Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are a small marsupial related to the American Possum, as well as Wombats, Wallabies, Kangaroos, and Koalas. Sugar gliders are indigenous in several parts of the world including Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Through the magic of modern science, we have discovered that our species of sugar gliders kept as pets in the United States hail from Papaya, New Guinea.
Sugar gliders are very small animals. Adult males can weigh as little as 100-120 grams. They are covered in fur and the females carry their joeys in pouches, just like their cousins, the kangaroo.
Sugar gliders mate and one or two joeys are actually born 14-16 days later. The mother glider helps the tiny embryos make their way up to her pouch, where they each latch onto a teat. Here they will stay safe, warm and well fed for the next month and a half or so. The day their mother detaches them from the nipple is called their “out of pouch date.”
Sugar Gliders are nocturnal animals. They sleep most of the day and are very active from sundown to sun-up. They can make a wide variety of noises from crabs to barks and at different volumes. They can be quite noisy during the course of the night, so it’s advised that they are kept in a room separate from where people like to sleep.
Sugar Gliders are colony animals. In the wild, they live in family colonies and males and outside gliders are considered intruders. They live high in the tree-tops in the rainforest jungles, well hidden well away from predators.
In captivity, sugar gliders should never be kept alone. It’s quite un-natural for them. In pet situations, we can neuter males at an early age and remove their territorial instincts and ability to mark or scent. At present time, there is no safe operation in which to spay female sugar gliders, so they sometimes do become territorial. Females usually get along well with males, but sometimes not with other females as they get older. Best pairings for pets are either 2 males neutered young, one neutered male and a female, or two females who were raised together as sisters by the same parents.
Many people ask me what I recommend that you have on hand when your new gliders get home. The following is a list that are important to help your gliders feel a bit more at home and a little less stressed once they get there.
1. The Cage. As talked about above, the best type of cage should be a powder-coated type on a stand. Wire spacing, no larger than ½ inch. A pull out tray is better than a drop pan type cage. You don’t want your gliders walking around in their own poo. There should be wire flooring between them and the waste. 3 feet tall should be minimum for a pair of gliders, but if you have the extra money and space for a taller one, then that’s wonderful. Best brand I can recommend is the HQ which come in the following models: Brisbane, Congo and Madagascar. I do have these available in my web-store. You do not have to get them from me, but you can at least look at the photos and descriptions there to get an idea. I no longer recommend the Critter Nation cages. I have had several clients tell me that they rust quickly, and several people on Facebook have reported that the hinges on the heavy doors can be faulty. On more than one occasion, these doors have fallen into the cage, crushing the animal it housed. This is not a safe cage to own. Until the company addresses the issue, I will not recommend it for my customers.
2. Water Bottle I recommend and sell the 16 oz Lixit bottles. I have them on all my cages. They are less likely to leak and will last longer than most other brands. I do not use a water bowl for my sugar gliders, as it can be unsanitary. They will poo and pee in a water bowl and you certainly do not want them to drink that. Sugar gliders do not always drink a lot of water, as they get a lot of liquids in the foods you will feed them, especially on the HPW diet. Do not be alarmed if you don’t see the level going down quickly. I recommend taking the bottle down at least once a week and scrubbing the inside with a bottle brush and spraying it with hydrogen peroxide to kill germs and any algae that may be building up inside. The nozzle of the bottle as well. I keep a small spray bottle by my kitchen sink of peroxide for quick cleaning jobs. Do rinse well. Fill the water bottle with filtered or bottled water, not tap.
3. A Glider Kitchen This is basically a 6 quart “Sterilite” brand tub that can be purchased just about anywhere very inexpensively. Gliders can be messy with their food, so this is a good way to control messes. We have a drill attachment call a “hole saw” that is 2” in diameter. We drill a hole (door) in one of the short sides of the kitchen. We will then take some sandpaper and smooth out the rough edges that may have been created by the tool. We turn the kitchen over so the top is now the bottom. I put 3 bowls inside the kitchen. One for the Pet Pro Dry, one of the HPW mix, and one for the fruit and veggies. It’s easy to take out in the morning to clean. You can either hand wash everything, or you can put the kitchen and your bowls in the dishwasher for the new night’s dinner.
4. Cage Cover Some people purchase commercially made ones that will fit their cage. Others are crafty and make it out of fleece. I am not too crafty and I like to save money. I purchase a 6 x 9 Everbilt Canvas Painter’s Tarp from Home Depot (as that size fits my cages). I stretch it from side to side and over the top, leaving the front exposed. I attach the tarp with medium sized binder clips from Staples. I do this for a couple of reasons. It gives the gliders a little more privacy and it again, helps with keeping extra food inside the cage they may take outside the kitchen. It’s easy to wash in the washer. I just do not put them in the dryer because it can shrink.
