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Are Possums Dangerous to Humans or Pets?

By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. Updated: September 18, 2019
Are Possums Dangerous to Humans or Pets?

Possums are extremely gentle creatures and they are not aggressive in the least. That said, in rare situations, possums will attack, specifically when they have to defend themselves much like any other species. A possum has only two lines of defense– either it will attack or play dead. While it is not a danger to humans unless provoked, it can do sizable damage to pets too. In this AnimalWised article, we will explore if possums are dangerous to humans or pets.

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Offense as Defense?

When you are in the wild and cross a possum, the first thing that crosses your mind is whether it is a dangerous animal. It is around the size of a medium level dog, has 50 sharp teeth and claws that open the toughest skins.

So, if the possum is threatened enough, it can get aggressive with negative results. Possums avoid confrontation with humans by playing dead. But, if they feel threatened enough, they can even attack. In fact, playing dead is a mode of defense that the opossum is traditionally associated with. Research has shown that this is like a reflex action originating in the possum's brain, lasting from just a few minutes to an hour. The possum has a natural instinct to act dead while standing against more animals, especially humans.

The animal we are calling possum is technically called an opossum, a distinction we make in this article on possums as pets.

Pet friendly or lethal?

While possums are rarely dangerous, the opossum is a predator when it comes to cats. When possums become problematic, they forage near commercial and residential areas after nesting. These critters are pesky, disrupting homes, gardens, chicken coops and areas meant for pets while looking for food. When they are directly attacked, these creatures hiss and growl. Possums attack pets or even humans with massively pointed teeth. Opossum attacks are rare, but they do take place, which is why having a possum as a pet is not such a good idea. Pests in terms of the diseases they spread to people and pets include TB, leptospirosis, coccidiosis, tularemia, spotted fever and other diseases.

Are Possums Dangerous to Humans or Pets? - Pet friendly or lethal?

Deadly diseases from Possums

Opossums serve as host animals to ticks, lice, mites, and fleas. This puts cats and dogs at the risk of infection. Horses are susceptible to a neurologic disease following exposure to possums, through the result of exposure to a protozoan Sarcocystis neurona. Sickness and property destruction from possums is the reason why these pesky creatures are a problem. Wildlife professionals work to restore normalcy in homes and yards when a possum outbreak occurs.

Nocturnal creatures with bad habits

Possums are nocturnal animals. They scavenge for trash and eat the carcass of dead animals. Such reasons make it possible for the possum to be a host for rabies. Though possums are generally not associated with this disease, there is a possibility they may develop it. Possums and rabies do not go together, but an opossum has extremely aggressive habits including biting, scratching and clawing when agitated. Their natural defense mechanisms come into play when they are attacked.

Are Possums Dangerous to Humans or Pets? - Nocturnal creatures with bad habits

A Possible Threat: The Virginia/American possum

This possum is the only marsupial that lives wild in the US. This animal is the size of a small cat with over 50 teeth. Opossums can be encountered in the backyard and pose a threat to pets and humans. They can also threaten livestock and crops of farmers. The diet is varied including corn and poultry. These creatures steal chickens. Poultry such as ducks and turkeys are also at risk.

Possums are also a threat to native wildlife such as Kiwis in New Zealand. But they are found across the Western world. However, they are only aggressive when provoked. Like any other species, the possum is only offensive when attacked.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Are Possums Dangerous to Humans or Pets?, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.

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4 comments
Scott
Stop calling them possums. North America doesn't have possums. Possums are from Australia. The animal you are confused about, is called an opossum.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Scott,

We go into the wording for why oppossums are referred to as possums in certain parts of North America in this article:

https://www.animalwised.com/possums-as-pets-general-guidelines-and-tips-1401.html

We have made the link clearer in the article.
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Renee
They do not ONLY play dead or attack. I have had SEVERAL first hand encounters with possums and the most common response is hissing or growling. Never has one attacked me, not even when I gently poked it with a broom because it got in our house and was under the sink .
Administrador AnimalWised
Hello Renee,

The growling and hissing is a warning sign that they are going to attack. They won't want to, but if they feel cornered, then they will do so because they are threatened. However, because of the size discrepancy with humans, they often won't attack unless you get up real close. We are sorry if this wasn't clear to you.
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Janice Current
We have possums that come by every night. We normally don't have a problem with it. I heard a news story about them and a disease that their fleas carry.
Opossumlover
Opossums do not spread ticks, fleas, etc. They regularly groom themselves, so they have very little to no ticks. (Or fleas, etc.)
Administrador AnimalWised
It is true that opossums are very clean and do eat many parasites which land on them. However, this does not mean they will get all of them and that the spreading of parasites is not a concern. Cats are also very clean animals and they can also be tick and flea carriers. It is always better to be safe than sorry and the potential threat does exist, as it will with any wild animal.
James Isbell
Simply not true, they are laden with fleas, I have seen them first hand, so this is not rumor.
rj
PoSSuMS have FiFTY 50→ TeeTH! More than ANY mammal in north america... 4 FouR sharp pointy k9~fangs w\TeN"10 upper incisors" No other mammal in North America has more than 6!!
Under serious threat, an opossum will respond ferociously, hissing, screeching, and showing its teeth, but with enough stimulation, the opossum will enter a near coma. It lies on its side, mouth and eyes open, tongue hanging out, emitting a green fluid from its anus whose putrid odor repels predators. No other defense is why only have 2yr life span and very small brain not help!
Their not the dirty diseased demon rats most us have always thought...And kill snakes, roaches, ticks rats very resistant to snake venom ...And Rabies resistant!
LoL, who knew?

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