IF YOU FIND AN UNINJURED BABY

If you find baby possums grouped in a nest, however crude, do not assume that they are abandoned. Be absolutely certain that they are truly orphaned. Taking someone else's children is kidnapping. It is also not very nice.

If you find an uninjured adolescent opossum 4" body length or longer hanging around your house by himself, the best thing probably is to just let him be. Does he really need your help? Opossums have all the instincts they need to survive. Don't feel that you have to save him or take him inside just to "save" him.

IF YOU FIND AN UNINJURED ADULT

If you find an uninjured adult opossum visiting your yard uninvited, look around your property and see why he might think he was invited. Is he attracted by dog food in the yard? Cat food? Do you leave garbage on the ground? Possums can not knock over garbage cans, but they will take advantage of one knocked over by a dog or coon and they can definitely get into a plastic garbage bag. Are there openings to a crawl space or room under a deck or porch where they might like to make a bed?

If you live in a very busy area with a lot of cars, you may feel the urge to be a 'do-gooder' and move him away from the area. Personally, I do not recommend that you get involved in his affairs. Yes, there is the possibility that he may die by claw, fang or tread, but that is nature's way. Don't meddle. (If you really want to do something beneficial, work against developers building houses and roads further and further into what's left of our wilderness)

Before disregarding my advice and moving a possum, read "WAKE UP CALL" on the "LEGAL & ETHICAL" page! If you are permitted by law to relocate him and insist on doing so, choose a quiet rural area near a stream and away from traffic and houses. Be careful when handling possums. Younger ones may or may not bite. Older ones will probably bite if you try to pick them up. There are humane traps available for catching and relocating wildlife. Be careful. Possums may look sweet and docile, but if you get bitten while trying to pick one up, don't blame me or Theo!

IF YOU FIND AN INJURED ADULT OR ABANDONED BABY

If you find, or in some other way, come into possession of a possum that is obviously too young or incapable of surviving on his own, then you must make the decision of what to do with them him. You have three choices:

1. Leave him be and let nature take its course. This may be the only LEGAL choice in your state. Check your state laws.

2. If it is not illegal to meddle with wildlife in your state, and you can find a wildlife rehabilitator, call them and let them do the job. Here is a page titled 'How To Locate a Wildlife Rehabilitator' which lists rehabilitators around the world. Let the whole page load before you click a link for your area. (and no, you cannot UPS opossums)

3. If you can't find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area AND it is not illegal to meddle with wildlife in your state, then it is up to YOU! Be sure you have good information before trying to play rehabilitator. Go to the National Opossum Society website and join. Phone numbers are listed below on this page. Nutrition information from friends, neighbors, government wildlife authorities (and even what seems to be common sense) is often wrong.

IF YOU FIND A DEAD POSSUM

First of all, make sure it is really dead and not just playing dead like the possum shown here!

That said, dead possums on the road (and road kill of any species, for that matter) should always be removed from the roadway to prevent attracting possums and other animals, either from curiosity or hunger. Unless they are totally mutilated, possums are easily removed from the road by picking them up by the tail and tossing them away from the area. Wash your hands!

Also, here is a word of good advice to people who throw food out of cars and then espouse that food is not litter because food is biodegradable... FOOD ATTRACTS POSSUMS TO THE ROADWAY. Please don't throw food out, ever.

A dead MALE possum is probably not of very much interest or value to anyone, unless they are very hungry or very weird.

A dead FEMALE, however, may contain up to thirteen babies in her pouch. Quite often these babies will be found to be uninjured and just fine.

Determining the sex is not hard if the possum is not mangled. Most hit possums are easily identified by simply lifting a rear leg and looking. You can tell a male by the fuzzy testicles and the lack of a pouch. A female will have a pouch and no visible genitals.

If you find a dead female, and are of a mind to be a devoted surrogate possum-mom for the next few months, check her pouch for little ones. If you do find a pouchful, I recommend taking the whole possum home, then dealing with extracting the babies there, rather than carrying loose, frightened infants home in your pocket.

If you are in the right place at the right time, you may find bigger "young ones" running around loose or sitting on top of a road killed mom just waiting to be picked up.

Pouchlings may be nearly big enough to be removed easily or still so small as to be stuck to the nipples. Some pouchlings may be pulled off the nipple by placing your thumb and two fingers in front of the snout and pulling away VERY SLOWLY. Eventually the baby will pop off the nipple. Be careful not to smash his head doing this.

Totally hairless infants with eyes, ears and mouth still sealed are VERY difficult to save. If you try, be emotionally prepared for losing them. After a few attempts you will recognize infants that are not big enough to be saved except by professional rehabilitators.

Possum pouchlings have a thin membrane sealing the sides of their mouths shut except for a tiny nipple sized opening right in the front. Experiencing the day when this breaks open is an incredible feeling.

Be realistic regarding how many babies you can handle. Multiply each baby by 10 to 15 minutes and repeat every two hours. Add to that time spent mixing food, cleaning bedding and dealing with attitudes or medical problems. Add to that the time you should spend holding, carrying and mothering them. They get very lonely stuck in a box. Two or three for a beginner will be VERY demanding. We did 6 once and we'd just get them put to bed and it would time to start over. It is better to sacrifice a few than be greedy and have too many to care for properly.

