Human beings have had close relationships with many animals throughout our history. Long before we were bending the forces of metal, electricity, and silicon to our will, we were establishing connections with natural forces that we slowly incorporated into human society over decades and decades. Through this process, wolves became loyal dogs and wild servals became mouse-busting house cats. Even hawks, owls, eagles, and falcons have become human pets and hunting instruments. What about pet possums?
Many people are surprised to learn that you can keep a pet possum. Possums in North America have an unusual appearance and many of the uninitiated find pet possums creepy. Those in the know, however, are well aware that possums can make great pets as long as their owners take proper care of them.
We wanted to collate all the essential facts we could find about keeping a pet possum into this article. We scoured the internet for the experiences, tips, and tricks from existing pet possum owners to provide you with the best information on this front.
Before exploring what exactly a possum is, let us clarify which sort of pet possums we are focusing on. This guide will help you understand the process of getting a North American possum as a pet. This is not the same animal as the Australian possum, which is found throughout Australia and New Zealand.
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What Is a Possum?
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Possums are also called opossums. They are a unique type of mammal in North America. Thought to have originally come from South America, possums are marsupials. Possums are the only marsupial currently living in North America.
Many people associate marsupials with Australia since marsupials are mammals that keep their young in a specialized pouch for some time after they give birth. Kangaroos are obviously the most visible example of this group, and so many people labor under the delusion that all marsupials come from Oceania.
The North American possum on which we will focus is also called the Virginia opossum or Virginia possum. It is designated by the genus and species Didelphis virginiana.
What Makes It Unique?
You may notice the Greek prefix “Di” in the genus species name; this indeed indicates “two.” The official name for the American possum draws attention to the fact that this creature possesses two wombs. They don’t have a second womb exactly, but they do carry their half-developed children in their pouches after giving live birth until they are ready to venture out into the world on their own.
These creatures may resemble something between a house cat and a rodent, but they are actually in a category all their own.
American possums are opportunists and nocturnal. That means they can often be seen rummaging through trash cans and tripping motion sensor lights. Many people consider them nuisances, but those people tend not to have the enlightened foresight to see these unusual creatures as pets.
What Do Possums Eat?
In the wild, possums will eat just about anything they can get their little paws on. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat both meat and plants. Wild possums love to munch on grains, insects, fruits, snails, earthworms, carrion, snakes, mice, birds, and other small animals. They particularly love persimmons, as anyone attempting to grow persimmons on their North American property already knows.
It is unknown if possums seek out and eat snakes as a matter of course, but they have been shown to be resistant to multiple types of snake venoms. It may be possible that small snakes can supplement a possum’s diet. However, this is not a recommended method of feeding a possum.
Possums will sometimes even eat other possums. This is unobserved in the wild, but if an injured possum is placed in a confined space with a healthy possum, the healthy one will sometimes eat the dying one. This type of possum cannibalism has unfortunately happened in scenarios where rescuers hoped to revitalize an injured possum by keeping it with healthy company.
What Is Unique About a Pet Possum?
image source: Giphy
The North American possums possesses a long list of unique features. For starters, it is the only example of a marsupial living in North America. But that is just the beginning of what makes a possum interesting.
Possums also use a unique defense strategy. When they feel threatened or have been significantly injured, a possum can “play dead.” During this process, it lies on the ground pretending to be dead. It even slows its breathing and metabolic processes while pulling off this ruse.
While playing dead, the possum’s heart rate is cut in half. Its breathing decreases by a solid thirty percent. Its anus even emits a green fluid that smells of putrefaction and suggests the possum has been decaying for quite some time.
The possum can keep up this sort of ruse for stretches that last as long as six hours. Even though the creature is nearly in a coma by all visual indications, its brain is no slower when playing dead than when it is acting alive. That means even though it is not moving, the possum is very aware of its surroundings.
Playing dead accomplishes several goals. It will prove to other animals that may be defending their young or their nest that the possum is not a threat. It also discourages animals that only eat live prey. Those that do not dine on carrion can be dissuaded from eating a possum if they believe it has been decaying.
Playing dead is also known as “feigning death” or more appropriately “playing possum.”
Can You Have a Possum as a Pet?
Yes. Possums are perfectly legal to keep as a pet, and many owners find them to be highly amusing, interesting, and even beautiful pets. However, there are several concerns that crop up with possums that are not present for animals that have longer histories of living in human households.
For one, possums tend to be more prone to disease, infection, and even death when kept in captivity. Human households can possess many bacterial diseases that they have not built immunities to as house cats and domesticated dogs have.
4 Things to Know About Having a Pet Possum
Possums Sleep in the Dark
As nocturnal creatures, possums prefer to have sleeping quarters that are free from cold breezes and lights. If you are keeping your possum in a kennel in your house, make sure you have a way to isolate the kennel from light sources in your house. Even flicking on the lamp in the room that your possum sleeps can disturb its beauty rest.
Possums Like to Have Fun
An appropriate home for a possum ought to have the following features: a box to nest in, a wheel to exercise in, and branches for climbing and hanging on. Possums love to run around a wheel just like hamsters, and this keeps them in good shape. They naturally hang around trees, so branches will make them feel right at home. You may even get to glimpse them hanging upside down by their tails, which is a visual treat.
Positive Reinforcement Makes for Good Potty Training
How wild can possums really be if they can be trained to use a box of kitty litter? Well, they certainly can be trained to do their business in a single easy to clean location just like cats. However, unlike cats where potty training is as easy as buying a box of kitty litter, some extra care is required when potty training your pet possum.
All that is really required, however, is to give your possum its favorite treat whenever it successfully uses its box of litter instead of a corner of the room.
Possums Like Fruits and Dry Foods
Some of the best things you can feed your pet possum are high protein, low-fat foods. They especially love to munch on dry foods like kibble, fruits, and certain veggies. They will eat cooked meals if you prepare them for your pet possum. One nice feature is that they will stop eating when they have enough so they are difficult to make fat.
A pet possum is one of the most rewarding and unique animal companions that one can acquire. If your home sounds like a good fit for a pet possum, we highly recommend you build yourself a suitable enclosure and make a possum your pet today.
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