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Spotlight Sugar Gliders: Owning a Sugar Glider

Sugar Gliders – Owning

General Information

Sugar gliders are small, nocturnal mammals that are usually active at night and sleep during the day. Like kangaroos, they are marsupials and possess a pouch in which the female sugar glider raises her young. In the wild, they live in New Guinea and Australia in costal or rain forests. They are social animals who usually live in groups of 6-10 animals. They should not be kept as single pets. Sugar gliders have unique nutritional requirements, which must be properly met to maintain good health (see our handout “Sugar gliders – feeding”).

sugar_gliders-owning-1The male sugar glider typically weighs 100-160 grams while the adult females weight between 80-130 grams. Sugar gliders can glide up to 50 meters using their gliding membrane, which stretches between the front and hind legs.

Both males and females have large eyes. Males have a frontal scent gland located on the top of the head. This gland is used to mark territory and other group members.

Unlike other mammals but similar to birds and reptiles, sugar gliders possess a cloaca. The cloaca is a common opening for the rectum, urinary bladder and genital system.

The male sugar glider has a long pendulous scrotum and a forked (bifid) penis. It is recommended to castrate (“neuter”) male sugar gliders, particularly if housed with other sugar gliders of either sex. Castration (removal of the testes) is relatively easy (although magnification may be required) and can be done at any age by a qualified veterinarian with experience in exotic pet medicine.

The female sugar glider has 2 uteri and 2 vaginas that enter into a common pouch divided by a septum or membrane. Female sugar gliders possess a pouch with 4 teats where their babies develop.

The gestation period, or length of pregnancy, is about 15-17 days (compared to 60-65 days for dogs and cats and 270 days for people). Sugar gliders usually give birth to 1-2 babies at a time. After birth, the tiny young (joeys) migrate to the pouch where they remain for 70-74 days, at which time they leave the pouch for good. Sexual maturity is reached at about 8-12 months of age in females and 12-15 months in males. The average life span is 10-12 years; sugar gliders are considered geriatric pets at 5-7 years of age (compared to 7-8 years of age for dogs and cats).

Sugar gliders can make good pets. They are lively, inquisitive, playful and intelligent. Socialized sugar gliders enjoy cuddling and often will curl up in the safety of a shirt pocket. If given lots of attention, they will bond strongly with their owners, although they are often tentative around strangers. They require regular handling by the owner to stay tame. Plan to spend 1-2 hours of handling per day to socialize your pet properly (it is easier to do this at night, as they are nocturnal animals.) They are not easily handled by strangers and often bite, vocalize, and/or urinate if forcibly restrained. They can become agitated if disturbed when resting during the day.

Sugar gliders can be nippy; check with your veterinarian prior to purchasing one if you have small children.

Sugar gliders are escape artists and are easily able to squeeze through the tiniest openings and cracks. Cages must be “pet-proofed” to prevent escape and injury. Naturally inquisitive, they will chew on and swallow many things; it is not recommended to provide them with toys that are easily chewed apart.

Selecting Your Pet

Ideally, you should purchase a young sugar glider. The eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. The sugar glider should be curious and inquisitive; it should not be thin and emaciated. Check for the presence of wetness around the anus, which might indicate diarrhea. Check for the presence of external parasites such as fleas. If possible, examine the animal’s mouth for broken teeth or any obvious sores, any of which could suggest disease. Inquire as to whether the sugar glider has been surgically altered (spayed or neutered.)

The First Veterinary Visit

Your sugar glider should be examined by a veterinarian who treats these special pets within 48 hours of purchase (this is often required by the seller or any health guarantee will be voided). During this appointment, your veterinarian will discuss proper care, housing, and the unique dietary requirements of the sugar glider. It is often impossible to perform a complete and thorough physical examination on a sugar glider without gas anesthesia. Therefore, examinations and diagnostic testing are usually done under gas anesthesia. A fecal sample will be examined for internal parasites. Much like dogs, cats and other pets, sugar gliders require annual veterinary visits, which should include routine fecal testing.

Vaccinations

Vaccines are not needed for pet sugar gliders.

Rick Axelson, DVM
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