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June 26, 2014

SFWC Saves Opossum Family

Mother and baby opossums found weak and dehydrated, successfully treated and released at SFWC

  • The opossum mom and her babies. April Sporer/SFWC

  • The opossum mom and her babies showing tremendous improvement. Shelby Proie/SFWC

  • One of the opossum babies after treatment and doing much better. Shelby Proie/SFWC

  • The opossum mom and baby are successfully released back into the wild. Shelby Proie/SFWC

  • The opossum mom and baby are successfully released back into the wild. Shelby Proie/SFWC

Opossums are a common sight in southern Florida, but as the only marsupial (mammal with a pouch) in the U.S. and Canada, seeing one with her babies is less common. Mother opossums give birth to babies the size of honeybees that immediately crawl into her pouch. Eventually they make their way onto her back, but remain close to their mother, making a baby and mom sighting less common.

The one place you may see a mother and her baby opossums is at the South Florida Wildlife Center, where we see moms and babies, injured adults and orphaned babies. So when a local resident found a Virginia opossum (or common opossum) with her babies who were in obvious distress, they knew the SFWC could help them.

When the opossum mother and babies were found, she and her babies were very weak, thin and dehydrated. The mother was lying on her side, unable to stand, and had abrasions on her feet. Although the cause for the mother’s condition was unknown, the SFWC veterinarians suspected the mother was suffering from a chronic illness or debilitating injury, which caused her to be unable to care for herself and her babies. It seems she and her babies made their way to the SFWC in just the nick of time.

Momma and her babies were immediately admitted into our Intensive Care Unit where mom’s feet were treated and she was put on antibiotics and fluids to rehydrate her. The babies were also severely dehydrated and filthy, so they received baths and fluids under the skin. All were kept in a warm incubator.

Treating a mother nursing babies is always tricky, because many medications given to mom can be transferred to the babies via the milk and may be toxic to the baby’s developing systems. Baby opossums are so underdeveloped that they can feel these effects even more than other baby mammals. Because of this, our veterinarians always carefully select medications to be given to a nursing mother opossum.

After a few days of treatment, mom was more alert and was even up and walking, and the little family was moved out of the ICU into the Wildlife Ward. After about two weeks, the family was moved to our outdoor habitat where the opossums continued to improve. One of our veterinarians noted, “Mom has improved tremendously... babies are plump and doing well.” After a rocky start, both mom and babies were thriving.

Mom and babies stayed in our outdoor habitat another two weeks as they continued to grow stronger. After about a month in our care, the family was successfully released back into the wild together.

Unfortunately, opossums get a bum rap due to their toothy snarls. They are generally more scared of you (hence playing ‘possum) than you are of them and the reputation they have of being vicious is unwarranted. Check out our resource on opossums to learn more about our gentle wild neighbor.

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