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Sugar Gliders- General Info and Pet Keeping

Updated on July 2, 2017

Table of Contents

1. General Overview- Discusses basics about what a Sugar Glider is as an animal.

2. Natural Habitat- Will talk about where Sugar Gliders are found in the wild, and how to keep one happy as a pet in your home.

3. Diet- In this part the food that Gliders prefer both in the wild and what they require when kept as pets.

4. Social Structure- Discusses the various social habits and needs of these animals.

5. Gliders as Pets- Will go over the controversy and how to properly attend to a happy glider.

1. General Overview

These cute, fluffy creatures known as Sugar Gliders (or Sugar Bears) have been rising in popularity as pets over the last 10-15 years. A Glider is a nocturnal marsupial commonly found in Australia are 9-12 inches long and weigh only a few ounces. Their fur is very soft to the touch, and they have a flap of skin that connects their front and hind leg on either side allowing them to "glide" long distances. The skin acts like a parachute to slow their descent as they jump. These pets form close social bonds and are very active when they are kept in a happy home for them.


2. Habitat

In the wild, these fluffy little things are found around Australia, Indonesia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. They will be found high up in the treetops and come down to the ground only if they have to. They are nocturnal, meaning that they will sleep during the day and be active when the sun is down.

In captivity these little guys need to be kept in very specific conditions or they will get sick. Gliders are very social and active animals naturally and will require a lot of space to jump and play in. The absolute minimum cage size for a glider to be kept in is 2'Wx2'Dx3'H with less than 1/2" gap between the bars on the cage. The cage must also not have any raw metal or mesh as their claws will get caught and scratched. While on the topic, the surfaces that the gliders will walk on needs to be taken into consideration. These animals are very skittish normally and will much rather run from harm than fight anything. When their feet get stuck on something they will pull and tear at it until they become free or they dislocate/remove the appendage that is stuck. Stay away from material that has loose strands sticking out to get caught on their nails. When first moving a glider in a new owner should pay close attention to how they handle walking on all new surfaces to learn what works best and the condition of the glider's nails.

With these animals being so active, they will need lots of open space and multiple layers built inside to encourage jumping and gliding. Without a lot of toys and space to glide these pets will become bored and lethargic and could get sick. Gliders have a lot of energy to burn off and without tall trees to climb and glide between will need a hamster wheel to run in. Be aware of the long small tail of the glider that could potentially get caught in the spinning mechanism in the middle of the wheel and how the grip inside of the wheel will fit their claws. There are nail file pads that a pet owner can put in the wheel to help file down the nails when they start getting caught on things too much. Many owners leave the file in all the time, ideally it will be taken out and only used when needed.

Gliders like to sleep in hollow logs and hammock pouches. They can be very picky about where they will sleep and it would be recommended to leave options until a new glider finds a comfortable bed. Once a glider has bonded with their owner they like sleeping in a pouch that has the scent of the owner. After wearing a shirt to bed for 5-7 nights then hanging it like a hammock or laying on the ground so they can climb in and be totally surrounded in shirt will help them sleep peacefully. Placing a bonded person's shirt in the cage when a glider gets nervous can also comfort them and it simulates a glider's infancy when they stayed in their mom's pouch for 2-3 months.

A wonderful example of how to keep Sugar Gliders in captivity!

3. Diet

In the wild sugar gliders will eat the vegetation around them including flower blossoms, nectar, eucalyptus, acacia gum, and insects that are crawling around the trees. In captivity however, it is very important to keep a close eye on your glider's diet. With an improperly balanced diet the calcium will be taken from their bones to balance their nutrients and the bones will become brittle, can develop paralysis, and potentially death. They love berries, fresh fruits, and bugs mostly though the particular tastes vary drastically from glider to glider. Many are very picky about foods and tastes will change over time so mixing it up a little from time to time will make them happy.

When creating a diet for a sugar glider there are many components to take into account. For instance there are many foods that a glider may not eat like raw sugar (in chocolate), garlic, cheese, dairy, or foods that have been treated with pesticides or the such. Research is key! Also the phosphorus to calcium ratio is vital to a glider's diet. Calcium is used in the body to balance internal phosphorus levels. When there is too much phosphorus and not enough calcium in their diet the body will take calcium from the bones to make up for the deficiency. First signs of this disorder is the hind legs will become shaky. Their bones will become brittle and likely to break. They can then become paralyzed or die from phosphorus poisoning or complications to calcium deficiency.

Lastly, to ensure that the glider's diet is adequate there must be proper vitamins added to their food. There are plenty of multivitamins on the market built for gliders to just sprinkle some in the food. Also, it is a good idea to give the glider a calcium powder supplement to make sure they are getting enough of everything they need. Every other day or less often should be good as you don't want to bump up the calcium just to make up for phosphorus intake. It is better to build a diet that is balanced from the start.

