Sugar gliders are popular exotic pets, as they're small, cute, and unique little marsupials that are native to Australia and parts of Indonesia. Their bodies are similar to squirrels 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 them.
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
LIFESPAN: 10 to 15 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Sugar Glider?
Sugar gliders are illegal in several states, including Alaska, Hawaii, and California. But even if your state allows them, make sure they are legal at the local level. And in some locations, they require permits to keep. The best way to determine whether it's legal for you to own a sugar glider is to go to the UDSA's APHIS website and look up the laws in your locality.
Many experts believe that sugar gliders, being highly social animals that need lots of activities, a large living space, and plenty of socializing, are not smart pets to have because they feel the animals will suffer—and possibly experience depression—if their needs are not well met.
Things to Consider
Can you provide the right environment, do you have the space to provide a large enough enclosure? Do you have the finances and time available to commit to adopting two sugar gliders so yours is never alone? Are you near enough to a veterinarian with expertise in these exotic marsupials, so you can find yours the right medical care? These are all things to think about before you purchase your pet.
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 cozy 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 at least one female. However, they need to be kept away from pets of other species in the household—like cats and dogs—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. It's key to be very 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.
Watch Now: How are Sugar Gliders as Pets?
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 very secure, as gliders are clever and have been known to learn how to open simple latches.
Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and drafts, and maintain a room temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Specific Substrate Needs
Line the bottom of the sugar glider's cage with newspaper or other recycled paper product that is non-toxic if ingested. Avoid cedar shavings, which have a strong scent that can cause respiratory irritation in small animals. Replace the paper 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.
What Do Sugar Gliders Eat & Drink?
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. 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 the 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, which is a protozoan parasite, can cause dehydration, lethargy, and weight loss. Most bacterial and parasitic infections occur due to under-washed 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 quite 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.
Sugar gliders are very active animals, that's one of the reasons they need such a large enclosure. They need branches and ropes and anything else safe for them to climb, including exercise wheels and balls.
Sugar gliders shed minimally, if at all. Their fur is nothing you need to worry about unless it starts to look unkempt, at which point a visit to the vet would be in order.
Sugar gliders are excellent groomers, and you will not need to bathe yours. They literally bathe themselves by spitting into their hands.
Fully grown sugar gliders are 5 to 8 inches long, not including their tails, and they weigh between 2 and 5 ounces.
Training Your Sugar 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.
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Sugar Glider as a Pet
Sugar gliders are adorable, but are they the right pet for you? On the pro side, they're fun and active and live longer than other "pocket" type pets. They're also clean and rarely bite. For cons, though, you need more than one sugar glider for it to meet its social needs; they're nocturnal, so not as much fun during the day; and they really don't interact well with other pets you may have.
Purchasing Your Sugar Glider
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. A breeder should also be able to give you the lineage of your new pet, as well as its history, so you can be sure it's been ethically bred and healthy.
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.
The right breeder can teach you how to set up the cage for your glider, and share with you its dietary and veterinary needs. They will also teach you how to handle your glider to be sure neither you nor anybody in your family gets bitten.
Similar Pets to the Sugar Glider
If you’re interested in similar pets, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Can you domesticate a sugar glider?
No, you cannot. Sugar gliders are wild animals, and while they look like an adorable furry friend, they cannot be domesticated.
How long do sugar gliders live as pets?
In captivity, sugar gliders live for 10 to 15 years.
Are sugar gliders hard to take care of?
Yes, they are a good deal of work for such a little creature. Sugar gliders need a good deal of care: large, wide-open enclosures, a special diet, and toys to keep them occupied especially at night because they're nocturnal.
Sugar Gliders. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Diseases and Syndromes of Sugar Gliders. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Overview of Giardiasis. MSD Veterinary Manual.