Opossums populate many areas in the United States, and since they are somewhat omnivorous, homeowners from time to time find themselves hoping to rid their property of them. How can you get rid of opossums and what are the best methods to do so?
How to get rid of opossums? Getting rid of opossums can involve traps, bait, chemicals, and electronic gizmos but begins with prevention. If you keep your home and property unfriendly to opossums, they are less likely to take up residence there, and you won’t have to worry about removing them.
We’ll look at what opossums are, how much of a menace they are, and how to get rid of them. We will also touch on preventative techniques for keeping them away.
What Is an Opossum?
Opossums are marsupials – a rare group of creatures in North America – so they have a pouch for carrying their young. They are related to kangaroos but share none of that animal’s speed or agility.
Opossums are generally nocturnal and not terribly aggressive, preferring to play dead when frightened and sometimes release a terrible-smelling fluid from their anal glands.
What Does An Opossum Look Like?
An opossum’s distinguishing features are its small paws that resemble human hands, bright pink nose, and narrow snout.
When threatened, an opossum will sometimes open his mouth wide in what some call an alligator mouth. The mouthful of teeth shining from under that narrow snout can scare off potential predators.
Opossums have prehensile tails and have lighter fur around their face than their bodies.
How Big Are Opossums?
The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) grows to about the same size as a housecat, although some 17th-century explorers compared them to pigs. After a young opossum is weaned, he strikes out on his own at around five months old and about nine inches long, not counting his tail.
He can grow over the years to as much as 20 inches long (50.8cm), again, not including the tail. The size range varies among species in different parts of the country.
Where Do Opossums Live?
They are semi-arboreal, and while they might appear in northern areas of the West Coast, they generally live in Mexico and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. However, since they are highly adaptive, opossums can live anywhere they want to.
How Long Do Opossums Live?
An opossum’s lifespan is rarely longer than two years in the wild, although one defense mechanism is playing dead when frightened. But when in captivity, they might live several years longer. Of course, they might not be happy when held captive.
They are generally not considered good pets because they are wild animals, and it is illegal in many states to have them as pets, so the captivity we’re talking about would be something like a wildlife rescue or reserve.
What Do Opossums Eat?
They are omnivores, which leads them to eat rotten foods, among other things, a tendency that leads them to dig in our garbage. If you have an opossum problem in your area, and you leave garbage outside, you might want to get a sturdy garbage can with a secure lid to keep them out.
Possum vs. Opossum?
What is the difference between possum and opossum? While one is a relative of the other, they are two separate creatures. Let’s take a closer look at these differences and why you need to change up your vocabulary to be technically accurate.
Difference Between Possum and Opossum
The word “possum” means two different things.
A possum is an opossum-like relative of the North American marsupial found in Australia and other southern hemisphere locales. But “possum” is also used to mean an opossum and is often written, “‘possum.” If you find a possum in your American backyard, you’ve actually found an opossum (or a ‘possum’), as actual possums live thousands of miles away.
Related: How To Get Rid of Possums?
How Bad Are Opossums?
Opossums can carry diseases, but the main reason we want to avoid them is the nuisance factor.
As previously referenced, they will dig in your trash, but they can also chew into wires and through walls and air ducts. The damage they can do to a home is potentially bad enough that if a house has an opossum problem, the seller must disclose that to potential buyers. Also, they usually smell terrible.
Are Opossums Aggressive?
Opossums can be disease vectors, but they are not aggressive creatures. In light of this, opossums are not dangerous to dogs or other pets. They are usually safe from the marsupials since, as mentioned above when an opossum gets scared, he usually plays dead rather than attacks.
In addition to these maladies, opossums also host fleas, ticks, and lice, any of which can take up residence on you or your pets.
Do Opossums Carry Rabies?
Many people assume opossums are rabid, as they confuse the animal’s tendency toward excess salivating with foaming at the mouth. In the rare case of an opossum bite, rabies infection is highly unlikely.
While opossums can become rabid, it is very rare. Because of a low body temperature, the rabies virus has difficulty flourishing in opossums’ systems.
Do Opossums Carry Diseases?
Diseases are another potential problem. The list they can carry is long and includes:
- Toxoplasmosis: This can cause swollen lymph nodes, and more serious cases can result in swelling of the heart and lungs, which is extremely dangerous to pregnant women and their fetuses. Healthy adults with toxoplasmosis should make a full recovery.
- Tuberculosis: Usually presenting with a cough that produces blood or mucus, the tuberculosis patient faces chest pain, fever, and night sweats among other symptoms. Tuberculosis can cause long-term damage to many organs and can result in death if left untreated.
- Leptospirosis: This bacterial infection can cause fever, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea, and jaundice. Left untreated, it can inflict chronic damage on the liver or kidneys. The treated patient should recover in three weeks or so.
