Food and Water
They are from a humid environment, and are very water dependent. They sicken and
die quickly from dehydration. A warning sign is seeing the STO wobbling around the cage as if unsteady on their feet. There
is debate about which is better for a STO, a water bowl or a bottle. Either way, make sure the STO always has access to water.
You may wish to also supplement their diet with “wet” foods such as applesauce and banana that can help increase
their moisture content.
STO are very, very individual and picky eaters. What some STO love, other STO will rather
starve to death than eat. So I’m going to cover the principles of what kind of diet may be good, and then list foods
that some (but not all) STO may like.
First of all, STOs are insectivores. In the wild, STO eat insects, fruit,
small rodents and reptiles, eggs, and carrion. So their diet should be high in protein, but low in fat. As they are nocturnal,
it is suggested to put the fresh/spoilable food in the cage in the evening, and then remove in the morning.
Most people give a mixture of dry food all the time and then fruit/veggie/meat daily, supplemented
with insects every so often. Often, owners will feed them dry hedgehog or dry fox food instead of dry cat food because the
protein content is higher. STO appreciate a variety of food, lest they become bored and picky.
My preferred method of feeding is:
“Dry” food available free-choice all the time
“Wet” food in the
Live food like crickets, waxworms, mice etc weekly
Dry food is often left as free choice
in the STO’s cage to eat as wanted. Some dry foods used by STO owners include:
Dog food (readily available and cheap, but usually WAY too fatty - avoid)
food (readily available and cheap, try to find one with high protein)
Fox food (recommended by many breeders)
food (recommended by many breeders because hedgies are also insectivores)
Monkey food (I don’t know much about
STO-specific food (available in online exotic pet supply stores)
My STO have not liked Brisky STO food. It crumbles into powder, and I think it smells pretty
foul. I've heard mixed results from other people. A couple like the Brisky food. Most other STO do not care for it, and a
few even prefer to starve rather than eat it.
Another STO-specific mentioned food is Zoo Fare that is sold through Pawprint, which is said
to be good for "hedgehogs, sugar gliders, and short tailed opossums". My STO have not liked that food either.
I've had good luck with reproductive fox pellets. I've heard fox food recommended the most from
breeders because of the high protein amounts, as opposed to cat food that has a higher fat content. My STO have somewhat reluctantly
eaten the fox food, and often ignore it.
I’ve had the best luck with dry cat food, Iams kitten food. Supposedly STO prefer cat
food to fox food because the cat food has more fat and therefore tastes more yummy (but is less nutritious). I suppose that
moderation is the key. Mine have seem to genuinely enjoy the cat food and usually eaten some every day.
The ultimate STO favorites tend to be live food – mealworms, waxworms, crickets, worms
STO are adept at finding and eating worms/grubs. Mealworms have more protein than waxworms (which
have more fat), but either can be used. I prefer feeding waxworms, because they don’t squirm as much as mealworms. Also,
mealworms/superworms can turn into ugly beetles if left uneaten too long – ick. Whereas waxworms turn into moths. Most
owners avoid feeding superworms, because of various problems in case the superworm isn’t fully chewed.
STO generally love hunting for crickets. They will sniff them out, dig for them, run after them
and generally enjoy themselves a great deal. Some STO can even grab crickets out of the air as they jump!
As for mice and pinky mice, some people serve them live and other serve them pre-killed. One
person has a theory that STO become more “bloodthirsty” if they learn how to stalk and kill live mice. (I haven’t
personally seen a bloodthirsty STO, but I figured I’d report that theory just the same). I generally give mine live.
Here is a list of some live foods that STO have enjoyed:
Baby gerbils/rats (stillborn)
STO seem to enjoy soft, mushy foods that they can lick rather than chew. Favorites
are sweet fruits and sweet veggies. I usually mush fruit until it is soft before serving, and cut meat into small pieces.
I use a lot of baby food, because it is very quick and convenient to open up the jar and stick
it in the cage. They like a lot of different kinds, including the fruit, veggie and meat types. It also makes removing the
jar later a quick way to clean up. Or, I’ll throw in some leftovers from my dinner (washing off any sauces or spices)
if it is meat or veggie/fruit.
I've heard some people provide yogurt and cottage cheese, but I've stopped offering
them. Some people (including mine) have had their STO suffer from diarrhea from it. Also, I doubt that they have much access
to dairy and/or yogurt cultures in the wild so it's probably not a terribly important diet component.
I also provide hard-boiled eggs
and tofu and other high protein foods occasionally, generally once a week or every other thing. They love both, and it provides
protein. STO lacking protein often lose fur around their rumps/tails, which grows back in quickly after an increase in protein.
Tofu – regular and fruit flavored (great source of protein!)
eggs (great source of protein!)
Peanuts (unsalted, unroasted)
Many zoo diets include a supplement. I've tried the supplement Bugs-N-Berries
from Pawprint, which is said to be "excellent for use as part of a well-balanced diet for short tailed opossums, dormice,
and many other pets". Mine never seemed very interested in it, probably because they prefer the bugs they can chase around
and leap on! Some people have had success mixing the supplements into wet fruit mush like bananas.
