Pets We Treat
Sugar Glider Care Tips: Everything You Need To Know
Sugar gliders, commonly known as “sugar bears” or “honey gliders” can be the perfect pet for animal lovers because they thrive on love and attention. They are a low maintenance companion pet in many ways, but if you don’t have plenty of TLC to give them, they are probably not the right choice for you.
The Natural History of Sugar Gliders
The sugar glider is a small marsupial, with a similar appearance to a flying squirrel (though they are not related to them). Native to Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea, sugar gliders are omnivorous, arboreal and nocturnal. They were first imported into the United States in 1993 and today they are popular exotic pets in the United States, Canada, and other countries.
Sugar Gliders as House Pets
Currently, Pennsylvania and California are the only two states in the US where it’s illegal to have a sugar glider as a domestic pet.
With proper care and nutrition, sugar gliders in captivity have a life expectancy of 12-15 years. Joeys should be adopted at 7-12 weeks out of the pouch. Male sugar gliders reach sexual maturity at 12-15 months out of pouch, and females at 8-12 months out of pouch. Adult sugar gliders are usually 5-6 inches tall, with a tail of equal length. The average weight of an adult sugar glider is between 3 and 6 oz.
Sugar Gliders are known as a type of “pocket pet” due to their small size, and because they enjoy cuddling with their owners. Some people even carry their sugar gliders around in their shirt pockets all day, without worrying that they’ll run off. They naturally bond with the people who give them plenty of love, which explains why today they are as popular as more traditional house pets like hamsters and guinea pigs.
How to Care for Your Pet Sugar Glider
Sugar Glider Housing
The recommended type of cage for sugar gliders is a PVC-coated wire cage, with the openings on the bars no larger than 1.25-2.5 cm and a removable plastic waste tray at the bottom of the cage. The plastic tray should be at least 2.5 cm from the floor of the cage and lined with paper. The enclosure should be kept in a warm room, away from heaters or air conditioners, vents and direct sunlight.
NOTE: Bird cages, where the bars are primarily vertical rectangles, are NOT recommended for baby or juvenile sugar gliders.
Choose the most appropriate cage depending on the age and size of your sugar glider. There must be enough space in their cage for exercise, a food bowl and a place to sleep during the day. For adult sugar gliders, large cages are preferable, with height being the most important factor to consider when choosing your cage.
1-2 babies or juveniles under 5 months out of pouch: Width/Depth: 46-51cm / Height: 61-76cm
1-2 adults over 5 months of age: Width: 91cm, Depth: 61cm, Height: 102cm
Providing the Right Climate for Your Sugar Glider
When considering where to place your sugar glider cage, take into account that sugar gliders are nocturnal so they make noise at night. Also consider how lighting, odor, safety and temperature will affect your pet. So while your bedroom might seem like the wrong place if you need a good night’s sleep, the kitchen is also a hazardous choice because of the high potential that your little sugar glider could get into trouble or have an accident.
A healthy temperature for sugar gliders is 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a much cooler climate, you will need a supplemental heat source for your sugar glider’s cage. We recommend using a conventional heat rock, especially during the bonding period.
Sugar Glider Toys and Accessories
Sugar gliders enjoy traditional toys, but you can easily make your own toys to keep them busy. Avoid items that can entangle your sugar glider, such as wire or loose strings. Rope and wooden toys are a great choice, but for the sake of hygiene we recommend replacing homemade toys every 3-4 months.
Sugar gliders get much of their exercise by gliding from a high place in their cage down to a low one, but exercise wheels are just as important to their physical and psychological health.
Note: Be sure to buy an appropriate wheel and NOT the standard rodent wheel. (Your sugar glider’s tail can become entangled and lead to injury in a standard wheel.
How to Keep Your Sugar Glider Cage Clean
The recommended sugar glider cage has a plastic bin underneath, making it easy to remove the feces that drop through the metal cage, and into the bin. Clean the bin every day to reduce odor and protect the health of your sugar glider.
