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These are only very basic instructions, please consult an experienced possum carer for more detailed information.
Basic Initial Care
Does the possum need to come into care?
Sometimes injuries are obvious for instance; broken bones or limb, or having been hit by a car.
Brushtail Possums can get a disease that is brought on by stress called Exudative Dermatitis or commonly called skin disease. The stress can be such environmental factors such as lack of food and or overcrowding. The possum’s fur will fall out and their skin will becomes ulcerated. It usually starts on their face and/or rump. Support feeding by the public or providing possums boxes can assist the possum if the disease is at the initial stages. Usually, this condition will eventually kill the possum.
If a baby or adult possum is found out in the open during day light hours it means something is wrong with the animal and they will require capturing and assessment by an experienced carer.
Baby possums found without their mother should come into care if they are to survive. Juvenile possums may venture short distances from their mothers so you will need to observe the possum to see if their mother is close by.
Young Brushtail Possums may be independent from their mother at 800g and a Ringtail Possum at 350g. If in any doubt, please ask for an experienced possum carer to observe the animal and assess the situation.
Possums and the law
In South Australia, all possums are protected (ie safeguarded against collecting, hunting or other activities) under the provisions of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1972.
SA'sDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has a very good website on possums. The site includes information such as the conservation status, possums and the law, possums in the roof and trapping possums including the department’s permit requirements (trap and release permit). See external links at the top of the page.
The law requires that possums removed from a roof, or sick and injured possums are to be released 50 meters from the capture site. This will usually require release on the same property from which they were rescued. Therefore if you rescue a possum it is very important to tell the carer the precise location where you found it so that it can be returned to that area when it is well again.
It is advisable to wear leather or thick gloves when handling a possum.
Most injured or orphaned possums are found on the ground. You can catch them by throwing a towel over them and scooping them up. Place one hand at neck and the other at base of tail (if no spinal injuries). If spinal injuries leave possum in the position it has chosen to be in and lift into carrier without changing its chosen position.
Do not lift a possum from under its front legs like a baby. Always have their full bodyweight supported by one hand under their rear and another holding them upright but slightly curled around the chest cavity.
Fauna Rescue own several possum traps which members and the public can use to trap injured possums if required. Fauna Rescue does not assist the public to remove possums sleeping in roof spaces. Please contact us if you require a referral to a possum friendly pest controller.
Treating for stress and shock
Shock is often the number one cause of death in injured wild animals. You need to immediately minimise that animal’s shock and stress.
Shock is essentially the loss of heat and fluids from the body, which is a natural response to injury. Interaction with humans causes additional stress to an injured animal and this can kill an already shocked animal.
So keep in mind that fear, noise, and cold temperatures all contribute to the animal’s stress. It is essential to get the animal to an experienced carer as soon as possible to minimise stress and to reduce the risk of the animal going into shock.
While the animal is in your care, you can reduce this stress by providing:
- warmth – heat pad, hot water bottle
When transporting the animal please keep the car radio off. Keep the animal in an area of your house that is quiet, draft-free and away from family noises and smells (especially pets and young children).
Stabilise the animal by putting in a warm dark box (heat pad/hot water bottle) or secure cage with cover over it (i.e. towel), in a quiet room. Wrap the possum in a blanket or towel and provide an artificial heat source. Monitor the heat regularly to make sure the animal is not overheated (feeling the ears can provide a good indication of temperature).
Provide food and water if you are not able to deliver the possum to a Fauna Rescue member straight away.
Do not force feed. Initially offer fluids only. Preboiled water (cooled to warm) can be offered by syringe or from a teaspoon. Keep the possum covered in the towel/blanket and just uncover the mouth if you are going to offer water. Be cautious of juvenile and adult possums as they can inflict serious injuries with their teeth and claws. Leave food such as small amounts of chopped up fruit in with the possum but do not attempt to feed it yourself.
Deliver to a Fauna Rescue carer as soon as possible.
