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Can You Have a Possum as a Pet?

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People sometimes find orphaned possums and consider raising these cute animals as pets. It's illegal to keep them without a wildlife rehabilitation permit, though, and once they're old enough to survive on their own, healthy possums can, and should, be released. They're wild animals who don't fare well often in captivity. Trying to transform a possum into a pet can be expensive and heartbreaking.

Wildlife Rehabilitation

To keep a captive opossum legally, you need a wildlife rehabilitation permit from your state. Depending on where you live, you might need to volunteer with a wildlife rehabilitator, take a training class or pass a written exam to get the permit. Once they're healthy, rehabilitated possums always should be released. You might find one who’s so sick or injured that he needs continuing care, though. If you have the knowledge, experience, time and finances to provide him with a good home, you might be able to adopt him.

Dietary Needs

The omnivorous opossum eats a wide variety of food on his nightly rounds. His diet can include fruit, grass and other plants, as well as garden pests, such as insects and snails. He also dines on rats, mice and roadkill. If he can find cat or dog food, he’ll eat that, too. It's extremely difficult to create a captive diet that reflects the diversity of a wild possum’s meals, meets his nutrition requirements and maintains the calcium-phosphorus balance he needs to remain healthy. A poor diet can result in metabolic bone disease, which is expensive to treat and potentially fatal.

Life Expectancy

Opossums have a very short lifespan, usually three years or less in the wild, where they have to contend with predators and cars. In captivity, they can live twice as long if they receive proper nutrition and care from a qualified keeper. However, they also can become ill quickly from the stress of captivity, lack of exercise and a limited diet, and you might find yourself investing emotion, time and money in an animal who doesn't survive long.

Health Problems

Opossums usually have numerous parasites that can cause disease and death, and females often get genital and urinary tract infections. Captive possums frequently have poor immune systems and are prone to bacterial illnesses. Opossums that live longer than a year often suffer cataracts, become obese and lose coordination, although scientists don’t know why they age this quickly. Many vets don’t have the knowledge and experience to treat their health issues effectively. If you find a possum who can't be released and decide to keep him as a pet, immediately find a vet who's qualified to address his health problems.