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Get To Know Sugar Gliders With These Frequently Asked Questions

This sugar glider FAQ list gives answers to some burning questions about these furry, marsupials as pets.

Lori "Bourbon" Hackworth
Posted: February 21, 2014, 7:45 p.m. EST

sugar glider in pocket
© Isabelle Francais/I-5 Publishing, LLC
Some people carry sugar gliders around in their pocket, but this must be done with great care.

1. Are they a good pet?

Sugar gliders can be the best pet in the world for the right person. However, they are not recommended for the average child. Their life expectancy and needs are generally more than an average child, or even some adults, can handle.

Sugar gliders are nocturnal, coming out to play at night. Their out time includes climbing on their owners, and a sugar glider’s sharp claws can leave marks on skin. Gliders love to do "face huggers,” where they glide from high places and land on their owner’s face — perhaps causing eye injuries. 

Much like children, gliders require lots of attention, patience and understanding. A glider can rebel from lack of attention. Worse yet, he may fall into a depression, refuse to eat and die.  Each glider has his own distinct personality, his own set of issues, and his own likes and dislikes. He must be accepted and loved as he is — the good with the bad.  

2. What are the drawbacks?

Ownership of a sugar glider involves more than a few negatives that must be understood before obtaining one as a pet. Consider the following: 
Sugar gliders are illegal in some states. They are also illegal in some cities, towns, municipalities, counties and boroughs. Some states require special permits and have stiff regulations.
They require a lot of attention. Plan for two hours of interaction each day. 
They have extremely sharp teeth designed to pierce tree branches to retrieve sap; they can bite extremely hard. 
Their claws are sharp. When they walk on people, their claws often cause itching, burning and welts on the skin; some people think they are having allergic reactions.
The males mark their territory with a fairly strong musky smell. 
Gliders cannot be potty trained. They will urinate and defecate on their owner and any place else when out.
They are noisy. They bark like a puppy, many times at 2 or 3 in the morning. Until they learn to trust you they will crab (a loud locust sound). If you have more than one, they may fight and bicker. 
Because they are nocturnal, gliders usually show symptoms of illness late at night. This means emergency vet visits at odd hours, which can be costly. 
Diets are confusing and controversial. Many diet plans are out there, but not all of them are healthy.
The lack of information available for sugar gliders is one of the biggest problems about ownership. They have not been in the United States long enough for extensive research to be done. Much of the most recent research has not been published; most of the published information concerns gliders in the wild. Some websites have old and outdated information.  

3. What is their life span?

In captivity in Australia, where they have access to their natural flora and fauna, sugar gliders have been known to live up to 15 years. Here in the United States, there are some living 12 years or more. Most gliders die much earlier due to accidents and health issues. 

4. What do I feed a sugar glider?

Sugar glider diet is a controversial subject because so little information is published (except for gliders in the wild). Some people say sugar gliders are insectivores, others omnivores. In Australia, they call them gummivores (animals known to eat plant gums, saps or resins). Based on our research, I believe that sugar gliders are actually gummivores. How you view them dictates how you feed them. 

Whoever you get your glider from, follow their advice regarding feeding. Through research, find a diet plan that works for you and is healthy for your pet.
 
Following is a list of the diets that I use, which are common with glider owners. Research for yourself and make your own decision.

The BML (Bourbon’s Modified Leadbeater’s) diet is a nutritionally balanced diet when fed as directed. 

Many commercial diets exist. Check the nutritional value associated with them. Also, when using the various glider supplements, know what they are used for. Educate yourself about the various diets, and talk with many glider owners to find out why they use their diet plan. Do not modify the diets, or combine diet plans together — choose one and stay with it. 

There are foods that must never be fed to sugar gliders. These include: chocolate, onions, nuts and seeds, cheese, fat fried foods, refined sugars, iceberg lettuce and any foods that may cause gas. 

5. What type of cage?

Galvanized wire is not recommended, because it tends to retain odors and corrodes. This type of wire can also put the glider at risk for urinary tract infections because gliders urinate against the cage wire, which can cause a chemical reaction on the wire that rubs off on the glider. 

Avoid cheap birdcages too. However, some expensive flight cages work well, and they retain fewer odors than galvanized wire. 

PVC-coated wire is the most recommended. It is easier on a glider’s feet, easier to clean, quieter, and withstands time. 
Stainless steel is by far the most expensive, but is the easiest to clean and retains virtually no odors. 

The minimum recommended cage size for one or two gliders is 2 by 2 by 3 feet, with bar spacing to be not more than 1/2 by 1 inch. The bottom floor wire should be a minimum of 2 inches from the waste pan. 

6. Should I get one or two?

To decide if one or two is better depends on how much time you will spend with your glider. If you plan on spending a lot of time with it, get one first. Learn how to care for her and what her needs are. Then get another later on. 

