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A Rabid Opossum? Or Just a Scared Opossum

By Chris Williams on August 31, 2015.

Our neighbor thinks we might have a rabid opossum that visits our yards. It acts strangely when it sees you and it didn’t back off from our dog. It growled and was drooling, and looked like it was going to bite the dog. We chased it away but my neighbor saw it again yesterday. Do opossums get rabies?

E. E., Ayer, MA
Opossum

Opossums can get rabies, but that’s rare and other animals such as raccoons, bats, and skunks are more common as carriers (see Eight Things You Thought You Knew About Rabies). But anytime you suspect an animal may be rabid, stay away from it, and call animal control, the health department, or the police.

 

Opossums Put On a Good Show

Having said that, you should know that what you saw sounds like a pretty normal defensive response for an opossum. Opossums will put on quite a show if they feel threatened. They will bare their teeth in an ugly grin, hiss, screech, and even drool. They also sometimes release a foul-smelling, greenish fluid from their anal glands. All of this is designed to make a predator think twice. If that doesn’t work, the opossum might go limp and play dead (sometimes for hours) with eyes open to confuse its attacker.

Since opossums are nocturnal, “they” say that if you see an opossum in the daytime, it must be rabid. Not so; the animal may have been forced out of its daytime den by a predator, hunger, or cold.

Opossums are nomadic and don’t have any one den site. Most nights are spent in a different place under buildings, in hollow logs, brush piles, or in old squirrel nests. Sometimes opossums will even bunk in the same burrow with a woodchuck or a skunk. On rare occasions, they may den in a garage or shed. They don’t have any set territory and are constantly on the move so they’re not easy to track.

 

Don’t Put Out the Welcome Mat for Opossums

Opossums feed mainly on insects or dead animals but will also eat other foods such as fruits, grains, garbage, compost, pet food, bird seed, bird eggs, voles and shrews. Your neighborhood opossum is apparently finding something it likes in your yards, either food or a denning site. To discourage your nocturnal visitor, make sure you keep your garbage in a heavy duty, tightly-sealed garbage can, clean up bird seed under feeders, pick up produce in the garden, and don’t leave pet food outside. For more, see How Not to Attract Raccoons and Opossums! – Advice From the Pros.

Photo credit: / Foter / CC BY-ND

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