- Spotted fever: Since there are many varieties of spotted fever, if you suspect you have it, see a doctor. Characterized by a rash and muscle aches, a case of spotted fever, depending on the exact bacteria causing it, can go away on its own, or it can be deadly, so don’t take chances.
- Chagas disease: Caused by a parasite, Chagas disease, in its initial acute phase, may cause no symptoms at all in the infected. Once it develops into its chronic phase, Chagas disease is a lifelong infection that can be deadly. Since the only way to cure it is to catch it in the acute phase, and since an infected person might not know he’s in the acute stage, prevention is the key, so don’t handle any opossums.
- Trichomoniasis: Since this is the most common of the curable sexually transmitted diseases, the itching and burning of the genitals associated with it can be treated. The most dangerous part of it may be convincing your partner that you got an STD from touching an opossum.
While this is a formidable list of illnesses they can be responsible for, note that rabies is not on it.
What Food Attracts Opossums?
The short answer to “What does an opossum eat?”, unfortunately, is “anything.”
Opossums are omnivores, scavengers, and carrion eaters, which means if something can fit in their mouths, it can be part of the opossum diet. When garbage cans have discarded foods in them, they represent a ringing dinner bell for the critters.
Regarding the opossum’s scavenging tendencies, any dead animals will attract them, as well. If possible, any dead things on your property should be dealt with and disposed of, not only because such might attract opossums, but there are also health issues and odor problems to consider.
How Do You Get Rid of Opossums? Step-by-Step Instructions
More than likely, at some point, while living in the United States, you will encounter opossums. Knowing how to deal with them is critical to your success in doing so. Learning to live with the problem is simply not an option.
If you didn’t repel them soon enough, or if your repelling efforts failed, you must focus on getting the opossums out and away from your property.
The safest approach, and the only one close to being a guarantee, is to call in a professional. They have experience dealing with trapping and removing opossums and other nuisance animals, and they will have the equipment.
But if this is not an option for some reason, or you are an ardent DIY-er, here are some specific tips for you.
Get Rid of Opossum in Some Specific Places?
While opossums, as we’ve already learned, can live just about anywhere, our main concern is when they decide to live in close proximity to us. They have no problem sharing real estate with humans, but they are not good houseguests, so let’s take a look at some approaches we can use to get them to leave when they’ve taken up residence somewhere we don’t want them to.
How To Get Rid of Opossum in Yard?
Opossums will take residence in your yard, especially if you have a lot of debris or food waste. Let’s take a look at how to get them out of your yard.
- Remove their hiding places and food waste. If opossums have food and places to hide, they won’t be motivated to leave anytime soon. Clean up your yard and you can get rid of these pests.
- Sprinkle chili powder around your yard. A non-toxic solution, pepper will not harm your pets or children playing in the yard, but it will discourage the opossums.
- Employ catch-and-release traps. There are many available, from a budget option like JGRZF’s Humane Live Animal Mouse Cage Trap for more than just mice to a pricier one like Havahart’s 1085 Easy Set One-Door Cage Trap. Bait these traps with apples, fish, or wet dog food.
- Humane Rat Trap: Our live mouse trap no poisons, chemicals,...
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How To Get Rid of Opossum in Attic?
Once an opossum (or a group of them) has made or found a nest inside your home, repellent is no longer an option. They can cause severe damage to your home, as their urine and feces can stain walls and ceilings, the animals can chew up wires and ducts and sheetrock, and then there is the disease previously discussed.
The best way to flush them from your attic is probably going to be by trapping them. Since many attics’ designs and layouts are not conducive to chasing a critter around, catching an opossum by hand is impractical. The traps used in your yard will do the same work in your attic. Bait them and check them often.
How To Get Rid of Opossum in House?
Catching them by (gloved or otherwise protected) hand is more practical inside your house. Wearing the gloves, throw a blanket over the creature to avoid bites and scratches. We know they are not aggressive animals, but they will attempt to defend themselves, and they do have teeth and claws. Any of the diseases they possibly carry can easily infect you through a bite or scratch.
How To Get Rid of Opossum in Garage?
If traps and chasing after them don’t work, another approach that is admittedly more of a preventative nature is to opossum-proof your property by sealing up any holes you find that the animals might use to gain entry into your attic or garage.
Options include a foam sealer like Tomcat’s Rodent Block Expanding Foam Barrier or Yardgard hardware cloth, available in various widths and lengths.
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- This spray-on sealant is specially formulated to block mice
- Way to keep mice out of your house
- Hardware cloth
- Ideal for screen doors, gutter guards, animal control, cages,...
- Commonly used for inexpensive, temporary enclosures
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- Double zinc coating
More practical for your garage than your house or attic, waiting them out is a way to get rid of opossums in your garage. This is not the best approach, but given that opossums are nomadic, they will eventually leave.
