Do Possums Carry Diseases? How Can We Protect Ourselves And Our Pets? | Kidadl


Do Possums Carry Diseases? How Can We Protect Ourselves And Our Pets?

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What Are Possums? Are They Different From Opossums? 

First, let us answer a misconception that possums and opossums are the same. Well, this is not the case. Both are different animals found in diverse continents and their natural habitats.

While possums are primarily found in Australia, New Guinea, China, New Zealand, and Sulawesi, the opossums are native species to North America and Southern Canada.

The next big thing is the difference in the way they look. They are marsupials with a rats-like appearance, but there is a stark dissimilarity. Possums are found in four colors black, gold, silver-grey, and brown. Their whole body has any of these colors. Unlike that, opossums have white faces and grey bodies.

Both possums and opossums are marsupials with pouches to carry their babies in, just like kangaroos. An easy way to recognize them is through the tail; possums have a thick furry tail like a squirrel, while opossums have a thin, non-hairy tail like rats.

Possums are reasonably smaller than opossums, which may grow up to 2.5 feet in length, from nose to tail. Possums weigh anything between a few oz to 20 lb; opossums can grow into a weight of 8.8 to 13.2 lb.

Possums are friendly mammals that reach out to strangers without reservations, while opossums are more reserved. They 'play dead' when threatened by predators. As an escape mechanism, their bodies become still for 2 minutes to 2 hours. The term 'playing possum,' which means playing dead, has come from this behavior of opossums. 

Knowing the difference between possum and opossum helps kids and their parents to know these species better.

Do Possums Carry Or Transmit Diseases?

Yes, they can carry and spread many diseases, including leptospirosis, tuberculosis, tularemia, relapsing fever, spotted fever, Chagas diseases, etc.

They generally don't contract or transmit rabies as they have a very low body temperature to sustain the virus. Therefore, there are scarce chances of you or your pet contracting rabies through a possum. Moreover, they are immune to toxins and venoms of many kinds.

We will talk more on this but currently, let us help you get a better idea about possums and their existence.

How Important Are Possums For The Environment?

Every creature on the plant has a particular place for itself. They help regulate the ecosystem in one way or other. Talking about possums, they are nature's waste regulators. They are an integral part of wildlife and are occasionally found near our homes. They are primarily nocturnal but, may crop up during daylight as well.

As they are carnivores eating anything from plants, nuts, fruits, insects, and road kills to garden pests, they clean up the space around them. They can eat anything, including plants, frogs, rodents, table scraps, insects, fruits, and grains.

 If they are found in your garden, you can get rid of common pests in just a few days. Also, they consume significant amounts of ticks, totaling around 5000 ticks a year. It reduces the chances of your dog contracting Lyme disease caused by ticks.

Possums clean up your garbage cans effortlessly. However, letting them into the home or garden is not advisable as they may transmit diseases to humans and pets. The best way to avoid them is to keep any food away from the garden or outdoors.

What Diseases Can My Dog Get From A Possum?

Well, pet parents certainly need to be more careful about possums. They may unintentionally transmit illnesses, worms, bacteria, and viruses through their urine or feces.

Another concern for most pet parents is if a possum bites their dog. There are slim chances of such events as possums are not aggressive, but they may resort to anger if anyone threatens their babies or young ones. They have sharp teeth and claws to bite the predators. The wound must be treated urgently to prevent further damage.

Immediately, take your pet dog to the veterinarian in the incident of a possum bite. Even if the dog eats a possum, you must rush to the vet as they may transmit disease or parasites to your furry baby. There are little or no chances of transmitting rabies to the dog, but other conditions like coccidiosis and tularemia may get transmitted.

To be precise, coccidiosis attacks the dog's intestinal tract, causing abdominal issues like diarrhea, fever, and loss of appetite, and may be fatal in extreme cases. Tularemia is caused by a bacterial infection that results in fever and skin ulcers. If you ever find any of these symptoms, take your pet to the vet at the earliest.

What If My Dog Is Bit By A Possum?

There are rare chances of possums getting into a tussle. However, in case of confrontations with your dog, the possum may bite, cut or scratch your pet's skin. Handle such events as emergencies and do visit a vet.

Diligently follow the suggestions, advice, and treatment given by your vet. Make sure that your dog's wound gets healed as early as possible. Most importantly, wear gloves to avoid contracting any germs while touching the wound.

Is It Safe If My Dog Kills A Possum?

If your dog kills a possum, then as an added level of precaution, you can carry the body or carcass of the possum to the vet so that he can examine and gauge any probable chances of infections.

Ensure you wear gloves while carrying the carcass as it may pass on worms or protozoans. In short, be watchful in every way possible.

Although, your pet might be safe if it is regularly vaccinated. If not, a booster shot is advisable to keep the dog safe, fit, and fine. As a dog owner, you must immediately get your vet's advice – if your dog eats a possum or gets bitten by one, or it kills one of them.

Are Possums Harmful To Humans?

Yes, they could be. Possums hardly attack humans, but they may bite when left with no choice. Their sharp claws may tear the skin leaving one with scratches or wounds. In such events, do visit the doctor instantly.

Even their urine or feces may cause harmful diseases if ingested. So, if anyone eats veggies or fruits with possum fecal matter, they may catch leptospirosis, meningitis, liver issues, kidney problems, and respiratory complications. Therefore, always wash fruits and veggies to keep away from parasites.

Is It Bad Having A Possum In Your Yard?

Well, it depends. If you live in the countryside with a garden filled with insects and pests, having possums around will greatly help. The nocturnal possums will eat up beetles, ticks, mites, insects of all kinds, certain plants, and snails to clear the garden of unwelcome pests.

They also consume rodents like rattlesnakes. Nonetheless, they may not be the best companions for your pets. Dogs may face many health issues if contracted by a possum attack or feasting on them.

The best way is to rehabilitate them. Trap them in no-kill traps and release them into the wild.

Young possum on a branch

What Are The Common Signs Of A Rabid Possum?

The signs are similar to other creatures. The initial symptoms include vomiting, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, etc. These may then become grave resulting in cranial nerve dysfunction, aggression, respiratory issues, seizures, abnormal salivation, etc.

Their low body temperature makes them kind of immune to the rabies virus. As per scientific research, the chances of possums carrying rabies is eight times less than other species.

Common signs of a possum infestation:

  • Scratches on the outer surface like trees, roofs, and benches.
  • Broken branches of plants
  • A susceptible attack on the garbage bins
  • Possums may snack on pet food, especially cat food
  • Feces found on the ground
  • Animal vocalizations heard regularly

Getting Rid of Possums Humanely

As these small creatures are an inevitable part of wildlife and help create a balance in nature, getting rid of them harmlessly is good. Use no-kill traps with some food to attract them. Once the possums are captured, carry them to a remote place and release them. Killing or harming them is not advisable.



Written By
Supriya Jain

<p>As a skilled member of the Kidadl team, Shruti brings extensive experience and expertise in professional content writing. With a Bachelor's degree in Commerce from Punjab University and an MBA in Business Administration from IMT Nagpur, Shruti has worked in diverse roles such as sales intern, content writer, executive trainee, and business development consultant. Her exceptional writing skills cover a wide range of areas, including SOP, SEO, B2B/B2C, and academic content.</p>

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