You’ve just found your dog hovering over a dead opossum, right in your own backyard. This can have some very serious consequences, both for your pet and yourself.
There are certain diseases that can be transmitted during altercations between pets and wildlife, some of which can be life-threatening.
The first thing that springs to everyone’s mind is the possibility of rabies, and this should be a serious concern.
Are Possums Dangerous?
Many wild animals carry the rabies virus, and when they come into contact with domestic pets it can be a dangerous situation. But it may ease your mind to know that rabies is extremely rare in opossums.
This could possibly be because their body temperature is quite low for a mammal, somewhere between ninety-four and ninety-seven degrees, making it difficult for many pathogens, including the rabies virus, to grow and flourish.
That being said, it is not impossible that the opossum could be a carrier of this deadly virus.
The best defense against the virus is to make sure that your pet’s vaccinations are up to date.
You should have a copy of your pet’s shot record at your home, so check it immediately.
If the inoculation is current, you should have no worries. And, remember that it is far more likely that the dead opossum is not a carrier in any case. But this does not mean that you shouldn’t be concerned.
What To Do If Your Dog Kills A Possum?
The first thing to do is to check your dog thoroughly for any open wounds. You should be aware that certain harmful bacteria and viruses, rabies included, may be contained in saliva hiding in your dog’s coat.
For example, the rabies virus can remain alive and dangerous for up to two hours outside the body in your dog’s fur. For this reason, it is important that you wear gloves while you examine your pet.
Finding small injuries may be difficult, sometimes nearly impossible, if your pet has a particularly thick coat. If you cannot immediately verify that your pet is free of such breaks in the skin, the wisest choice is to take him to your vet for a thorough going over.
Ideally, such wounds should be flushed with warm water or hydrogen peroxide. This should be done as soon as possible before any infection can gain a foothold.
When applying the antibiotic ointment, be careful not to cover the wound, but apply it around the sides. This will allow the wound to drain more freely.
If you find a puncture wound, you may have to shave the area around it to gain proper access. Puncture wounds are the most dangerous, as they are the most likely to contain harmful bacteria or viruses.
This type of wound can allow the infection to be trapped deep in the tissue. You don’t want to trap all the bad stuff inside.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if your pet has been injured, he may be in pain.
A vet will be able to provide relief, as well as more thoroughly inspect your pet for broken skin, and provide professional treatment, so a visit to his office is always advisable.
Your vet may also prescribe treatment with a broad-spectrum antibiotic, best administered within twelve hours of the incident, to prevent any other disease for which your pet is at risk.
A rabies booster shot, even if your dog’s vaccinations are up to date, is also advisable.
Since rabies can only be confirmed after the animal in question has died, it is important to confirm the health status of the dead opossum. You should also attend to this as soon as possible.
First, make sure it is truly dead. Opossums can feign death really well. They don’t call it “playing possum” for nothing! Using gloves, seal the animal in a garbage bag, and store it in a cold place, but not one where it is likely to freeze, which may destroy the evidence of infection.
Next, contact your local animal control. They will be able to tell you how to safely dispose of the animal, and also tell you if laboratory testing is available to confirm, or dismiss, the presence of the rabies virus.
You will most likely have to pay for this testing yourself, but the value of your peace of mind cannot be underestimated.
You should also be aware that pets who have been exposed to rabies are usually euthanized to protect their family and other animals with whom they may be in contact.
Also, it may be important to note who was the aggressor in the animal altercation. Opossums are timid creatures, their usual defense mechanism is to flee or play dead. Despite their menacing teeth and their aggressive hissing sounds, they seldom attack.
If the opossum in question was observed to be acting aggressively, this is not a good sign.
Rabies can only be positively diagnosed after death, so, if your pet is at risk, it is important to quarantine the animal under your vet guidelines and allow only limited access, say for feedings, for an extended period of time. The animal should be kept isolated and controlled.
The time recommendation for this is forty-five days. Rabies is extremely slow to advance. Symptoms may appear within as little as one week, or may not show up until a year later. The normal period of time for symptoms to appear is one to three months.
These symptoms may include behavioral changes such as fearfulness or aggression, or even uncharacteristic affectionate behavior. Also watch for excessive drooling, staggering, paralysis, or seizures.
Your pet may appear fearful of water. This is because rabies causes difficulty in swallowing, and your pet may avoid drinking in order to avoid pain.
Once these symptoms appear, the resulting outcome is almost always death, so we cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping your beloved pet’s vaccinations up to date.
If any warning signs of rabies are observed, a vet must be consulted immediately. If the vet confirms the observation the situation will be reported to the local health authorities. The animal is then euthanized, and his brain is examined for the rabies virus.
If your pet has been vaccinated against rabies, it is extremely unlikely that he will contract the disease. But no vaccine in the world is one hundred percent effective, so the procedures for dealing with pets at risk is the same, whether they are current on their vaccinations or not.
Laws vary from state to state concerning requirements for rabies vaccinations, and you should consult authorities in your own locale. The first rabies inoculation is usually given before a puppy is fourteen weeks old. Boosters are then given every year, or every three years, as required by the state.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Diseases Can My Dog Get From A Possum?
Opossums, like virtually any wild animal, can carry diseases that can be transmitted to other mammals, and to humans as well, such as coccidiosis, leptospirosis, tuberculosis, trichomoniasis, and Chagas disease. Some of these diseases can be transmitted in the environment itself.
If you have noticed an opossum in your area, as your dog certainly has, it is possible to become infected from its droppings and urine, which are found in the local soil.
Opossums can also carry fleas that may be carriers of diseases, such as Murine typhus. This type of typhus is carried by a type of cat flea, C. felis, which can also live and thrive on opossums, dogs, and humans as well.
How Do You Keep Possums Out Of Your Yard?
It is important to keep these animals off your property and away from your pets. Make sure your yard is well lit at night. Like all nocturnal animals, opossums are wary of bright lights, so make sure the lights are on before you let your dog out in the evening.
If you have noticed wildlife foraging around your trash, try spraying your trash cans with a solution of one-half ammonia and one-half water. A paste consisting of camphor oil and petroleum jelly rubbed on trees, will also act as a repellent.