Sugar Gliders–cute but controversial!

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 glider pic­ture from wikapedia

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.

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