Sugar gliders, native to Australia and parts of Indonesia, have gained popularity as exotic pets due to their small size, unique appearance, and playful nature. These marsupials, resembling squirrels with their gray fur and black markings, are equipped with a gliding membrane that allows them to travel among trees. However, while they might seem like the perfect pocket-sized companion, there are several considerations to keep in mind before bringing one into your home.
- Sugar gliders require frequent handling to remain tame and need ample space for exercise.
- They have a specific diet and are not recommended for beginner pet owners.
- Legal restrictions exist in several states, and potential owners should check local regulations.
- These animals are social creatures and often do better when kept in pairs.
- Housing needs are specific to ensure their safety and well-being.
- Dietary requirements are strict, with a mix of nectar, sap, fruits, insects, and sometimes small birds or rodents.
- They can live 10 to 15 years in captivity with proper care.
Are They Legal Pets?
Sugar gliders are prohibited in several states, including Alaska, Hawaii, and California. Even if state laws permit them, local regulations might differ. It’s essential to check the USDA’s APHIS website to determine the legality in your area.
Many experts argue against keeping sugar gliders as pets. Given their social nature and need for ample activity and space, there’s concern that these animals might suffer, potentially experiencing depression, if their needs aren’t adequately met.
Behavior and Temperament
Sugar gliders are endearing and entertaining pets. They’re agile, enjoy climbing, and will glide if their environment allows. Being nocturnal, they’re most active at night and prefer to nestle in a cozy spot during the day.
It’s often recommended to have more than one sugar glider, preferably a male and a female, to meet their social needs. However, they should be kept separate from other household pets, such as cats and dogs, to prevent potential injuries.
Human interaction is crucial for bonding. Carrying them in a shirt pocket or a pouch around your neck can facilitate this bond. While they’re generally not aggressive, they might bite if threatened or scared.
A suitable enclosure for a pair of sugar gliders should be at least 36 inches wide, 24 inches deep, and 36 inches high. The cage’s wire spacing should not exceed half an inch, with horizontal bars for climbing. The interior should be equipped with toys, a closed exercise wheel, branches, ropes, and ladders for play and exercise. A nest box near the top provides a safe sleeping spot. Ensure the cage latch is secure, as these clever creatures can learn to open simple latches.
In the wild, sugar gliders feed on tree nectar and sap. However, being omnivorous, they also consume fruits, insects, and occasionally small birds or rodents. For pet sugar gliders, variations of the homemade Bourbon’s Modified Leadbeater (BML) diet, which includes honey, calcium powder, and baby cereal, are popular. Fresh fruits and vegetables should be limited to less than 10% of their total diet.
Sugar gliders can experience stress, especially if disturbed during the day. Stress can lead to self-mutilation, where they bite and scratch themselves. Inadequate housing or incompatible cage mates can exacerbate this. They’re also susceptible to bacterial and parasitic infections, often due to improperly washed fruits and vegetables. Malnutrition is another concern, leading to issues like anemia, kidney and liver problems, and metabolic bone disease.
Pros & Cons
- Long lifespan compared to other pocket pets.
- Clean and rarely bite.
- Active and fun to watch.
- Need companionship; it’s better to have more than one.
- Nocturnal nature means they’re less active during the day.
- Might not interact well with other household pets.
When looking to acquire a sugar glider, opt for a reputable breeder or rescue organization. Ensure the breeder has a U.S. Department of Agriculture license and avoid online purchases where you can’t interact with the animal beforehand. A good breeder should provide information on the animal’s origin, health history, and temperament. Prices typically range between $100 and $500, with younger gliders being more expensive.
Social Needs and Bonding
Sugar gliders are inherently social creatures. One of their most remarkable traits is their need for socialization. They form strong bonds and can become despondent if these bonds are broken. Before bringing a glider home, ensure you’re committed to keeping it for its entire lifespan, which can span up to 15 years.
- Scent Orientation: Sugar gliders are very scent-oriented. A simple bonding technique involves wearing fleece squares on your person for a few days and then placing them inside their sleeping pouch. This helps them recognize you as part of their colony.
- Bonding Pouch: Carrying them in a bonding pouch during the day is an effective way to bond. They’ll mainly sleep, but you can coax them into the pouch with treats. This also helps them get accustomed to your scent.
- Treats: Offer treats when you wake them up for bonding or playtime. This helps them associate you with positive experiences.
- Playtime: Techniques like “tent time” or “tub time” allow for safe and controlled play sessions. These methods ensure they can roam freely without the risk of them escaping to hard-to-reach places.
Health and Well-being
Sugar gliders, like any other pet, can fall ill. It’s crucial to have a vet specializing in glider care. Regular check-ups, ideally once a year, are recommended. Some common health issues include:
- Calcium deficiency leading to paralysis.
- Constipation or indigestion.
- Open wounds from cage accidents.
- Obesity from an imbalanced diet.
- Stress due to poor socialization or loneliness.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Cage and Habitat
Sugar gliders need a spacious cage to replicate their natural gliding behavior. A suitable cage for a pair should be at least 3 feet high by 2 feet wide, with a bar spacing of no more than ½ inch. The cage should be equipped with safe toys, branches, and an exercise wheel. Regularly rotating toys and rearranging the cage elements can keep the environment stimulating for them.
- Avoid galvanized steel cages as they can rust and cause UTIs in gliders.
- Ensure the wood used in the cage or toys is safe for gliders.
- Use absorbent bedding like CareFresh or nontoxic alternatives. Change the bedding weekly.
Diet and Nutrition
Sugar gliders have specific dietary needs. In the wild, they consume a mix of sap, bird eggs, lizards, and insects. In captivity, their diet should be carefully balanced to prevent malnutrition. Several diet plans, such as TPG, BML, or OHPW, provide guidelines for feeding gliders. It’s essential to follow these plans accurately to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients.
- Avoid feeding them dog or cat food.
- Do not feed garlic, rhubarb, onions, or fresh lima beans.
- Limit fatty snacks like live mealworms.
- Ensure their main diet isn’t just pellets. While they can be an occasional snack, they shouldn’t be a staple.
Interaction and Play
Sugar gliders are curious and playful. They love exploring their surroundings and interacting with their owners. Regular play sessions, using techniques like “tent time” or “tub time,” can provide them with the exercise and stimulation they need. However, always ensure their safety during these sessions. Avoid using harnesses or leashes as they can harm the glider.
Purchasing and Adoption
When considering adding a sugar glider to your family, it’s essential to do thorough research. Opt for reputable breeders or consider adoption. Many sugar gliders end up in rescues because owners underestimate the care they require. Whether you choose to buy or adopt, ensure you’re prepared for a long-term commitment.