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Small Mammal Care - Sugar Gliders

Sugar Glider Veterinary Care at Pet Care Veterinary Hospital

Sugar gliders are marsupials native to the forests of New Guinea and the east coast of Australia. Being a marsupial, the female sugar glider has a pouch in which she raises one or two young (joeys). The sugar glider name comes from their fondness for the sweet sap and gums of certain species of eucalyptus and acacia trees, and from the flap of skin that stretches between their front and hind limbs that allows them to glide between trees. In their natural environment, sugar gliders are highly social tree dwelling creatures, often living in groups of 6–10. Being nocturnal, they are active by night when they hunt for insects and small vertebrates.

Pet sugar gliders do not do well alone, and unless given a lot of attention and handling, are best kept in pairs or groups. They tend to form strong bonds with their owner and enjoy hiding in a shirt pocket or cloth pouch where they feel safe. During the evening, they become more active and may actually glide into an open hand from a roost on their cage. Sugar gliders can be quite vocal with a whole series of yaps and screams. Both male and female may scent mark their territory (or cagemate) with scent glands found on the top of the dorsal head and neck in the male and from the pouch area in the female. They make suitable pets when given ample space, sufficient socialization, and when their specific dietary requirements are met. They have an average life span of 10–12 years.

Because of their active nature, sugar gliders should be provided with as large a cage as possible. Minimum cage size should be 36" x 24" x 36" with designated areas for food, shelter, and exercise. Sugar gliders prefer a nest box or sleeping pouch positioned high in the cage for secure daytime, undisturbed resting. The nest box can be lined with bedding made of recycled newspaper products, dried leaves, or hard wood shavings, which should be changed regularly, minimally every one to two weeks. Use fleece cage accessories for lounging and landing areas, and wood branches, shelves, and perches, placed at various levels, to stimulate climbing. Bird toys, such as swing and chews toys, can be offered for further stimulation and entertainment. Sugar gliders tolerate temperatures between 65° and 90°F, with an ideal room temperature kept between 75°F to 80°F.

The most common medical problems seen in sugar gliders stem from malnutrition as the result of inappropriate diets and feeding practices. These include:

  • Limb weakness, tremors, and paralysis
  • Dental disease—Traumatic incisor fracture, tartar buildup and periodontal disease, tooth decay
  • Diarrhea with or without rectal or cloacal prolapse—Complicated by bacterial and parasitic infection
  • Self-mutilation—Poor husbandry and environmental stress also predispose to this self-destructive behavior
  • Cataracts—A result of congenital predisposition and/or nutritional imbalances.

Nutrition

Sugar gliders are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. In the wild, their diet consists of sap, pollen, nectars, and insects. In captivity, the sugar glider must be fed a variety of nectars, insects, and other protein sources in order to meets its specific nutritional requirements. It is important to note that fruits and vegetables are not a part of the glider's natural diet and should be fed in very limited amounts. A suggested portion size for one glider would include 1 tablespoon gut-loaded insects or insectivore diet (Mazuri® insectivore diet available from Pet Care Veterinary Hospital is highly recommended), a tablespoon of nectar, and ½ teaspoon of fruit. The diet should be offered in fresh portions in the evening.

When feeding the captive glider, keep in mind the following:

  • Protein is a critical nutrient in the glider diet. Sources include insects (most commonly crickets and mealworms), chopped up cooked eggs, pinky mice, and commercial sources such as the Mazuri insectivore diet mentioned above.
  • Insects should be "gut-loaded" or fed a calcium/vitamin rich insect diet for several days prior to being offered to the glider. This helps maximize their nutrient potential.
  • Commercial products that mimic the saps or nectars required by gliders include commercial lory or lorikeet diets and Gliderade® (Avico, Fallbrook, CA). To simulate native gums, Gum Arabic (acacia) can be purchased as a powder and mixed into a thick paste and used in holes in branches or cage surfaces with bits of fruit or insects stuck in to stimulate foraging behavior.
  • Although sugar gliders readily accept fruits, nuts, and grains, these are not a substantial part of the natural glider diet and should be offered in minimal quantities.

Alternatively, there are a variety of glider diet recipes available on the Internet. Keep in mind that these diets are based on experience and success by captive glider owners but have not undergone thorough nutritional dietary trials and analysis.

Two diets recommended by Pet Care

Chicago Zoological Park Diet (this recipe has been slightly modified and is for one glider)
1 teaspoon-sized piece each, chopped: apple, carrot, sweet potato, and banana
1 teaspoon chopped leaf lettuce
1 hard-cooked egg yolk
1 tablespoon pelleted diet: Mazuri® insectivore diet or Glide-R-Chow™
1 dozen "gut-loaded" crickets or mealworms

Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney's Sugar Glider Diet
Leadbeater's mix: Major component (approx. 50%) of the diet, feed in evening; one glider portion is approximately 1–2 tablespoons

  • 150 mL (5 oz) warm water
  • 150 mL (5 oz) honey
  • 1 shelled boiled egg
  • 25 g high protein baby cereal
  • 1 tsp vitamin/mineral supplement (Prime®, Hagen Pet Products or Vionate®, Gimborn Pet Specialties). An additional 100 mg of calcium carbonate can be added.

Mix warm water and honey. In a separate container, blend egg until homogenized and gradually add water/honey mixture. Then add vitamin powder and baby cereal, blending after each addition until smooth. Keep refrigerated until served. This can also be frozen in ice cube trays (one well is approximately one meal's worth).

1 Tbsp per day of an insectivore diet (Mazuri® Insectivore diet)

Treat foods (not more than 1-2 tsp per glider per day):

  • Fruit, various, chopped; may add bee pollen and sprinkle with vitamin/mineral supplement
  • Live insects (calcium gut loaded for several days, adult insects preferred) can be added
  • Commercial lorikeet nectar can be offered several times a week
  • Gum Arabic; mix with fruit juice or lorikeet nectar, and use it smeared on branches, as an enrichment treat.

Much of the above information comes from Robert Ness, DVM, Ness Exotic Wellness Center, Lisle, Illinois.

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