Lately, Sugar gliders have become quite common exotic pets, and this comes to no surprise given the fact that they are very small, unique and cute wild animals.
But before adopting a Sugar glider, you should find out more about its character traits, the maintenance requirements, its diet, as well as other factors which will help you prepare for looking after one or more of these small sized animals at home.
Main Sugar glider features
- Their scientific name is Petaurus breviceps
- Unlike common belief, sugar gliders are not rodents, but are rather marsupials, just like kangaroos
- They carry their little ones in pouches like kangaroos
- The name Sugar glider comes from the fact that they can glide from one place to another thanks to the flaps of skin they have under their arms
- They have a pretty long lifespan and can live 10-15 years in captivity
- They are social animals and in natural settings live in groups of 6 to 10
- Their natural habitat is in Australia and New Guinea
- The average size of a sugar glider is 5-6 inches plus a tail which is approximately the same length as their body
- The weight of these small animals can reach 5.5 oz. tops
- Sugar gliders require quite a lot of maintenance and need a lot of socializing, so either get a pair of sugar gliders or be prepared to spend time with your pet on a daily basis to keep it happy
- They will feel comfortable in a cage which is large and is placed in a quiet area and is cleaned once a week
- They are nocturnal animals so they will be active at night and prefer to sleep during the day
- These small animals have very specific dietary requirements and their food has to be freshly prepared on a daily basis
- They are not too comfortable with other larger pets in the house
- Since they are exotic animals, they will require the attention of specialized vets who deal with wild and exotic animals
- Captive sugar gliders come in various fur coat types and colors unlike the wild ones which are grey and have a black back stripe
- The males have a scent gland on the top of their heads to mark their territory
- Female sugar gliders have two vaginas and two uteruses and the males have fork-shaped penises
Sugar gliders as house pets
Sugar gliders are readily available for adoption and purchase in various shelters, pet stores, and breeders. They can be excellent pets for people who know how to care for them, what their needs are, and how to keep them happy, healthy and well.
These small animals are incredibly social which is why they need to be housed with at least one partner or friend from the same species.
If you keep a male and female together, you need to make sure that the male is neutered by the age of about 6 months if you want to prevent the pair from reproducing themselves when they reach sexual maturity at about 12 months of age.
These unique animals are very curious and playful and love spending their waking hours with their friends or owners. They love pouches, so you should be prepared to have your Sugar glider pet curl up and nap in a pouch or even in your shirt pocket.
They are very fast and inquisitive animals so you should let them out of their cage only when supervised closely and in a pet-proofed area.
You must be prepared to handle your sugar glider on a daily basis, especially if it lives alone in its cage because it can become nippy.
They are definitely not suitable pets for families with young children.
Is it legal to own a sugar glider as a pet?
Since the laws for owning, breeding and selling exotic animals tend to change annually, it is recommended that you check with your local, state and national laws and requirements for legally owning a Sugar glider.
Call your city hall, or the appropriate local and governmental agencies to find out whether you need a permit or whether you are legally allowed to own a Sugar glider before buying or adopting one!
You will need to contact the US Department of Agriculture if you are planning to own and especially breed this species.
Currently, owning a Sugar glider is illegal in Alaska, California, and Hawaii. If you live in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania you will need a special permit to own one or more of these exotic animals. In Georgia, you will need to provide proof of origin or the animal, and in New Mexico, you will need an exotic pet permit.
In New York, Sugar gliders are legal except in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and in Staten Island.
Sugar Glider’s temperament and behavioral traits
These small sized animals are very playful, entertaining and loveable pets when you provide them with the care and attention they require. They will bond with their cage-mates, but need to be socialized and tended to regularly if you want them to be friendly to humans as well.
Sugar gliders express their emotions with specific noises, so you can tell whether the animals is scared, hungry, upset or happy when you learn to recognize the different sounds it makes. Learning which sound means what is essential if you want to keep your pets healthy and prevent some pretty nasty bites.
