The correct diet for sugar gliders is a controversial subject. Like many animals that are relatively new in the pet trade, their needs are somewhat of a mystery, but the longer they are kept the more is known about their needs. Unfortunately, many books, pet stores, and Internet sites provide conflicting information, which does little to help the situation. However, as with most species, discovering what works nutritionally is a matter of trial and error as there are few studies on the nutrition of pet species other than cats or dogs.
Obviously, the requirements of sugar gliders are of importance to their overall health, and they are prone to metabolic bone disease resulting from an improper ratio of calcium to phosphorus in the diet.
If a diet is higher in phosphorus than calcium, calcium will be leached from the bones and other tissues to balance levels in the blood. This results in a softening of the bones, making them susceptible to fractures, along with a myriad of other health problems related to calcium imbalance.
Sugar gliders in the wild feed on eucalyptus gum, sap, insects, nectar, and honeydew (an excretory product of nectar-eating insects). They will also eat bird eggs, lizards, small birds, and other small prey. This diet is difficult to replicate in captivity. To thrive in captivity, they require a varied diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables and protein from various sources (primarily insects). Fresh water must be available at all times.
What—specifically—should be included in a varied diet? We spoke to the exotic animal veterinarian and author Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney to find out.
Dr. Johnson-Delaney Recommendations
Her feeding recommendations are based on studies of the natural diets of sugar gliders designed in consultation with Australian zookeepers and veterinarians. The suggested amounts are per sugar glider, per day, fed in the evening. The amount should be adjusted depending on activity, size, reproduction, etc.
- 1 Tablespoon Leadbeater's Mix (recipe follows)
- 1 Tablespoon zoo quality insectivore diet (e.g. Reliable Protein Products Insectivore Diet), or insects. If using insects, variety is important (crickets, mealworms, wax worms, moths, spiders, etc), and the insects should be fed high-quality food such as commercial cricket food, dusted with a complete vitamin/mineral supplement.
- Treat: small amount of fruits, chopped together so the gliders can't just pick out their favorites.
- Leadbeater's Mix Recipe
- 150 ml warm water
- 150 ml honey
- 1 shelled, boiled egg
- 25 grams of high protein baby cereal
- 1 tsp vitamin/mineral supplement
- Mix warm water and honey. Blend egg, 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.
General Diet Advice
As mentioned previously, the recommendations for feeding are many and varied. Important considerations are maintaining a calcium-phosphorus ratio that is in the range of 1-2:1 calcium to phosphorus and avoiding fats and refined sugars. If you decide to change a diet, you must do it gradually and make sure that the gliders do not get stressed by the change and are in fact adapting to the new diet. If you maintain multiple gliders in the same cage, careful attention must be paid to make sure all the gliders are consuming an appropriate amount and combination of foods.
Note: never feed sugar gliders chocolate, as it is toxic!
References and Resources
- Feeding, Diet, and Common Nutritional Problems of Sugar Gliders - by Holly Nash, DVM; from PetEducation.com.
- Sugar Glider Nutrition - by Dr. Janine M. Cianciolo, DVM; from Suncoast Sugar Gliders
- Food - from the Gliderpedia on Sugarglider.com
- Formerly on Ruth's Sugar Glider Page, archived on Sugargliders.com - Diet - a good section on feeding including a modified Leadbeater's Mix recipe.