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Routine Health Care of Sugar Gliders

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

Because sugar gliders are exotic animals, you should find a veterinarian who is familiar with these animals before your pet requires emergency care. A regular checkup in which the veterinarian performs a general physical examination and checks the animal’s droppings for any parasites or harmful bacteria is recommended.

Signs of Illness

The sugar glider’s overall appearance and behavior should be watched for signs of illness. Generally, sugar gliders should have bright eyes, a moist nose, pink nose and gums, the ability to grip with all 4 feet, a smooth fur coat, and good elasticity of their gliding membranes.

Wounds and signs of illness are similar to those seen in other animals, including depression, inactivity, and loss of appetite or weight. Other signs that your sugar glider is not well may include watery eyes, lack of energy, red and scaly skin, sores, abnormal droppings, excessive shedding or bald patches, labored breathing, and dragging the hind legs. If you notice any of these signs, you should bring your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Sugar gliders can very quickly pass the point of recovery if they do not receive prompt medical attention.

Sugar gliders can easily become dehydrated either from a lack of drinking water or due to a medical condition such as vomiting or diarrhea. This can be deadly if not addressed promptly. Signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, loose skin (the skin on the back will stay up after it is pinched), dry mouth and nose, lack of energy, abnormal breathing, and seizures. Immediately try to give the sugar glider water by mouth using a needle-less syringe and take the animal to a veterinarian. If needed, a veterinarian can inject fluids below the skin using a needle.

X-rays (radiographs) are useful tools in diagnosing medical problems in sugar gliders. It is particularly difficult to detect pneumonia in animals of this size without the use of radiography. Even extremely ill sugar gliders will generally tolerate short anesthesia to allow x-rays to be obtained.

Giving Medication

It is uncommon for owners to administer medication. If necessary, your veterinarian can advise you on the best way of giving medication to your sugar glider.

When needed, antibiotics are well tolerated by sugar gliders. Your veterinarian will be able to determine when antibiotics are necessary and will choose one based on your pet’s particular illness. The drug will likely be administered by injection. To help in making clinical diagnoses, blood samples may be taken from the sugar glider after being given an anesthetic.

Preventive Care

Malnutrition is common in sugar gliders; therefore, a proper diet and supplementation (see Providing a Home for a Sugar Glider : Diet) are very important. In addition to providing fresh water and a proper diet daily, regular cleaning of the enclosure, nest box, and the food and water dishes will help to keep your sugar glider healthy. Fresh fruit and vegetables should be promptly removed from the cage if not eaten within a few hours.

Sugar gliders can be infected by several common bacteria, including Pasteurella, staphylococci, streptococci, mycobacteria and clostridia. Several microorganisms that can be transmitted to and cause illness in humans also affect sugar gliders, including Salmonella, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Leptospira, and Toxoplasma species. It is, therefore, very important to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning your pet’s enclosure and items within its cage, or after handling the sugar glider itself.

Dental Care

When sugar gliders are fed soft, carbohydrate-rich diets, gum disease and tartar are common problems that may require treatment by a veterinarian. Tartar buildup can be reduced if you include insects with hard exoskeletons, such as crickets and mealworms, in the sugar glider’s diet.

Split or broken teeth or advanced tooth decay can lead to exposed root canals. The root canal is too small for filling and pulling the tooth could result in a break in the jawbone; therefore changing the diet is the best way to allow the sugar glider to cope with the exposed root. Follow your veterinarian’s diet recommendations for the comfort and health of your pet.

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