Sugar gliders are popular exotic pets (considered to be any pet that's not a cat, dog, or farm animal). They're small, cute, and unique little marsupials that are native to Australia and parts of Indonesia. Their bodies are similar to a squirrel’s with gray fur and black markings. They also have a gliding membrane—a thin, skin-like structure that extends from the front to back limbs on each side almost like wings—that helps them travel among trees.
Sugar gliders make for playful, curious, and social pets. But they do require frequent handling to keep them tame, along with ample space for exercise. Plus, they have a very particular diet. These animals are not for beginner pet owners, and you should put considerable effort into educating yourself about the species before acquiring a sugar glider. Then, expect to spend multiple hours per day tending to your animal.
Common Name: Sugar glider
Scientific Name: Petaurus breviceps
Adult Size: 5 to 8 inches long (tail adds another 6-8 inches); weighs between 2 and 5 ounces
Life Expectancy: 10 to 17 years in captivity
Sugar Glider Behavior and Temperament
Many people find pet sugar gliders to be endearing and entertaining. They are quick, love to climb, and will glide from place to place if their space allows it. Plus, as nocturnal animals (meaning they're most active at night), they like to cuddle up in a nest during the day to sleep.
Because they are social animals, it's usually ideal to have more than one sugar glider, one male and several females. However, it's typically best to keep them away from pets of other species in the household, as they might injure one another.
Regular human interaction is very important if you want your glider to bond with you. Allowing a sugar glider to ride in your shirt pocket or in a pouch that hangs around your neck is an easy way to interact with it throughout the day. If your glider isn't used to being handled, it can take some time for it to become cuddly with you. Sugar gliders generally are not aggressive pets, but they will bite if they feel threatened or frightened. So it's key to be patient and gentle when handling them.
Furthermore, sugar gliders are rather vocal pets and have various noises to tell you when they're upset, frightened, hungry, and more. They typically will give an audible warning when they are angry before attempting to bite. You might hear this sound if you wake a sleeping glider.
Sugar gliders generally can't be potty trained, but they are otherwise fairly clean pets. Once you have their enclosure set up, it's pretty easy to maintain. Their greatest care needs are maintaining a balanced diet and socialization.
Watch Now: How are Sugar Gliders as Pets?
Housing the Sugar Glider
An enclosure that's 36 inches wide by 24 inches deep by 36 inches high is a good minimum size for a pair of sugar gliders. Bigger is always better, and the height is more valuable than the floor space due to the climbing and gliding activities of these little marsupials.
The cage wire spacing should be no more than a half-inch wide, and the bars should be horizontal to facilitate climbing. The interior of the cage should contain lots of toys and a closed exercise wheel (so the glider's tail doesn't get caught). Branches, ropes, and ladders will also provide opportunities for climbing, play, and exercise. Place a nest box near the top of the enclosure as a spot where your glider can go to feel safe and sleep.
The latch on the cage door should be secure, as gliders are clever and have been known to learn how to open simple latches. Line the bottom of the cage with newspaper or other recycled paper product that is nontoxic if ingested. Avoid cedar shavings, which have a strong scent that can cause respiratory irritation in small animals. Replace the shavings and clean surfaces and toys in the cage with soap and water at least once a week. Most illnesses that affect sugar gliders are due to unsanitary living conditions.
Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and drafts and maintain a room temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Food and Water
Sugar gliders have fairly strict dietary requirements. In the wild, a sugar glider's diet includes nectar and sap from trees. But sugar gliders are omnivorous, meaning they eat plants and animals. So in addition to the nectar and sap, they also consume fruit, insects, and even small birds or rodents.
For pet sugar gliders, variations of the homemade Bourbon's Modified Leadbeater (BML) diet are very popular. Honey, calcium powder, and baby cereal are often used in these recipes to provide proper nutrition to your glider. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be offered in moderation, less than 10 percent of total diet, because many lack essential vitamins, minerals, and protein and contain mostly water. Many owners put out meals in small food bowls in the morning and at night. But some sugar gliders tend to graze, rather than eat a full meal at once. So don't be concerned if you see some food leftover, but do discard leftovers prior to the next meal to prevent them from spoiling.
Consult your veterinarian on the best quantity to feed your glider, as this can vary based on age, size, and activity level. And always keep a water dish or bottle in the cage, which should be refreshed at least daily.
Common Health Problems
Sugar gliders are very susceptible to stress if awakened and taken out of their cages in daytime hours. They have even been known to self-mutilate (bite and scratch themselves) under stressful conditions. Housing sugar gliders that don't get along or providing too small of an enclosure are two major stressors for these small, sensitive creatures. If you notice any signs of self-mutilation, such as missing patches of fur, consult your vet immediately. They can help to determine the issue and suggest lifestyle modifications.
Sugar gliders also are prone to some bacterial and parasitic infections. For instance, giardia, a protozoan parasite, can cause dehydration, lethargy, and weight loss. Most bacterial and parasitic infections occur due to underwashed fruits and vegetables, so thoroughly clean any foods you feed to your sugar glider.
Moreover, many issues arise in sugar gliders due to malnutrition. A malnourished glider might be thin, lethargic, and have pale gums. Low calcium and blood sugar are commonly the culprits. This often results in anemia and can turn into more serious health issues, such as kidney, liver, and metabolic bone disease (which can cause bone fractures).
Furthermore, dental disease is common in sugar gliders because of their sugary diet. If your glider is having tooth problems, you might notice it is eating less or has a bad smell coming from its mouth. A teeth cleaning with your veterinarian will likely be in order, and your vet can advise you on oral hygiene tips.
Before acquiring a sugar glider, it's imperative to make sure there's a veterinarian near you who can treat this species. An annual wellness exam is recommended.
Purchasing Your Sugar Glider
Sugar gliders are illegal in a few states, including Alaska, Hawaii, and California. But even if your state allows them, make sure they are legal at the local level. Plus, in some locations, they require permits to keep.
Look for a reputable breeder or rescue organization to acquire a glider. A breeder should have a U.S. Department of Agriculture license. Avoid purchasing over the internet where you can't interact with the animal before you commit. And try to speak with other people who also have gotten an animal from that seller.
The seller should be able to provide thorough information on the animal's origin, health history, and temperament. Ask to visit with the animal before you take it home and look for any red flags, such as lethargy, trouble moving around, or abnormal feces. Expect to pay between $100 and $500 on average; young gliders are more expensive.
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