5. Pouches and Toys When you place your deposit with me, I will provide for you a list of talented ladies in the glider community that have made safe pouches and toys for me. Some of the pouches are on my website, but if you want cage-sets or a specific fleece pattern, these ladies are willing to work with you. They own gliders and know how to make things safely for them. Pouches should be of good size and without seams showing to be safe to prevent injury. These ladies know gliders and can do it right. Toys are very important because gliders are a higher social level animal. They can get bored if they do not have fun toys to keep them occupied. They love the dangly items and foraging cups in which you can hide treats for them. I also will supply inexpensive baskets in the cage filled with pom poms, toy soldiers, feathers, little balls and other things that they cannot get hurt on. Straws seem to be a popular toy as well.
6. Cage Substrate As stated in the “Cage” section, it’s important you purchase a cage with a pull-out tray that provides a wire flooring between the gliders and the waste. It’s not sanitary for them to be walking in their own poo. Safe substrates for this tray could be newspaper, commercially purchased recycled paper such as “Carefresh” or “Yesterday’s News”. Some use puppy pads. I do use a quilted material that are recycled from hospitals. They were once used on hospital beds, but still have a lot of life left in them. I do carry these in my store when my supplier has them in stock.
I like them because they can go in the washer and I can reuse them. When I wash either the pads or the cage pouches and sets, I use an unscented laundry detergent. Some gliders do not like the strong perfumes placed in some brands. I do opt to put a very tiny amount of Lavender Essential Oil (not fragrance oil) in with detergent. My brand is Purex Unscented. It gives it a slight natural scent that does help calm some stressed gliders, and it also kills germs. Pure Lavender is wonderful and works in a good many ways for humans and our pets. You can also purchase your laundry soap in the natural section such as “Seventh Generation” or “DIY”.
7. Food It’s best and recommended that you have the food set up and ready for them when you get them home. If we are shipping, then I have to send it to you ahead of time with the mail. The airlines no longer allow us to place anything in the crate other than the animals, and food for them to eat on the journey. Packages of food are not allowed in the crate. If you are either picking up the gliders from me or I am bringing them to you, then you will need to make it up the night you get it. I have good instructions that come with the food and my PDF file on care also talks about how to prepare the food as well. If you run in to problems and have questions as you are making it for the first time, please ask. It’s ok. At that point, we will know each other well enough so that you will have both my house phone and my cell. If you choose to feed the Priscilla Diet, you will need to order the vitamin powder directly from her so that the diet is balanced out. Any questions should be directed to Priscilla about her diet as she would be the better one to ask.
8. Treats I have given sugary treats, to healthy snacks. Some I have given are yogurt drops, dried fruits, marshmallow treats and mealworms. I do consider mealworms to be a treat and all treats should be given in moderation, or they will overeat on them and not eat their normal foods at night. The gliders will get all their protein from the HPW diet (if that is the diet you choose to feed), so the mealies are a snack. Mealworms can be fattening and not really a bug they would find on the rainforest, so do that sparingly. I will have my sources of mealworms on my list of approved vendors for you. We have recently acquired a Food Freeze Dryer and will soon have a large selection of dried fruits and vegetables available in our store. Freeze dried food is different from dehydrated foods in several ways. One is that properly bagged Freeze Dried Foods with an oxygen absorber, can last and stay fresh for up to 25 years. They are great to bring on trips, have handy in case of natural disaster, or just for everyday use.
9. Wheels Safe wheels are a must for exercise and fun. Gliders can run for hours on them. I am currently using the axle less “Silent Runner” wheel that can also be found in my store. Other brands include the Stealth Wheel and the Raptor Wheel found with various vendors on the Internet. If you get a wheel with a solid track (such as the Silent Runner), you may either purchase a Sandy Trimmer insert to help with the nails, or you can do it yourself. I prefer to do it my way, because the grit of the sandpaper in the Sandy Trimmer is 320 coarse and will rip up your gliders, paws if it’s left in for more than a night. They are also very expensive and will need to be tossed often because the gliders do pee and poop a lot in their wheel. I purchase a 400 Grit Fine Black Sandpaper from the Hardware Store. I cut it into three 2″ strips and glue them inside the wheel with Elmer’s. You will need to clean the wheel every couple of weeks anyway. Take the wheel out and soak it in the sink with warm water and a mild dish detergent. It will peel off fine. Clean the wheel as normal, put in a new set of sandpaper strips, and you are done.