Bugs N Berries
A good practice is to have an annual vet visit for a checkup. It is especially important – if possible –
to find out (before an emergency) what vets will see exotic small animals. Not all vets or animal hospitals will take them.
Also, try to have a regular vet who sees the STO at least once when he or she is healthy. Most vets have never seen a short-tailed
opossum, so it helps them to have a baseline of healthy to compare sick to. If you have any of the books about short-tailed
opossums, it may be helpful to give a copy to your vet (or bring it to the appointment if the vet has never seen your STO
Short-tailed opossums are generally hardy, but there are a few things to watch out for:
Low humidity may cause ears to become brittle, inflamed and fall off.
This is generally
cosmetic, but still can be painful.
Try to keep humidity above 50% to prevent
Naomi Poran sells an ointment specifically
for ears (she may not be currently selling it, but may be able to suggest alternatives)
STO occasionally lose fur around
their rump, near the base of the tail
The fur will grow back, don’t worry!
One potential problem is if cedar,
pine or aspen bedding is being used. Try switching to Carefresh and see if the fur grows back
Another potential problem
is lack of protein. Supplement the opossum’s diet with extra protein for a while – tofu, hard-boiled eggs and
Not enough water
Dehydration can be deadly VERY quickly
A warning sign is a STO sort of staggering around
the cage, falling over while walking
Immediately offer the STO a dish of water, fill the water bottle with fresh water,
and offer high-water content fruits (such as applesauce)
Take to the vet if the staggering doesn’t go away
They can get diarrhea if they’ve either had too much of something that upsets their system (like too much yogurt
or cottage cheese).
They may also get diarrhea from trying new foods.
Diarrhea is noticeable from the smell, and the
opossum’s bottom may be coated/smeared with it.
Also, the STO may lay down on the ground if he or she is too exhausted
to climb back into his nest.
Offer extra water in an easily reachable dish. Put it right to the STO if he or she is too
weak to move around much.
Offer high-water content food such as applesauce.
Take to a vet if the condition doesn’t
clear up in a day (maybe less if the STO is exhausted and lethargic).
I haven’t bred STO, so this section will be brief. For more information, check the
Internet and books on short-tailed opossums.
STO are mature sexually around 4-5 months, and can breed year round. Females can generally have
4 litters per year. Females normally breed for about 5 years, while males can breed all their lives. Litters are usually 4-13,
and average around 9. Up to 16 may be born, but mothers only have 13 nipples.
Estrus lasts 3-12 days, cycling every 2-4 weeks. The introduction of the male may induce estrus.
Female STO are reportedly picky about their mates, and may prefer larger, older and more experienced males. They are often
hostile and aggressive to males when not receptive to breeding.
There is a reason I don't breed short tailed opossums - too many STO have died during breeding
in captivity. They are very solitary creatures, and prone to fighting. When fights occur in the wild, the injured party can
escape and run away. But in captivity, the poor creatures can't just run away, so they fight until a possum dies. I've heard
so many sad stories - STO killing their partners during mating, mothers killing their babies, siblings ripping each other's
ears off and biting their tails off. It leaves injured pets and heartbroken owners. If experienced, conscientious breeders
want to breed their STO, fine...but personally, I just want to enjoy my pets and not worry about them killing each other.
If you choose to breed, please be careful. Monitor them closely. Don't keep them together longer than 12 days. And remember
that when breeding STO kill each other, it's usually during the middle of the night (STO are nocturnal!) and the owners wake
up to dead pet.
Supplies For A New STO
About to get a STO? Here’s a good list of supplies to have ready,
and how to pick your possum!
This is the minimum of supplies you’ll need when your STO first arrives. I’ve
included some price ranges as a general guide.
Cage – at least 10 gallons.
10 gallon glass tanks cost around $10; can buy at any
PetSmart, Petco or Walmart
20-gallon glass tanks. Wire cages run more like $20-$40, depending on size and features
for cage (if an aquarium), usually around $3-$5
Cage litter – Carefresh, aspen, pine, etc. Costs $4-$20, depending
on the size you buy.
Nest box – hamster house, wooden house, empty margarine tub, whatever - $0-$5
– you can buy them at pet stores, or make them out of shallow Tupperware or food containers. Emptied baby food jars
work well. $0-$3
Water bottle or water dish - $0-$5
Water bottle holder for glass tank (if using a water bottle)-
Wheel - $3.99 for the cheap metal ones up to $15 for the specialty sugar glider / exotic wheels
climbing and hidey toys – costs as much as you feel like spending, or a little if you modify stuff you already have
Dry food – dry cat/kitten food is cheapest and most readily available, you can get dry fox or hedgehog food from
specialty pet stores or online
Wet food – I like stocking up on baby food, but fruit/veggies from what you normally
eat and leftovers work too.