We also recommend spot cleaning your sugar glider’s cage once a day, and thoroughly cleaning and sterilizing their cage and supplies once a week. Another important factor in odor management is to ensure that you give your pet sugar glider a controlled diet, but more on that soon.
Sugar Glider Diet and Nutrition
What Do Sugar Gliders Eat and Drink?
A balanced diet for a sugar glider is similar to the diet of a healthy pet cat or dog. The diet should contain 75% pellet food, 25% fresh produce, and a calcium based multivitamin, usually designed to sprinkle over their food, every other day. Their food only costs about $10.00/month, making sugar gliders a very affordable pet. The pellets can be purchased at any local pet store.
The food and water bowls in your sugar glider’s cage should be kept in an enclosed area within the cage in order to avoid contamination, as well as unnecessary waste.
All produce must be washed carefully because sugar gliders are prone to toxicity poisoning.
Keep in mind that any change to a young Joey’s diet can induce significant stress, and is not recommended.
We recommend outfitting the cage with both a conventional water bottle and a secondary water dish within their enclosure. Be sure to check that the water remains clean and change it at least once a day. Only use filtered or bottled water.
Beware of the Sugar Glider Sweet Tooth
When given a choice, sugar gliders will eat sweet and fatty foods over healthy foods. (Can you blame them?) They will also eat excessively if given the opportunity. For this reason, it is crucial to stick to the recommended ratio of pellets to fresh fruits and vegetables. Pellet food should be left in the cage at all times, while fresh food should be removed each morning. The same goes for insects! They are high in fat and should only be given to your pet as special treats on rare occasions.
You might feel like you want to spoil your little friend, but the effects of eating too much of the wrong foods is believed to cause many sugar glider illnesses.
More on Sugar Glider Odor
The bottom line is, you are what you eat. A strong, unpleasant odor exuding from your sugar glider is oftentimes directly related to their diet. There are people who insist on using a special, expensive, and complicated diet, but it is unnecessary. Feeding your sugar glider large amounts of proteins, meats, sugars, and insects will cause them to emit an unpleasant odor.
If you follow a balanced pellet and fresh food diet, your sugar glider shouldn’t smell, nor need to be bathed.
Whether you choose to neuter your male sugar gliders or not, keep in mind that unneutered males will give off a strong odor, and often mark their territory. Most reputable breeders will only sell neutered males.
Sugar Glider Behavior
Sugar gliders are social animals, both with their owners and with other sugar gliders. They’re playful and loyal nature means that they love and seek attention. For this reason, we urge you to keep two or more sugar gliders at a time. If you choose to only have just one, commit to spending at least two hours a day playing and interacting with your sugar glider. Providing companionship sounds romantic, but it’s also vital to your pet’s health. If you leave a sugar glider alone for days at a time, without any interaction, your pet will likely become depressed.
So how do you “hang out” with your sugar glider? One form of companionship could be simply walking around with your sugar glider in your pocket. This works both for people who like to keep busy while at home, and for people who live alone and like having a pet who responds to affection. You can also play games with them using the toys we mentioned above.
What Is Your Sugar Glider Trying to Say?
Some sugar glider noises include crabbing (fear), barking (lonely or playing), purring (happy), and sneezing or hissing (grooming or playing).
Biting is not a common issue with trained, bonded sugar gliders. In most cases, when sugar gliders bite, it is because they are scared or being hurt. More often than not, the culprit will be a baby sugar glider or an untrained adult who has never properly bonded with their owner or a companion. Unlike rodent teeth, sugar gliders’ teeth are designed like tweezers; therefore their bites are pretty harmless and feel more like a firm pinch.
What Do Sugar Gliders Like to Play?
Sugar gliders enjoy playing and “gliding” outside of their cage, and climbing on their owners. Your home is not their natural habitat, so when you let your sugar glider out for some play time, be sure to supervise them so that they don’t fall into dangerous areas such as open toilet seats or bathtubs.
