Sugar gliders are small marsupials that make great pets in the proper environment. Like any other potential pet, you should make sure you spend time with one prior to making the decision to bring one into your home. You can spend time with a sugar glider at the pet store, a rescue or at the house of a sugar glider’s owner.
Like other marsupials, sugar gliders have a pouch. They are small, arboreal and agile with a body weight of barely four ounces. They are omnivores and insectivores, and therefore require a varied diet. Sugar gliders live for 10 to 14 years, though some are known to live longer. They are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and sleep for much of the day. Sugar gliders are social animals and often thrive better in groups. It is important to think about all of these factors as well as average costs for food, housing and veterinary care when considering a sugar glider as a pet.
Creating a Comfortable Home for Sugar Gliders
Sugar gliders should be housed in a cage that is as large as possible. The cage should be made of wire and have multiple perches as well as places to hide. Boxes, hammocks, pouches and tunnels are also recommended as they not only provide security but also give your sugar glider something to do. Proper bedding like shredded newspaper, Oxbow Pure Comfort Bedding or CareFresh must be provided. The cage should be cleaned at least one a week. Sugar gliders may spend time out of the cage but must be supervised as other pets in the household may attack or play roughly with them. You should also supervise sugar gliders when he/she is with a child. Children may accidentally injure your pet with rough handling, or the sugar glider could potentially bite the child.
A Diet Full of Fruits, Veggies and Insects
Sugar gliders eat a variety of things in the wild, including plant material (eucalyptus gum), sap, nectar, pollen grains and insects. They will also eat bird eggs, lizards, small birds and other small prey items. This diet is challenging to replicate in captivity. A variety of food items have been recommended to mimic their natural diet and help them succeed in captivity. They have very low caloric requirements; the average adult glider requires only 20 to 25 calories per day. They also have low nitrogen (protein) requirements and only need 100 mg of protein per day.
There are several commercial diets available, including Mazrui insectivore diets and gel, Brisky sugar glider, high protein Womberoo Complete, Glider Kids Reduced Honey, Glider R Chow and Glider R Gravy, all of which are easily found on the internet and available for purchase. All of these diets should be fed in conjunction with fruits, vegetables and insects to round out the diet. Fruit and vegetables should include but are not limited to apples, pears, sweet potatoes, watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, carrots, kiwi, mango and blueberries. If using insects, variety is important (crickets, meal worms, wax worms, moths and spiders, etc.), and the insects should be fed high-quality food such as commercial cricket food. Ideally, it is important to have a calcium phosphorus ratio that is in the range of one to-one or two-to-one calcium to phosphorus. Avoiding fats and refined sugars is equally as important as they are predisposed to metabolic bone disease. Feed your sugar glider once a day in the late afternoon/early evening. Food and/or insects may be hidden throughout the environment to encourage normal foraging behavior. Foraging provides exercise as well as mental stimulation.
Veterinary Care Is Vital
Like cats and dogs, sugar gliders also need regular medical care. For a list of veterinarians in your area who care for sugar gliders, please visit http://www.aemv.org/index.php/members/vet-locator. A sugar glider does not need vaccinations, but you should spay or neuter your glider, especially if you plan to have multiple gliders. Sugar gliders should, at minimum, have a yearly wellness exam and fecal floatation to test for intestinal parasites. Annual blood work may be necessary, though the size of the glider versus the amount of blood needed for testing makes blood draws difficult. There may also be emergencies that require a trip to the veterinary office or emergency hospital. The most common medical problems in sugar gliders are inappropriate diet/feeding, obesity, diabetes mellitus, metabolic bone disease (which is usually secondary to nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism), tetany, teeth/gum problems, iron storage disease, renal disease, diarrhea (often nutritional based), pneumonia, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, trauma and internal parasites. Even with good routine care, you may still encounter afterhours emergencies with your sugar gliders. Make sure the emergency hospital you plan to visit has a veterinarian on staff that is trained to treat sugar gliders. If you have concerns about any of these problems, please contact your local exotics veterinarian and set up a consultation for your pet. Making plans for your sugar glider’s medical care before you need it will ensure your pet stays healthy and happy.
If you want more information about sugar gliders, check out http://www.asgv.org/, a veterinary-predominant website that offers information to potential sugar glider owners.
1 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, and 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.
Ariana Finkelstein, DVM currently practices at Mission Pet Emergency in San Antonio, Texas.