Are Opossums Dangerous?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: February 28, 2022
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Opossums, also commonly referred to as “possums” throughout the U.S., have a dreadful reputation despite being the only North American marsupial. People fear them or believe they are unpleasant because of their physical characteristics, one of which is their enormous nose. Opossums reveal rows of sharp teeth when threatened and often play dead to protect themselves from predators. However, to the disbelief of many, these creatures are mostly docile. Considered to be minor nuisances, it’s okay to believe opossums are dangerous. But are they really? Let’s find out below!

Are Opossums Dangerous?

Opossums Play Dead
Opossums carry diseases like leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis that can easily be transmitted to humans through contact.

iStock.com/randimal

Opossums are generally not dangerous, though their defensive hissing with open lips is a deception to make them appear fierce. They have a limited ability to defend themselves, so they use their teeth, as well as “playing dead” under extreme stress. They do this because they are terrified.

Although opossums aren’t aggressive or hostile, they do carry many diseases, such as:

  • Chagas Disease
  • Coccidiosis
  • Leptospirosis
  • Relapsing Fever
  • Rabies
  • Spotted Fever
  • TB
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Trichomoniasis
  • Tularemia

Opossums also commonly carry fleas, lice, mites, and ticks. Ticks spread Lyme disease, which is a severe infection. If you live in a woodland or rural area, Lyme disease is more likely to impact you, your children, and your pets. Opossums eliminate most ticks that land on their bodies before those ticks have an opportunity to harm them. This keeps the tick population at bay.

Are Opossums Dangerous to Pets?

Craziest Animal Adaptations: Opossum
Opossums can transmit diseases to your pets if they come in contact with them.

Lisa Hagan/Shutterstock.com

Although opossums are generally not dangerous to pets, dogs can contract bacterial and protozoal diseases if they come in contact with opossums.

The opossum is a foe of cats. While searching for food, opossums wreak havoc on homes, gardens, chicken coops, and spaces intended for common pets which can lead to unintended interactions and altercations.

A possum’s incredibly sharp teeth can be used to attack pets and even humans. Because of the risk of disease transmission to your pet from opossums, it is not a good idea to let your pets alone with any.

Do Opossums Attack Or Bite?

Opossums Play Dead
Opossum attacks are unlikely unless they feel threatened or cornered.

Opossum attacks are unusual and unlikely. They often look to be dead when startled and emit a terrible odor from their anal glands to ward off “would-be” attackers. However, in self-defense, opossums can bite. Even though biting is uncommon, people should avoid all interaction with opossums as they are considered wild animals. If you try to touch an opossum with your bare hands, it will most certainly try to bite you, potentially infecting you with a variety of diseases addressed above.

Can I Feed an Opossum?

Happiest Animals: Opossum
Opossums can eat ticks by the thousands, keeping the tick population at bay.

It is not a clever idea to feed an opossum or any other wild animal. Their dietary requirements are pretty specific. Giving them the wrong food might cause metabolic bone disease, a serious and life-threatening condition. Feeding a dehydrated or malnourished animal might induce a system shock and death.

Possums causing difficulties in or around your home should be removed by animal control, but they are not all nuisances. Opossums are more beneficial as scavengers than destructive. Unbelievably, areas with opossums are frequently cleaner than areas without opossums.

Can Opossums Make Good Pets?

Opossums are wild animals who don’t often do well in captivity. Trying to keep a possum as a pet may be both expensive and heartbreaking. Keeping opossums without a wildlife rehabilitation permit is illegal, and healthy possums should be released once they’re old enough to flourish on their own.

If you’ve been bitten by an animal, especially an opossum, get medical help right away to avoid infection and transmission of diseases.

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is There A Difference Between An Opossum And A Possum?

There is such as thing as an Australian Possum. They can be found places such as Australia and New Zealand as well as many smaller Pacific islands.

 

However, the Opossum and possums living throughout North Ameican are one and the same. Most people shorten the word Opossum to “possum” for convenience, or out of misunderstanding or mishearing the pronunciation. Therefore, “possum” is the common name used, although, in technical and scientific contexts, the opossum is accurate.

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