Are Opossums Dangerous to Humans?


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 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 find out more about how dangerous opossums are and if you would like to also find out there is some great information below.

If you or someone you know loves opossums then you may like some of my favorite gifts that you can get on Amazon.

Are Opossums Dangerous To Humans?

Opossums can grow up to the size of a medium dog and have 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 as though the opossum is ready to strike or pounce, but the sounds are nothing more than a bluff.  Opossums are much more afraid of humans then we are of them.

There are two lines of defense for an opossum when confronted by a human.   They will either attack as any other species would which as we have learned is very rare, or they will play dead to avoid confrontation. 

The opossum has an 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 is a reflex action originating in the opossum’s brain. 

Another trick that the opossum will use as an additional warning while playing dead is that they secrete a green fluid from their anal glands.  This repulsive smell will drive away humans and predators alike and smells like a rotten or dead animal. 

Another tactic that the opossum uses to its advantage is to drool 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 that they are in an unavoidable fight.  Fighting would be their last resort, however.

Opossums do have nails which they can claw with but these are easily ripped out, and so it is very unlikely that they will use these to scratch a predator even in self-defense.  The hands of an opossum are very delicate, and this is one of the reasons that they play dead rather than risking their fragile hands.

If you want to know what to do if you find an opossum in your pond or pool, I have written an article here.

Do Opossums Carry Fatal Diseases?

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

Opossums have been known to transmit salmonella, and this bacterial disease has been known to cause hospitalizations and death in humans.  Most people, however, do not know that they have caught salmonella and recover without hospitalization or treatment. 

Toxoplasmosis is a foodborne illness within the United States and is a leady 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 into any kind of illness.  In pregnant women or people with low immune systems, this can have very severe consequences.

Due to the low body temperature of the opossum, they do not carry the rabies virus as this virus needs a much higher body temperature, but in very rare cases 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.   

Are Opossum Droppings Dangerous?

As discussed above, 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 which 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 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 and opossums eliminate more ticks through their cat-like grooming than any other animal.

Opossums kill and eat snakes and have a resistance to their venom. 

Researchers believe that opossums may be able to help us develop an antivenom that could be used not only to save people from snake bits but also 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 other snakes.

Do Opossums Attack Pets?

If an opossum is threatened or cornered by a cat then the opossum may attack, but there is more chance of them 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 so an adult may stand its ground more so than the youngsters.

If your 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, an opossum is dangerous to your dog or cat.  If you have pets, then it may be worth looking into 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, as well as in 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 the light so become most active at sunset. 

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 

Getting rid of opossums in your yard is more difficult.  As the opossum is a scavenger, they are not picky as to what food they will eat.  Opossums will eat from the trash cans so make sure that these are all secured and locked if possible.  Ammonia can also be spread on rags around the yard as can fox urine although this will be a temporary fix as the opossum will work out eventually there is no danger.

Conclusion

Opossums are not vicious and not aggressive to humans, but they are wild animals and with their 50 teeth can provide a nasty bite.  Their diseases can be fatal to humans and pets but also do provide some benefits around a property.  They have also been known to make good pets in their own right.

If you or someone you know loves opossums then you may like some of my favorite gifts that you can get on Amazon.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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