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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Providing a Home for a Sugar Glider

By Rosemary J. Booth, BVSc, Principal Conservation Officer, Department of Environment and Resource Management, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services

Before bringing home a sugar glider, make sure you have made arrangements for suitable housing, diet, and exercise.

Temperament

Sugar gliders are very active, playful, intelligent, and inquisitive animals. They can develop strong bonds with their owners if given consistent and plentiful attention. Approximately 2 hours a day of interactive contact is recommended. Shorter or less frequent attention to a sugar glider that is a lone pet could result in the animal being depressed and could possibly lead to behavioral problems. Because they naturally live in colonies, sugar gliders are happy being raised in groups; however, they are also extremely territorial. Sugar gliders within a group are “marked” by the scent gland of the dominant male. Any sugar glider entering the group’s territory without that scent can be violently attacked. It should be noted that the sugar glider will also “mark” you and anything in its surroundings with its scent.

Housing

A large cage, at least 20 by 20 by 36 inches (50 by 50 by 90 centimeters), with a secure lock is recommended for a single sugar glider. The enclosure should have enough room for exercise, as well as a place to put a food dish and a nest box or shelter in which your pet can sleep during the day. If the nest box is mounted high up in the cage, there must be enough room above the box to ensure that the sugar glider does not rub its elbows on the roof of the cage, which can cause their gliding membrane to tear. The mesh grid on wire cages should be no more than 1 by ½ inches (25 by 15 millimeters). Wire-bottomed cages allow droppings to go through to the tray below and can making cleaning easier.

Sugar gliders tolerate temperatures from 60 to 90°F (15 to 32°C); however, their preferred temperature range is 80 to 88°F (27 to 31°C). They should be kept in a warm room, away from heating or air conditioning vents and direct sunlight.

Appropriate bedding materials may include shredded newspaper or paper toweling, dry moss, cotton, leaves from a live branch, or wood shavings. Tree branches can be placed in the cage to allow climbing; however, certain woods are poisonous and should be avoided. Do not use almond, apricot, black walnut, cherry, or peach branches. Apple or citrus tree branches that have not been treated with pesticides are suitable. Some bird toys or other small animal toys, such as swings or chew toys, may also be appropriate.

Diet

In the wild, sugar gliders feed on tree sap, nectar, and insects. In captivity, they require a varied diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables and protein from various sources (primarily insects). Fresh water must be available at all times.

Specially formulated mixtures for sugar gliders have been developed and are available in exotic pet stores or on the Internet. However, most of these are meant to be fed as part of a varied diet and should not be relied on as the only food source. The diet should also include appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements. Your veterinarian can recommend suitable supplements and provide directions on their usage.

Fat intake should be kept to a minimum. Nuts should be provided only as an occasional treat because they are high in fat and protein, and sugar gliders will often eat them to the exclusion of healthier foods. Do not use canned fruit due to the preservatives and refined sugars in these products. Candy contains too much refined sugar and should not be given to your sugar glider. Chocolate must never be given to your sugar glider, as it is poisonous to them. Pits of fruits are also poisonous to sugar gliders. Small quantities of dry cat food can be fed as a source of protein if insects are unavailable. However, this should only be used until a supply of insects can be obtained, because feeding cat food to sugar gliders in large amounts or over an extended period may lead to medical problems.

It is important to thoroughly wash raw food items with fresh water before giving them to your pet to reduce the chances of exposure to various intestinal parasites that can cause diarrhea and vomiting.

Pet sugar gliders maintained on a mainly fruit diet are very susceptible to a nutritional condition in which there is a softening of the bones due to an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus intake. Diets should contain a daily protein source—a commercial extruded protein pellet, mealworms, crickets, or small amounts of cooked skinless chicken—as well as fruits and vegetables. Use of a balanced calcium/phosphorus supplement with vitamin D3 and a multivitamin supplement can help prevent nutritional diseases.

Dental disease is more frequent in sugar gliders fed diets high in soft textured carbohydrates. Feeding insects with hard exoskeletons can help maintain dental health.

Exercise

Branches placed in the cage allow sugar gliders to climb. Small items from pet stores can be placed in the cage for the sugar gliders to climb, push, or carry. Taking your sugar glider out of its cage and interacting with it every day helps reduce boredom and behavioral problems. To reduce the possibility of injury, a sugar glider should never be left unattended outside of its cage.

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