Achieving good nutrition in the opossum is a difficult and evolving task. This challenging aspect of opossum care is one of the reasons that diets recommended by various groups and individuals can be so diverse, and some so detrimental. The opossum as a biological organism is not forgiving of a poor diet- they WILL get sick, lose mobility, or die if they are fed inappropriately.
Various sources have advised to feed what is known as the Modified Jurgelski Diet (90% kitten chow and 10% raw beef liver) to juvenile opossums. It is our experience that this diet, or any diet which includes any meat or protein products except in very restricted amounts, or has an excessive amount of Vitamin A or D, as is found in beef liver, is a dangerous diet for the omnivorous opossum. Even Dr. Jurgelski didn't believe the diet he developed for laboratory opossums was adequate (references available). It is our hope that the MJD will soon be seen as so outdated that this advisory will become unecessary.
The MJ diet is not the only harmful diet being promoted by various groups and individuals AND websites. These assorted diets may be based on canned cat or dog food, chicken meat, eggs, kitten chow, or include excessive amounts of applesauce, human baby cereals, etc. DO NOT USE THEM! Please, please call us sooner rather than later if you are caring for an opossum.
An important note regarding formulae: We are seeing increasing numbers of cases where infants fed "name brand" formula are resulting in hypocalcemic episodes. Untreated hypocalcemia can quickly result in death in infant opossums! Remember that a photo of opossum on a label does NOT qualify it as a suitable milk replacer.
Current diet information, including the pathogenesis of MBD, is available with membership in the National Opossum Society. It is against N.O.S. policy to publish complete diet plans or infant formulae on its Web site. In our experience, it is essential that anyone trying to provide care for any opossum be in telephone or face-to-face contact with an experienced opossum rehabilitator. This is ESPECIALLY true if you are trying to correct MBD. Therefore, we ask that you establish this contact with a call to our Orphan Care Comittee, or to our advisors, or to your local experienced opossum rehabilitators and veterinarians. Membership in N.O.S. is not a requirement for you to obtain this information, although you will find that the membership packet is filled with valuble information about the welfare of opossums.
The following table is drawn from one of those studies, published in The Murrelet, Spring 1980, authored by David D. Hopkins and Richard B. Forbes. The study was performed on road-killed opossums in and near Portland, Oregon.
|mammals 27%||leaf litter 11%||fruits, seed, bulbs, etc. 10%||gastropods 10%||garbage 9%||earthworms 9%||pet food 9%||grass, green leaves 8%||insects 3%||birds 3%||misc. animal tissue 1%|
Another study conducted in New York State in 1951 analyzed the stomach contents of 187 opossums. The study was conducted by W.J. Hamilton, Jr. and published the The Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol. 15, No. 3
|Fruit 18.0%||Amphibia 17.2%||Mammals 14.2%||Insects 13.4%||Grasses 6.6%||Worms 5.4%||Reptiles 5.3%||Birds 5.0%||Carrion 4.8%||misc. or Undetermined 6.7%|
Check out the nutrient content in the foods that you are feeding at the USDA Nutrient Database
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