IF YOU FIND YOU ALREADY ARE A POSSUM

If you already are a possum, please heed my advice!

Keep to the moors! Stay off the road!

If you do have to cross the road, cross at the crosswalk, wait for the green light, hold hands, don't dilly-dally and above all, keep your head down low.

ENOUGH FOOLISHNESS! I'M IN A HURRY!

If you are up against the clock with a handful of hungry, hissing orphans, certainly at first, get some liquids into them. Keep them hydrated. A day or two of feeding soy milk and 2% milk, or even water, is not going to kill them.

But don't go long term feeding them the junk we fed ours. Do not feed them kitten mix or formula. Find some Esbilac and telephone the National Opossum Society. Use an eye dropper and some milk mix heated up just luke warm. They will want to eat at least every three or four hours, smaller ones more often. Plan on getting up a lot in the middle of the night.

Keep them warm, but not hot. A hot water bottle does nicely, but no heat lamps or incubators! Watch they don't crawl underneath the water bottle and get stuck!

The National Opossum Society has an excellent tutorial of what to do with orphans here.

First timers will find one possum a handful. Experienced caregiver teams (husband-wife or family members) may be able to handle six or eight on an assembly line basis, but be prepared for quite a bit of droopy eyelid syndrome in the middle of the night.

Pouchlings will not lick milk out of a bowl or spoon. They will just endlessly search for a warm nipple. They could be sitting in a saucer up to their ears in warm milk and still look for that nipple. You will have to put the warm milk into their mouths.

Baby bottles with rubber nipples commonly found in pet stores will not work. Save your money, the nipples are too big. Get a glass eye dropper or medicine dropper with a very small tip.

Tiny pouchlings will have their mouths sealed shut but for a very small opening in the front just large enough for the mother's nipple and possibly too small even for an eyedropper.

Older babies will be constantly trying to get up on top of your hand while you hold them. This can be maddening while you are trying to get the dropper in their mouth. Put them down, throw a terry cloth wash cloth over them and pick them back up. Hold them in one hand wrapped in the cloth with just their head sticking out. Once the milk starts to flow, they will stop squirming.

Squeeze the eyedropper bulb just fast enough to keep milk in their mouths as they swallow. Be careful not to squirt it so hard it goes down the wrong tube. They will instinctively squirm and search for a nipple. They will not be fooled into thinking an eyedropper is a real nipple, but as long as the milk flows they should be fairly calm.

Older adolescents can lick milk off the spoon, IF they are not frightened to death. It depends on how long you have had them, how hungry and how scared they are and whether or not they have gotten used to you as 'Mom'.

Don't forget, little ones need to be gently stroked after they eat to get them to go to the bathroom. This is normally done by the mother so they don't soil the pouch. Use the corner of a soft white cloth (diapers are great) dipped in warm (not hot, but warm) water and rub (not scrub, but rub) their belly and groin front to back. There terry cloth straight jacket works well here, too.

As soon as you have gotten them fed, warm and settled, get on the phone and procure the proper information on how to care for possums from people who are trained in wildlife care and rehabilitation.

All through this page I have been saying "get the right information. "

You have probably been saying, well where is it? Now, I'm going to tell you.

Anita Henness, founder and former president of the National Opossum Society (bless her heart and may she rest in peace in a better place with many needful possums) worked for over eighteen years organizing medical and nutritional information from orphaned and injured opossums. I have used her diet and I know it works. With the help of Janice Hughlett and many others, this information is now available to you.

Go to the web page published by the National Opossum Society concerning what to do if you found an orphaned opossum. The web address is www. opossum. org. (that is org, not com)

Telephone numbers are available there, also below. Call them!

  • Janice Hughlett, (410) 233-1102, after 6pm, Eastern time
  • Patty Stewart, (270) 264-0318, 12n to 12m, Central time
  • Paula Arms, (360) 274-4003, 9am to 9pm, Pacific time

Please leave a message if you are asked to. Leave an evening phone number. Don't forget your area code. Be aware of the time zones. Your offer to pay for a collect return call is appreciated.

Membership in National Opossum Society is not a requirement for you to obtain a telephone consult, although you will find that the membership packet is filled with valuable information about the welfare of opossums. Become a member of the National Opossum Society. I urge you, don't choke at a mere $25 for membership! Ask for their detailed information packet, it's an extra $10 and is worth every dime.

When you get your information packet, don't just skim over it and go until you get into trouble. It's too late then.

One can seem to successfully raise possums on only a part of the prescribed National Opossum Society diet or on other diets. One can even appear to successfully raise a possum on pure garbage... for a while. Even minor deviation from the National Opossum Society diet can cause problems. Some problems will become apparent, but most will remain hidden until it is too late.

Read the materials and follow the advice that you have in front of you. Most people follow instructions until the opossums seem to be getting along then become lax about following directions and sticking to the diet.

The main thing to remember is you are just a steward helping them out until they are ready for release. Don't be fooled into thinking that they will better off living with you than living in the wild. They will be ready for release sooner than you are, believe me. Let them go.

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