Basic care

Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips

Janhvi Johorey
By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. Updated: November 20, 2019
Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips

There is quite a lot of interest about possums as pets. In our need to be connected to nature, many people are looking to exotic pets to keep in the home. As with any non-domesticated animal, we need to start with a question. Can we keep possums as pets? Furthermore, is it right to take wild animals away from their natural habitat? This AnimalWised article explores the possibility of raising possums as pets and whether they should be released once they reach adulthood. The question of whether these animals fare well in captivity remains. Learn more about possums as pets in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

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  1. What is the difference between a possum and an opossum?
  2. Can you domesticate a possum?
  3. Diet and life expectancy of possums
  4. Possums as pets dangers
  5. How to raise a possum
  6. Types of possums

What is the difference between a possum and an opossum?

Depending on where you are or who you speak to, there is either a lot or no difference between an opossum and a possum. However, making the distinction can help clear up any concerns on what you are dealing with.

The possum is the animal we are discussing in this article, but it is also known as the opossum. They have long snouts and small, sharp teeth. They are marsupials with prehensile tails, making them very good climbers. This is something important when considering opossums as pets. Opossums will want to climb over everything in your home. They are found in North, South and Central America, but mainly in the North. Opossums, however, are more commonly referred to simply as possums in the South and Midwest of the USA.

The English word ‘possum’ was first used for this opossum variety. However, when Australia was colonized by Europeans, they took this word and applied it to another type of marsupial which is found there, but not in the Americas. These creatures are a similar size and have similar behavior, but are not the same species. They are never referred to as an opossum, which is why many call the American kind the opossum and the antipodean variety simply the possum.

In this article we are talking about the North American possum, but it would be just as accurate to ask can you keep an opossum as a pet?

Can you domesticate a possum?

Sometimes, an orphaned possum may be found abandoned. This leads to many kind-hearted animal lovers wanting to take the animal in and raise them as a pet. This is particularly the case with a baby possum as they are indeed vulnerable. However, these creatures are wild animals and they require rehabilitation.

Wildlife rehabilitators are people who dedicate their lives (or at least large parts of them) to helping wild animals in trouble. Some animals are simply not healthy enough to ever return to the wild. Others have become reliant on humans to the point that sending them to the wild will mean they have little chance of surviving. What occurs will depend on the individual animal.

Domestication is a process which takes centuries. While there may be many examples of wild animals creating bonds with human beings, the circumstances where this happens are unique. They cannot be applied to every animal in a given species. The same goes for keeping possums as pets. There are some individuals which have shown docility in front of humans, but not all possums will be the same.

We also need to consider kindness. Possums have natural habits and behaviors they need to carry out. While many consider opossums solitary animals, recent studies have shown them to be more gregarious than previously thought[1]. Taking a possum out of their natural habitat is essentially cruel and unnecessary. People often ask the same question about domestication for animals such as otters or kangaroo rats.

Another important factor is that it is illegal to keep possums without a wildlife rehabilitation permit. Once they are old enough to survive independently, healthy possums can and should be released. These animals generally don't fare well in captivity. Transforming a possum into a pet can be an expensive proposition and one fraught with dangers for these animals.

To keep the opossum/possum legally, a wildlife rehabilitation permit is needed from the state. Based on where one resides, a volunteer may be needed with a wildlife rehabilitator to ensure your pet possum remains in good health. You may even need to pass a written exam or take a training class to get a permit. Once healthy, rehabilitated possums should be released into the wild where possible. The tips provided in this article are the ones used to help care for sick or injured possums.

Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips - Can you domesticate a possum?

Diet and life expectancy of possums

The opossum is an omnivore. It eats a wide variety of food on its nightly rounds. Their diet includes the following:

  • Fruit
  • Grass and plants
  • Insects
  • Snails
  • Garden pests

The possum also feeds on small animals such as mice, rats, and roadkill. Diets in captivity cannot hope to match the diversity of the animal's diet in the wild. It is essential to strike a balance in order to remain healthy. Poor diets can lead to metabolic bone diseases that are expensive to treat and potentially fatal.

Possums also have a short lifespan; around three years or less in the wild. They have to deal with predators and human intrusions. In captivity, they may survive for longer, if proper nutrition and care are received from a qualified handler. Stress and tension experienced due to confinement and lack of exercise as well as proper diet are the main barriers to the survival of possums in captivity.

Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips - Diet and life expectancy of possums

Possums as pets dangers

The possum is a beautiful animal, but there are many specific concerns regarding keeping them as a pet. While the opossum is not generally an aggressive animal, this aspect should not be ignored. In the wild, the possum is usually docile and will not attack you without confrontation.

By rearing a possum in captivity, you are suppressing their natural instincts. They do not like to be held captive and will need to seriously bond with a human when they are young if you can expect them to co-habitate peacefully. This is the same as the necessary socialization process of any domestic animal. If not, then they may attack you our of frustration or in defense of being locked up.

