Possums aren’t the most welcoming of animals. With their long claws and sharp teeth, many of us feel wary when we see one near our home, especially if we have beloved pets.
Unfortunately, our dogs don’t seem to see it the same way. Where we view a possum as a pest, dogs often see them as a fun plaything – or even dinner. Many dogs will chase after possums with no concern, leaving us to worry about anything from scratches to rabies.
While there are risks, possums generally will avoid engaging with a dog. However, if a dog has gotten into a scuffle with a possum, they can potentially get hurt or catch an illness. This guide will tell you the risks that possums present to dogs.
How much danger is a possum to a dog?
It can be worrying when a possum starts to bare its teeth, but don’t panic. These creatures prefer to play dead over attacking. This means if you see a possum around your property, they’re unlikely to present an immediate danger to your dog (or other pets).
That doesn’t mean there’s no danger at all. Dogs can see possums as prey, and even a playful chase can cause a possum to lash out. Minimize the risk by keeping dogs and possums separate, avoiding the opportunity for the possum to engage.
Possum claws are quite sharp, but they’re unlikely to cause serious damage to a large dog. The biggest possums are around the size of a house cat, so a big dog is unlikely to face serious injury. If you have a smaller dog, however, they may do some damage.
The claws could potentially take a chunk out of a particularly small dog. Always try and stop your dogs from chasing possums, as they may get hurt.
Will a possum attack a dog?
Possums are not aggressive animals and will much prefer to keep the peace. However, they are still liable to attack if they feel threatened. Remember that even when we know our dogs are playing and mean no danger, all a possum sees is a threat to life. A cornered possum may lash out if they have no other options.
In most cases, a possum’s first line of defense is playing dead. When threatened, a possum will naturally trigger a mechanism that causes the body to go limp. An attacking predator will assume they’ve ‘won’, and retreat with their victory. Meanwhile, the possum can lie paralyzed for anything from a few minutes to several hours. Afterward, they get up and walk away safely.
This ‘dead’ behavior is further enforced by the terrible smell a possum will start to give off. The anal glands secrete mucus that mimics the stench of rotting flesh. This will ward off the predators, who see nothing more than a decaying corpse. When a predator smells this, they tend to turn their nose up and walk away.
For possums, this response appears to be outside their control. They don’t decide to play dead; it’s simply a reaction to the stress of the situation.
Sometimes this response won’t happen, and then a cornered possum will try to defend itself. It will rely on its sharp teeth and claws to attack. This can cause some damage, especially to a small dog. However, they’re very unlikely to initiate an attack and will likely only act this way in self-defense.
So, a possum may attack a dog, but probably in defense. It’s very unlikely that a possum will start attacking a dog for no reason.
Will a dog scare a possum away?
Possums are docile creatures, so a dog can scare a possum away because they want to avoid any conflict.
If a possum is coming onto your property, it’s probably looking for food. Possums enjoy grubs and insects, as well as fruit and grains. They also help themselves to anything that looks tasty from the garbage or the compost. If you have unsecured trash cans, compost heaps, or even fresh planting, a possum may look to your garden for food.
Possums aren’t generally confrontational, so if they see a dog, they’ll try and stay out of its way. If you have a dog in your yard, a possum will probably head elsewhere for their dinner. It just makes life easier for them. After all, its food sources are abundant.
Will my dog get ill if it bites a possum?
The chances are your dog won’t get sick if it bites a possum, but it’s always best to get them checked. This is true if your dog bites any kind of wildlife.
Possums are wild animals, and wild animals are susceptible to disease. By biting or eating a possum, a dog is potentially at risk for:
- Chagas Disease
- Lyme Disease
All of these pathogens and diseases can potentially be passed from a possum to a dog (and even on to a human). While the chances of your dog catching them are rare, it’s best to be prepared. These are nasty diseases and not something you want your dog to have to deal with.
Make sure your dog is up to date with all its shots and vaccinations. This is the greatest defense and your best way of ensuring your dog stays healthy.
Monitor your dog closely after they’ve come into contact with a possum. Look for any signs of illness. Symptoms may potentially include a loss in appetite or suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. If any of this occurs, take your dog to the vet immediately.
