By Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Sugar gliders are one of the more challenging small mammal pets that a person can choose to have. This is because they have very special dietary and husbandry needs. Without proper care, these amazing animals are unlikely to have long, happy lives.
Sugar gliders are native to New Guinea and eastern Australia. Ideally, they should not be housed alone because they are highly social creatures. In the wild, they live in forests that provide them with plenty of hiding areas and room to glide. Being nocturnal, sugar gliders are also most active at night. During the day, groups of sugar gliders seek refuge in leaf-lined tree hollows. Sugar gliders use their patagium, a gliding membrane between the front and hind legs, to sail from tree to tree. When temperatures drop, they go into a dormant state in order to conserve energy. Female sugar gliders raise their young in a pouch. Males have scent glands on their forehead, chest and urogenital area, which they use to mark their territory.
In the wild, sugar gliders are omnivorous and feed on the sap from acacia and eucalyptus trees, pollen and nectar, as well as a variety of insects and fruits. This can be challenging to duplicate in captivity, but there are recommended captive diets and owners should seek veterinary advice on this topic. Fortunately, some companies have developed balanced formulated diets for sugar gliders, which make feeding captive animals easier.
There are many reasons why sugar gliders visit the veterinarian. The most common reasons why I see them is due to fur loss, eye discharge, dental disease, diarrhea and complications from long-term malnutrition.
Traumatic injuries can also occur with these delicate creatures. Given their instinct to glide, there is a chance of falling or landing on something dangerous like a hot stove or light bulb. I have also seen several sugar gliders get toes or limbs caught in thread or fabric from tents or pouches placed in their cage. It is very important to thoroughly inspect all cage furniture for signs of trouble. Often these wounds can be so bad that amputation of toes or limbs may be necessary.
Sometimes the trauma can be the result of bite wounds from other pets. Countless bacteria reside within the mouths of dogs and cats. When a bite occurs, these bacteria can enter the tissue and even the bloodstream of the sugar glider, quickly leading to infections and possibly even death from sepsis. It is critical that bite wounds are assessed immediately, cleaned thoroughly, and treated with appropriate antibiotics.
Sadly, sugar gliders sometimes self-mutilate. These animals may begin to bite at their own tail or limbs. This is believed to be due to social isolation, poor diet and stressful housing conditions. This type of self-injury underscores the need for proper care of these animals.
Sugar gliders require a lot of care and attention and are best suited for adults who can properly maintain these special animals. Contact your veterinarian for more information.
Note: All articles by Dr. Materi are meant for educational purposes only and in no way represent any particular individual or case. They are not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.