Possums are also prone to disease, death, and infections in captivity. Lack of immunity in captivity conditions can lead to bacterial diseases. Possums that live longer than a year may suffer from cataracts, lose coordination and become obese. Scientists have no idea why they age so quickly. The majority of vets don’t yet have the experience to deal with their health issues. You need to find an animal doctor who is qualified to address this type of health problems if you are going to raise a possum.

Take a look at our article whether Possums dangerous for humans or pets? for more information.

How to raise a possum

While the possum is not a common pet, you can follow these guidelines if you are in the position where you need to rear one until a wildlife rehabilitator can be found:

  1. The most important point is that these animals are nocturnal so they commonly sleep during the day and remain active in the night. They sleep in dark places and do not prefer to be disturbed while resting. This is why you should provide the Possum with a suitable environment and resting place so it can sleep during the day, The possum's home is a quiet refuge which should be away from drafts and sunlight.
  2. Choose an appropriate home comprising a nesting box, exercise wheel for nighttime and branches to climb on.
  3. Possums feed on fruit. These animals need high protein, low fat, dry food and will never eat more than required. Other vegetables and snacks should also be included in the diet.
  4. The home needs to have humidity at 50 percent to safeguard the opossum's skin from drying out. Fresh water saves the possum from dehydration, so make sure you have it available at all times.
  5. The possum feeds on insects, voles and mice. So they work out to be pretty beneficial for combating household pests. However, when threatened, the possum can attack so you need to consider this if you want to rear one as a pet. Discipline your possum gently because if you try physical reprimands, it will breed aggression.
  6. The possum will likely want to run out of the house, much like many a pet cat. These creatures are curious and agile. They also have great dexterity, making them able to open drawers, cabinets and other things they shouldn't. You need to possum-proof your home.
  7. Your possum also needs to be trained to use a litter box since childhood if they are never able to be returned to the wild. Do not litter train them if they can be. Use positive reinforcement to ensure your possum remains safe, happy and contended. Provide treats if you want to increase its trust levels.
Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips - How to raise a possum

Types of possums

These are two types of opossums namely short-tailed opossum and the Virginia opossum. Both need the care of a vet and treatment should basic health issues arise. Pygmy possums are not opossums, but the kind found in Australia we discussed above.

Short-tailed possums are solitary creatures with night time habits, so they do not like captivity. It is important to be patient with these possums and permit them to smell you before picking them up.

Virginia possums are nocturnal and enjoy a slow paced, calmer household as they are timid and frightened.

If you want to read similar articles to Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.


1. Diego Astúa, R., et al. (2015). First Evidence of Gregarious Denning in Opossums (Didelphimorphia, Didelphidae), with Notes on Their Social Behaviour. Biology Letters, 11.

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I found a baby opossum in front of our house under a parked car. It was abandoned by its mother apparently. I took it in and it we litter trained it and it was also very clean. We had a cage for it in the yard. In the fall I let it go in the forest preserves. It was a nice,clean quiet pet.
Rick M Tipton
This is in response to the person who asked if opossums need to be vaccinated against rabies.
Interesting thing about opossums, there are mostly immune to rabies. It can happen but it's very rare for an opossum to carry or contract rabies. I've been told the reason is because of their body temperature, but that I am not sure of.
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Rick,

It is true that they are less likely to carry rabies than many other similar-sized mammals, but they can still carry it in some circumstances, so always best to be careful.
I came upon an orphaned little male possum whose mother had been hit and killed by a car. He was very week and probably near death. I took him home and fed him a steady diet of liquid Esbilac. He bonded with me almost from the very start. I slowly progressed him to solid food with the hope that I could release him. He became litter box trained like my cats. I would take him out to the back yard to get him used to being outside and he would make a B-line back to the house. It eventually became apparent that he was far more accustomed to being a house possum than a wild possum. I took him to the vet and got him neutered and he and my cats became best friends. They use to play and sleep together all the time. He was very sweet and loving and used to cuddle up at night with me and the other cats. I had to go out of town on business for 4 days and when I came home, he followed me around the house like my shadow for several days. I guess they can feel separation anxiety like any house pet. He lived for almost 8 years. It broke my heart when he died.
A relative of mine found a possum had gotten into her house. She arranged to have it humanely trapped and returned to the wild (complete with a couple of apples). The possum has come back now 4 more times. Each time they take it back to a safe natural place but it continues to show up. They know this is the same possum (they recognize it). Would it be possible to accept the possum and stop trying to return it to the wild?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Smoris,

The issue is that possums like your home because of its warmth and it often has accessible resources. It does not mean the possum wants to be their pet. The humane society should have the best answer to this problem, but it is possible they are not moving them far away enough. It is a tricky situation because you want to move the possum far away enough they don't return, but not so far they are no longer in their habitat. If it keeps happening, it might be wise to ask the HS about a more permanent relocation.
John zeller
My mom found a dying female possum who gave birth to 6 infants. My mom rescued them two weeks ago. 3 of the six have survived the first two nights without their mother. The three are doing good. They are now eating and defecting by themselves. They play and climb a lot. My moms called all the rescue places in her area and they all are booked solid and will not help. She wants to know how old the possums need to be before she can let them free without endangering their lives.
Gertrude Jude
Wonderful film, well done!
I have recently found a possum and it says I need a permit to keep it. Where can I get a permit and do I need to take it to the vet?
Administrador AnimalWised

