How do I care for orphaned opossums?

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Answered by: Danielle, An Expert in the Exotic Pets - General Category
An opossum has been killed by a dog or hit by a car. Many times a female opossum can be found dead, but the babies are safe inside the pouch. Without intervention, these babies will all die from dehydration. After finding an opossum that has a pouch full of babies, find a local wildlife rehabilitator that knows how to care for orphaned opossums. The care of orphaned opossums should be left up to licensed wildlife rehabilitators, but there are a few important steps that should be taken to keep them alive until they can be taken to the rehabilitator.



Brief Summary of the Virginia Opossum

The Virginia Opossum is the only marsupial found in North America. A marsupial is a mammal that carries the babies inside of a pouch located on their stomach. Opossums have gotten a bad name because they are normally seen baring their teeth. Baring teeth is a defense mechanism that opossums use as a way to make themselves seem fierce when they are being threatened. If an opossum is still feeling threatened, it will roll over and play dead. This is where the phrase “playing possum” came from. Despite opossums showing their teeth, they are peaceful animals that have a very important niche in our ecosystem. They are nature’s garbage disposal because they eat rotten fruit and carrion, as well as, snakes and mice, etc.

A common misconception is that opossums carry rabies. Opossums are unlikely to contract rabies because their body temperature is lower than other mammals. Another unknown fact is that opossums are immune to snake venom.



Care for Orphaned Opossums

After baby opossums are pulled from the pouch, the most important thing to do is to warm them up, but do not get them too warm. Most rehabilitators will hold the babies against their body, since the ideal temperature is 90-95 degrees. Wrapping them in a blanket is not enough to warm them up. Next, call a local wildlife rehabilitator. Most states have a website that lists contact information for rehabilitators.

When the babies warm up and no longer feel cold to the touch, try to give them a little Pedialyte or diluted Gatorade (3 parts water to 1 part Gatorade) with a syringe to help rehydrate them. (Note: Opossums don’t like citrus so choose non-flavored Pedialyte or Gatorade if it is available. If not, choose a non-citrus flavor.) Most of the time the baby opossums will be dehydrated depending on how long the mother has been dead.

Do not try to feed the baby opossums unless told to do so by the wildlife rehabilitator and never try to feed a cold baby. The formula mixture is very precise and should be left to the rehabilitator. If the babies are too small they will have to be tube fed and that is a skill that requires training and experience.

Helping orphaned wildlife can be a very rewarding experience. With a little luck, hard work, and proper care, the baby opossums will grow-up and be released back into the wild.

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