Coexisiting with Opossums


The following topics will be discussed on this page:

  • There is an opossum in my trash can, what should I do?
  • There is an opossum living underneath my deck/shed, what should I do?
  • There is an opossum on a fence in the middle of the day and not moving -- is the opossum rabid?
  • What should I do if I find a dead opossum on the road?

Q:  There is an opossum in my trash can, what should I do?

A:  This actually happens quite frequently, as opossums are attracted to trash cans by the smell of food stored inside.  However, once an opossum gets inside the trash can, he becomes stuck since the inside of the trash can is too slippery for him to climb back up.  All you need to do is gently tip the can on its side and the opossum will return to his den once he feels safe doing so. 

The opossum will not attack you once the trash can is overturned.  In fact, opossums are typically harmless animals -- their only defense is to play dead!  However, you can use a broom handle or other similar tool to gently tip the trash can away from you if that would make you feel more comfortable.


Q:  There is an opossum living underneath my deck/shed, what should I do?

A:  Often times, you do not need to do anything.  Opossums are typically harmless animals -- their only defense is to play dead!  Likewise, they do not tend to cause structural damage to the foundations of buildings they are living underneath.  As a result, the easiest solution is to do nothing at all -- it is very likely that the opossum will move on eventually, at which point you can seal up all entry points to prevent other animals from taking up residence later.

If you cannot wait for the opossum to leave on his own, you can try convincing him to leave using a combination of unpleasant smells and sounds.  The size of the denning space and the amount of ventilation will largely influence if a repellent will work.  We recommend using ammonia-soaked rags, lights and a blaring radio during nighttime hours to convert an attractive space (quiet, dark and protected) into one that is inhospitable.  Remember, repellents provide a temporary solution at best.  You’ll need to seal off any denning areas to prevent animals from using those same spots in the future (see below on how to do this).

However, don’t forget to make sure all animals are out before sealing off any space!   If an opossum is living underneath your deck/shed during the spring or summer months, it is extremely likely that the opossum is a female with dependent young.  Opossums are North America's only marsupials, meaning female opossums carry their young in a pouch during the early stages of their development.  Even so, as young opossums get older they tend to travel around on the mother's back and have a tendency to fall off.  For this reason, you want to make sure that mother and young are able to stay together, otherwise young opossums will starve underneath the deck/shed.  An easy way to determine if the den has been vacated is to sprinkle white flour outside the hole and check after dark for exiting footprints. You can also put balled- up newspaper in the hole.  If the newspaper hasn’t moved for three to four days, the den has been vacated.

Exclusion: THE NECESSARY FINAL STEP! After completing the eviction strategies described above, create an L-shaped barrier by sinking hardware cloth 4-6 inches into the ground and then bend it at a 90-degree angle, away from the deck (as illustrated below) for 8-12 inches to create a false bottom so animals don't dig under the barrier. Check the next day for signs of digging from the inside to ensure that no animal was sealed in.

*If the problem occurs in late summer/fall, and you're sure there's only one animal underneath the deck, seal up the deck/shed by creating an L-shaped barrier (as illustrated) except for one main opening.   Place a pre-made one-way door (Sold mail-order by ACES: 800-338-ACES or Tomahawk Live Trap Company, 800-272-8727) over that one remaining exit and leave it in place for 3-7 days so all animals can get OUT but not back IN.  To ensure that all animals are out from under the deck before sealing it off permanently, put a layer of flour on the inside and outside of the door after installation, and leave it in place for one or two nights. Any footprints in the flour should be outside the door with none inside. Do not try this technique if it is at all possible that young are present, otherwise young opossums will starve under the deck/shed.

Q:  There's an opossum on a fence/tree limb in the middle of the day and not moving -- is the opossum rabid?

A:  It is unlikely that the opossum is rabid.  In fact, opossums seem to be extremely resistant to the rabies virus.  What tends to cause confusion, however, is that many of the opossum's natural defense machanisms (hissing, drooling, playing dead) mimic the symptoms of rabies.

It is more likely that the opossum got chased up the fence/tree by a dog during the night, and is still too scared to come down.  Leave the opossum alone, and keep all neighborhood dogs away.  The opossum will most likely be gone by morning.


Q:  What should I do if I find a dead opossum on the road?

A:  Wearing gloves, move the dead animal off the road.  If it is spring or summer, check to see if the oossum is a female and if there are live babies still in her pouch or in the immediate area.  Baby opossums more than 7 inches long (excluding the tail) are mature enough to be on their own.  If the opossums are smaller than 7 inches, call a local wildlife rehabilitator for further assistance.