Pet Virginia Opossums and Skunks
In this information article from the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine, Cathy Johnson-Delaney profiles Virginia opossums and skunks as potential pets, outlining their physical characteristics and personalities, as well as explaining the unique challenges encountered when keeping them as companion animals. Minimal attention is paid to how humans might happen to have acquired such species as companions. The author instead focuses on how to care for opossums and skunks, with the paper geared towards vets who may have to work with these animals.
In an article aimed at vets who deal with exotic animals, Cathy Johnson-Delaney outlines the ways that vets (and pet owners) can look after Virginia opossums and skunks. These are species that are uncommon for people to have in their homes. As Johnson-Delaney notes, opossums are “considered vermin or pest,” and in most cases, they “become pets when rescued as pouch babies or newly outside of the pouch owing to the dam having been killed, usually on the road.” Skunks, on the other hand, “are bred in captivity for the pet trade and usually sold from the breeder already neutered and with the anal sacs removed.” In fact, the very vets that are the audience for this article are those that might perform such “anal sacculectomy” surgeries. Both opossums and skunks are described as social and friendly, and the article explains ways in which companion people (as well as vets) can physically hold the animals (for pleasure) or keep them restrained (for certain medical procedures).
An important commonality across both species is the tendency for them to become obese when kept as companions; for opossums, the problem is insufficient exercise, while for skunks, the issue is more about the fact that they will eat just about anything, in large amounts. The article offers some potential ways to mitigate this, but begs the question that keeping these animals as pets may not be a good idea in the first place. Another similarity is that both species carry diseases (and of particular concern to skunks, rabies), causing problems for both the animals and their human companions.
This information may be useful to animal advocates on two levels: firstly, it could be helpful when educating people who have companion opossums or skunks on how best to provide the appropriate care for them. Education could be a huge challenge, as they are not common companion species and there is a lack of information and advice about their care. Secondly, if the ultimate goal is to eventually get people to stop keeping opossums and skunks as companion animals (and in some cases in the U.S., skunks are actually prohibited as pets), this article provides some initial information as to how such pets are obtained that could be used as a basis for further investigation.
The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) and the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis) are often kept as pets, although they are both wild animals. The opossum and striped skunk are usually docile and sociable when raised from infancy. Many states and municipalities restrict ownership, and veterinarians should familiarize themselves with local laws and regulations pertaining to these animals. The biology, husbandry, diet, and general disease information is available for both species. Vaccination recommendations are included for skunks.