The question is how badly they will have damaged your property before they decide to go somewhere else. Do not choose this option. It is included here only to give you hope if you fail miserably at getting rid of them yourself.
How To Keep Opossums Away?
The best thing you can do to make sure you don’t develop an opossum problem on your property is to do what you can to discourage them from showing up at all. When executed effectively, prevention can mean no need for traps, bait, gloves, blankets, sealers, or finding a place to release a trapped opossum.
- Keep your trash sealed in bags and bins with closed lids.
- Keep your pet’s food indoors.
- Pick up any fruit fallen from trees.
- Close off access to hiding places.
- Add motion-sensor security lights or sprinkler systems to frighten them off.
- Hang wind chimes.
- Put out your pet’s hair from brushing it – opossums don’t like to be near anything that will compete with them for food.
If these preventative measures don’t help, you have the option of commercial repellents, such as Repels-All Animal Repellent Concentrate. Many of these spray and granulated products can often smell as bad or worse than the opossums and their urine and feces.
- Bonide 237 Animal Repellent Bottle, Concentrate
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- Lasts up to 2 months per application
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Another option from Amazon is Shake-Away’s Fox Urine Granules, a more natural, chemical-free approach.
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- Great for deterring rabbits, groundhogs and possums
Sonic repellents might be more up your alley, such as Ever Pest’s Ultrasonic Repellent, which provides an ecologically friendly way to drive opossums and other creatures away.
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Keeping opossums out of your garden (vegetable or flower) can be done with special fencing, either a welded wire fence with openings no bigger than three inches, or an electric fence, or both.
What Repels Opossums? Product Reviews
Let’s now take a look at some of the products that can repel opossums so that you don’t need to worry about getting rid of them in the first place. As mentioned before, prevention is better than trying to get rid of them after they arrive.
Best Opossum Repellents
One of the most popular opossum repellents is the PREDATORGUARD Solar Powered Predator Deterrent Light. It’s completely self-contained, so you don’t have to plug it in, remember to turn it on at night, or worry about it making bad smells like some chemical deterrents might.
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It uses flashing red LED lights to mimic the eyes of a predator, so when an opossum sees this, he assumes something bigger wants to eat him, and he hightails it to someone else’s home.
Another non-chemical choice from Amazon is the Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion-Activated Sprinkler, which will spray the unlucky opossums that get near it with a blast of water (not hard enough to hurt them) that will startle them and quickly convince them to move along. The Orbit sprinkler has day and night settings, as well, so you can set it so that it won’t go off when you’re working next to it on one of your gardening days.
Other repellents from Amazon include:
- Small Animal Repellent Spray MAKE YOUR YARD, GARAGE AND TRASH...
- Natural Peppermint Oil Repellent Ingredients- Kid & Pet Safe -...
- Natural Deterrent CHANGES ANIMAL BEHAVIOR AROUND YOUR PROPERTY....
- Mouse Repellent- LASTS 2-4 WEEKS - Spray on heavy for your first...
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- Keep rodents away for longer with this two-pack.
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- REPEL BY INSTINCTS: By liberally marking an area with Fox Pee,...
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- PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS: Package contains (1) Predator Pee 100%...
While these all work well to keep opossums and other varmints away from your property, there are two downsides to them all: after a good rain, they will need to be reapplied, and do not smell good.
Is It Illegal To Kill an Opossum?
While laws vary from state to state, in most cases, an opossum is considered fair game if it is damaging your property. The way you dispatch an opossum can cause some trouble as you may run afoul of local animal cruelty statutes, or it may just make people uncomfortable.
There is a case from Oklahoma where is a man caught on video stomping a young opossum to death in 2019. Animal rights groups were very upset, but local authorities admitted that while it was a difficult video to watch, the man hadn’t broken any Oklahoma laws.
Some states require a hunting license to shoot even an opossum that is a nuisance or is damaging your property.
The best way to get rid of opossums is to discourage them from showing up in the first place. Keep your yard clear of food debris and any holes opossums might want to live in. Sound and lights will help scare them off.
Once they live in your house somewhere, they must be removed, either by professionals (animal control or a private business) or by you. While they will eventually leave your property, opossums cannot be allowed to inhabit your home, as they will cause significant damage to it.
List of Sources
Austad, S. N. (1988). The Adaptable Opossum. Scientific American.
Connecticut’s Official State Website. (2008). Virginia Opossum.
Vantassel, S., Hygnstrom, S., Ferraro, D., Wilson, S. (2007). Controlling Raccoon and Opossum Damage. University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension Publications.
Baldwin, R. A. (2015). Pests in Gardens and Landscapes – Opossum. Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California.
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Managing Opossum Damage.