Sugar Gliders: General Information and Pet Keeping
What Is a Sugar Glider?
Sugar gliders (or sugar bears) are cute, fluffy creatures, and have been rising in popularity as pets over the last 10-15 years. Gliders are nocturnal marsupials commonly found in Australia, are on average 9-12 inches long, and weigh only a few ounces. Their fur is soft to the touch, and they have a flap of skin that connects their front and hind legs on either side which allows them to "glide" or fly long distances; the skin acts like a parachute to slow their descent as they jump. These pets form close social bonds and are very active when they are kept in a proper habitat.
What We Will Discuss
- What Is a Sugar Glider?
- Appropriate Habitats
- Appropriate Diet
- Socialization and Bonding
- Keeping Them as Pets
Appropriate Habitats for Sugar Gliders
Gliders are native to Australia, Indonesia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. They live up high in treetops and come down to the ground only if they have to. They are nocturnal, meaning that they sleep during the day, and are active when the sun goes down. They live in environments that range between 65-90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cage Size and Materials
Gliders are naturally social and active animals and require a lot of space for jumping and playing. The absolute minimum cage size for housing this species is 2' (width) x 2' (diameter) x 3' (height) with a maximum gap of 1/2" between the bars on the cage. Gliders are very skittish animals, and their cages must not be made of raw metal or mesh or their claws may get caught. Otherwise, they will pull their limbs free and potentially dislocate/remove their appendages in the process. Stay away from cage material that has loose strands sticking out.
Gliders are active and need open space and obstacles for jumping and gliding. Without toys and space to glide, these pets will become bored, lethargic, and will fail to thrive. Gliders have a lot of energy to burn off and may require a hamster wheel to run on if kept in captivity. Be sure to choose an appropriate wheel. The small tail of the glider could potentially get caught in the middle of the wheel depending on its construction. Pet owners can put nail file pads in the wheel to help file down the nails.
Hammocks and Hideouts
Gliders like to sleep in hollow logs and hammock pouches. They can be very picky about where they will sleep and you should provide them with a variety of options until they select a permanent space. Bonded gliders enjoy sleeping near the scent of their owner. Wear a shirt to bed for 5-7 nights, and hang it like a hammock or lay it on the ground so that your glider can climb into it. You may also wear a hammock around your body for your sugar glider to sleep in. This serves to replicate the glider's infancy (they stay in their mom's pouch for 2-3 months).
How to Care for a Sugar Glider in Captivity
Appropriate Sugar Glider Diet
Offer Natural Fruits and Insects
In the wild, gliders will eat the surrounding vegetation. In captivity, however, it is very important to keep a close eye on their diet. There are many components to take into account when creating a diet, and there are many foods that can make them sick. Gliders love berries, fresh fruit, and bugs, but their tastes will change over time, so be sure to offer them a varied diet.
Natural Foods vs. Harmful Foods
raw sugar (in chocolate)
foods treated with pesticides
Balance the Calcium and Phosphorus Ratio
To ensure that the glider's diet is adequate, there must be proper vitamins added to their food. There are plenty of multivitamins on the market built for gliders that you can sprinkle in the food. It is a good idea to give them a calcium powder supplement every other day (or less often) to make sure that they are getting enough nutrients. Don't bump their calcium up just to make up for their phosphorus intake. It is better to build a diet that is balanced from the start.
A proper phosphorus to calcium ratio is vital. Calcium is used in the body to balance internal phosphorus levels. When there is too much phosphorus and not enough calcium in their diet, the body will take calcium from the bones to make up for the deficiency. The first symptom of this disorder is shaky hind legs. Gliders can become paralyzed or die from phosphorus poisoning or complications of calcium deficiency.
Sugar Glider Socialization and Bonding
Socialization Is Key
Sugar gliders are incredibly social creatures by nature. In the wild, they can be found in families or "colonies" of seven or more. In captivity, it is important to keep them socially active (preferably with another glider). They will become depressed without someone to play with and cuddle. Males will compete for dominance, which could lead to malnutrition and minor injuries, so it is ideal to keep just one male in a colony.
When bonding, gliders will rub their scent glands on each other. It is recommended that you keep your glider in a pouch (hanging from your body) while they are sleeping. You may also keep them inside of your shirt. Gliders really enjoy armpits as scent pockets. You can provide them with a worn shirt that has your smell on it, but start out slowly. Provide your shirt to your new glider only when they are sleeping, and over time, you can place one in their cage permanently.
Quick Tips for Socializing Your Glider
- House your glider with at least one other companion.
- If you have a colony, you can sit back and watch your gliders play together.
- Hide and seek is a favorite game of mine among many. Gliders will climb just out of eyesight and wait for you to come around and find them.
- Let your glider scurry around on you while you walk around and do other things.
- Many gliders prefer to hangout on your back, though it does make it difficult to get them off when playtime is done.
Deciphering Sugar Glider Vocalizations
like the bark of a dog
used to get attention, communicate a need, engage in play; expresses boredom
deep and raspy like a locust
scared or nervous, used to ward off predators; often used around new owners
chatty, soft noise, like the purring of a cat
an indication of contentment
Sugar Glider Noises Explained by an Expert
Keeping Sugar Gliders as Pets
There has been a lot of controversy over keeping gliders as pets over the last few years. Part of the issue is because of super breeders who don't take proper care of the species and improperly collect it. Another issue results from ill-informed pet owners. In both cases, a person needs to do their research before purchasing a pet, especially an exotic species.
I adopted a glider from an owner who had purchased her from a super breeder; she was extra shy and scared. After she bonded with us, we noticed she was having small seizures. Unfortunately, by the time we did notice, it was too late and we lost her.
Owners may want to think twice about who they purchase from. Many of these super breeders go into native habitats and capture gliders illegally, and many things can go wrong in the process.
Why They Make Great Pets
Sugar gliders make great companions. With a proper habitat that offers space to run and jump around in, they will be comfortable. Bonding with a new glider will take some time, but patience and love will make them a wonderful addition to any family!