4. Social Structure

Sugar gliders are incredibly social creatures by nature. In the wild, they can be found in families, or "colonies", of 7 or more. In the colonies they are closely bonded with one another like a family for people. In captivity, it is important to remember to give your glider social interaction (preferably another glider and not both male). They will become depressed without someone to play and cuddle with. Males will compete for dominance that could lead to malnutrition and minor injuries so it is ideal to keep one male and the rest female.

Through bonding a person may join a glider colony. Bonding is done by developing a relationship with your glider. Much of their bonding and identifying who is who is done by scent. Gliders have scent pouches that give off a scent that they may use to mark their territory, or bonding. When bonding with each other glider's will rub their scent glands on each other to become familiar with the other. As a person, rubbing your scent glands on the glider will make them nervous. A recommendation to help bond quicker with your glider is to have them in a pouch that may hang from your neck while they are sleeping and keep them inside of your shirt. Gliders really enjoy armpits as scent pockets. Keeping a warn and slightly smelly article of clothing in their pouch will also help. Too much scent over their cage at first will send the message that you have already marked it and it is not their place, but leaving pieces with your scent in it that will remain with them while they are sleeping will give them a sensation like the smell of their mother while they were in the pouch and be more ready to bond with a new owner.

They use many noises to communicate with one another. There is a bark that sounds much like a very small bark from a dog (you will hear it in the video linked above at the part with the caption "midnight serenade"). This is a noise to get attention. To show others something to be aware of, communicate they need something, or just because they are bored and want to play are some of the reasons a glider will bark. There is also a noise they will make called crabbing that is deep and raspy described in the video linked below as sounding like a locust. They will make this noise when they are scared or nervous to ward off predators. They will make this sound to a new owner and should not e taken as a sign they don't like a person. They will also make this sound when being woken up. After bonding with a glider they will make this noise much less and simply holding a hand gently over them in a cupping shape will generally calm them down in a few minutes. Another noise a glider will make is chatty soft noise commonly referred to as sneezing. This is a happy noise used like the purring of a cat. Each glider has it's own unique pitch and tone to it's noises that others use to identify them. It is helpful to learn a glider's personality to help determine the mood and intent of a glider's noise.

An expert explaining the various noises of a glider with sounds clips.

5. Gliders as Pets

There has been a lot of controversy over keeping sugar gliders as pets over the last few years. Part of the issue is through super breeders not taking proper care in the collection and care taking process of these animals in many cases. Another is from ill-informed pet owners coming home with an exotic animal they do not know how to properly attend to. In both cases the answer comes down to a person needing to do their research before the purchase of their pets, especially exotic ones.

Super breeders like many big corporations are good for bringing a large quantity of a product to people for a seemingly reasonable price, however the drawbacks may make a potential pet owner think twice about who they purchase from. Many of these companies go the the homeland of the gliders and capture them illegally. Next they are sent to a lab where a vet will have to perform surgery on hundreds of these very small creatures to spay and neuter them. Finally, these companies do not monitor the well-being of the individual animals and health concerns are often overlooked before reaching the arms of their new parents. Many things can go wrong along the process that can lead to problems that do not show right away in the nervous glider. I had a glider from an owner that purchased her from a super breeder that just seemed extra shy and scared. After she bonded to us and we could see her normal, we noticed she was having small seizures. Unfortunately we weren't able to notice until it was too late and we lost her. This is certainly not the case all of the time, but it would be recommended to get to know a glider before purchasing and making sure the previous owner took proper care of your potential pet.

Keeping an exotic pet in your home can be quite challenging with a lot of animals. Keeping a climate that is not natural to your region is considered by the most difficult part of keeping an exotic pet. This pet however likes to keep temperatures around 65- 90 Fahrenheit. There wont be much work that needs to be done to maintain a climate for your glider if you have an adequate home built for them.

If you keep your glider with at least one other glider that they are bonded with the attention you give to your glider is entirely up to you. Outside of feeding they will only need a person if they are bonded and want to play or snuggle. If they have a colony to play with you can sit back and watch your gliders when you don't have time to stay up at night with them. Once bonded however they will love playing with other members of their colony. Hide and seek is a favorite among many. They will climb just out of eye sight and wait for you to come around and find them. Then you can do the same and they will come find you. They will scurry around on you while you walk around and do other things. Many seem to prefer staying on your back, though it does make it difficult to get them off when play time is done.

In Summary

Sugar gliders make very rewarding pets to keep. With a proper home built to give them space to run and jump around in they will be comfortable to be their cute and cuddly selves. Bonding with a new glider will take some time, but patience and love will make them a wonderful addition to any family!


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