has been found to be a normal behavior in many animal species in
the wild. It may be part of natural selection, a way to
eliminate a young animal that is sick or unhealthy. A mother may
cannibalize one or more of her unhealthy young in order to cut
her losses and devote more time to the others. Research is
lacking in the opossum; however, it does not seem to be a
“normal” behavior in the wild opossum. Although the
incidence is rare, it has been known to occur in captivity. When
it occurs, the reason can usually be traced back to poor
husbandry. In addition to the obvious definition of eating
conspecifics (other opossums), it also includes self-mutilation.
quantity of food/water
different sized animals
sick/injured opossum in cage with healthy litter
It is important to provide adequate cage space, limit
the number of opossums in each cage, and provide multiple levels
in the cage/run. Contact O.S.U.S. for housing recommendations.
Never overcrowd! It is better to turn opossums away then to
subject the animals to an overcrowded situation setting them and
YOU up for the possibility of cannibalism!
Also, minimize stress. Do not talk to the opossums and/or pet
them. This is stressful, not calming! Decrease stress by
offering several den boxes and hiding areas so that one may get
away from the others, if desired. Keep the cage or a portion of
it covered so that the opossums do not see you. Keep pets and
children away. Keep noise levels and contact to a minimum. You
should only go into the cage to check the opossums, monitor
their health, medicate if needed, feed, and clean the cage.
Provide a proper diet in an adequate amount. Always make sure
fresh water is available and that there is enough food for all
opossums. If you have had a problem with cannibalism despite
adequate housing, no overcrowded situations, and minimal stress
then consider feeding the “Modified Jurgelski Diet (MJD).”
Many rehabilitators have found the MJD to reduce/eliminate the
incidence of cannibalism in litters fed this diet. Contact
O.S.U.S. for more information about MJD.
It is best to avoid mixing litters. If limited caging requires
you to do so then preferably introduce the young before the eyes
have opened. If introducing after eyes have opened then do so
with extreme caution and careful monitoring. Watch for problems
and any signs of aggression. Watch for missing ear tips, tail
tips, bloody digits, punctures, and any sign of blood in the
cage/bedding. Watch for lunging or snapping at each other.
Listen for “cacking” sounds. Watch for signs of rejection.
You may notice one animal has separated from the others and is
hiding in a corner. Watch to see if the others are snapping at
it or preventing it from reaching the food bowl. If any of
the above signs are observed, then separate immediately!
NEVER place a sick or injured animal in a cage with
others! Even a slight wound may entice the others to attack
and cannibalize it.