Caring for Baby Possums
Orphaned Wild Animals
Have you ever found an orphaned wild animal, such as a baby bird, raccoon or possum? If you did, would you know what to do? Who would you call? These are questions that I recently faced when my daughter and her friend found a dead mother possum with live babies. It was a very interesting experience, and now I am better informed on what to do in such a situation and how to care for these animals.
As much as your child will want to keep the animal and raise it, wild animals can be dangerous and will fare better with someone trained and experienced in wildlife rehabilitation.
When Mother Possum DiesClick thumbnail to view full-size
When You Find Baby Possums
On a recent day off from school, I took my 11-year-old daughter and her friend for a walk in our wooded neighborhood. Near the edge of the creek, we discovered a dead possum with two baby newborns crawling around her stomach. These tiny pink orphans were only about 3-4 inches long, hairless and blind. Their eyes were still covered by skin. I honestly had no idea what to do. Was the mother really dead? Don't possums carry rabies? We needed help.
We ran back to the house, and I scanned the phone book for wildlife rescue listings. Surprisingly, there was no such listing, though there were many pest control companies. I called the county animal control office to see if they had a contact number for a rescue organization. No luck. I called a nearby veterinary clinic, but they did not know who could help. Finally, I called the local animal humane society to see if they had a contact. Yes, they gave me the number for a volunteer who works for Keeper of the Wild, a non-profit group that rescues and rehabilitates injured or abandoned wild animals.
Meanwhile, the girls had researched online how to raise baby possums at home and had gathered the following materials: a cardboard box, old hand towels, a container of milk they had heated in the microwave, and small medicine droppers to feed the puny critters. Yes, they had already decided to commit the next year or so on bringing the babies up themselves. *We would find out later not to ever give cow's milk to baby possums.
Runaway PossumClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Best Home for Baby Possums
Much to the dismay of the girls, I explained that keeping the baby possums was not an option. Survival chances for such young newborns without a mother are slim, so we needed to get them to someone who had the experience and tools to care for them. The animal rescue volunteer asked us to take the babies to the local animal hospital so that they could be incubated and hydrated. Then, a volunteer from Keeper of the Wild would pick them up to start the care.
The problem was how to gather and transport the babies. The volunteer informed me that there were probably more babies in the mother's pouch. Once the mother died and the milk went cold, the two possums we found probably left the pouch to find another food source. I had two choices on how to retrieve the babies. The first was to put on gloves and pull the critters out of the pouch. The volunteer warned me that it may feel like I would break the baby's neck because they latch onto the mother very tightly. The second option was to load up the dead corpse and two babies that were already out. I choose the second option, which, though a little gruesome, did not involve me rummaging around in a dead possum's tummy.
We returned to the site to find one baby crawling away from the mother. The second baby was still lying on the possum's stomach. As I picked up the mother (with gloves), we noticed a small tale of a third baby hanging out of the pouch. We loaded them all up in the cardboard box and covered it with an old hand towel. It was not pretty, as the mother had a bloody face and flies were around the body, but we were on a mission to save those three babies!
Animal Hospital Waiting Room
A Happy Ending
The drive to the animal hospital seemed to take forever, and we kept listening for the one baby that kept squeaking out a hunger cry. We arrived at the hospital and noticed the third possum had climbed out of the pouch. We delivered the box of possum to the friendly staff, and they went to work to see if there were more babies inside the pouch. They came back out after a few minutes to show us all six of the baby possums! They were so small and cute as they climbed all over each other.
The babies were put into an incubator to keep them warm and were given liquids for re-hydration. Later that afternoon, a volunteer from Keeper of the Wild stopped by to pick them up. The dead mother's body was to be cremated, so it was good to know that they didn't just toss it in the dumpster.
I called a volunteer with Keeper of the Wild a week later to check on the status and to find out what they do with abandoned baby possums. She was happy to report that the survival rate for baby possums with her group is very high because they are able to use tube feeding, which goes directly into the baby's stomach and is similar to the way possums feed their young. The newborn possum requires a specific diet and the volunteers are able to meet the need using ingredients such as yogurt.
Possum Used in Educational Programs
Home at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens
The Possum Saga Continues
The volunteer at Keeper of the Wild was nice enough to keep us updated on the progress of the six rescued baby possums. Three of the possums were successfully released back into the wild. The other three just were too stubborn to get "wild" again. The female remains with the volunteer and is used for educational programs. The two remaining males were donated to the petting zoo at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston. They also are used for educational programs.
We simply had to visit these little guys, so we made a trip to Magnolia Gardens. The petting zoo is nothing like you see at the fair or carnival. It really is a delightful place! Most of the animals roam freely from their pens, and the zoo is extremely clean and well-kept. Peacocks were preening on the wall; chickens were curious and wandering; baby ducks were splashing in the pool, and the two possums were asleep in a hollow log.
The kind zookeeper brought out one of the possums for us to see and pet. He had grown so much, but was still not full-sized. We were surprised that his fur was very soft and not wirey as it appears. He was very tame and crawled around the keeper's neck. He and his brother have a nice large pen with plenty of natural hiding places and colorful veggies to eat. We left with such a good feeling knowing they had found a wonderful home and would be used to educate others about the often misunderstood possum.
Tube Feeding a Baby Possum
Keep Possums Warm
Tiny baby possums that are less than 7 or 8 inches will need to be kept warm. Follow these steps to keep them safe:
- Place an old towel in the bottom of a shallow cardboard box.
- Wrap the babies loosely in another towel and set in box.
- Arrange a heating pad around the box, but not directly touching the wrapped babies.
- Make sure heating pad setting is on low.
How to Care for Baby Possums Yourself
If you do find baby possums, the best thing to do is seek assistance from someone experienced with wildlife rescue. The mouths of the babies we found were sealed closed with one tiny hole between the lips. The only way they could survive was with someone who would be able to successfully tube-feed them for awhile. See the video above.
If the baby possums are less than 4 inches long and can open their mouths, you may be able to feed them with a syringe or dropper. Possums do not suckle, but they can lap liquid up as it drips out. The US Opossum Society offers some tips for the temporary feeding of these tiny possums until you can get them to an appropriate caretaker that will be able to provide them with the specific diet needed to thrive and battle infection:
- At first, offer the babies a mixture of one part Pedialyte and two parts lukewarm water for re-hydration. Use this mixture for the first two feedings which should be 3-4 hours apart.
- After that, you can feed them a puppy formula, such as Esbilac.
- Use a warm damp cotton ball to gently rub the baby possum's tummy to stimulate a waste elimination between feedings.
If the babies are a little bigger, about 4-7 inches, the US Opossum Society suggests that you offer them moistened kitten chow and water in a shallow bowl. Be sure to keep the water fresh. If the babies are larger than seven or eight inches, they should not require any care and will be able to take care of themselves. If they are injured, you will need to seek assistance.