Sugar Gliders

Steven D. Garner, DVM, DABVP Diplomate,
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners,
Chief of Staff, Safari Veterinary Care Centers,
e-mail: docgarner@safarivet.com
www.safarivet.com

Sugar gliders are marsupials (warm-blooded animals with a pouch like the kangaroo and wallaby). Gliders originate from New Guinea and Southern Australia where they spend most of their time living in the trees. They possess a gliding membrane that stretches from their wrists to their ankles and allows them to “glide” from tree to tree. Sugar gliders are nocturnal animals, which means they spend much of their active time at night and sleep during the day. They are omnivores i.e. they eat both plant and animal matter. (see diet recommendations) Male gliders have two scent glands used for marking territory. One gland is located on their belly and the other on the top of their head. They will mark objects by rubbing their bellies back and forth upon the object. They will also mark any females in their colony by rubbing the female’s chin with their head. Female gliders have a pouch located mid-abdomen. Most sugar gliders will begin breeding somewhere between seven months to a year of age. Like kangaroos, gliders have a very short gestation period of 16 days after which they give birth to one to three hairless offspring that are smaller than a bee. The babies crawl up the fur of the abdomen, enter the mother’s pouch and attach to a nipple where they remain for approximately two to three months. Approximately ten days after emerging from the pouch, the babies open their eyes and a month later they are ready to wean. Note: A license is required to breed sugar gliders.

Housing: A wire cage is preferred and should be 20″ X 20″ X 20″ or larger to provide plenty of space to climb. The wire used is 1″ X 0.5″ welded wire. Gliders enjoy chewing on wood. It is important to provide natural wood branches in the cage for chewing and climbing. Oak, fruit woods (cherry, apple pear etc.), willow, and aspen are acceptable. Do not use any branch that has been sprayed with
pesticides. A nest box should be provided to give the glider(s) a dark place to hide and sleep. The box should be closed on all sides with a hole for entry/exit. Exposure to bright sun can damage their sensitive eyes. Plain white unscented toilet paper or paper towels, hay or aspen chips can be used as bedding. Avoid using cedar or pine shavings or shavings impregnated with chlorophyll. These bedding materials can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin.

Diets for Sugar Gliders (Peters breviceps)*
Sugar Glider Diet ** (recipe feeds one animal)

  • 1 teaspoon-sized piece each, chopped: apple, carrot, sweet potato, banana
  • 1 teaspoon leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 hard-cooked egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon Nebraska Feline Diet (may use Health Blend or Science Diet Kitten dry or canned diet)
  • 1 dozen meal worms

** Chicago Zoological Park adapted from AAZK Animal Diet Notebook

Sugar Glider and Squirrel Glider Diet (recipe feeds 2 sugar gliders)- Taronga Zoo, Sydney Australia

  • Apple: 3 grams
  • Banana/corn: 3 grams
  • Dog kibble: 1.5 grams (use Health Blend Kitten dry or canned diet)
  • Fly pupae: 1 tsp.
  • Grapes/kiwi fruit: 3 grams
  • Leadbeater’s mix (see below): 2 tsp.
  • Orange with skin: 4 grams
  • Pear: 2 grams
  • Rockmelon/melon/pawpaw: 2 grams
  • Sweet potato: 3 grams
  • On Wednesdays: feed chicks (one day old) and large insects (mealworms)

Leadbeater’s mix:

  • warm water: 450 ml
  • honey: 450 ml
  • shelled boiled eggs: 3
  • high protein baby cereal: 75 grams (Gerber Hi-Pro Baby Cereal)
  • vitamin/mineral supplement (Vionate or Pet tinic): 3 tsp.
  • Mix warm water and honey. In separate container, blend eggs until homogenized. To eggs, gradually add honey/water, then vitamin powder, then baby cereal, blending after each addition until smooth

** Information on diet was obtained from Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM

Additional foods that gliders may enjoy include: pineapple, peaches, strawberries, cantaloupe, papaya, apricots, squash, fruit juices, blueberries, dried fruit, fruit jams, peanuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, dried peas and almonds.

The most common problems seen in gliders are associated with dietary deficiencies of protein and calcium. These deficiencies result from feeding the improper diet. Because sugar gliders resemble rodents (flying squirrels), new owners are incorrectly instructed to feed their glider rodent blocks, seeds and vegetable material only. In reality, gliders eat both fruits and vegetables as well as animal protein such as insects. (see diet) Calcium deficiency may present as loss of appetite, muscle weakness, tremors, abnormal heart rate and rhythm and lameness due to broken bones. Fractures of the spine may occur resulting in paralysis. If changes associated with low calcium are recognized early and treated appropriately with dietary supplementation and correction these pets may recover to normal. Failure to correct the problem usually results in death. Protein and vitamin deficiencies can result in poor function of the immune system, cataracts, seizures, star gazing, loss of appetite and weight loss. Monitor your pet closely when outside of the cage. Trauma associated with cat and dog attacks is common and can be fatal. In addition, due to the small size of your glider, it may easily escape in to small under cabinets, appliances and underneath doors to the outside.