bacterial toxins. The antivenom already developed is effective against the Western Diamondback rattlesnake, among other snakes.

Do you know if opossums can swim?  Find out here

How To Remove Opossums?

Opossums can be problems due to their scavenging nature and turn up in many areas around the home. They have been found in attics, sheds, under decks, and in chicken coops. 

Opossums can cause problems by 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.  Opossums are scavengers so they are not picky about what food they will eat. Opossums will eat from trash cans, so ensure these are all secured and locked if possible. Ammonia can be spread on rags around the yard, as can fox urine to keep opossums away. However, this will be a temporary fix and the opossum will work out if there are no foxes in the area.

References And Further Reading

The Opossum: Its Life Cycle by J. Sean Callahan: This book focuses on the life cycle of opossums, providing insights into their growth, development, and interactions with their environment.

The Opossum: Its Amazing Story by William J. Krause: This book offers a comprehensive look at the opossum’s natural history, biology, and behavior. It covers topics like reproduction, anatomy, and ecological roles.