Bonding pouch – You can make one yourself, or buy one at a pet store or online pet shop.
Basically a soft fabric pouch that your opossum can hide in, that can go around your neck. Usually has adjustable neck straps,
and sometimes snaps or zippers closed.
Litter box (optional) – they sell litter boxes for hamsters and such at most
local pet stores. $3-6.
This should be enough to get you started with your new STO! You can add fancier toys later as
you figure out what he or she likes!
Choosing Your STO
Two main suggestions:
Choose your STO in person if possible – although that may not be possible
to avoid shipping unless necessary – geographic constraints may make shipping the only method available, but try to
get one locally or pick up in person if humanly possible. Shipping is traumatic for most animals.
If you can choose your STO in person, look for:
Alert, outgoing, curious (though even tame STO are often nervous around strangers)
eyes, not cloudy or watery
Clear nose, not dripping
No audible “clicking” noises when breathing
– could be a sign of respiratory distress
Ask if the STO has been handled/tamed (more likely breeders will
handle, less likely to be handled in large pet stores)
Observe the conditions the STO is being kept in – is
the cage dirty? Does the STO have a nest box or hiding places? Is the environment noisy and scary? STO kept in stressful/traumatic
environments for extended periods of time may be more difficult to tame.
How long has the STO been in that environment?
How knowledgeable does the staff/breeder seem? Does the STO have adequate access to food and drink? Check what food
is being fed – fox or hedgehog food may mean the staff is more knowledgeable about their care, whereas dog or cat food
might mean the opposite.
If you can’t choose your STO in person and need to find a breeder for shipping, look for:
Knowledgeable breeder, preferably one who has played with and socialized the STO
licensing –they are more likely to have gone through rigorous testing of their care and facility
think hobby breeders are a good choice – owners who breed their pets because they enjoy the breed and like caring for
them and playing with babies
QUESTIONS TO ASK
If you have a chance, these questions will help you make the transition
more comfortable for you and your new STO.
Questions to ask of a breeder/pet store staff (especially if a baby STO):
How long has the breeder/store had the STO?
If a baby, how
long has the opossum been weaned? On what kind of food?
What kind of food is the STO used to?
have any care/information sheets available?
Do they offer to sell any books on them?
Can they include
some of the opossum’s bedding when bundling up for transport? The STO might feel calmer about the transition with familiar
Questions to ask of the previous owner if you’re receiving an adult STO:
Does the owner know the approximate age?
Where did the owner receive the STO?
What kind of foods is preferred?
What are his/her activity and sleeping habits?
What kind of
toys are used, and how?
Does he like interaction with people – if so, how? (Does the STO like to be in a pouch?
Curl up on you and sleep? Climb around like a maniac? Try to escape?)
Has he/she had any health problems? What did
the owner do about them?
These are some of my thoughts on pet stores vs. direct from the breeder. I have
purchased STO from both a breeder and a pet store, and had a good experience with both. However there are definite considerations
to a pet store as opposed to from the owner.
Large chain pet stores may not be the best environments for a STO.
They are often
noisy, the cages are often little more than holding cases
Not always well furnished with hiding places and nesting
areas, causing stressed STO
Large stores may receive animals with little to no information about them. I’ve
heard some people complain that the opossums were even labeled wrong with their name – for example “dwarf opossum”
or “pygmy opossum”. If they don’t even know the pet’s breed, how can they know proper care?
stores may receive their stock from all over the country, and are unfamiliar with the breeder
Smaller pet stores may be slightly better environments Staff may be more knowledgeable
Staff may have more time to care for the animals, and may even handle them more often
They may have a
better relationship with the breeder, who is often local
Exotic or unusual pet stores are the best bet in my opinion They are the most sensitive
to the needs of exotic pets
May be more knowledgeable about the breed
May provide housing more suitable
to STO’s preferences
Often provide care sheets and information
They usually have close relationships
with the breeders
Special Mention: Reptile/small animal stores – I’ve had good experiences with them
Reptile stores are very sensitive and aware of a wide variety of unusual dietary, cage, temperature and humidity requirements
They always stock the live foods the STO like, and may even feed them live insects as well as provide dry food.
Special Mention: Mall pet stores – I would avoid! Some people may disagree with
me, but I’ve been appalled at the conditions in most mall pet stores.
Conditions are crowded, noisy and high-volume
Because the target is a impulse purchaser, mall pet stores want people to see the animals. As a result,
they may not give the pets any nest boxes or hiding places – causing very unhappy STO
The focus is over high-turnover,
so not much care may be taken to learn about the animals
I’d recommend getting a young/baby STO so you can tame and bond. 3-4 months is
preferred, that is when they seem most amenable to bonding. However many STO breeders sell them starting at 2 months –
you can get them then, but be aware they may be jumpy for a while.
Some Pages to buy a STO, you could try these two or check the Resources Page, www.gotpetsonline.com or www.isoldmypet.com