Sugar gliders are small, nocturnal tree-dwelling marsupials (meaning they carry babies in a pouch!). They are native to Australia, New Guinea, Tasmania and Indonesia. They get their name from being fond of sweet foods and because they can glide using flaps of skin that extend from their wrists to their ankles. Their average life span as a pet is 12 to 15 years.
Cage – While you should provide as large of a cage as possible, the cage should be no smaller than 3 feet by 2 feet by 3 feet and should have a grated floor with a drop pan underneath. The large size gives them adequate room to glide. The bars of the cage should be horizontal as this makes it easier for your sugar glider to climb. The bars should be no more than half an inch apart to avoid entrapping their heads. The preferred cage material is PVC-coated steel.
Bedding – Bedding material should be clean, absorbent, non-toxic, and mostly dust-free. We recommend paper pulp products (Carefresh or Yesterday’s News), shredded paper, or fleece/towels. Wood chips and shavings (especially cedar and pine) are NOT recommended as they can cause respiratory and liver disease.
Hide box – You should provide a sleeping area for your sugar glider high up in the cage. A wooden nest box made for birds can be used, or you may use a pouch made of fleece (as fleece will not catch their feet). The bedding in the nest box should be changed regularly.
Furniture – Numerous branches and/or horizontal shelves should be provided to promote climbing. Many swings and chew toys made for birds can be used for your sugar glider; these encourage natural behaviors such as foraging, gliding, nesting and stimulate curiosity. Exercise wheels (with a smooth interior) should be provided; these help provide physical and mental stimulation. Rotating toys out and rearranging the cage on a regular basis can help give your sugar glider a more engaging environment.
Food and water bowls – Food should be provided on an elevated platform; this simulates their natural behavior and promotes a sense of security while eating. Food and water bowls (several of each) should be placed around the cage to stimulate feeding
Temperature – The ideal temperature range for sugar gliders is between 75-80°F.
In the wild, sugar gliders are omnivores. Their diet largely consists of insects as well as nectars and saps. Sugar gliders should be fed in the evenings when they are most active.
Nectar (~50% of diet) – Many nectar substitutes are available in pet stores including Gliderade nectar supplement (Exotic Pet Nutrition Company, Newport News, VA), acacia gum powder, and nectar diets meant for lory birds.
Protein (~50% of diet) – Half of the diet should consist of a protein source. This protein source can range from insects (such as crickets and mealworms) to eggs and lean meat. As sugar gliders are susceptible to calcium deficiency, calcium-loading of insects (or calcium supplements) is absolutely essential.
Pellets – Commercial sugar glider pellets can be offered in conjunction to the protein source and together should still make up only ~50% of your sugar glider’s diet.
Fruits and vegetables (<10% of diet) – Vegetables, fruits and nuts may be provided as treats in moderation as they often are deficient in essential nutrients. These treats include, but are not limited to: fresh fruit, honey, yogurt drops, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pistachios, yogurt, apple sauce, and baby food.
Water – Your pet should have access to fresh water at all times. They can be trained to drink from sipper bottle or provide water in a spill-proof bowl. Check water bottles often as they can malfunction and stop working.
When well socialized and frequently handled, sugar gliders are very docile and easy to handle. You can cup them in the palm of your hand. They like to climb up your arms as well. Take care not to make sudden movements as they are prone to biting when scared, agitated, or disturbed.
SOCIALIZATION AND PLAY
Socialization – Sugar gliders are very social creatures and should be kept in groups of two or more. If keeping males and females together, consider neutering the male to prevent breeding. If sugar gliders are kept alone and are not provided with enough social stimulation many behavioral disorders can develop.
Bonding – It is important for you to bond with your sugar glider. Sugar gliders feel safe in small, enclosed pouches, with special pouches available to carry your sugar glider in. Keeping your sugar glider close and petting them while they are in their pouch promotes safety, security and bonding. You should spend no less than two hours per day with your sugar glider to promote proper socialization. Ideally, this time should be spent when your sugar glider is most awake and active (i.e. in the evening).
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquire pet sugar gliders. Thereafter, we recommend bi-annual exams and yearly fecal exams.
Spaying and neutering – if you plan on housing sugar gliders together, especially in mixed sex groups, spaying and neutering is highly recommended. Intact males housed together may fight.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
Obesity – This is a common issue with sugar gliders. To avoid this, make sure that you provide ample opportunity for your sugar glider to exercise and avoid feeding too many treats high in fat
Calcium deficiency – If not fed properly, sugar gliders can easily become deficient in calcium. Calcium deficiency is very dangerous and can result in partial paralysis, bone fractures and/or seizures. To counteract this, calcium supplements and/or calcium-loaded insects are essential components of a sugar glider’s diet.
Dental disease – Sugar gliders are prone to dental disease when fed soft, sugary diets. This can lead to rotting teeth and tooth fractures. To avoid this, ensure a proper diet is followed and have teeth checked regularly.
Stress – Stress is very common in sugar gliders (particularly when housed alone) and manifests as self- harm, aggressive behavior, overeating, and eating of feces. Stress also makes sugar gliders more vulnerable to illnesses. To minimize the risk of stress, ensure males are neutered and house at least two together.
Respiratory infection – This is common and can lead to pneumonia. Watch for lack of appetite, sluggishness, and “popping” sounds while breathing. If you observe any of these, seek immediate veterinary attention.
Injury – Sugar gliders are very active and curious creatures, they can be prone to injuries. Sugar gliders should always be supervised when out of their cage as they may be stepped on, fall, or chew through electrical wires (among other things).