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My Dog Killed A Possum! What Do I Do?

What do you do after experiencing the realization, “my dog killed a possum?”

To start, you’re likely to start worrying about your dog’s health and safety.

Fortunately, there’s not much to worry about if your dog’s gotten a hold of one of these critters.

Here are some critical details to keep in mind if your dog has killed an opossum.

What Happens if My Dog Eats a Possum?

Now and then, critters make their way into your backyard or other parts of your residence.

Because of this, they can get a bit too close for comfort to the resident pooches.

When this happens, certain dogs will be triggered to “hunt” and kill the animal, leading you to make an unpleasant discovery soon after.

One of the most common species that winds up in these situations is the opossum.

Opossums, or “possums,” as most Americans know them, are generally peaceful creatures.

With that said, you can rest assured that the animal most likely won’t attack your dog in retaliation if approached.

Instead, its defensive behaviors consist of hissing and growling, primarily.

However, if it’s pushed too far, an opossum will bite.

So, it’s best to keep a close eye on your dog when it’s outside.

Otherwise, you risk the dog getting exposed to various diseases through its injury.

Of course, the most famous of the opossum’s defensive behaviors is the “play dead” trick.

This is surprisingly convincing.

Opossums that play dead will stiffen up and even appear to stop breathing like a real dead body due to a physiological response that sends them into a comatose-like state.

This act can last anywhere from 40 minutes to four hours.

Whether you’ve confirmed it to be dead or not, it’s best to stay away from the supposed carcass and remove your dog from the area if it hasn’t yet eaten the opossum.

Since opossums are not typically aggressive creatures, your dog doesn’t face a direct threat upon attacking one of these animals.

Unfortunately, there are passive issues you need to think about, especially if your dog does manage to consume it.

These are mainly in the form of zoonotic diseases, described below.

Leptospirosis

Opossums are known carriers of a bacterial disease known as “leptospirosis.”

This illness is a danger to both you and your dog.

In people, this disease initially causes flu-like symptoms.

If left unchecked, it can worsen and lead to severe damage in the following physiological systems and organs:

  • Kidneys
  • Livers
  • Respiratory system

Unfortunately, dogs are affected by leptospirosis more often than cats and “exposure to wild animals” is one of the primary risk factors.

A dog that’s suffering from leptospirosis will display the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Shivering
  • Muscle sensitivity
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive urination
  • Eye inflammation
  • Respiratory distress

If you suspect your dog has eaten a possum and has subsequently been infected with leptospirosis, take it to the vet immediately.

Rabies

This is the second-most important illness to be aware of if there’s any chance that your dog may have killed or eaten an opossum.

Not only is it a risk to your pet but to you, too.

Still, despite the seriousness of this disease, it’s crucial to know that opossums don’t present too much of a risk.

Although it’s still best to get your dog medically evaluated for rabies after a close opossum encounter, this species is known for one of the lowest risks for contracting and spreading rabies.

This is because the opossum’s internal temperature is too low to host the virus.

This isn’t to say that your dog can’t get rabies from an opossum.

In case of infection, signs to look out for include:

  • Unusual fearfulness
  • Aggression
  • Drooling
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • The dog is unable to maintain balance

Is It Dangerous for a Dog to Kill a Possum?

The act of your dog killing an opossum is not necessarily dangerous in and of itself.

However, what is dangerous is the potential disease exposure.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should live in fear of leaving your dog in the backyard alone from now on.

In fact, even if you’ve spotted opossums in the yard or at a nearby park before, the chances are low that your dog will get a hold of one.

Further, it’s unlikely that your dog will kill or eat one that carries either of the diseases described above.

As mentioned previously, rabies infections in opossums are extremely low.

Most experts don’t consider them to be much of a risk at all.

Fortunately, the seroprevalence (the level of a disease in a given population) of leptospirosis in opossums is low, too.

For example, the state of Michigan reports that, on the rare occasion that leptospirosis outbreaks occur, the only animals that are implicated as the cause are rodents.

The state goes on to assert that the “risk of infection from free-ranging, wild animals is virtually non-existent.”

My Dog Killed a Possum: What to Do

If your dog kills an opossum, the most important thing for you to do is keep calm.

As you’ve learned, chances of a disease infection are low.

Still, you should get your dog veterinary care as soon as possible.

Follow these steps if you’ve discovered that your dog has either eaten or killed an opossum:

  • Do not touch the opossum. You cannot be sure if the opossum is dead or alive since their “play dead” defense tactic is so effective. Do not touch it, as this could present a higher risk of sickness to you.
  • Contact animal control. It’s best to get professional help to remove the carcass from the scene. If you think the opossum’s alive, call a wildlife rehabilitator instead.
  • Remove your dog from the area. If your dog is of a breed that is “prey-driven,” such as a Beagle, German Shepherd, and many terriers, it might still be tempted to go after the animal. Eliminate the stimulus by bringing your dog indoors.
  • Contact your veterinarian. Call your veterinarian and explain the situation. They will most likely suggest an evaluation, at which point you should schedule an appointment.

Conclusion

Sometimes, dogs just can’t help but to chase down wild animals, especially if they have a strong prey drive.

If you’ve just discovered a carcass in your yard and had the worrisome thought, “my dog killed a possum,” it’s best to contact your veterinarian.

Remember to stay calm, though, as chances of a serious disease infection are low.

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