What To Do If You Find An Opossum (Possum) On Your Property Or Backyard?

Opossum walking on a backyard fence.
Opossum walking on a backyard fence.

Many view opossums as pests or accuse them of many misdeeds, from knocking over garbage cans to killing chickens. But these quiet marsupials are harmless to humans, can be very interesting, and are easily sent on their way. 

After some research, we realized that most people complain about opossums just being there, rather than for any problems they caused. But it is not uncommon to have concerns about close encounters with any wildlife or be unsure about dealing with it safely. So we will try to address some questions like "Will opossum harm my pet?", "Will opossums attack?", "How dangerous is an opossum?" and share some tips on what to do if you want one to move out.

Opossums Would Defend Themselves If Cornered

Possum in a corner.

An opossum would not attack first. If threatened, the first reaction of an opossum is to run away. If there is no way to escape, it would assume a threatening posture: open its mouth wide, bare its teeth, growl or hiss. Sometimes, when nothing else helps them, and there are no pups to protect, the involuntary reaction of "play possum" is triggered. They "drop dead" with all the features of the convincing act: they roll over, their bodies stiff, close their eyes or stare into space, their lips pulled up, saliva foaming, and emit a disgusting, putrid smell.

Opossums Are Not At All Aggressive, But They Might Bite Protecting Their Young

If you or your children try to stick your hand into the nest with the young, or your dog or cat tries to attack the opossum's young, they might bite to protect them. The same is true for most house cats and wildlife. It is generally not a good idea to touch or grab any unfamiliar animal: it is an important rule to teach the kids to observe the wildlife respectfully from a distance. 

Opossums Might Have Lice And Fleas In Their Sleeping Dens

Opossums huddled together in their den alert and staring.

If an opossum makes its home under a porch, shed, or barn, they might introduce fleas and lice, especially to domesticated cats. Outdoor cats and dogs are curious animals, and they would often go to investigate the smell of the places where opossums had been. When they do, they might pick some fleas or lice left there. It is useful to note, though, that cats would pick up fleas in many other places, and the opossums are obsessive self-groomers, so they rarely introduce ticks (they rather snack on them instead).

Opossums Love Grubs So They Might Dig At Your Lawn

An opossum can show some disrespect to the lawn or the flower bed you take pride in. They love grubs, bugs, insects, and they can pick their scent from under the soil. So they would dig to get to them. Arguably, those grubs would have done some damage anyway, and the opossum would also keep other diggers at bay.

Opossums Can Be Beneficial For Your Veggies Patch And Keep Your Yard Clear Of Ticks

American possum in the back yard.

Among all the external parasites that occupy our yards and gardens, ticks are one of the most dangerous. Ticks carry diseases, do not differentiate between pets and humans, and are hard to get rid of if they bite. Luckily, opossums love to eat ticks. The National Wildlife Federation claims that one opossum exterminates 5000 of them in just one tick season. And the opossums themselves do not carry Lyme disease. They would also eat venomous snakes, keep rats and mice at bay, and munch on many other insects. They also have a tooth for snails and slugs that could damage your garden veggies: opossums would do a great job at collecting them at night, and even pups can help with that one.

Opossums Are Great For Keeping Every Corner Clean Of The “Dead Stuff” And Rotting Fruits

Opossums have an acute sense of smell, and they happily clean up dead animals and fallen fruits no matter where they find them. So they would rid your property of the infestations of flies and grubs before they have a chance to develop. Opossums are often blamed for killing chickens or digging in the garbage bins, but it happens very rarely or easily preventable. They are certainly opportunists, and gladly clean up the mess left by humans or other creatures, but nature is pragmatic: chicken is too much effort.

What If I Want An Opossum To Stick Around?

Australian possum.

If you discovered an opossum living on your property and forage in your garden at night, just let it be. There is no need to feed them. They want to be left alone. However, it is essential to educate your family to not disturb or try to catch the animal and to supervise your pets. 

What To Do If You Want To Prevent An Opossum From Moving In?

If you know that there are many opossums around, the best way to keep them from visiting you is to place lids on garbage cans, to avoid leaving pet food or your barbeque leftovers outside overnight, and to pick up fallen fruits. Opossums would happily do that all for you, like a garden gnome with an odd dietary preference, but it might also encourage them to visit such a bountiful place again.

What If An Opossum Enters My House?

Opossum with inquisitive look climbed to the house veranda. Credit: lovemydesigns / Shutterstock.com

If attracted by some irresistible smell, an opossum can sneak into your house through a pet door. They are not dangerous, and young pups can even be docile and fearless of humans. But you do not want one snacking in your kitchen. Close the doors to all the other rooms except the exit one and move to the opposite point: the fact of your presence should be enough for the animal to take the offered escape route. If it remains confused, you can encourage it by gently nudging it with a broom.

What If You Found An Opossum Den And Do Not Want It To Stick Around?

If you suspect a mother opossum has moved in, wait until she leaves her den about two hours after dark. Then cover the entrance with some straw or something similar. The cautious animal that returns will not try to disturb the cover that suddenly appeared, especially one smelling like a human, and will find a new place to live. It is very important to keep the cover loose, though, so an opossum who had been accidentally trapped inside by accident could dig the way out. Opossum females usually carry their pups wherever they go, so it is not likely that they are left behind if the adult animal is not there. But still, check for the youngsters inside before covering the den. If you detect no change after a few nights, you can assume the den is empty, and you can cover it permanently. 

What If I Found An Injured Animal? Or The One That Appears Dead?

Possum sitting in a tree.

If you find an injured opossum, contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation unit and do not try to treat it on your own. It is also challenging to tell a dead opossum from the one that is playing dead, even if you poke and prod it: in that case, leave it be, and it will escape in a few hours. Or relocate it to a quiet place with an open exit. If there is an opossum in the yard, there is no reason to feel scared. Opossums are not a danger, and most likely, they will move away on their own. Coexisting with them can even have its benefits. If you decide to get rid of an opossum humanely, you can relocate it with the help of a wildlife professional. They will follow legal protocols, know how to handle the animal carefully, and where to move them. 


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