Sugar Glider Bonding
The bonding process between owner and pet may take several weeks and should begin before your sugar glider is 12-weeks out of pouch. It is possible to have your sugar glider bond with your other household pets, but this must be done slowly. Use your judgment. Just like you, there are some people you’re just not meant to be friends with…
Bonding is an intensive process that will be well-rewarded. Play with your sugar glider, or just keep it in your pocket as you do other safe house chores.
Though they are nocturnal animals, sugar gliders can adjust to any schedule as long as it allows them maximum time with their owners.
Sugar Glider Training
Sugar gliders cannot be toilet trained, but luckily they are clean and predictable animals. If you are perceptive enough to your sugar glider’s body language and habits, you can successfully spend all day holding your sugar glider without any accidents.
Medical Care for Your Pet Sugar Glider
Sugar gliders are relatively low maintenance creatures. There are many things you can do in order to avoid common causes of injury or death for your sugar glider. The number one tip is to avoid accidentally transferring toxins or bacteria by always washing your hands, including under the fingernails, before handling your sugar glider.
Avoid common causes of injury or death to sugar gliders by creating a safe environment for them:
Avoid drowning accidents by keeping them away from open containers of fluids like toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and buckets
Keep away from hot items that can cause burns, like stovetops, light bulbs, toasters, coffee pots, etc.
Avoid possible poisoning by removing fruit-scented air fresheners, fruit scented cleaners such as Lysol, scented candles, etc.
Remove your sugar glider’s cage (and your pet!) from the room during cleaning to avoid spraying them with household cleaning products.
Keep sugar glider’s away from insects, rodent baits or pesticides.
Only give them filtered or bottled water in order to avoid poisoning from chemicals often contained in tap water.
Keep them away from all chocolate or caffeinated drinks.
Don’t let them near any toxic houseplants or holiday decorations
Toxic trees for sugar gliders (they can cause lung irritation): Pine, Cedar, Fir, Box elder, Boxwood, Oak, Red maple, Walnut, Cherry, Almond, Laurel, Apricot, Avocado, Nectarine, Plum, Peach trees, and all trees that bear fruits.
Toxic bushes and plants: Holly, Azalea, Mistletoe, Catnip, Rhubarb, Sweet peas
Avoid all plants treated with pesticides or plants that have been treated with chemicals, fertilizers, or toxicity.
Common Sugar Glider Health Concerns
Do not use unregulated Internet sites as guides. This often leads to malnutrition and poor care practices.
Malnutrition in your sugar glider can cause:
We recommend bringing your sugar glider to the vet for an exam within the first week of adoption. After that, unless medical care is required, annual checkups are sufficient. These checkups should include a stool exam and bloodwork. There are no required sugar glider vaccines at this time.
Males should be neutered whenever possible to avoid anti-social behaviors and self-mutilation.
How Can I Tell When My Sugar Glider Is Sick?
Keep an eye out for certain changes that demand medical attention:
Pneumonia, which can be indicated by discharge from the eyes/nose
Diarrhea resulting from dietary changes
Stress-related diseases including self-mutilation, cannibalism of young, and eating disorders
Hair loss typically resulting from poor nutrition and vitamin intake
Sugar Glider Emergencies
If your sugar glider seems sick, do not hesitate to schedule an appointment with your sugar glider vet. The following is a list of symptoms that can indicate serious illness or injury, and should be addressed as soon as possible. Keep an eye out for these signs and changes in behavior:
Sneezing or nasal discharge
Lumps on the body
A telltale sign that something is wrong with your sugar glider displays any behavior associated with low blood sugar. Sugar gliders who aren’t feeling well tend to stop eating. This may make them weak and lethargic, which can lead to tremors or seizures. These symptoms may also be related to low calcium levels, which can be an emergency.
When under stress or in pain, sugar gliders are prone to self-mutilation. This behavior escalates very quickly, and is very dangerous. Call your veterinarian immediately.
Boarding for Your Pet Sugar Glider
At Long Island Bird & Exotic Pet Vet, we offer boarding services for sugar gliders and are happy to care for your pet (or pets!) while you’re away. Travel carefree and we promise to give them plenty of attention, keep them on a healthy diet and ensure a clean and safe environment.