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Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips

By Janhvi Johorey, Psychologist specialized in animal therapy. Updated: March 13, 2019
Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips

There is quite a lot of information about possums as pets, but as with any non-domesticated animal, we need to start with a question. Is it right to take these unique creatures 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 the advantages and disadvantages.

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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 as pet 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?

Possums as Pets: General Guidelines and Tips - What is the difference between a possum and an opossum?

Wildlife rehabilitation and possums

Sometimes, an orphaned possum may be found and raised as a cute pet. But while possums thrive in the wild, examples of these creatures surviving in captivity are rare. Another point 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 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 can be released into the wild. Sick or injured possums can be cared for, using these handy tips.

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. Captive diets 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 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

Concerns regarding a possum as a pet

The possum is a beautiful animal to keep as a pet, but there are concerns regarding this too. While the opossum is not generally an aggressive animal, this aspect should not be ignored. The possum is usually docile and will not attack you without confrontation. But, by rearing it in confinement, you are suppressing its 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. 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. Vets don’t 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 really want to rear one.

  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. Possum feeds on fruits. These animals need high protein, low fat, dry foods and will never eat more than required. The cooked meals should also be included in the diet, including veggies and fruits.
  4. The home needs to have humidity at 50 percent to safeguard the opossum from dry skin. Freshwater saves the possum from dehydration, so make sure you have it available for it at all times.
  5. The possum feeds on insects, voles, and mice. So it works 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 runs out of the house, much like a pet cat if caged! These creatures are curious and agile, opening drawers and cabinets. So you need to possum-proof your house.
  7. Your possum also needs to be trained to use a litter box since childhood. 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 and Virginia. Both need the care of a vet and treatment should basic health issues arise.

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.

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3 comments
Uratool
A vet IS an animal doctor and just like human doctors they have different areas of practice.
Ck
Obviously the person who wrote this article has never had a pet possum.
Maive
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!
Amber
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.
Bon
This article is about Opossums, not Possums...
Ken
Its the same animal, you idiot. Just different pronunciations.
Tina
Re read... You missed something

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