Possums can look threatening. They look somewhat like giant rats. When threatened, they often stand their ground and bare their teeth, such
as in the below photo. They have 50 sharp teeth. The look intimidating. But are they a threat to people or pets?
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The truth is that opossums are usually docile. This teeth-bearing threat display is just for show. You can poke the animal with a stick in such a state, or even put your hand near that mouth, and the opossum won't do anything! (I'm not recommending this, by the way, just sharing my own experience). In fact, as you may have heard, a more common response to danger is not for the opossum to attack, but to pass out due to sheer fright, or "play dead"!
That said, in rare instances, opossums will attack, particularly when they have to defend themselves, just like any other animal would. So if your dog messes with a possum, and the possum doesn't play dead, it might bite back. In this case, a possum is dangerous to a dog or any other pet, like a cat. Below are two stories of cases I dealt with involving an aggressive, potentially dangerous opossum, only defending itself in extreme circumstances. A possum will never attack unprovoked, and very rarely attack even if heavily provoked! It's much more likely to stay still or play dead. Still, click either of the below cases to learn more.
After you read the below information, you may want to click on one of these guides that I wrote:
How much does opossum removal cost? - get the lowdown on prices.
How to get rid of opossums - my main opossum removal info guide.
Example opossum trapping photographs - get do-it-yourself ideas.
Opossum job blog - learn from great examples of opossum jobs I've done.
It makes sense to know what you are dealing with when it comes to wild animals, especially ones that look simply terrifying such as the opossum. If you were to take away the fact that this animal is around the same size of the cat, has fifty razor sharp teeth, and claws that would rip open even the toughest of skins, you actually just have a frightened animal trying to survive, and this is what most people fail to remember.
One of the things that opossums will do in order to avoid a confrontation with humans is play dead, and although many people believe this to be a myth, it is actually a true fact that you should know when dealing with the creature.
Playing dead is now a phrase used by people often, but very few know the origins, and they stand right here with the humble opossum! A smart move that was designed to confused their opponents into thinking they had "won" the battle, causing the threat to then leave them alone to get on with their opossum lives.
According to studies, the opossum itself has no control over this method of confusion, and it is actually something that is triggered within the brain to paralyze themselves temporarily, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours.
In short, this means that the opossum has a natural inbuilt instinct to play dead when standing against bigger animals, especially humans, so rather than stay and fight, they would actually just appear to be dead. This very much works in the humans favor as the animal can then be moved to a more suitable position and placement, effectively eliminating the problem.
Are possums dangerous to dogs? While opossums are often docile, if actually attacked, they will sometimes defend themselves. At first, the possum will most likely just stand still with their mouth agape at the dog. If attacked, they might play dead, but they also might fight and scratch and bite. In general, of wild animals, I think opossums are less of a threat than others. A raccoon might really hurt your dog. An opossum probably not.
Are possums dangerous to cats? I'd say that opossums are of little risk to housecats. Whereas a dog might provoke an opossum attack in pure defense, a cat won't attack an opossum the way a dog will. The important thing to know is that cats are WAY faster and more agile than opossums. The possum may look like it has a big scary mouth in comparison to a cat, but if push came to shove, a cat would win a fight out of pure speed. That said, a cat will almost never attack an opossum, and vice versa, an opossum will almost never attack a cat. Possums and cats get along! Opossums will not eat small kittens. Cats DO, however, frequently catch and kill young opossums, which look like rats. Read more on my Can a possum kill a cat? page.
Are possums mean or nasty or aggressive? No, the natural disposition of the opossum is gentle and independent. Opossums are not mean. Opossums are not aggressive. They just want to live their lives in peace. They will never aggressively attack for no reason, and remember, they don't really carry rabies.
While opossums are rarely dangerous, you might want to read about opossum predators. In general, possums don't have many, outside of the very people who help them thrive. The bottom line is that this is a peaceful animal, and it's not involved in many altercations, either as predator or prey.
AAAnimalControl.com is written by me, David. I am a professional nuisance wildlife control operator. It is my goal to provide education about safe, responsible & effective solutions to human-wildlife conflicts. I provide a lot of "how-to" info, but in many cases, wildlife removal is complex, dangerous, and subject to local laws. Sometimes I recommend hiring a professional. I have spent over 10 years now training and investigating companies all over the United States, serving over 650 USA cities and towns. I believe my hand-picked list is far better than what you'll find on a standard web search by yourself. For my recommendation of a local critter trapper in your area, click here for my nationwide list of 100's of professional wildlife control experts.