"Playing possum" is an involuntary reaction of a possum when it feels threatened. In such situations, it pretends to be dead, exhibiting all the traits of a sickly, dead animal, with the purpose of tricking its attacker. The possum takes about 1 - 4 hours to regain consciousness.Most of us have been acquainted with opossums under typical circumstances―you'll find them under the hood of the car, or on the porch eating from your dog's food dish, or even in the garbage can. Several times, you may even encounter them on the roads as unfortunate victims of speeding cars. Interested individuals tend to take this as an opportunity to do their humane bit, and rescue such victims, if they are found to be alive, of course.
However, take note that it is not as easy as picking up an unfortunate opossum off the road and nursing him back to health. Laws on rescuing possums vary from state to state, and it is never a good idea to precariously flirt with the rules. The best and most sensible thing to do under these circumstances is to contact the National Opossum Society, and seek advice. If this isn't possible, carry the injured animal to the nearest animal shelter. Whatever you do, ensure that you're following state laws regarding treatment of possums.
If, for some reason, it does fall on you to take care of orphaned opossums, given below is a list of things you need to be mindful of.
Before you take them home► If you find a dead or injured female possum on the road, check her pouch for infants. Mind you, this is a good way to determine the gender of the animal as well, since male possums do not have a pouch on their bellies. There can be up to 13 babies in a female's pouch.
► If the female is dead, and the babies are alive, carry the female along instead of removing the babies from the pouch individually. Being marsupials, possum babies have their mouths stuck to their mother's teat, and it can be difficult to dislodge them.
► If you are unaware or are inexperienced with handling small animals, wear gloves while picking the injured animal, as it may get aggressive and try to bite you. In such cases, it is best to carry them to the nearest shelter.
Caring for orphaned opossums► Use an eye dropper to feed them infant formula (Esbilac) or soy milk as soon as you get them home. Ensure that the milk is slightly warm, but not too much. Feed them water in the same manner.
► The frequency of these feeds should be once every 2 - 3 hours, and it should be done carefully, drop by drop.
► You can keep the babies in a cardboard box lined with paper and a soft cloth. You can place a hot water bottle within to keep them warm. Remember, too much heat is not good for them, so do not place them close to heat lamps.
► You will notice that the possum babies do not lick milk or water from a bowl or a spoon, as they are not mentally equipped to do so. As far as possible, keep feeding them with the dropper, dripping the liquid straight into their mouths. Remember, this takes a long time and a lot of patience.
► Toilet training is next among the inevitable. Baby possums need to be coaxed a bit to be able to do their business. Use a moist ball of cotton or a soft tissue to rub them very gently on their belly and abdomen. This will provide the necessary stimulation for them to do the deed. Also, they will continue needing assistance until they attain the age of about 2 months and over.
Points to Remember►Possums are not the best of pets, they belong to the outdoors. Therefore, it is in their best interests that you contact the National Opossum Society and take their advice regarding opossum welfare.
► Possums have a tendency to bite whenever they feel threatened. This happens even when they are accustomed to your touch―they will bite you even if they are startled, and this does happen a lot. Their mouth is a haven for bacteria, and a bite is very likely to cause a serious infection, especially in case of those who have a weakened immune system.
► The best thing to do is to care for them, but only until they reach the age of 12 - 13 weeks, or are 12-14 inches in size excluding the tail. This is the time when they are fully grown and ready to be released in the wild. Don't be afraid to release them, as their instincts are strong enough to help them flourish out there. Possums are not to be kept in captivity for their own good.
► Remember that possums enter into our yards and houses with the intention of obtaining food. Therefore, it is prudent to keep the trash cans covered at all times. Also, do not leave pet food out for long, especially in the night.
As cute as they may seem, possums are not your conventional pets. If you are in the dark about how to handle them, call for assistance rather than attempting to care for them yourself.