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Sugar gliders (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2010

An excellent source of information for both the veterinarian and sugar glider pet owner is available at http://www.asgv.org/. Veterinarians that are seeing sugar gliders a patients should register to become a member (it's free).

Description

Sugar Gliders (Petaurus breviceps = tight rope walker, short head) are one of the newest additions to the world of fad pets. Published information on Sugar Gliders is sparse, but more is coming available as we continue to see them as pets/patients.

A sugar glider is a small marsupial possum found in the treetops of Australia, Tasmania, Indonesia, and Papua-New Guinea. They get their name because of their preference for sweet foods and have a gliding membrane (called the patagium) similar to that of a flying squirrel. They are about the size of a large hamster. They are primarily grey with black stripes and a lighter underside. They are nocturnal and have large eyes for night vision. Like rodents, the incisors grow continuously and must wear against the opposing teeth to prevent overgrowth. They have scimitar-shaped claws and fused 2nd and 3rd digits (comb) to assist with climbing. The sugar glider tail is also used as a stabilization device during "gliding". Males have a large patch of crusty alopecia on the top of the head, which is a scent gland. It can easily be mistaken for a scab by unfamiliar clinicians.

Breeding is usually accomplished with trio groupings of 1 male and 2 females. Gestation is only 16 days and the two offspring are very small and altricial. Females have a pouch where the offspring spend the first 3 months of their lives. By the time they leave the pouch, they are nearly independent. They should be offered soft foods and they gradually introduced to solid foods.

Sugar gliders are social creatures, normally living in small family groups. In captivity, they do best when kept with a companion. At the very least, they should be given at least one or two hours of attention each day. Isolation is extremely stressful for social animals.

Diet

Sugar gliders are omnivorous in nature and are generally considered to be opportunistic omnivores; that is, they will eat a wide range of foods depending upon what is available at any specific time. In the wild, a Sugar Glider's diet consists primarily of pollens, arthropods, and plant & insect exudates; and it is not practical to attempt to replicate this for domesticated animals. Diets recommended by some pet stores or lay productions are often inappropriate and nutritional diseases are common. The list of items that can be included in the diet is very long, but the amounts of each should be controlled to give a balanced diet. In general, the use of a properly balanced commercial kibble containing vitamins and minerals beneficial to omnivores is superior to unbalanced protein sources from products such as insects, eggs, or meat. As such, a preferable alternative to the above homemade recipes are a handful of nutritionally balanced, commercial "kibble" products which are formulated specifically for Sugar Gliders and manufactured according to strict quality standards. As noted above, these products have been developed internally over the last decade by professional breeding operations by incorporating the latest published scientific information with over 13 years of practical growth, reproductive, and feeding trials involving more than 10,000 animals. These diets are continually evolving as new science becomes available, and have reliably produced – in all respects – consistently healthy animals and offspring for many years. The ideal daily diet for a domesticated Sugar Glider should equal approximately 15-20% of body weight, and include the following three components:
1) a nutritionally-balanced, pelleted kibble -Approximately 75% of overall diet. 1-2oz (28-56g)/day/animal. Available free choice in cage at all times.) The two most commonly used are: Glide-R-Chow™ http://www.sugarbears.com/ and NutriMax™ http://www.vetspride.co/ .
2) a calcium-based multi-vitamin-Sprinkle lightly on fruits/vegetables every other day. Can also be mixed into applesauce or yogurt - and hand-fed daily from fingertips to promote bonding. Of all the Sugar Glider multivitamin supplements on the market, the two most commonly used are: Glide-A-Mins™ http://www.sugarbears.com/ and VitaMax™ http://www.vetspride.com/ .
3) fresh fruits & vegetables- 25% of overall diet. No more than approx. 1/8 of an apple – or the equivalent in mixed fruits/vegetables – per animal per day. Place in the cage each night, and remove leftovers in morning. Sugar Gliders exhibit a strong predisposition toward sweet things – to the exclusion of more nutritional foods. As such, strict portioning is essential and uneaten fruits/vegetables should be removed from the cage each morning.

*Body weight should be assessed regularly, with intake levels adjusted accordingly.

Treat items should be carefully controlled throughout the animal's lifetime to prevent a wide range of nutritional disorders – including obesity. Treats should be no more than 5% of overall diet. Introduce gradually and individually, checking for diarrhea. All treats should be free of preservatives.

Filtered wateR should be used for sugar gliders as one of the most common causes of sudden death in Sugar Gliders is toxicity poisoning from tap water. Water derived from metropolitan sources often experiences "spikes" in the levels of chlorine, fluoride, and other chemical additives. While these elevated levels are generally not toxic to larger animals, they can quickly cause death in Sugar Gliders. For this reason, all water should be bottled or filtered. If using a home-based water filter, it must be replaced periodically according to the manufacturer's instructions.

When eating, Sugar Gliders routinely chew, shake their heads, and spit out morsels of food. They also frequently throw their food and indiscriminately urinate/defecate when leaping and climbing in their cage. Combined, these factors result in a high percentage of food being wasted or contaminated on a daily basis. The introduction of a separate dining "room" inside the cage effectively neutralizes these issues. A typical dining room consists of a clear plastic bowl or box with a sealable lid. The bowl should be a minimum of 4 inches (10cm) tall in order to allow the animal to sit on top of the food bowl while inside. It should also be at least 4 inches (10cm) in width and 8inches (20cm) long to accommodate necessary food and water bowls. Using a pair of scissors, an entry/exit hole should be cut into each side; approximately 1 ½ inches (3.75cm) in diameter.