Sugar Glider Care


Scientific Name: Petaurus breviceps

Life Span: Sugar gliders live about 10-15 years in captivity.

Size: The sugar glider'd body is about 5-6 inches long, and the tail adds another 6 inches. They weigh only 4-5.5 oz (100-160 grams).

Natural Distribution: Sugar gliders are native to Australia (Eastern part), Papua New Guinea and parts of Indonesia.

Description: Sugar gliders are marsupials; the young are born very immature and grow in a pouch on the mother's abdomen. Sugar gliders have furry membranes that extend from their wrists to their ankles (the membrane is called a patagium) that allows them to glide through the air. In the wild they move from tree to tree by gliding. Their hind feet have a large, opposable big toe that helps them grip branches, and the second and third toe forms a grooming comb.

Temperament: Sugar gliders are very social and need and crave lots of companionship. This makes them bond well to their owners, and if you can provide a lot of attention and spend the necessary time with your glider, keeping a single glider can work. Otherwise, consider keeping more than one glider, ideally a same sex pair (or a female and neutered male) to prevent repeated breeding. Introducing adults is difficult though so it is best to raise them together from a young age.

Habits: Sugar gliders are nocturnal so they will be most active during the night. They will usually be happy to spend time with their owners during the day though - sleeping in a pocket or bonding pouch.

Sugar gliders have become a popular exotic pet. They are small and relatively easy to care for, and have a cute if not unusual appearance. As with any other exotic pet, a potential owner should be aware of their care requirements and personality before acquiring a sugar glider. Sugar gliders are illegal in some places so you will need to check the laws where your live.

Natural History 
Sugar Gliders are marsupials; that is their young start life off in a pouch (like a kangaroo). They originally hail from Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea, and live in forests. Their name is derived from their diet (in part they feed on nectar and the sap of eucalyptus), and from the flap of skin they have between their wrists and ankles that allows them to glide between trees. They are omnivorous, meaning they will eat plant material and meat - food in the wild include nectar, fruit, insects and even small birds or rodents. They live in social family units in the wild, a trait which makes them inclined to bond well with their human family. However, if they are deprived of social interaction they will not thrive (in fact they can become depressed to the point where they may die).

Characteristics 
Sugar gliders make endearing, playful, and entertaining pets. As mentioned above they are very social, and ideally they should be kept in pairs or groups, and in any case they should have a good deal of social interaction with their owners. They are fairly clean and do not have complex housing requirements. In addition, they tend to be fairly healthy (although it may be difficult to find an experienced vet to treat them) and can live to be 12-14 years in captivity. They do need a good amount of interaction (even if it is just riding around in a pocket all day), and aren't great housetraining candidates. Their nails are sharp and will scratch if they need to dig in while climbing or landing on you (keep them well trimmed). They also have sharp teeth and though not aggressive, will bite if they feel threatened or frightened. If not acquired tame and used to being handled, it may take a great deal of time and patience to get them to the point where they are cuddly.

Diet

The correct diet of sugar gliders is controversial subject. Like many animals that are relatively new in the pet trade, their needs are somewhat of a mystery, but the longer they are kept the more is known about their needs. Unfortunately many books, pet stores and Internet sites give out conflicting information, which does little to help the situation. However, as with most species, discovering what works nutritionally is a matter of trial and error as there are few studies done on the nutrition of pet species other than cats or dogs.

Obviously, the requirements of sugar gliders are of importance to their overall health, and they are prone to metabolic bone disease resulting from an improper ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet. If a diet is relatively higher in phosphorus than calcium, calcium will be leached from the bones and other tissues to balance the levels in the blood. This results in a softening of the bones, making them susceptible to fractures, along with a myriad of other health problems related to calcium imbalance.

Sugar gliders in the wild feed on eucalyptus gum, sap, insects, nectar, and honeydew (an excretory product of nectar eating insects). They will also eat bird eggs, lizards, small birds and other small prey items. This diet is pretty difficult to replicate in captivity. So a variety have food have been fed, in an attempt to somewhat mimic their natural intake and to see what makes them thrive in captivity.

But what is the ideal diet? I don't believe that is an easy question to answer, and I do not keep sugar gliders so cannot speak from personal experience.

What follows is dietary advice from well known exotic animal veterinarian and and (next page) an Australian Zoo.

Dr. Johnson-Delaney Recommendations 
Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney is an experienced exotic animal veterinarian and respected author and speaker. Her feeding recommendations are based on studies of the natural diets of sugar gliders designed in consultation with Australian zookeepers and veterinarians. The suggested amounts are per sugar glider, per day, fed in the evening. The amount should be adjusted depending on activity, size, reproduction, etc.