If your dog shows no symptoms but you’re still feeling worried, contact your vet to ask for recommendations. They are best equipped to deal with any potential issues.
A possum is also a likely carrier of fleas, and they can bring this into your house and garden. Luckily, there’s not much of a worry about ticks. A possum is a regular groomer, and they love to eat any ticks that they can find.
Can a dog catch rabies from a possum?
Thankfully, it’s very unlikely a dog will get rabies from a possum, especially as your dog should be vaccinated against rabies, to begin with.
Although sometimes an attacking possum may seem to have rabies symptoms, this is more likely to be a defense mechanism. Possums have a low body temperature, which means it’s unlikely for them to catch the disease. It isn’t impossible, however. If your dog only bit a possum, then they’re safe, as the disease is transmitted via saliva.
My dog ate possum poo. Will it get sick?
It might seem repulsive to us, but for whatever reason, dogs seem to love eating feces. Known as Coprophagia, poop eating is a popular, if disgusting, pastime for many dogs. And they might take an interest in possum poo.
As gross as it may be, this isn’t particularly harmful behavior. It’s actually quite normal, but that doesn’t mean you should encourage it. If your dog is eating poo and displaying symptoms such as vomiting, excessive thirst, or lethargy, then you should see a vet, as your dog may have diabetes.
All types of feces can potentially contain nasty diseases, so you should try and keep your dog away. Possum poo can spread diseases and parasites, such as salmonella and leptospirosis.
If you come across possum poop, leave it undisturbed if you can. Otherwise, you risk spreading spores and bacteria. If it needs to be cleaned, wear protective gear such as gloves and a mask – especially if cleaning indoors. Put the feces into a sealed bag and dispose of it immediately.
Unfortunately, the opposite scenario happens as well. Possums will eat dog poo, and if it’s left in the garden, it may draw possums in. Possums will eat dog food and dog poo, so clear both up well.
What should I do if my dog attacks a possum?
If your dog has attacked a possum, there are a few things you can do to limit harm.
Start by getting your dog away from the possum. They’ve likely become overexcited, so they may be tough to handle. Be firm, and keep control. Grab a leash, so you can clip it to their collar and lead them away. Get the dog away from the possum first, and give them an opportunity to calm down.
Check the dog for any scratches and bites. If they don’t have any bites, then you can probably relax and assume no harm was done. You may want to call the vet to be sure and monitor the dog closely over the next few days.
If there is a bite or scratch, begin by cleaning the wound with water. The dog will do a good job of cleaning itself, but you want to make sure any dirt and debris are cleared. Take the dog to the vet for a check-up. They can ensure the wound is cleaned thoroughly and sort out any antibiotics that may be needed.
Most likely, your dog will be fine, if perhaps a little shaken up.
Depending on where the attack took place, you may need to dispose of the possum. If it happened in the wild, then you can either bury the possum or leave it to nature. If it happened in your yard, the possum should be buried, or you should call animal control.
Remember, possums play dead, so leave it a few hours to see if it revives. If it is dead and you choose to bury it yourself, wear protective gear and avoid skin contact. If the possum is nearby your property, you may want to call animal control so no other dogs try eating it.
What should I do if my dog eats a possum?
If your dog has eaten a possum, then the best thing to do is contact a vet and ask for advice. Although it’s unlikely that the dog will contract anything, there is still a potential risk for disease. Symptoms to look out for include vomiting, an upset stomach, or diarrhea.
If your dog has eaten a dead possum, then you should contact a vet immediately. There is a chance the possum has ingested poison, which can then hurt the dog. It could be potentially fatal.
Despite their reputation as pests, possums don’t present much of a danger to dogs. A possum is generally a docile animal and is more likely to avoid a dog than attack. If cornered, they may lash out but are more likely to play dead.
However, as wild animals, they do still present a risk of disease. Keep your dog up to date with all vaccinations, and contact a vet if you think your dog may have caught an infection. Possums present a very low rabies risk, so they’re unlikely to infect a dog.
The best thing to do is keep your dog away from any possums. Clean up any food or waste left in the garden. Secure trash cans, and don’t leave garbage around. Keep the dog in the house overnight if you get possums in the yard.
Possums may seem like a pest, but in fact, they’re relatively harmless. Stay out of their way, and they’ll stay out of yours.