Sugar Gliders As Pets: Pros and Cons
According to the PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) organization, having a sugar glider as a pet is depriving it of ‘‘everything that is natural and meaningful to them: the company of its own species, fresh air, the outdoors and the opportunity to climb or do almost anything other than walk or sit and look outside of a small cage’’
In order to market and sell sugar gliders, these animals are raised in unsuitable facilities or brought in through illegal animal-cruel trafficking from their country of origin, Australia. However, due to the lack of veterinary information within these immoral spaces, the life-span of an animal kept in captivity is very low. In addition, the behavioral problems and cognitive deficiencies that they often suffer from from being caged, has lead to mass sugar glider abandonment. This has now, unfortunately, resulted in an increase of sugar gliders left in recovery centers, at the best of times.
If you decide to contact one of these centers to adopt one or several sugar gliders, you need to make sure you’re up to date on everything you need to know about sugar gliders. For more about the sugar glider species, permits to adopt sugar gliders, where it is legal to own sugar gliders and their required care and diet, keep reading here at AnimalWised. In addition, don’t forget to consult a veterinarian specialized in exotic animals for appropriate advice before adopting a sugar glider.
Sugar glider: pet
Sugar gliders are small arboreal marsupials that live in colonies of up to 12 animals with a dominant male. They have gray fur with a black dorsal stripe, a long black prehensile tail with a white tip and a pale cream colored bottom.
In the wild, males generally weigh between 115 and 160 grams and females between 95 and 135 grams. There are several subspecies that vary in size, with the tropical species of Papua New Guinea being the smallest. Endemic to part of Australia, Papua New Guinea and some islands of Indonesia, sugar gliders are omnivorous animals that feed on sap and insects (depending on the season).
Sugar gliders: cage
According to ethological studies, it is considered inappropriate (and unfair) to keep a sugar glider in a cage of a size less than 2 x 2 x 2 meters. In addition, the size of the mesh or grid MUST be 1 x 2.5 centimeters, but why? This is because, being nocturnal, sugar gliders enter into activity at night when we are asleep. This means that during this time we cannot attend to them, therefore, they will have to spend this period in a cage as they cannot be let loose alone.
Bear in mind that in nature, a sugar glider would spend the night flying and jumping among trees and branches, traveling distances greater than 50 meters. We must also remember that the location of the cage in the home should be out of access to potential predators, such as dogs, cats, snakes, etc.
We recommend placing a nest box inside of your sugar glider’s cage, one that simulates the hollow of a tree. The entrance should be very narrow, small enough to fit only one sugar glider, thus allowing the animal will feel more secure and safe. The location of the nest, as well as the feeders and drinkers, must be at a significant height, away from the cage’s floor to give it a greater sense of security. In addition, to imitate it’s natural environment in the wild, we suggest placing some branches in the cage both vertically and horizontally.
The sugar glider’s cage should have a door which can allow you to handle your sugar glider (if necessary), in addition to giving you the space to change its drinking fountain and feeding trough. This cage should also have a removable tray so that you can remove and clean out excrement and other waste.
Normally, if you only have one sugar glider, it should be kept in a small cage hung at the same height of its nest. This cage should also always be under constant surveillance, so that you can monitor your sugar glider and make sure its safe and in good health.
Sugar glider: diet
Sugar gliders feed on a great variety of plants, insects and arthropod exudates. A sugar glider’s diet also depends on the characteristics of its habitat and season. Sugar gliders have a very long fourth finger for them to extract insects from trees, as well as enlarged lower incisors to chew bark.
Several food ecology studies on sugar gliders indicate that a sugar glider’s diet generally correlates with its available resources. Sugar gliders are also very adaptable, meaning they eat almost anything they can find in their environment.
You can find the necessary sugar glider feed in specialized stores. If, however, you cannot find the right feed for your sugar glider, there are alternatives. Home recipes for sugar gliders include:
- 5 g of dry cat food or 10 g of wet food.
- 5 g of berries.