10. Privacy I highly recommend that after you get them home, you hang the pouch up in their made up cage, have the food and water bottle ready, and let them be for at least 48 hours. They are going to be stressed from the journey and they need some time to decompress before you start bonding with them. Their cage is going to be their safe-haven, so give them time to feel secure in it. This is a very important first step in your bonding process. As tempting as it may seem, please do not skip this step.
11. Bonding Pouches and Tents These are some very helpful tools that you can use to help get your babies bonded with you quick. The Bonding Pouch is something that I have found to best use during the day, when the gliders are more sleepy. If we try to place gliders who are not yet used to you in a pouch when they are wide awake, they will generally get very stressed and just try to bite out of it.
A Bonding Pouch is a special pouch made of fleece and there is a screen for the gliders to look out of. This gives them a little view to the world, and they can see some of what you are seeing to help them get used to the new surroundings. Most of the vendors place the screen in the front of the pouch, and some do have them on the sides.
The Bonding Tent is a our secondary tool, but just as important in helping to speed up the bonding process.
The idea with this (from the sugar gliders point of view anyway), is that with the lower ceiling, versus a closet or bathroom with a higher ceiling, they feel more comfortable, as though they are in a cage. As long as the tent is comfortable for you to get in it with them and sit comfortable, it’s a good tent. Bring some toys and treats with you and work in the tent with them several nights a week. They eventually start to feel as though you are part of their colony in a tent.
At first, they will not have a full bond with you and will reject your offer to just remove them from the cage for the tent. I strongly recommend getting them out of the cage while they are still sleepy, in the pouch. Remove the pouch and close the top tight with your hand as you enter the tent. Make sure and bring a dish towel with you for the return trip. I throw it over them and the shock of it makes them sit still long enough for you to safely scoop them up, and get them back in the pouch before going back to the cage.
Tent does not have to be anything special. It could be something you find 2nd hand at a thrift store, or you may even have a small one in your garage. Sometimes a neighbor or friend could have one that they allow you to borrow.
I do have a few clients who have purchased tents that they liked. As they send me links, I will add them here so you can see them:
12. What to do when we get home?
Whether or not I am shipping the gliders to you or if you are meeting with me in person, they will come to you in a zippered pouch that will have little clips on the top for easy cage hanging. The reason being is that it makes it easier for the new owner to bring them home and to get them in the cage, without having to play “Marsupial Wrangler” right off the bat.
When they come to you in the crate, try not to take them out in the car. They will be very afraid, and if you are inclined to ask, I have a very scary, but amusing story of the day a customer let a glider loose in my car, only to have it run up into the dash of my car. You need a mechanic for removal. So, to avoid this type of dilemma, please leave your gliders in the safe crate until you get home. When traveling in the car at anytime with your gilders (even for short trips), they should have their travel pouch for comfort, but never take them without a hard-bodied cage of some sort. Never underestimate your glider’s ability to chew.
Per FAA regulations, I must make sure there are nuts and bolts holding your crate together. These are usually just hand-tightened, but sometimes I don’t know my own strength and get carried away. Usually a needle nose pliers will do the trick. You will also need this as the employees at the cargo office will place one or two zip ties on the front door after they have inspected the crate, to prevent the door from popping open in transit. The needle nose pliers will come in handy again to help you snip them.
When you get home, take the pouch from the crate or travel cage. You may hang them in your cage with the clips provided on the pouch. Then, slowly unzip your pouch, letting them know they can come out when they wish.
They will be traveling with a paper towel full of chopped up fruits, dry pellets and a product called Orange Cube. Orange Cube is basically gelled water with vitamins and electrolytes added. If we try to provide them with a water bottle in travel, the motion will cause the bottle to leak on them and get them all wet. This is a better way to do it. You will need to make sure they have a fresh pouch in the cage to “move into.” They probably will not eat everything I give them during travel, and you want to get that out of the cage as soon as possible. That evening when they are out feeding, take out the travel pouch and wash it. You can use it again, but make sure they have something clean to arrive home to.
I do have a couple of used travel cages available in my store that have life left in them:
Make sure you have the lights dimmed or off totally the first night, or they may not come out to eat until after you go to bed. Some gliders are curious and will come out no matter what, but others will be more timid the first night, and the light will effect them from coming out to eat.
I advise new owners to give the new gliders a good 48 hours to “decompress” from any new home arrival, before they start bonding with them. Their cage will be their safe-haven and if we do this for them, they will feel ok here and it will be a place they will want to come back to during the bonding process and feel good about.
If at any time during this process you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I am here to help.
