Courtesy of Wikipedia

Opossums… who knew!

So I was going to publish a foul weather preparedness post today, but considering the events of last night and some new information I received I thought I’d share that first.

Last night our four pups, caught and unfortunately killed, as a result of severe injuries, a mama opossum.

I felt horrible!

I know for a fact our pups wold NOT have done her harm had she been able to resist the urge to protect her babies for two more minutes, giving me time to get the dogs away from the woodpile. She bit Putt-Putt on the nose while trying to protect her babies and his yelp of pain, I’m sure, was the trigger for retaliation (it was too dark to see and I had to fetch a flashlight, but I heard the yelp and knew it was Putt-Putt, figured he’d been bitten, found out it was nose after the fact).

How do I know that they wouldn’t have hurt her? Because Putt-Putt had brought me one unharmed a few years ago. Here is that story: That was a close one!

What is pretty remarkable is the babies were both in the pouch and some strewn out around the woodpile, from where the dogs had carried mama before I got there, all but one were still alive! Other than sniffing the squirmy bodies of the babies they didn’t touch them, Willow even went diving into the woodpile one last time when she heard more babies in there, didn’t hurt any of them! (I’m inclined to think she was the one who kept the others from hurting the babies too.)

Courtesy of Walden's Puddle, one of our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers.

Courtesy of Walden’s Puddle, one of our local Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers.

I got our pups inside, quickly got a box and some towels and went back to fetch the fallen babies and grab mama to move them someplace safe. Unfortunately while I was carrying mama out of the yard I lost one of the opossum pups from her pouch and didn’t realize it until morning, when I went back to find my glasses that had fallen while searching for opossum pups.

I moved them all to a safe spot out of the dogs reach, and where I could easily check on them in the morning in case mama woke up and scampered off. I reunited the opossum pups I had gathered with mama, and placed them near her pouch in hopes that they would find their way back inside.

Unfortunately Mama didn’t make it when I checked on them this morning, but her pups did! So I started calling the Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers hoping they had openings. The last number on my list: Ziggy’s Tree Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, answered and said they would take them!

While I was filling out the paperwork and contact information, the lady I was talking to asked if our pups were okay. I told her other than the one bite that caused them to retaliate, they were fine; I wasn’t worried about rabies since my pups were vaccinated and the opossum was not acting out of character for its species.

She surprised me with some really interesting tidbits of information:

  • Opossums don’t carry rabies; in fact studies are showing that they may not even be able to contract the virus.
  • Opossums also are naturally immune to venom (I know it doesn’t pertain to this situation but it was shared anywho).

This was news to me! She also gave me a pamphlet to share with others on knowing when and how to rescue baby mammals.

Does This Animal Need Help?

If you find a baby mammal on the ground, it may not be injured or orphaned. In the first few days and weeks of a baby animal’s life, they are often left alone while parents are off searching for food to feed them. Many wildlife parents leave their young alone during the day, sometimes for long periods. The young need to remain hidden, or at least quiet, to survive. Some animals watch their young from a distance as to not draw attention to them.

Parents will not reject their baby just because it was handled briefly by humans!

Here Are Some of the Best Ways to Reunite Mammal Babies with the Parents:

  • Squirrels: If the baby has fallen from the nest, watch to see if the mother retrieves her baby. In general, the mother will return for the baby within 1-4 hours. Make sure the baby feels warm to the touch and is uninjured before leaving it for the mother to retrieve. Place the baby in a shallow box with pine needles or a soft towel with no strings or loops. Place the box underneath the tree that the baby fell out of. If the baby is quiet, you can gently pinch his toes so that he will make some noise and alert the mother to his presence. Make sure it is out of direct sunlight or weather. Leave the area and watch from a distance for the mother to return. If the mother has not returned within 4 hours, or if the baby is getting chilled bring it inside and contact a rehabiliator.
  • Opossum: Opossums are the exception to the rule that wildlife will return for their babies. If a young opossum falls off the mother and is less than 7 inches long from nose to butt (not including the tail), it is too young to survive on its own and must be taken to a rehabilitator. Opossums are our only North American marsupial. The female carries the babies in her pouch. If the female opossum is injured or killed, her pouch should be checked for babies.
  • Cottontails: Cottontail rabbits have a nest that is a shallow dug-out on the ground. If you find a nest, leave it alone. If you disturb the nest, you can put any uninjured babies back in the nest. The mother only comes once or twice during the night to feed her babies. If you are concerned that free-roaming cats or dogs might find the nest, you can cover the nest during the day with a laundry basket. Remove the cover at night so the mother can get back to the babies to feed them. Cottontails leave the nest when they are about 3 weeks old. Babies that are at least 5-6 inches long are old enough to be on their own.
  • Deer: If a fawn (baby deer) is curled up on the round and appears approachable, the mother is likely nearby and watching you. The mother may stay away from her very young baby for 15-20 hours at a time. Fawns under 2 weeks of age do not have a scent, and are safer staying put than trying to keep up with mom. If the fawn is laying quietly and has no visible injuries, it should be left alone. If the fawn is up and walking/crying or has visible injuries, it needs to be rescued and brought to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility.
  • Raccoons: If you find a nest of baby raccoons, leave them alone and watch from a distance. The mother may be gone the entire night. Raccoons are nocturnal, feeding and eating at night. As the youngsters grow, they may occasionally be spotted outside of the den playing during the daytime.
  • Skunks and Bats: Current Tennessee regulations prohibit rehabilitation of skunks and bats due to the potential for rabies (If you don’t live in Tennessee contact your local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center for your local laws and regulations). If your cat, dog or child comes in contact with one of these animals, please call your local Health Department for instructions.

