Short-Tailed Opossums as Pets

Monodelphis domestica
Dawson/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

Short-tailed opossums are growing in popularity as an exotic pet. They are small, generally friendly creatures with good pet potential, pretty easy needs, and they are certainly cute enough! Originally from South America, the short-tailed opossum has thick grey-brown fur and a muzzle similar to a rat and have very sharp teeth. They have large ears and are very thin-skinned. Their large ears make them quite sensitive to sound and their eyes bulge out giving them good night vision. The hind legs are longer than their front legs.

The tail is prehensile, meaning it can wrap around and hold onto things and it is hairless. They are marsupials, although they do not have a pouch like most marsupials. Their young are born quite premature and helpless, latch on to a nipple on their mother's abdomen, and stay there until they are further developed, like other marsupials.

Breed Overview

Common Name: Short-Tailed Opossum

Scientific Name: Monodelphis domestica

Adult Size: The short-tailed opossum's body is 4 to 6 inches long, with a tail almost as long as the body.

Life Expectancy: 4 to 8 years in captivity

Difficulty of Care: Moderate. The short-tailed opossum is a nocturnal animal that does best as a solitary pet. They are tidy animals but are known to escape their enclosures.

Short-Tailed Opossum Behavior and Temperament

The short-tailed opossum can become a pet that is friendly and docile. It can easily be handled by people and is curious, active, and entertaining. They should be kept as solitary pets because of their tendency to fight with other opossums. Cage mates will become aggressive and may eventually kill each other. They should only be kept together for breeding, and even that should be for a short time period.

They are nocturnal so they will be most active at night, although if they do awake they will be social during the day. There is not a difference between the temperament of the genders. Males and females make equally good pets and are often inquisitive and friendly.

Housing the Short-Tailed Opossum

Short-tailed opossums are adept at escaping, so whatever enclosure is provided should be thoroughly escape-proof. An aquarium (15 to 20 gallons) with a tight-fitting lid or a narrow-mesh wire cage should work well. The ambient temperature should be kept at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Bedding should be provided for the opossum. Corn cob litter or shavings (not cedar!) will work well. 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. Tissue or shredded paper (not newspaper) will be appreciated as nesting material. Branches for perching and climbing are needed. Make sure they are non-toxic and not treated with pesticides (parrot climbing toys and ladders also work well). In addition, a hamster wheel can be used to provide an opportunity for exercise. They may also like tunnels, PVC tubing, flowerpots, and other containers to climb through and into.

Short-tailed opossums are fairly tidy creatures and will usually pick a corner are area to use as a potty, so a litter pan can be placed here to make cage cleaning easier. They are pretty odor-free and only need their cages cleaned once a week.

Food and Water

Short-tailed opossum owners and breeders tend to feed a wide variety of things to their animals. It is possible now to get commercially manufactured short tail food (e.g. Brisky's Short-Tailed Opossum Food, available online). Otherwise, a commercial insectivore diet probably provides the best basic diet, although some feed cat food, ferret food, and a variety of other pelleted diets with success. Look for diets that are high in protein and low in fat. A variety of treats should be offered, including mealworms, crickets, fresh fruit and vegetables (offer a variety), and a hard-boiled egg. Other options for quick and easy food are applesauce and baby food.

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 egg or chicken is best done at night. Remove the items in the morning if they have not been consumed. Occasional treats can include small amounts of cooked chicken and low-fat yogurt. Using a general vitamin/mineral supplement is probably a good idea as well. Water is very important to short tails and they can dehydrate very quickly, so it is vitally important to make sure their water bottle is always accessible and filled with fresh water.

Common Health Problems

The short-tailed opossum is a pretty hardy creature. They can become ill if proper care is not taken, but most ailments are preventable with proper care. They do seem to suffer from prolapse. This can be treated with ivermectin twice a year. They should also have regular visits with a veterinarian. You may need to see an exotics vet to care for this animal.

Purchasing Your Short-Tailed Opossum

Find a reputable breeder in your area. You'll want to purchase a young opossum. A baby from 3 to 4 months is best. Make sure you have an exotics vet ready prior to bringing your short-tailed opossum home. You'll need to schedule regular check-ups and want them on-hand for any emergencies. Check with your local municipality to find out if it is legal to own a short-tailed opossum. You may need a special permit or registration. An exotics vet can also help clarify local laws.

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