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Sugar Gliders Come From The Land Down Under

Native to Australia, pet sugar gliders are becoming more common in the United States.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: June 16, 2010, 5 a.m. EDT

Click image to enlarge
sugar glider
Photo Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
A makeshift Elizabethan collar was made to prevent this sugar glider from chewing on her sutures after surgery.

Australia is known for a lot of beautiful places and wonderful people. Classic Australian icons include the Sydney Opera House, the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Blue Mountains, Ayers Rock, and the Rod Laver arena where the Australian Open tennis tournament is played. Australia is also known for a wide variety of unusual animals called marsupials.

Marsupials include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and sugar gliders. Sugar gliders are native to the northern and eastern parts of Australia where there are eucalyptus and gum trees. Sugar gliders are becoming increasingly popular as pets here in the United States.

Sugar gliders are cute, social pets, but they are nocturnal (active at night) by nature. In general they do much better when kept with at least one other glider. Unfortunately pet gliders are prone to nutritional problems, such as a calcium deficiency; behavioral problems, such as self-mutilation; and eye trauma. I have had three sugar glider self-mutilation cases this spring.

The first was a routine neuter of a rescued glider. Male gliders have a bifurcated (forked) penis, and the testicles are located away from the abdomen in a scrotal sac. This glider had actually chewed off one of the forks of his penis. Fortunately, this self-trauma did not prevent him from urinating normally. The neuter surgery went just fine, and he had a smooth recovery.

The second case involved a female glider that had chewed off a portion of her distal tail. This required amputation of most of her tail, antibiotic therapy to treat the infection, and the use of an Elizabethan collar to prevent her from chewing on the sutures. It takes some Aggie engineering to make an E-collar for a sugar glider, but one can be made from a can cover. (Aggie is a nickname for current or former students of Texas A&M University.) 

The next case was a geriatric glider that had chewed off her paw and most of her wrist. Bones of the wrist were exposed, and infection had already set in. Treatment for this extreme case of self-mutilation would have included amputating the front arm at the shoulder joint, reattaching the patagium (gliding membrane) and antibiotic therapy to treat the infection.

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

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Sugar Gliders Come From The Land Down Under

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Reader Comments
We love our sugar gliders! We have three, but before I found my first male some friends, we carried him with us in pouches so he wouldn't get depressed. He's the largest and most cuddly of our three, but they're all super friendly and affectionate.
I don't know why they're illegal in three states because they're harmless and perfect pets for those of us who are busy during the day.
I highly recommend sugar gliders as pets, but get educated for their needs before owning one. : )
LivPurple, Redondo Beach, CA
Posted: 12/22/2010 7:13:30 AM
We love our sugar gliders! We have three, but before I found my first male some friends, we carried him with us in pouches so he wouldn't get depressed. He's the largest and most cuddly of our three, but they're all super friendly and affectionate.
I don't know why they're illegal in three states because they're harmless and perfect pets for those of us who are busy during the day.
I highly recommend sugar gliders as pets, but get educated for their needs before owning one. : )
LivPurple, Redondo Beach, CA
Posted: 12/22/2010 7:12:23 AM
Hi Kaitlyn
We do not know exactly what causes sugar gliders to self-mutilate, but reducing stress, plenty of toys for behavioral enrichment, and sometimes we have to use Prozac to treat/prevent self mutilation.
Jerry, Dallas, TX
Posted: 6/27/2010 4:56:18 PM
thanks for the info
Tommy, Pocatello, ID
Posted: 6/25/2010 7:29:23 AM
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