If you find a baby mammal that was not listed please contact your local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center or Animal Control.

Preparing a Baby Mammal for Transport:

Only adults should rescue the baby mammal.

  • Prepare a container. Place a clean, soft cloth with no strings or loops, such as a baby blanket or dark-colored T-shirt on the bottom of a cardboard box or cat/dog carrier with a lid. Try to match the size of the container to the size o the animal. A tiny naked baby doesn’t need to be in a jumbo sized box.
  • Protect yourself! Wear gloves, if possible. Some mammals may try to protect themselves Mammals commonly have parasites (fleas, lice, ticks) and some can carry diseases.
  • Cover the mammal with a light sheet or towel. Gently pick up the mammal and put it in the prepared container.
  • Warm the animal. Put one end of the container on a heating pad set on low. If you do not have a heating pad, fill a zip-top plastic bag or plastic soft drink container with screw lid with hot water, wrap the warm container with cloth, and put it next to the mammal. Make sure the container doesn’t leak or the animal will get wet and chilled. Also make sure the animal can get away from the heat if desired.
  • Tape the box shut. Make sure there are a few small air holes.
  • Note exactly where and when you found the mammal. That information may be needed for release and/or to determine if medical attention is needed.
  • Keep the mammal in a warm, dark, quiet place. Don’t give it food or water. Leave the mammal alone – don’t handle or bother it. Keep children and pets away. Stress can kill.
  • Don’t keep the mammal at your home longer than necessary. Keep the mammal in a container – don’t let it loose in your house or car. Keep voice and noise levels low when transporting the mammal.
  • Wash your hands after contact with the mammal. Wash anything the mammal was in contact with towel, jacket, blanket, or pet carrier to prevent the spread of diseases and/or parasites to you or your pets.

 

You can usually find all of the above information on your local Wildlife Center’s website, so please double-check for the list of species they accept, their phone number so you can call and make sure they have room for the animal (never just drop off an animal), and to double-check your local wildlife regulations (can you bring the animal or do they have to pick it up).

8 comments on “Opossums… who knew!

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      Tis the season for baby animals, and dogs and cats are predators by nature, so this kind of thing is bound to happen. I completely understand why she reacted the way she did, but had she waited I could have saved her. 🙁

  1. Kitty Cat Chronicles

    Aww, poor mama and babies. What a neat experience though, to get to take in baby opossums. That’s great that you found somewhere that would take them. A few years ago, my husband and I found a dead opossum in his grandmother’s back yard. He went out to remove it, and when he turned it over, discovered there were babies inside! They were still alive too. We called animal control, and they came and picked them up and said they would take care of them. It was sad that the mom was dead, but it felt good to help out the little babies!

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      I felt it was the least I could do, after all it was my pups fault they lost their mother. They should be perfectly fine though, they were all (minus the one I lost) strong and healthy looking, some even were starting to grow in their fur!

  2. M. K. Clinton

    Possums will sometimes run along our wooden fence at night. The dogs go nutso when they see one, so we carry them outside on a retractable after dark. Pierre is sure there are monsters in the dark and goes on a rant if he goes out unattended in the yard at night. LOL! I’m glad someone took the babies. ♥ Good job.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…What are Pet Blogger Doing on Social Media?My Profile

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      Usually after 10pm I don’t let the dogs out for anything longer than a potty. Mainly to keep them from barking so as not to disturb our neighbors, and to minimize chance of just such an occurrence from happening. For the most part they all do their business and come back quickly, and they’ve all learned that the door doesn’t typically open again after 10pm until morning.

  3. Jillian Cameron

    That is a hard situation. I remember when my dog killed a baby bunny — I was so heart broken, but he was just following his instincts. You did the right thing, and hopefully the babies will have a future thanks to you! Thanks for posting all of this information, it was very helpful! 🙂
    Jillian Cameron recently posted…Five Ways to Prepare Yourself for a New Furry FriendMy Profile

    1. Victoria Carter
      Victoria Carter

      The odds of more of these kinds of encounters happening are greater now that spring has arrived. Tis the season for baby animals, routine fence inspections (for holes, which is how mama opossum got in), and stricter puppy potty curfews!

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