Possums in New Zealand: from pests to pet food

Possum as a novel protein has potential as a sustainable option in pet food and treats.

Carolyn Smith1 | Shutterstock.com
Carolyn Smith1 | Shutterstock.com

Should alternative protein always be non-meat or non-animal? In New Zealand one alternative protein being looked at is possums, culled and processed into sausages and jerky for dogs.

Near the top in the hierarchy of pests in New Zealand, possums' bad reputation for bringing destruction to plants and birds, as well as to farm crops to the tune of US$35 million a year on average, is the reason why Kiwis are pleased to turn them into dog food.

The current possum population in New Zealand is estimated to be around 30 million — a huge number that local pet food makers like Fond Foods Ltd. and Omega Pet Foods are helping to reduce by hunting and harvesting the marsupials for man's best friend.

Possums in pet food products

In 2019, Fond Foods sold 100,000 kilos of possum meat (equivalent to 70,000 possums) that they processed as dog rolls and treats under the brand name Possyum. Demand for Possyum is coming mostly from urban areas, they said. Their premium possum dog rolls and dried treat products are blended with beef and lamb liver and kidney. 

Omega Pet Food, a subsidiary of Dawson Furs which supplies possum furs, offers dog owners in New Zealand preservative-free possum dog food in raw, pellet and biscuit forms following Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards.

Possible benefits of possum meat

Traditionally harvested for their fur and practically unheard of as a pet food ingredient until recently, possums are now valued as a true environmentally friendly source of protein. With a wild diet that consists of leaves, fresh shoots, fruits and grasses, possums develop flesh that is low in fat but high in omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids. Possum meats are said to contain the highest level of fatty acids compared to the most common sources of meat for pet food. Omega-rich food can aid in improving a dog's skin, coat and joints. Pet food companies that have embraced possums as a novel meat alternative also guarantee that it is safe and clean as only possums from chemical-free forests are allowed by the government to be harvested for dog consumption.

A unique New Zealand product, possum meat is expected to attract other local businesses to develop their own possum-made pet food products and provide additional employment for the locals while keeping possums’ population down.

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