Many people suggest getting two if you are not going to spend a lot of time with her. However, if you are not going to spend a lot of time with her, please don’t get any. If it is at all possible that one is going to be neglected, why have two at risk? It is harder to find a home for two gliders than it is to find a home for one.  

7. Can I put two males or females together?

It is not recommended to put two males together. They may fight to the death unless they are brothers, raised together and neutered. Females usually don’t have a problem as a pair. But all gliders are individuals, and they may not like each other. 

8. Is male or female better?

It’s up to you. Gliders each have their own individual personalities. Either sex can be docile, energetic, shy, social, sweet, feisty, loving or mean.  

9. What do I look for when getting a sugar glider?

• Health. The glider’s head should be in proportion with the rest of his body. The tail should be furred, the nose should be pink and the body should have some fullness about it. He should be eating the same foods as his parents. Meet with the breeder, tour the facility or the home and meet the parents of the babies. Spend time with the baby. The breeder should be willing to answer any questions you may have, as well as be supportive.
What are you getting? Males have a little ball of fur (like pompoms) in the lower section; females have a little slit in their tummy area, no pompoms. A neutered male may or may not have the pompoms. If he does, the pompom will be empty, only a tuft of fur. Either way, a male will not have a slit. Gliders should always be neutered by a glider-knowledgeable vet.
Is younger better? A glider can bond to his owner at any age, although young joeys bond more easily. However, a glider should be old enough to leave his parents, and the parents should have weaned him naturally between 8 and 10 weeks out of pouch.  

10. How do I tell if a sugar glider is ill?

Suspect illness if abnormal behavior occurs — sleeping too much, being up during the day, not eating or drinking, excessive drinking, a wet or discolored nose, vomiting, seizuring, lethargy, diarrhea, walking funny, weight loss or acting strangely.

In the wild a sick glider is a dead glider, so the symptoms may not be a remarkable change. They will hide their illness as long as they can. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Never take a chance with your glider’s health — if in doubt, see your veterinarian. 

11. How do I find a veterinarian?

Find a veterinarian before getting the glider. Start by calling every vet in your area. Find out how many have ever seen a glider, how many have ever treated them, what kind of cases they have seen, and, if possible, what the outcome has been. Talk to pet shops, zoos and rescue groups about a good exotic vet. 

There are a few glider vet pages available on the Internet. If your vet doesn’t know much but wants to learn more, help him or her by collecting as much information as you can. Find reputable Internet sites, a few have some very good vet packets available that can be printed out. [You can also search for a veterinarian at the Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians website or check the vet listing on this site. — Eds.]

12. Do they require shots or regular vet visits?

Sugar gliders do not require regular shots. However, they should go to the vet every six months for regular fecal tests and wellness visits, even if healthy. 

13. How do I bond with my glider?

In order for your glider to feel safe with you, provide her a safe environment — do not chase her or try to hold her. Some people carry their glider with them. Please do this with extreme caution.

Make your glider feel as safe as possible with you or around you. Keep in mind you are 700 times her size at 150 pounds — for every additional 25 pounds, add on another 100 times. Imagine how you would feel with something 700+ times your size chasing and handling you.

When your glider is crabbing, most of the time it means she is scared and feels unsafe. Make her feel as secure as possible. 

If your glider bites you, figure out what you are doing when she bites — then don’t do it. Respect your glider’s teeth, but don’t go away if she bites. She will learn that biting makes you go away. Whatever you do, don’t jump, scream, jerk away from, hit or reject your glider. Try to understand why your pet is doing what she is doing.  

14. Is my glider pregnant?

If she is, you’ll notice one or two pea-sized lumps on the underside of the female’s belly. These will grow to walnut size. Do not try to open the pouch to see them, or try to touch them while in the pouch. If your glider is used to you carrying her around, continue to do so. Do not remove the male from the female. Keep life as normal as possible for her. Do not make any changes to cause additional stress. 

15. New joeys just OOP (out of pocket), what do I do?

Do not try to remove the joeys from mom. You can handle the joeys and mom, but only if that mom is accustomed to being handled. If the joeys are alone, handle them for a few minutes at a time. The joeys should be a minimum of 8 weeks out of pouch before they are removed from the parents. 

Allow the parents to wean them on their own. They need the parent’s antibodies from the natural milk they receive from the mother. It is not uncommon for the parents to lose the first litter, either from rejection or cannibalism. This could happen for many different reasons. If you lose more than the first litter, look for a cause. It could be diet, illness or genetics. In order to sell trade or give away the joeys, you must possess a USDA license. 

See questions and answers about sugar glider behavior, click here>>
See questions and answers about sugar glider health, click here>>

Posted: February 21, 2014, 7:45 p.m. EST


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