Short-tailed opossums have grown in popularity as exotic pets over the past few years. They are very good pets for beginners due to their cleanliness, omnivorous diet, and general good health. These opossums are small, friendly creatures with easy care requirements—and they're cute! Not to be confused with the North American opossums that may be rescued by wildlife centers, these shorter-tailed cousins have been imported and bred as pets since 1978.
Native to Brazil and neighboring countries in South America, the short-tailed opossum has a thick, grey-brown coat, a muzzle similar to a rat, and very sharp teeth. They have large ears, which make them quite sensitive to sound, and big eyes that give them good night vision. Their hind legs are a good deal longer than their front legs. An opossum's tail is hairless and prehensile, meaning that it can wrap around and hold onto objects.
Common Name: Short-tailed opossum
Scientific Name: Monodelphis domestica
Adult Size: 4 to 6 inches long, not counting the tail
Lifespan: 4 to 6 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Short-Tailed Opossum?
As of June 2006, hobbyists with three or fewer breeding females do not need a federal USDA license to own a short-tailed opossum; as they are a species from South America, they are not wildlife indigenous to North America. However, larger breeders and retail pet stores do need a current USDA license to sell them.
The state agencies that regulate exotic pet ownership are the Department of Fish & Game and the Department of Natural Resources. Check with your local state agency to make sure you are legally allowed to house a South American short-tailed opossum and be sure you specify the full species name to avoid receiving misinformation.
Lastly, check with your local municipality to find out if it is legal to own a short-tailed opossum in your specific town. You may need a special permit or registration. An exotics vet can also help clarify your town or city laws.
As with all pets, ethical ownership often comes down to the quality of life you can provide your pet with. Before adding a short-tailed opossum to your family, make sure you have the financial ability and time to invest in caring for the animal. While it may be legal to own one, it will not be ethical if you can not provide it with the proper quality of care.
Short-Tailed Opossum Behavior and Temperament
When raised from a young age, short-tailed opossums can be friendly and docile. They can be handled easily by people and are curious, active, and entertaining. However, because of their tendency to fight with others of their own species, they do best as solitary pets. Cage mates will become aggressive and may eventually even kill each other.
Short-tailed opossums should only be kept together for breeding and, even then, a pair should be only allowed together for a short time period. There seems to be no difference between the genders when it comes to temperament around humans—both males and females make equally good pets, as both are inquisitive and friendly.
Opossums are marsupials, although they do not have a young-rearing pouch, like most marsupials. Their young are born quite premature and helpless, so they latch onto a nipple on their mother's abdomen and will stay close by until they are further developed. Additionally, the short-tailed opossum is a nocturnal animal so it might not be a good pet for a child.
Short-tailed opossums are adept at escaping, so whatever enclosure is provided should be made as escape-proof as possible. A well-ventilated aquarium (at least 20 gallons) with a tight-fitting lid or a narrow-mesh wire cage should work well. The temperature of the enclosure should be kept at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
A nest box is also required—either a commercial woven nest or a plastic container like a margarine tub will work, but be sure there are no sharp edges. Branches for perching and climbing are also necessary to keep your pet active and stimulated. Make sure they are non-toxic and have never been treated with any pesticides; parrot climbing toys and ladders also work well for opossums.
Short-tailed opossums are fairly tidy creatures and will usually pick a corner area to use as a potty; place a litter pan in that location to make cage cleaning easier. These animals are relatively odor-free, and they only need the cage cleaned once per week.
Specific Substrate Needs
Bedding should be provided for the opossum. Corn cob litter or shavings (avoid cedar) typically work well, but tissue or shredded paper (avoid inked newspaper) can be used as nesting material as well.
What Does a Short-Tailed Opossum Eat & Drink?
Short-tailed opossum owners and breeders tend to feed a wide variety of things to their animals. It's possible to get commercially manufactured short tail food—otherwise, a commercial insectivore diet provides the best basic nutrition. Alternatively, some people feed their short-tailed opossums cat food, ferret food, and a variety of other pelleted diets with success.
Ultimately, you should look for diets that are high in protein and low in fat. A variety of additional treats should be offered, including mealworms, crickets, fresh fruit and vegetables, and hard-boiled eggs. Other options for quick and easy opossum foods are applesauce and baby foods.
Dry food should be available throughout the day and live insects or fruit can be offered between one and five times a day. Feeding bigger items such as eggs or chicken is best done at night, and you should remove the items in the morning if they have not been consumed. Occasionally, special treats can include small amounts of cooked chicken and low-fat yogurt.
Using a general vitamin or mineral supplement is a good idea as well. Water is very important to short tails as they can dehydrate very quickly, so it's vital to make sure their hanging water bottle is always accessible and filled with fresh, clean, and clear (preferably non-chlorinated) water.
Common Health Problems
The short-tailed opossums are fairly hardy pets. They can become ill if proper care is not taken, but most ailments are preventable with attention and treatment. They do seem to suffer from anal prolapse, which can be effectively prevented with ivermectin twice a year.
You should also have regular visits with an exotic animal veterinarian to care for this unusual pet. Make sure you have one lined up and at the ready prior to bringing your short-tailed opossum home. You'll need to schedule regular check-ups and you'll want them on-hand to help you with any emergencies as inquisitive pets sometimes get into things they shouldn't.
While they don't need a ton of exercise, you should give your short-tailed opossum plenty of opportunities to be active, especially within their enclosure. They should have plenty of branches or ladders to climb and perch on. In addition, a solid-surface hamster wheel can be added to provide an opportunity for exercise. They may also like tunnels, cardboard tubing, flowerpots, and other containers to climb through and into. Keep in mind, short-tailed opossums are most active in the evening, so you'll want to locate their cage somewhere where they won't disturb your sleep as they're playing.
Short-tailed opossums take their cleanliness very seriously and, like house casts, spend a lot of the time grooming themselves with their tongues and paws. Because of this, there isn't much you need to do to groom your short-tailed opossum—they will take of everything on their own. If for some reason your opossum gets into something and needs a bath, you can either bathe them with a gentle pet shampoo or give them a dust bath using chinchilla dust.
Training Your Short-Tailed Opossum
Training your short-tailed opossum begins by bonding with your animal. Short-tailed opossums should be acquired young if possible and handled frequently (and gently) from the start. That being said, short-tailed opossums aren't typically the type of animal that are trained to do tricks or certain behaviors—it's a win if they are docile and calm while you're handling them.
Purchasing Your Short-Tailed Opossum
Bringing home a short-tailed opossum baby that's three to four months old is best, but adults can bond with you as well. Always check first with local adoption agencies, rescues, and exotics rehabbers to see if they have or can locate a short-tailed opossum in need of a forever home. The next best option is to find a reputable breeder in your area—rescues may be able to inform you on this topic as well.
Similar Pets to the Short-Tailed Opossum
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Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your pet.
Are short-tailed opossums hard to take care of?
Short-tailed opossums are not hard to take care of. They are friendly creatures with easy care requirements, making them a good option for beginner owners looking for an exotic pet.
How long do short-tailed opossums live as pets?
Short-tailed opossums actually experience a longer lifespan in captivity than they do in their natural environment. As pets, they can live up to six years with proper care; in the wild, they typically live no more than two years, given natural predators and other dangers.
Doe short tailed opossums do better in their natural habitats than in a domesticated one?
Short-tailed opossums live longer in a domesticated environment, and other facets of their lives may be improved as well. They will no longer have to hunt for food or contend with other opossums, which can often lead to physical conflict.