·         1 Tablespoon Leadbeater's Mix (recipe follows)

·         1 Tablespoon zoo quality insectivore diet (e.g. Reliable Protein Products Insectivore Diet) , or insects. If using insects, variety is important (crickets, meal worms, wax worms, moths, spiders, etc), and the insects should be fed high quality food such as commercial cricket food, and dusted with a complete vitamin/mineral supplement.

·         treat: small amount of fruits, chopped together so the gliders can't just pick out their favorites.

·         Leadbeater's Mix Recipe 

  • 150 ml Warm water 
  • 150 ml Honey 
  • 1 Shelled, boiled egg 
  • 25 grams high protein baby cereal 
  • 1 tsp vitamin/mineral supplement 

Mix warm water and honey. Blend egg, then gradually add water/honey mixture. Then blend in vitamin powder until smooth, and then blend in baby cereal until smooth. Keep refrigerated until served.

General Diet Advice 
As mentioned previously, the recommendations for feeding are many and varied. Important considerations are maintaining a calcium phosphorus ratio that is in the range of 1-2:1 calcium to phosphorus, and avoiding fats and refined sugars. If you decide to change a diet, you must do it gradually and make sure that the gliders do not get stressed by the change and are in fact adapting to the new diet. If you maintain multiple gliders in the same cage, careful attention must be paid to make sure all the gliders are consuming an appropriate amount and combination of foods.

Note: never feed chocolate as it is toxic!

Housing

Sugar Gliders are active little animals, so need lots of room in their cage. Because they like (and need) to climb and jump, the amount of vertical space is more important than the actual square footage of the cage.

A good minimum size for a pair of sugar gliders is 24 inches deep by 24 inches wide by 36 inches tall. Larger is always better, keeping in mind that height is important for the gliders. The spacing of the wire should be no more than 1/2 inch by 1 inch. If you use a cage which is not wire mesh, make sure it has horizontal bars (provide foot holds for climbing) with spaces no more than 1/2 inch. Cages that provide a couple of platforms are nice.

Because commercial cages do not often come in the dimensions preferred for sugar gliders, many owners fashion their own cages of welded wire (available at hardware stores, and agriculture/feed stores). Glider Central provides several links to pages with instructions on how to build cages at home. A nice idea is to make a cage that sits inside a tray (plastic or metal) that is a few inches larger than the floor space of the cage, to catch any wastes that fall outside of the cage.

The latch on the cage should be secure, as gliders will sometimes learn how to open latches and let themselves out!

A layer of shavings (never cedar; aspen or fir is best) in the bottom of the cage will help absorb wastes, and should be cleaned out once or twice a week (more often if needed, depending on how many you have).

The cage should be placed in an accessible spot in the home, but out of direct sunlight and in an area free from drafts. They do best a temperature slightly higher than room temperature, in the rage of 70-90 F.

Nest Boxes

Your sugar gliders need a nest box, which can be bought or home made. Many people advocate nest boxes made from porous materials, which breathe a bit and absorb moisture. Materials such as wood and unglazed clay pots (with holes in the side) fall under this category. They do have the disadvantage of absorbing urine and other wastes, so they will need to be discarded and replaced occasionally. Nest boxes of plastic are easier to clean and are an acceptable alternative. Placing the nest box against the ceiling of the cage will prevent the gliders from sitting on and defecating on top of the box.

A third option which is a favorite of many gliders is a cloth pouch. These can be affixed to the sides of the cage easily, and are washable, so you can have a spare and wash/replace them as necessary. These are also nice as they help with the taming and bonding process as you can remove the pouch, sugar gliders and all, from the cage if you wish to handle them.

Unless a cloth bag is used, some bedding material should be provided as well. A piece of cloth is often easiest and works well, but monitor and remove any loose threads.

Furnishings and Toys

Sugar Gliders like to climb and jump, and you should provide lots of branches to allow them to exercise. Fresh branches are appreciated, but make sure they are free from pesticides and fertilizers, and are from non-toxic plants (see below). Also avoid branches from coniferous trees like pine and cedar due to the sticky sap produced by these trees. Ropes and ladders can provide additional climbing opportunities.

Wooden toys, such as those made for birds and rodents make good toys for sugar gliders. Toys placed high in the cage will be most appreciated as gliders like to spend their time high up in the cage. Cloth toys are best avoided or at least regularly checked for loose threads that could entangle the gliders or be ingested.

An exercise wheel, if introduced to young gliders, may be a big hit and allow lots of opportunity for exercise. A larger wheel, with a solid surface is best, so that legs and tails do not get caught. Some people also use the clear plastic globes that you can put your pet in to let them roll around the house.

Food Dishes

Plastic bird dishes that hang on the side of the cage are probably easiest. They should be fairly large, but not so large that the gliders can climb into them and soil them. Water can be provided in a bottle, but if the gliders are not trained to a water bottle, provide another clip on dish for water until you are sure your gliders are taking water from the bottle consistently.


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