I recently participated in a continuing education course (every veterinarian is required to keep up on their education by taking a certain number of hours per year) and this one was all about sugar gliders. It was very educational and interesting. Many people have not heard of this pet so I thought I would blog about it. Interestingly, the adoption/selling/purchasing/husbandry/ and medical care of these little guys carry alot of controversy and tend to raise positive and negative emotions. I will go into this a bit. But first–a little about Sugar gliders:
Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps)are small marsupial mammals indigenous to countries including Australia and Indonesia. In the wild, they eat nectar, sap, manna (a sweet excretion produced by insects), and insects. They are nocturnal by nature, and tend to be very social. They can jump and glide from tree to tree, similar to a flying squirrel.
Sugar gliders as pets: If bonded correctly and properly cared for, these guys and gals can make great pets. They are cute, cuddly, small, can hang out on the owner for hours, entertaining to watch, and affectionate. HOWEVER—it is critical that research is done prior to purchasing. First, they are not legal in every state (California for one).They need very special housing setups. The joeys (juveniles) need a different cage and additional heat compared to the adults. It is imperative that a balanced diet (preferably a pelleted diet supplemented with fruit and supplements), and time is taken to bond with a young glider. There is a critical period in the sugar glider’s life that required for bonding and if you miss this opportunity, you can end up with a nippy, unsocial glider.
So the controversy:
Where to buy: Well, I am not going to endorse one source or another. However, it does ruffle my feathers to see so many sugar gliders purchased at kiosks in malls–like you would buy hand lotion or sunglasses. These mall kiosks are not around very long and even though they are all from the same distributor around the country–I have heard from clients about the different levels of quality at these kiosks. Also, I worry about the impulse buy–this is not something you want to get hooked into, purchase and then in a week not want anymore. There are already too many gliders that need rehoming.
Message boards and online chat rooms–lots of discussion and lots of opinions–be careful about what you believe and use your veterinarian as a resource for information to help weed out fact and fiction.
If you purchase a glider, make sure it is from a USDA licensed facility. Many places are not licensed so do the research.
Diet: there are many, many, many opinions on this. It is easy to find many recipes on line for a diet that is home made and supplemented with fruits and insects. I am in favor of current recommendations of using a pelleted food (just like you would for a bird or a ferret) supplemented with a small amount of fruit and Leadbeater’s diet. There are a few different diets available out there so do your research. Once again, I am not going to endorse a brand on the web. I do discuss nutrition recommendations in detail during my exam visits though and provide addtional detailed recommendations.
Heat rock vs heat lamp? Gliders need additional heat, especially the joeys. A controversy out there is the source. I have always been wary of heat rocks because of the problems of these when used with reptiles. I have seen my share of reptile thermal burns related to heat rocks. This may not be a problem with sugar gliders but I am hesitant to say that it couldn’t happen. If you use a heat rock without incident great. Perhaps consider periodically putting your hand on it to make sure it is still at a comfortable temperature. If you want to get a heat lamp, or use a heat pad under the cage so it radiates through, great. Just try to use thermometers to help you get the ideal temperatures.
My own personal pet peave: the name sugar bears instead of sugar gliders. Doing an internet search brings me to two main sites using this name. A sugar glider distributor/seller–linked to mall kiosk sales. And the North American Sugar Bear Association. This group is considered a sister group to the North American Sugar Glider Association. Everyone says these are the same animals so why do they need to have sister organizations with the same information on both sites? I just don’t get it.
Veterinary care: I have seen some resources that suggestion home grown cures for illnesses and also recommendations against using anesthesia, even to neuter the males. I have also had many people tell me that they were told by sellers that gliders do not need much if any medical care. I have to disagree. I recommend at least yearly exams to monitor body weight, check the teeth, palpate for masses, screen for heart anomalies, and evaluate husbandry and nutrition. When gliders get sick (and they do!) they may need hundreds of dollars of care. I have treated abscesses, pneumonia, excised tumors, councelled on obesity, treated traumatic wounds, treated toxicities, malnutrition, and gastrointestinal parasites.
Ok so I have waxed long enough about sugar gliders. I really like them as animals and as pets but I want everyone to be aware of what is needed if taking them into your home. Although they are not as much work (although maybe similar) to owning a bird, they are not as easy as a hamster. So do your research and consult your veterinarian so that you can have the best success in enjoying these unique critters.
Sources for this blog include:Sugar Gliders, Companion Exotic Mammal Care Series (Zoological Education Network), Sugar Glider course (VIN), North American Sugar Glider Association,Wikepedia (picture), my own experience.