Caring for Your Sugar Glider
A Sugar Glider is a nocturnal marsupial that is native to Indonesia, Australia, and New Guinea. They were imported as exotic pets to the United States in the early 1990s and are increasing in popularity. Sugar Gliders (Gliders) are not an ideal pet for beginner pet owners, as they require many hours of care, attention and have specific dietary requirements.
Gliders have a thin membrane from the wrist on their front feet to the ankles on their hind feet that allows them to glide from a higher elevation to a lower elevation. The membranes and their six-inch long tails are very fragile, so special care should be taken to not pick up the glider from these features. A gentle scooping motion with the hand works very well. Gliders have very sharp teeth that they use to pierce tree bark in the wild to lap up the nectar. They tend to use their mouths to explore and can be quite nibbly.
Female and male sugar gliders have a single opening for excretions called a cloaca. The female has a pouch on her belly where she carries babies after being born. Males have a scrotum that resembles a cotton ball on their belly too. Males also have a scent gland atop of their head, between their ears, that they will rub on a female to mark her. When neutered this scent gland is not visible. To prevent mating, some aggression, and pungent urine odors, it is recommended that males should be neutered 12 weeks out of the pouch.
The second and third toes and each hindfoot are fused together to create a “grooming comb.” They are self-groomers, so please do not bathe your sugar glider. Gliders have sharp nails that should be trimmed regularly to prevent snagging that leads to injuries. Please take care to not trim the pink part of the nail. This is known as the quick, and if cut, the nail will start to bleed. If you are uncomfortable trimming your glider’s nails, please make an appointment with us. The nurses will be happy to assist and safely trim your glider’s nails for you.
Sugar gliders are very social creatures and need to be kept in groups of two or more. Depression and boredom are common mental illnesses among sugar gliders and can lead to self-mutilation. When introducing new gliders to an already established colony, doing so with gliders that are similar in age leads to fewer issues with aggression. This process can be tricky, and wounds can occur from biting and scratching as they are very protective of their territory and introductions should be as slow as possible.
Gliders are arboreal, meaning they dwell in trees. A very large, tall cage is a must for these creatures as they love to climb, run, and jump. Usually, a large parrot cage with bars spaced less than ½ inch apart is needed. A sugar glider can become entrapped between the bars when the spacing is wider. Horizontal bars are preferred over vertical bars to promote climbing behaviors. Fleece bedding/pouches are ideal for sugar gliders. Fleece is important because this material doesn’t snag their nails and cause injuries. They prefer to sleep in cozy fleece pouches of nesting boxes (with shredded cotton pieces of fleece). These should be positioned high in the cage. Fleece sets can be purchased from many online stores. Many toys, ledges, and branches are required at different elevations in the cage; this helps the sugar glider remain mentally stimulated to prevent depression and boredom.
Sugar gliders get bored with their environment. Sometimes just rotating their toys or cage set up is a cheap and easy way to provide proper enrichment. Wood branches and ledges are fine as long as they are non-toxic wood (most fruit-tree woods are toxic). Bird branches/ledges/toys from the pet store are almost always safe. Please check the integrity of toys daily or weekly; sugar gliders are chewers, and toys can become unsafe if chewed on enough. Bedding to catch droppings should consist of newspapers or fleece blankets- something non-toxic if ingested. There should be several feeding and watering stations throughout the cage. Food bowls should be shallow dishes. Preferred watering stations are bird silo-style water tubes (pictured below) as they prefer to lap their water instead of drinking from a sipper bottler. Another advantage is that their droppings cannot fall into the water dish and contaminate it.
Sugar Gliders are omnivores and require a large variety of foods/insects for a well-balanced diet. Nutrition is the biggest factor contributing to the lifelong health of your glider. Many times when a sugar glider is ill, it is related to an improper diet and/or nutritional deficiencies. As they are increasing in popularity, more research is being done in regards to their nutritional requirements. There are a few trusted commercial diets and homemade diets with specific recipes to provide complete nutrition for your glider. For more information on nutritional needs and diet, please see our Sugar Glider Diet handout. Sometimes, gliders will be seen chewing their food and spitting chunks out. This is called “spittings”- it is completely normal, they are simply extracting nutrients and moisture from the food and discarding the rest!
- Commercial Diet Examples: Exotic Pet Nutrition and Mazrui Insectivore
- Homemade Diet Examples: The Pet Glider(TPG), Modified Ledbetter’s, High Protein Wombaroo(HPW)
Unlike our more common pets (dogs & cats), sugar gliders don't require immunizations. However, regular veterinary visits are encouraged to keep an eye on your pet's weight, the status of his/her teeth, general overall health, and to catch any issues early. Please note that sugar gliders are very wiggly creatures and a complete physical examination may be difficult for your veterinarian. They may recommend a sedated exam to be able to fully assess your beloved glider to detect any illness or abnormalities.
Sugar Gliders need time to become acquainted with the family. The process can be made easier by doing any of the following:
- Place small pieces of fleece fabric that have your scent on them in your glider’s nesting Purchase a small children’s tent and let your sugar gliders run loose in a zipped up tent with you inside, allows them to explore and get to know you in a controlled environment
- Get a zippered bonding pouch and carry your gliders with you throughout your home. They get used to your smell, your voice, and your normal activities.
- Raptor Wheels-https://www.mygliderwheelsandmore.com/shop-for-wheels.html
- Spinzone Global- https://www.spinzoneglobal.com/
- The Pet Glider - https://www.thepetglider.com/
- Exotic Nutrition - https://www.exoticnutrition.com/basic-sugar-glider-information.aspx?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8oHTyuHI7AIVLIlbCh3dPASdEAAYASAAEgLtwfD_BwE
- Sugar Glider Information- https://www.sugargliderinfo.org/pages/questions-answers