"High maintenance" doesn't begin to describe captive opossums.
They need a particular diet with fresh foods and proper calcium: phosphorous ratios. Their diet is specific- if you mess it up, they will become ill with metabolic bone disease which can cripple their bones and teeth, and ruin ALL of their internal organs. They become obese very quickly and easily, and can develop many debilitating conditions from a bad diet.
It is impossible to provide adequate exercise. Opossums walk up to a half mile each night. They will not do this in a cage or around your house.
It is difficult to get a vet to see them, and if you do, it is highly improbable to get one who knows the particular physiology of the opossum, which, in some ways, is very unlike a dog or a cat. You must have a vet to work with and a means of getting prescribed medications, laboratory tests, etc. Because they WILL get sick.
Females are especially susceptible to urinary tract and genital tract bacterial infections. It is abnormal for them to have a discharge or to urinate more than once/day or to have any offensive odor.
We search for words to tell people how difficult it is to keep opossums healthy in captivity, but there are really no words for it. The fact is, it is practically impossible. Many of their needs are simply unknown to us, and they are designed by nature to be short-lived animals. Ethically, you are imprisoning him. He is not domestic, he is a wild animal. His pleasant nature may make him appear to be satisfied, but the constant stress of captivity takes its toll in the form of immune suppression, and makes them susceptible to several bacterial diseases, and things can go very bad very quickly. It doesn't matter how many web pages or Internet groups you've found that you think will help you. Some have worthwhile information, some are worthless, and how will you know the difference? Let him go have his life in the wild.
What will you do and where will you turn when this animal becomes ill? Do you have a plan? Do you have a knowledgeable veterinarian? Do you have loads of money? If you have all of these things, and you have rescued an orphan that you are raising in a manner that is maintaining its health, then LET IT GO. It is the only right and ethical thing to do.
If you are willing and able to provide for the needs of a captive opossum, and can deal with the financial and emotional strain, then get involved in caring for orphans on a full time basis. Orphan care givers will most certainly come into an opossum that cannot be released due to its injury or illness, and opossums that are not releasable only have 2 choices; euthanasia or captivity in a home or facility. This is not a mixed message. In the experience of NOS, most non-releasables can adapt to life in captivity, although for some, euthanasia is the kindest option. Educate yourself about their needs before you commit to caring for a non-releasable. But, please don't condemn a healthy orphan to a life in captivity because of YOUR needs, instead of theirs.
A note from one of our members...
"I hear that you are thinking about trying to keep a wild opossum baby as a pet and want to share with you my recent heartbreaking experiences. I, too, wanted to keep captive a healthy baby opossum – and since I volunteer at wildlife clinics – last year I took in an orphaned baby whose mother had been hit by a car and killed.
It has been one of the most heart breaking, stressful, confusing and selfish mistakes I have made in my whole life. I didn't listen to any of the people who told me to let them be free–as they were born to be. I thought that if I followed the expert advice of possum specialists, I could keep my baby alive and happy. Instead, I had to bury him after a long, hard death.
I loved him dearly and it broke my heart. Opossums are not meant to be kept as pets, and I swear to you it is the most expensive, gut wrenching heart-breaking experience I have suffered thus far. I have rehabbed and kept many other domestic animals and some other species of injured wildlife, but opossums are only sure to suffer in human hands. Please spare yourself and these babies. I have spent over a thousand dollars just on vet bills so far, and now my Mickey is dead. Every day I wonder if he would still be alive chasing bugs and eating slugs and having a family if only I weren't so selfish and could have let him be free like he was meant to be.
I know they are cute and cuddly and adorable little critters to see and touch, but please don't keep them — it will break your heart for sure-but most importantly, it is a very selfish thing to do. They only suffer in the hands of humans, and if they can be free, please don't be selfish-let them have the life they were meant to live. If you someday want to have an opossum as a pet – you might be able to get one from a wildlife rehabilitator that has a non-releasable— one that isn't well enough to be free on its own. If you volunteer for awhile, and prove you are responsible, this could very well happen. Please do the unselfish thing and set these kids free. Please. It will only break your heart and theirs if you don't. "
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