Do Possums Bite? When, Why, What to Do About Opposum Bites


Possums are a common nuisance for homeowners in the United States. It’s not uncommon to find a possum or two in your yard. And when such an encounter is followed by the possum baring all 50 of its teeth at you, it is normal to be concerned. So we’re going to answer the question regarding if possums bite!

Here’s the quick answer, then we’ll dive into more detail.

Do possums bite? Possums do not bite. In fact, far from biting, Possums are generally timid creatures that would go out of their way to avoid a confrontation. If cornered then like most creatures they will defend themselves, but they will not attack without good reason.

But what are the risks? And what’re the chances that my dog might get bitten? Well, let’s dive in a little deeper to find out more…

What are possums?

Possums, also called opossums, are the only type of marsupials that are native to the US.

These small creatures are roughly the size of a cat with a weight ranging between 4 to 15 pounds and a length of ranging from 15 to 20 inches.

With a gray or black fur color and a characteristic pink nose, it is easy to mistake possums for very large rats.

Possums are commonly found in yards and other places like barns and garages around homes as the creatures search for food and shelter. 

do possums bite?
do possums bite?

A possum’s defensive techniques

Finding a possum in your yard or home might seem like an alarming situation, but there really isn’t much to worry about. Possums are generally shy and timid creatures that would rather scamper away than be in a confrontation.

However, should a confrontation occur, and the possum is unable to hide or run, it has two main defensive techniques that it can use.

The first technique is to bare its teeth and hiss or growl. Given the fact that a possum has 50 sharp and pointy teeth in its little mouth, it can be quite an intimidating sight. But there isn’t much need to fear.

This baring of teeth is merely for show and the possum would hardly ever actually use these teeth to bite you.

The second technique is to play dead. A possum has the ability to fall to the ground and play dead in a highly convincing manner. This is what gave rise to the commonly used phrase to ‘play possum’.

Once the danger has passed, the possum will revive itself and carry on with whatever it was up to before. 

Do possums bite humans?

It is highly unlikely for a possum to actually bite you. They are more likely to just hiss, growl and bare its teeth when confronted, they don’t usually bite.

In fact, when a possum is playing dead, you could even put your hand in front of the possum without fearing any bite at all.

Of course, this is still not recommended, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution instead. Because, although it is very rare, possums do have the ability to bite if they feel cornered or are provoked.  

When might a possum bite you?

A possum’s first instinct is to always avoid being spotted and even if it does, it will generally try to scare you off or play dead – but is highly unlikely to bite. However, when provoked, the possum can and will bite.

Health Concerns

Although possums don’t usually bite, that does not mean that you should be okay with having them in your house. Possums bring a number of health issues with them into your home. This is why they are still considered dangerous house guests. Possums can be carriers of various diseases such as tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, and spotted fever, in addition to the usual risk of fleas and ticks. That said, it is unlikely that a possum bite might lead to rabies. This is because these creatures have a strong immune system and their body temperature isn’t as high as other rabies-carrying mammals. 

What should you do if a possum does bite you?

If a possum bites you, immediately tend to the wound, do not leave it. Wash the wound carefully with warm water and soap. Avoid using any soap that is fragrant or contains alcoholic ingredients.

After the wound has dried, apply an antiseptic to the affected area. Add dressing and replace it daily until the wound has healed, allowing to air occasionally. Assuming there are no side effects, then simply keep watchful eye on it to ensure it heals properly.

If the wound becomes infected

Early detection of any infection is helpful. If you see that something is going wrong with the wound, or experience any side effects, then seek appropriate medical attention.

Although the possum is generally a clean animal – well cleaner than many others, infections can occur, usually, a course of antibiotics is required to kill the infection. A disease called Tularemia can be caused by the introduction of bacteria to an open wound. Antibiotics would help fight this.

If in the unlikely event you are bitten by a possum, symptoms or complications can include…

  • Signs of infection in and around the wound
  • Inflammation of lymph nodes, usually around the neck and head
  • Feeling nauseous

Antibiotics will usually clear this up, but seek proper diagnosis by a member of the medical profession.

But what about your dog? Cat? or other pets? Are they safe around possums?

Do possums bite dogs? Or any pets?

Just as with humans, possums would do what they can to avoid a confrontation with any pets such as dogs or cats in your house. Their immediate instinct it to escape. When confronted though, a possum uses the same defensive strategies to protect itself, that of hissing and baring its teeth or playing dead. 

If your dog or any other pet decides to interfere with the activity and freedom of a possum, and if the possum doesn’t choose to play dead, it could bite back. So, it is better to be safe, and view it as though a possum is dangerous to a dog or cat, or pet.

Fair to say that many pets will instinctively leave possums alone if they’re not familiar with them, and if they sense there’s a threat.

Resources

Here’s our favored humane approach to deter possums around your property outside. You can easily add a repellant, this sonic repellant on Amazon is well priced with good reviews. They’re good options if you live in an area with many kinds of rodents as it will work for most.

Or for a natural look, you could just get this Owl as a natural repellant!

If you have a greater Possum infestation, however, then you may need to contact your local pest control agents.

Conclusion

The takeaway here is to try not to be scared of Possums, they will likely be more scared of you! But if you do see one, don’t let your pets approach it, and neither should you or your kids. If you do get bitten, follow the precautions. We hope this was helpful in teaching you about being aware of what possums can do and what to do if you do get bitten!

Michael

A Certified Ecologist and an Entomologist, Michael has been interested in all aspects of Nature for many years. It's only now he's decided, along with his partner Fran, to begin documenting what he knows.

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