Sugar gliders are small marsupials, which means that their babies are born immature, and have to be kept in a special pouch on the female’s body for a certain amount of time after birth. They are native to Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Males typically weigh about 100-160 grams, while females are slightly smaller, at about 80-135 grams. They are high energy, curious, and can live up to twelve to fifteen years for captivity. In other words, if your child wants a sugar glider, are you ready to commit to many years of involved pet ownership.
Sugar gliders can get up to a lot of mischief in a house, so they should be confined to an enclosure when not directly supervised. The bigger the better, as far as housing is concerned. A glass fish tank or hamster or mouse cage is absolutely inappropriate for these highly active animals. The minimum suggested cage size in 36 by 24 by 26 inches, and vertical space is essential, as sugar gliders need to be able to climb. Make sure that the bars aren’t any wider than ¼ of an inch apart, unless you want to be searching for an escape artist.
Of course, gliders need more than just an empty cage. Make sure to provide lots of enrichment, hiding places, and climbing material. Wooden bird perches and attachable shelves are easy ways to make use of the cage’s height. Sugar gliders also need to have a safe and secure place to sleep, so a wooden hide box or cloth nesting box should be placed somewhere high up in the cage. Hanging bird toys and ladders can also provide entertainment, just be careful that there’s nowhere for your glider’s feet to get caught, and that everything placed in the cage is safe to chew on and nontoxic. Many sugar gliders enjoy exercise wheels. Make sure to get one that is large enough for the glider to run on comfortably, and that it has a solid bottom.
Sugar gliders can’t be trained to use a litter box, so the bottom of the cage should be covered in an absorptive bedding. Avoid wood shavings, especially cedar and pine, as the aromatic oils can cause respiratory issues. Carefresh bedding (which is made from recycled paper) or shredded newspaper are good choices. Change the bedding at least twice a week, and be sure to launder any cloth nesting material regularly, or replace it as it becomes soiled.
Sugar gliders do best at 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit, so the temperature in a normal house should be comfortable for them. Avoid keeping them in overly cool or drafty rooms, and absolutely do not keep sugar gliders outside or in a garage or shed.
This can be one of the trickiest parts of sugar glider ownership. The most common problems in pet sugar gliders are obesity and/or malnutrition. Sugar gliders, despite their names, do not survive on sugary fruits or nectar alone. They are actually omnivores, and need a significant amount of protein in their diets. In the wild, this comes mainly from insects.
As far as quantity, sugar gliders should eat about twenty percent of their body weight in food daily. For an 100g glider, that’s only 20g of food…about ¾ of an ounce! This means that it’s very easy to overfeed treats if you do not have a set nutritional plan for your sugar gliders.
Commercial sugar glider diets are available, and these are the best way to make sure that your pets are getting their necessary nutrients. Glide-R-Chow and NutriMax are two good choices. Some sugar glider owners provide unlimited free choice kibble, since most sugar gliders are more prone to overeat on sweet, sugary treats than kibble. However, you should monitor your sugar glider’s weight regularly and consult with your veterinarian to find out if that is best for your personal pet. Ideally, kibble should make up about a third of their diet, meaning about one tablespoon per day.
You should also provide about one tablespoon per day of a prepared commercial nectar mix like Gliderade. Sugar gliders can be messy, so be aware of that if you feed this in a bowl. Most gliders will drink nectar out of a water bottle. (Of course, you should also have a separate bottle always filled with clean water!)
Gliders should be given about ½ tablespoon of fresh fruits and vegetables per day. An easy way to provide variety is to focus on giving fruits and vegetable of a variety of colors. Don’t just feed fruit! Avoid raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, spinach, carrots, beets, pears, lettuce, figs and collard greens, as these can inhibit calcium absorption, and sugar gliders are prone to low levels of calcium. With that in mind, sugar gliders should also be given a calcium supplement. Look for a calcium supplement produced specifically for sugar gliders, which can be sprinkled on food.
You can also provide alternative protein sources to your sugar gliders, especially crickets and mealworms. Crickets should be “gut-loaded” or fed a nutrient dense food to make sure they provide as much nutritional value as possible. Small amounts of eggs or pinky mice may also be fed. Commercial diets do provide a substantial amount of protein, so additional protein does not need to be fed more often than a few times a week, if at all.
People have not been keeping sugar gliders as pets for nearly as long as cats and dogs, so there is still some debate about the best way to feed them. There are many guidelines available online for “make your own” sugar glider diets, but be cautious. Gliders in captivity can develop severe nutritional deficiencies or excesses and potentially fatal metabolic diseases if not fed correctly. Talk to a veterinarian if you’re interested in designing your own diet!
Look for a veterinarian who is experienced with exotics in general and sugar gliders specifically. Ideally, sugar gliders should get a yearly or biyearly checkup. They have no required vaccines, but are prone to hypocalcemia, metabolic bone disease, and secondary hyperparathyroidism from malnutrition. Dental disease and obesity are other common issues.
It is best to get male sugar gliders neutered. This can eliminate some behavioral problems, and non-altered males are prone to self-mutilation. Make sure that you calculate the cost of regular preventative and potentially therapeutic veterinary care into your pet budget!
Sugar gliders are nocturnal, although some have been known to alter their schedules somewhat with the activity in the house. They are also extremely social, and do best if housed in at least pairs. They are extremely active and need plenty of exercise. They also require a significant amount of daily handling to stay tame and friendly. Many gliders will learn to curl up in a shirt pocket and will happily nap there. There are also “bonding pouches” available that you can wear around your neck so your sugar glider can get used to being close to you while feeling comfortable and secure.
When taking gliders out of the cage for play time, make sure that you have a “glider proofed” room, with no holes in the wall, electrical cords that they could chew on, or toxic cleaning substances out. Never leave a sugar glider unattended out of its cage…they are prone to chewing on things that they shouldn’t, and have even been known to drown in toilets if let alone to exercise in a bathroom. Also, the membrane between sugar gliders’ wrists and ankles is called a patagium, and allows them to glide up to 50 meters! Be aware of this when handling a sugar glider out of its cage.
Some sugar gliders can be nippy, especially with strangers. For this reason, they are not recommended as pets for young children. Remember, these are high energy animals who require a significant amount of attention, exercise, and stimulation! Having a sugar glider as a pet can be a rewarding experience, and they are capable of bonding closely to their owners. However, do not get a sugar glider because you want a low maintenance pet that can be kept in a cage.