image of Marsupials
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This chapter provides the need-to-know information on marsupials:

  • Biology
  • Husbandry
  • Handling and restraint
  • Diagnostic approach
  • Common conditions
  • Supportive care
  • Anaesthesia and analgesia
  • Common surgical procedures
  • Euthanasia
  • Drug formulary.

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5.1 Marsupials seen in practice. Sugar glider (). (Courtesy of D. Johnson.) South American short-tailed opossum (). Two 6-month-old Virginia opossums (). Bennett’s wallaby (). (Courtesy of I. Sayers.) A 6-month-old Brushtail possum ().
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5.2 The gliding membrane of the sugar glider extends from the neck to the tail, incorporating both the forelimbs and the hindlimbs. Note the lack of nail on the first digit on both the front and back legs. The gliding membrane also gathers on the ventrum.
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5.7 Radiograph showing marsupial bones extending from the pelvis in a Virginia opossum.
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5.8 Virginia opossum. Note the lack of a claw on the first digit of the hind foot.
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5.9 Outdoor enclosure for sugar gliders. The nest box is positioned in the upper part of the cage and substitute trees have been provided for the animals to glide between. The food and nectar feeders are elevated off the ground.
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5.10 Housing for a short-tailed opossum. This female has gathered pieces of shredded paper towel by her tail (arrowed) ready to transport them back to the nest box. Note the paper towel deposited on a branch. A dish has been placed beneath the water bottle to catch drips and prevent the bedding from becoming soaked. Branches and an exercise wheel have been provided. The ceramic heat emitter (arrowhead) is just visible attached to the cage.
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5.11 A large ferret cage adapted for a Virginia opossum. A nest box has been made from a plastic storage container and secured to the cage. The bottom of the cage is lined with newspaper, although opossums generally choose a latrine away from the sleeping area.
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5.15 Virginia opossums eating out of heavy crockery-type dishes. Water should also be provided in this type of dish. Opossums are messy eaters, often spitting out food bits they do not like (e.g. apple skin). After eating, they will wash the face and forelegs in a similar manner to cats.
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5.17 Normal reproductive anatomy of a male sugar glider. Extension of the penis (under anaesthesia) showing the bifurcation. The urethra terminates proximally to where the penis exits the cloaca (arrowhead). Note the large testicular sac proximal to the penis (arrowed).
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5.18 Female sugar glider with a joey in the pouch.
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5.19 Sugar glider being restrained in a towel for examination.
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5.20 Female short-tailed opossum being restrained for examination. Note the lack of a pouch.
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5.21 Pet Virginia opossums can be handled and restrained in a similar manner to cats.
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5.22 Restraint of a pet Tammar wallaby is easily achieved, particularly if the animal is used to being handled.
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5.23 Lateral radiograph of a sugar glider with the gliding membrane pulled away from the body (arrowhead). Note the lumbar vertebrae lucency (arrowed) and spondylosis. This sugar glider was presented due to collapse and inability to eat. Note the poor bone quality and anorexia. The sugar glider had been fed unlimited fruit and cat food. Ventrodorsal radiograph of a sugar glider with fatal enteritis and peritonitis. It had been fed primarily fruit with cat food, mealworms and yoghurt.
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5.24 Blood can be drawn easily from either the ventral or lateral tail vein in Virginia opossums.
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5.25 Physical examination of a pet wallaby. Note that the head of the tail is being held by an assistant to help control the animal.
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5.26 The cephalic vein is easily accessible in the macropods for blood draws and catheter placement. (For orientation, the muzzle is arrowed.)
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5.28 Exudate from the pouch of a non-breeding intact female sugar glider. There was a sour smell and was isolated. The animal responded well to cleaning of the pouch and topical treatment with a dilute chlorhexidine solution.
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5.29 Short-tailed opossum restrained for in a small towel for examination of the rectal/cloacal prolapse.
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5.32 Oral squamous cell carcinoma in a Virginia opossum.
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5.34 Bennett’s wallaby with extreme wear and necrosis of the pulp of the central maxillary incisors (arrowed). These teeth were also loose, and when extracted there was considerable abscessation and involvement of the underlying bone. There is also uneven wear and a build-up of calculus on the mandibular incisors. Note the minor ulceration of the mouth at the canthi. Oral surgery included a gingivectomy and removal of abscessed teeth and bone. The area was packed with a synthetic bone matrix material mixed with clindamycin and sutured. The area healed completely.
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5.35 Bennett’s wallaby being prepared for castration. Although heavily sedated prior to delivery of isoflurane via facemask, the hindlegs can still inflict injury, and have been secured in a towel to prevent injury to the animal or handler. Sugar glider being prepared for castration. It is common for the penis (arrowhead) to extend as the animal is anaesthetized. The sugar glider had only one descended testicle and abdominal surgery was required to locate the other. The undescended testicle was much smaller and lay close to the body wall where the spermatic cord, blood vessels and nerve of the descended one exited. There is no inguinal ring or canal. The testicular sac is denoted by the large arrow, and the gliding membrane by the small arrow.
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5.36 Exteriorized reproductive tract of a female marsupial, showing the ovaries (large white arrows), uterus and vaginal canals. This female Virginia opossum was in oestrus. The enlarged uterine horn is denoted with an arrowhead. The junction of the two horns of the uterus with the two lateral canals (small black arrow) and the central vaginal canal is shown by a black line.
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