13. Sugar Gliders with other household pets. This is a common question people have for me, and I think it’s a very important topic to hit on.
Every time I randomly call up on the internet other people’s suggestions about sugar gliders, I really am shocked with how much uneducated and bad information that keeps cropping up.
I see dozens of photos of sugar gliders with cats, dogs and other household pets, and people telling them they get along just fine. While a few of these mixes seem to work, the majority of them do not, and some wouldn’t work out at all without the owners working to make sure that they take certain precautions. These images give new sugar glider owners the wrong ideas and many do not set proper safety parameters with their other pets and sugar gliders.
We have to think of the primal instinct of other household pets. It is true some breeds of dogs may act on it more than others. Terriers and poodles were bred to flush out common small pests such as rats and mice. To them, they do not understand that sugar gliders are marsupials. They are just a small animal that somewhere in their primitive mind, their ancestors would have gladly chased, eaten or killed to please their owners.
Cats are no different here. Many cats are mesmerized by the sight of such a small animal moving around doing their thing. Again, primitive instincts can come out. It seems so cute Fluffy seems to want to “play” with those sugar gliders. It’s completely natural for cats to play with their live prey food before killing and or eating it.
Ferrets are in the weasel family. I have seen a young Fisher (they are a wild relative in the weasel family as well) when I was young, try to steal a kitten once to eat. Our family Border Collie and the mother cat did put a stop to it as they were both right there, but if he had gotten the little cat, he would have dragged it away without issue.
I have also seen birds of prey do the same thing and be very successful.
We must take precautions with our other household pets. I am not saying that all other pets will not live in harmony with our sugar gliders, but we must limit temptation in order not to bring out the “beast” in them.
For some pets, the instinct of “ridding” the household of unwanted varmints is so strong, just the sight or scent of that other pet, will keep our sugar gliders in a constant state of stress. If we have a pet that is a known “killer” of other small animals, we need to think twice about bringing any sugar gliders into our homes.
Some pets are curious at first and then ignore the gliders once they become staples in the home. Some pets will ignore the gliders, unless they come out of the cage and then the instinct to “chase” comes out. These pets should be kept in a separate room at all times when working with your gliders. They should also never have access to them during the times of the day when no people will be at home. I have had clients whose dogs literally tipped their gliders cage when they were away. The gliders were able to escape because the door opened, and then the dogs went to work. Sadly, the gliders were no longer alive when they arrived home.
There are many households who have other pets as well as sugar gliders, but the successful ones know the limits and they make sure that the gliders are safe from the other pets when they are not around to protect them. We must always use our common sense and do know your breeds. If you have a type of dog with a history of being bred to specifically chase down and kill other small animals, then it may not be wise to bring sugar gliders into your home at all. Remember, some gliders will stress just by smelling the other pet on you. Gliders in a constant state of stress are not happy. This type of stress can lead to sickness and even self mutilation. Sugar Gliders need to feel secure in their homes.
To me when I see a photo of a cat or dog with a sugar glider, I just cringe. Bad things can happen in a second. I have sent out many joeys over the years to homes. I have a very strict program here of breeding with full pedigree to make sure the joeys are not coming out of pouch with genetic defects, and we test several times a year the whole glider room for parasites. When I send gliders to a new home and they wind up with an emergency vet visit, it’s usually because they have been injured in some way. The number one injury or cause of death that my clients have reported to me are by careless mistakes made with other pets in the home. You can use your common sense to help avoid these things. Sometimes, they are beyond your control. But please. Don’t let your sugar gliders roam free with predatory pets. Do not allow the other pets access to the room in which the sugar glider’s cage is kept when you are not at home. It only takes a few seconds and you will be powerless to act in time.
You will be getting the highest quality animals that are bred with a minimum of 5 generations on each side to prevent genetic defects due to inbreeding. If a breeder can offer no lineage information on your gliders, then there is no guarantee that they will not have a shortened life due to a defect of a major organ such as the heart, liver, kidneys or brain.
My Little Sugar Glider works closely with Dr. Laura Lange in Lake Havasu who not only performs all her neuters, but is there around the clock 24/7 in case of an emergency. She also comes to my home once a year to do a home inspection in my glider room and to look at some of the gliders here.
I also run parasite testing 5 times a year with Research Lab Associates in Dallas, Texas. I send in samples of all my adults. They test the samples with the DNA in the fecals of the animals. If they have the parasites, it will show up. This is the most accurate testing there is for many types of infestations. Latest testings can be viewed upon request.
My ways may not be the ways of everyone, but I can teach you to be a confident owner by offering you advise that I have found to work the best for me for nearly 20 years.