Be prepared to listen to quite a lot of sounds at night, because sugar gliders are pretty vocal and are active at night and sleep during the day.
They are clean pets and love to climb, cuddle up in a pouch or nest in the day to sleep.
You can interact with your sugar glider during the day by letting it sleep in your shirt pocket or in a pouch hanging around your neck.
Do sugar gliders bite?
Sugar gliders have sharp teeth and nails and can bite when defending themselves. If your pet feels scared, threatened and trapped it can bite. As soon as you earn its trust the likelihood of getting bitten by your pet is minimal.
You need to socialize with the sugar glider on a daily basis and from an early age, so as to earn its trust, and to learn to recognize the sounds it makes when it is feeling upset or frightened so that you can avoid getting bitten.
Be prepared to get groomed gently by your pet once you earn its trust. It will lick and gently bite your skin and hair as a sign of love and affection.
Proper housing of the Sugar glider
It is recommended that you house your pair of sugar gliders in a cage which is at least 24 (W) x 24 (D) x 36 (H) inches. Of course, the bigger the cage, the better your pets will feel. If you can, make the cage as high as possible, as these marsupials love climbing and gliding.
The spacing of the cage wire should be maximum half an inch wide and you should choose a cage with horizontal bars which will allow your pet to climb up and glide down.
You should add various toys, ladders, ropes, branches, and a closed exercise wheel to allow your pet to stay active, exercise and feel happy.
Choose a cage with a secure latch, because they are clever little animals.
Line the bottom of the cage with wither fir or aspen shavings and clean them out at least once a week to avoid diseases and other problems with the animals.
Place the cage in a quiet place which is not drafty and is away from direct sunlight. The temperature in the room must be 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remember to place a nest, bag or pouch or two on the top of the cage so your Sugar glider can sleep during the day.
When you let the animals out of the cage, supervise them and ensure that the area has been pet-proofed.
Do sugar gliders poop everywhere?
These small sized exotic animals are quite clean and will not defecate in the place where they sleep, lounge or play, so don’t worry about your cute pet pooping in your shirt pocket.
Their elimination habits are easy to predict. They prefer to do it right after they wake up and eat.
They usually choose a specific place in the cage to do their business, so you should ensure that the cage is cleaned consistently.
Remember to feed your sugar glider with their natural fresh diet, so that its elimination schedule can remain predictable.
Food and water requirements
These small exotic pets are omnivores, which means that they feed on both plants and animal products. The Sugar gliders have very specific dietary needs which you will need to ensure if you want them to stay healthy and happy. When in the wild, they feed gum and sap from acacia and eucalyptus trees, nectar and pollen from different flowers as well as some insects.
In captivity, many inexperienced owners feed the Sugar gliders too much fruit and too little protein. The perfect diet for an animal like this consists of 25% proteins (2 cooked eggs and a little cooked lean meat, or pelleted insects for pets, or a little mealworms or crickets), plus 25% leafy green vegetables and a little fruit such as apples, carrots, berries, grapes, mango, papaya or sweet potatoes. In addition, the daily diet must include 50% of ready-made pelleted food specially made for Sugar gliders which will provide them with nectar.
You can also make a homemade Leadbeater mix which includes water, boiled egg, baby cereal, vitamins, and honey.
The key to a well-balanced diet is variety, and leaving the foods out so that they can eat at different times of the day and of course during the night when they are active, instead of feeding them on schedule.
Common health problems
The Sugar glider is a sensitive animal which is very susceptible to stress and can self-mutilate if put under severe stress. Stress can be caused by a cage which is too small, or if you place the animal with another one with which it doesn’t get along with.
The Sugar glider is also prone to parasite and bacterial infections. The protozoan parasite called Giardia can cause lethargy, dehydration and weight loss in these animals. The Sugar glider can get infected through under washed fruits and veggies.
In order to keep your Sugar glider healthy, you also need to ensure a proper balance of phosphorus and calcium.
