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. We see many cases of Metabolic Bone Disease (nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism) in opossums that have been fed poor diets. MBD can progress to cause immobility and death, if not corrected quickly and appropriately! It is not a matter of IF the opossum will become ill, it is a matter of when!
Since the National Opossum Society first published this article, we are gratified that the then widely publicized Modified Jurgelski diet has faded from most rehabilitation operations. But with the ever-expanding platforms for individuals who do not have basic knowledge of opossum nutrition, diets that are terrible for opossums continue to be promoted by various groups and individuals and websites. These assorted diets may be based on canned cat or dog food, chicken or other meats, eggs, kitten chow, dog chow, and/or include excessive amounts of applesauce, human baby cereals and foods, etc. DO NOT USE THEM! We find it interesting that many of these individuals choose to willfully violate our copyright by publishing our diet recommendations on their Facebook Pages and Groups, websites, Instagram, and links to various Cloud drives where our documents have been pirated. Many give completely unauthorized "amendments" to our information, or just disregard it in their own suggestions. We aren't sure why they must have it both ways, but it is reasonable to question the motives of those who simultaneously unlawfully publish and then disregard the information that NOS provides.
If you have seen a formula recipe that includes lactase, or quail egg, or smartwater®, it has NO VALID RELATIONSHIP TO NOS. If you have seen a recipe for "PETER'S FOOD" that includes ANYTHING beyond cat chow, vegetables, and yogurt OR in a ratio that ISN'T 1:1:¼ , it is COMPLETELY COUNTERFEIT.
It is our experience that any diet which includes any meat or protein products except in very restricted amounts, or has an excessive amount of naturally sourced Vitamins A or D, or is supplemented with pure forms of Vitamins A, D, or CALCIUM in the absence of known deficiency, is a dangerous diet for the omnivorous opossum.
There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. —Will Rogers
Instead, we will provide you with information academically and clinically researched and compiled by our founder, Dr. Anita M. Henness, DVM. Not to be discounted is the further nutritional research of our Board of Directors and hundreds of members. When observations and technical research indicate, modifications to our recommendations have been made.
Experimentally determining opossums' precise dietary needs would require that one cage many seemingly healthy opossums; they must be fed diets with one nutrient at several levels ("too high" to "too low"), for a specific length of time; one observes, takes blood and other tests, does post mortems...deaths can be expected in experiments. This must be repeated over and over, for EVERY analyzable nutrient! In non-domestic animal studies, one must always factor in the potential/actual effect of stress from caging and repetitive handling for noxious procedures in a species unaccustomed to intimate human contact.
The above doesn't address issues of the source from which subject opossums are "obtained." Are they trapped from the environment? Or are females kept in captivity to provide serial litters? A sort of "sanctioned" version of puppy mills. And do the persons conducting this experiment know opossums require certain medications? Will they permit antibiotics or other treatment? Will they recognize illness? And then deal with it appropriately, or will they kill the animal?
This is a nightmare for animals. Particularly with non-domestic species, more often than not, it yields data of questionable value. Of course, ethical and moral issues haven't been considered: purposefully placing wildlife in injurious situations which MIGHT or MIGHT NOT yield information useful in helping other opossums. Worse yet...helping another species (humans!) exclusively!
Enter CLINICAL RESEARCH. This is, predominantly, how we in NOS have come to our current level of knowledge with, admittedly, much more to learn than we already have learned. But, what has been gained, has been FIRST for benefit of the individual, as he/she was fed and provided care. The sum of results from one test or treatment in many opossums – proven and reproducible data (i.e., the scientific approach) – is what, ultimately, appears in these newsletter articles, diets, the Medication List, and much more. We all must share information, so that our body of knowledge on the opossum can continue to expand...and so we may thoroughly debunk the TERRIBLE DIETS!"
See Links Below
Current diet information, including the pathogenesis of MBD, is available with membership in the National Opossum Society. In light of the current proliferation and promotion of formulae and diets with widely varying reliability, we at the National Opossum Society are changing our long-standing policy regarding publishing our diet recommendations on this web site. It is a decision that we hope will result in more healthy orphaned opossums being released to the wild. In our experience, it is ALWAYS BEST 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.
The diet that the National Opossum Society recommends is based on several studies wherein the stomach contents of wild opossums were analyzed. All studies show variation in diet according to season and habitat.
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.
leaf litter 11%
fruits, seed, bulbs, etc. 10%
pet food 9%
grass, green leaves 8%
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
misc. or Undetermined 6.7%
Please note this is not a diet recommendation! These studies are examples of the extreme diversity of the opossum's natural diet — one we MUST strive to mimic when we have them in our care!!
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