- 5 g of citrus.
- 5 g of another fruit.
- 5 g of sweet potato.
- 1 g of meal-worms (or other invertebrates, such as grasshoppers, moths, flies, crickets).
- 12 g of chopped mixed fruits (any type <10% citrus).
- 2.5 g of cooked and chopped vegetables.
- 10 g of peach or apricot nectar.
- 5.5 g of low-iron poultry feed.
- 1 g meal-worms (or other invertebrates).
Sugar gliders: care
Sugar gliders have been kept in zoos for many years, but in recent decades they have become popular as pets, therefore a lot of veterinary literature focuses on breeding rather than common diseases of the species. This is very important to consider when deciding whether or not to adopt a sugar glider as a pet. If your sugar glider does get sick, a general veterinarian not specialized in exotic animals may not have enough information to reach a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Here we have some data collected from sugar glider necropsies, important to consider when caring for a sugar glider:
Cardiovascular disease in sugar gliders
Degenerative cardiovascular disease in sugar gliders is rare, but a generalized blood infection can, if not treated, end the life of the animal.
There have been many cases of liver cirrhosis in sugar gliders. The cause or causes are unknown but half of the cases seem to be associated with a hepatic lipidosis. In some cases there have been noticeable links to an excessive storage of iron.
There is some "internet" speculation that this disease may be associated with mycotoxins in sugar gliders, but this has not yet been proven. Chronic kidney disease in sugar glides is infrequent but renal lipidosis can occur.
There have been some sugar glider cases of hydronephrosis (water in the kidneys), associated with pyelonephritis (kidney stones). It is unknown whether this is a disease in itself or a symptom of secondary disease.
Due to malnutrition and sugar glider breeding, they may develop necrotizing pancreatitis and pancreatic fibrosis.
According to the few data collected, there is a high presence of tumors in sugar gliders. This includes a higher percentage of malignant tumors over benign tumors, many of them being mammary tumors. There have also been cases of sugar glider tumors in the anal glands and cutaneous melanomas, lymphomas and carcinomas in the urinary tract.
Bacterial, fungal and viral infections
Fungi and/or virus infections in sugar gliders is not very common. But bacterial infections have been noted in the meningoencephalitis.
Sugar gliders as pets: adoption
If you want to adopt a sugar glider as a pet, we recommend contacting a recovery center for wild species.
Before adopting any animal you must inform yourself about all of its required needs and care, making sure you can offer it. In addition, sugar gliders are extremely sociable and therefore, we recommend adopting two at a time rather than one.
Sugar gliders as pets: pros and cons
We say pros and cons but in fact, we just need to make sure we highlight what you should consider before adopting a sugar glider (always promote responsible adoption).
- You’re giving an abandoned animal a chance at experiencing care and love.
- Receiving love and affection (as long as they are well socialized).
- They clean themselves.
Well, in fact, there are never any real cons when adopting an animal that needs a home. Let’s rephrase, ‘things to consider’:
- They are expensive (don’t buy, adopt!).
- They should be in the wild.
- They require cleaning and care.
- They require a lot of attention and affection.
Sugar gliders: pet
So, can you legally own a sugar glider? In The United States of America sugar gliders are illegal in Alaska and California. Other states require permits when adopting a sugar glider as a pet. SUgar gliders as pets in the UK is permitted, however, NOT RECOMMENDED. If you want to adopt a sugar glider, we recommend checking all the necessary legalities beforehand.
For more about adopting exotic animals as pets, we recommend reading Animals that shouldn’t be pets.
If you want to read similar articles to Sugar Gliders As Pets: Pros and Cons, we recommend you visit our Basic care category.
- Never buy sugar gliders as pets - PETA - Disponible en: https://www.peta.org/features/never-buy-sugar-gliders-as-pets/
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- Lightfoot, T. L. (1999). Clinical examination of chinchillas, hedgehogs, prairie dogs, and sugar gliders. Veterinary clinics of North America: Exotic animal practice, 2(2), 447-469.