Make sure that you locate a nearby veterinarian who specializes in exotic and especially in marsupials before going ahead and purchasing a Sugar glider.
These small exotic animals are prone to a variety of other diseases and health conditions, traumatic injuries, organ failure, and cancers. The most common health problems found in captive Sugar gliders include obesity, dental problems, malnutrition, stress-related conditions, and metabolic bone disease.
Obesity in Sugar gliders can lead to lethargy, heart, pancreatic or liver disease and arthritis. This problem can be treated with properly portioned and balanced meals, exercise increase and other changes made to the conditions which the vet will recommend.
Malnourishment can cause the Sugar gliders to become thin, dehydrated and week. This will limit their ability to climb and can lead to traumas and broken bones and pale gums. Often these animals have low levels of calcium and blood sugar and suffer from anemia. If left untreated, malnutrition can lead to kidney and liver failure. Special precautions need to be taken to resolve this problem, including feeding the sick animal with a syringe, improving the diet, adding calcium supplements and housing in padded small cages to prevent injuries.
The metabolic bone disease leads to the swelling and fractures of the bones and can even cause seizures. The symptoms are low calcium levels and high phosphorus levels.
Dental disease in Sugar gliders often is a result of eating sugary and soft foods which cause the build-up of tartar and inflammation of the gums. It can lead to infections of the roots of the teeth, abscesses in the jaw and tooth loss. A sign that your glider has dental problems is if it starts eating less, salivates excessively, loses weight and becomes lethargic. An experienced vet will be able to sedate the animal so that it can be examined, and if necessary have the abscesses and infections treated. Antibiotic intake may be required as well.
To prevent dental health problems, make sure that your vet does regular checkups of the teeth and gums of your pet.
Stress-related illness can often occur in animals which are housed alone or which do not have a chance to sleep throughout the day. Signs that your glider may be suffering from stress include chewing on their own body and skin, pacing back and forth, overeating and making sounds which express distress.
This is why you should always house gliders in pairs or in larger groups, and provide them with sufficient living space where they can climb, glide and interact at night, and cozy up and sleep in the day.
Also, you need to socialize with your gliders often, in order to keep them happy and stress-free.
Veterinary care for Sugar gliders
Before buying or adopting a Sugar glider, find a local vet who specializes in marsupials and exotic animals. It is recommended that you take your new pet to the vet in the very first days so that they can do an initial checkup to see if the animal is healthy.
Experienced vets should be able to examine your pet without sedating it, by gentle handling in a towel. Brief sedation via gas anesthesia may be required when more invasive tests need to be performed, like blood sampling, X-rays or others.
A sample of the stool should also be provided so that it can be tested for parasites as well as to examine whether the diet provided is well balanced and appropriate.
Unlike dogs and cats, Sugar gliders do not require annual vaccinations, but you should take them to the vet at least once a year for a prophylactic checkup.
Buying a Sugar glider
When planning on buying a Sugar glider, make sure you find a reputable licensed breeder who will provide you information about its health and medical history. You can check the specialized shelters in your area for Sugar gliders available for adoption as well if you prefer a rescue pet.
Always check your state and local regulations regarding the possession of exotic animals before adopting a Sugar glider.
Sugar gliders can be excellent pets for people who are willing to learn about caring for them, and who have the time and the patience to provide them with daily fresh and well-balanced meals, with proper housing and living conditions, and who can take care of more than one pet, because your glider will need at least one companion. You will also need to spend the time to show your love to your pets and socialize with them on a daily basis.
As PETA warns, if you are not ready to give these animals what they need to feel happy and to live well, then do not buy one. Also, if possible adopt an animal from a reputable shelter instead of buying one from a potential puppy mill or other unreliable sources.
Overall, the Sugar glider is a time-consuming animal to have and requires quite a lot of energy, money, and patience to have, but if you can provide it, your Sugar gliders will return the love you give and will bring you happiness for the next 10 to 15 years!