Young possums should be put into a pouch (such as a beanie or sock) that is just large enough for the possum to be able to turn round in then wrap the pouch in a blanket or something warm.
It is very important that an artificial heat source is provided to treat for stress and shock and even more important for very young possums as they can not keep themselves warm and being cold can kill them very quickly.
Feeding baby possums
If you find a baby possum please take it to one of our carers as soon as possible as young possums need regular milk feeds. We do not recommend that you attempt to raise the possum yourself, unless you are a member of a wildlife care organisation such as Fauna Rescue.
Young possums have very specialised needs and need specialised equipment. Depending on the age it could need hourly feeds and the longer they are without milk the more their chances of survival decrease.
The notes below give some basic care details in the event you are not able to get the possum to an experienced carer immediately.
Possums are lactose intolerant and need specialised milk substitutes. Wombaroo Possum Milk is recommended as it is designed specifically for possums. .
Other formulas that are available are “universal formulas”, that is they are able to be used for all baby animals. Divetelact (which comes in only one strength but a greater volume of liquid is used) can be difficult to get a very small possum to take in the initial stages. Biolac and Wombaroo Formula One are also available.
If you can not get the possum to a Fauna Rescue carer quickly and do not have a proper substitute milk such as Wombaroo you can use evaporated milk watered down with preboiled water i.e. 1 part evaporated milk to 3 parts boiled water. This milk substitute is for emergency only and for no longer than two days. Remember all marsupials are allergic to cows milk and this should never be given. Lactose free milk can also be used for very short periods in an emergency, but lacks the special nutrients that are in the specialised formulas.
The possum needs to be warm and hydrated before milk can be offered. If a baby possum comes into care and is well hydrated offer milk but if it is dehydrated it will not drink. In such cases it needs to be seen by a veterinarian urgently to administer sub-cutaneous fluids.
To check for dehydration pinch skin between shoulder blades and time the smoothing out process - Immediate return shows a good level of hydration. If it takes a few seconds, that indicates the animal is dehydrated which must be treated urgently. If the possum is severely dehydrated their eyes will look dull (not moist) and may not be fully open. You can also move their skin over their body with your finger and it will glide freely if they are well hydrated. If dehydrated please take the possums to a veterinarian or Fauna Rescue carer as soon as possible.
Feed with a syringe (plastic or glass) with a teat or a trimmed winged infusion set on the end.
Feed possum in pouch and cover eyes with pouch liner. Remove any spilt milk from fur and change pouch if soiled.
Feeding older possums
Once a possum is furred it will start to eat solids. You should leave gum tips & fruit at opening of pouch. Offer more natives than fruit. Ringtail Possums eat very little if any fruit.
Possums will eat:
- the young shoots and blossoms of many native plants such as eucalyptus, wattle, melaleuca, grevillea
- plumbago, roses and geraniums.
Do not feed cabbage, lettuce uncooked broccoli or cauliflower or junk food such as chips or chocolate.
Young possums will need toileting after each feed. To toilet a possum rub their cloacae with a tissue. It may help to wet the tissue with clean warm water. The pressure and action should be similar to a mother possum licking her baby possum to toilet it..
Types of possums
In South Australia we have three types of possums:
- Brushtail Possum
- Ringtail Possum
- Pygmy Possum (rarely come into care)
Difference betweeen Ringtail and Brushtail possums
2500 g to 4500g
(2.5 - 4.5 kg)
650g to 1000g
(.6 - 1 kg)
Upper body - grey
Underside - Cream to caramel
Ears & cheeks -Cream to caramel
Tail - black
Upper body - Grey to black/brown
Underside - Cream to caramel
Next to ears - cream to caramel
Tail top 2/3 - black/brown, bottom
Tail bottom 1/3 - usually white to caramel
Brown to black
Pointed like a cats
Small and rounded
Aggressive & vocal if threatened
Less aggressive than Brushtail but caution still needed
Will “statue” rather than attack