You will need to contact your local animal services which can be found in your local directory. If you don't have one available, you can call (411 in the USA) or simply search online.
I just found a baby possum,it has it`s eyes open but is so weak it has trouble walking,or maybe it`s still learning? it is about 4" long not counting tail,I gave it some orange Gator Aid and some apple sauce,very,very little of both,I put heating pad and a very soft blanket in a lower part of a cage,made sure she is in dark, I will try and feed it in two hours or so,I also rub her back and tummy with my fingers, is there any way of knowing if she was lost or abandoned? jeff
jean ry
There is no way to asertain if the possum has been abandoned and it is irrelevant at this point. Based on your description of size, open eyes and behaviour it is at least 8 weeks old. You should go to a pet store and buy puppy milk to feed it. Opossums cannot suckle so you have to feed it with a seringe. You will have to feed every three hours and after each feeding you have to stimulate the genitles to pee and poop. It will not pee or poop if you don't do this and will die. Stimulation is a simple process. Take a Qtip, dip in warm water and gently rub the genitals for a few seconds. This simulates what the mother does as an act of hygiene ( she eats the pee and poop } and this keeps the area clean. When you notice that the opossum is lapping up it's puppy milk, you can offer solid foods in the form of baby food, Pay close attention for the first week when offering solid foods as the opossum has a tendency to take too much and choke. There is a baby food that comes in a tube that is very handy for portioning out and storing, Handle your opossum as much as possible. I sleep with mine and he has free run of the house. Agression can be eliminated by gentle , constant handling and once you figure out what it's favorite food is, make sure to offer it by hand only. My little fellow {Sweet Pea} loves egg yolk and cheese. If you don't have the dedication and time commitment it takes to raise an opossum, find a wild life rehabber ASAP. Good Luck!
What Jean said + please do not give it any more Gatorade. Esbilac is a good brand of puppy milk replacement to use. If you plan to raise it and keep you must remain committed to that as it gets older. After it is imprinted on you and depends on you for food and shelter and is used to being around humans as “safe” it would be a death sentence for you to just decide to release it.
Can I have a possum please
Ben /Sam
A possum a pet
A vet IS an animal doctor and just like human doctors they have different areas of practice.
Obviously the person who wrote this article has never had a pet possum.
Agreed... "Opossums do not fare well in captivity" has to be the worst line of the whole article... in the wild they Are the "fare" so to speak. They rarely last more than a year or two because they are food for other animals. The worst part about keeping an opossum for a pet is that they don't have a long lifespan..... Other than that they make Awesome pets!
This article made me worried...we found a baby possum in the garage who looked lost so we brought him in. So far he is growing rapidly and seems to be doing well. We want to keep him but this article makes me question are we doing the right thing? According to the article "keeping him in captivity" will make him aggressive and is not the best choice? If you are a possum "pet owner" I would really appreciate a more realistic guide or answer as I don't want to hold any species against their will. We want to do what is best for him. I've even been told that he needs rabies shots?
Administrador AnimalWised
Hi Amber,

It is best not to take in a wild animal. You should call a local animal welfare/rescue center and ask them for advice. They should take the possum in themselves. Possums are not domesticated and you will be depriving them of their freedom. It may also be illegal to keep a possum without a permit in your region.
We rescued 3 infants whose mother and other siblings were killed on the road when they were about 8 weeks old. They are now about 6 months old. As others have said here, it takes work and dedication to assure their health and well being. But my critters seem to have a different opinion on wanting to be returned to the wild as we originally intended to do. We take them outside almost daily to let them forage and get adjusted to nature. They will wander around and snoop at everything eating bugs and such. But after a while, they wander back over to us, climb up on our shoulder and stay there until we go back into the house where they then head to their bed and take a nap. They seem to understand and appreciate they are safe and more comfortable inside where they are free from predators, parasites, and the other elements of nature. They seem to know that indoors they have air conditioning, food, and good housing. They also seem to enjoy our companionship as they will wander around the house, then climb up on the couch where we are sitting, curl up against us, and take a nap. Some say it is cruel to not "return them to nature"? Mine don't seem to support that opinion.
Have any of you had a similar experience?
This article is about Opossums, not Possums...
Its the same animal, you idiot. Just different pronunciations.
Re read... You missed something
Bon, technically, what we have in North America is the Virginia Opossum while Possums are native to Australia and there are several different types. They look very different from the Virginia Opossum, but it is not uncommon for people to shorten it to “possum”. So while you are correct that this article is about opossums, not possums, I think we are all talking about the same critter!
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Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips