Sugar Gliders As Pets - Care Guide
Sugar gliders are curious little critters. While they might look a little like flying squirrels, and are sometimes mistakenly called sugar squirrels, they’re not actually rodents at all, but marsupials. They hail from Australia and are in fact in the same family of animals as the kangaroo.
They’re small, cute creatures and get their name from their love of sugary foods like nectar, tree sap, and fruit. In the wild, they use a membrane to glide from tree to tree to evade predators and search for food.
How big do sugar gliders get?
Sugar gliders are tiny little things. They average only about 5 to 7 inches in length from tip to tail when fully grown and only weigh around 4 to 5 ounces. They’ll fit snugly in the palm of your hand so you’ll have to take care and be gentle with them when handling.
How long do sugar gliders live?
As we mentioned above, sugar gliders are not rodents, so they don’t come with the associated short life spans. In fact, with the right sugar glider pet care, you can expect one to live up to 15 years.
However, the average age for a pet sugar glider in the home is unfortunately only 6 to 7 years. This is because many owners aren’t aware of the risks and illnesses associated with owning one and don’t take the proper care needed to extend their lifespans.
Sugar glider behavior
Understanding wild sugar glider behavior can help you better care for them. They’re very social animals, living in small colonies of 5 to 7 adults and their babies, led by a dominant male.
Socialising and bonding
Much like the colony would bond in the wild, your pet sugar glider will bond with the members of your household. Be prepared to spend a lot of time handling them to build up this bond and they’ll begin to recognize you as part of the social pack.
A common behavior in males is to mark territory and other members of the colony with their scent. This is done using glands in the forehead or by urinating. This can be lessened by having males neutered.
This is a high pitched, repetitive squeaking noise your sugar glider will make when it’s scared. They’ll often do this in unfamiliar surroundings, when meeting new people or when something changes in their environment.
They’re only active at night. Some owners wear a day-pouch around their neck where the glider will sleep during the day. This helps them bond and remember your scent, especially when first brought into your home.
This means they’re natural tree-dwellers. They love being up at heights or jumping from object to object. This should be encouraged, but make sure they’re in a safe environment to do so.
Sugar glider habitat
Sugar gliders need lots of space. In the wild their territories can spread over many acres, so the bigger the enclosure you can give them, the better.
The absolute minimum, however, should be 24 inches wide, 24 inches deep and 36 inches high. And remember, they love heights, so aim for as tall a cage as you can get. Also, make sure the wires are horizontal so they can easily climb around the cage too.
Sugar gliders are very intelligent animals and need lots of stimulation. Make sure there are plenty of toys in the enclosure along with lots of ropes to climb and obstacles to navigate. A closed exercise wheel is also a good choice which stops your sugar glider's tail from getting caught when exercising.
Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and doors and windows. They can be easily startled by goings-on outside and direct sunlight can keep them awake.
Make sure you clean the enclosure at least once per week and have a nest box placed at the very top where they’ll feel snug and safe.
What do sugar gliders eat?
The clue to the sugar glider diet is in the name. In the wild they love sugary foods like nectar, eucalyptus gum, and fruit. However, this doesn’t mean you can start feeding them sweets and never feed them chocolate or raw sugar as this is toxic to them!
They actually have very strict dietary requirements that need to be followed to stay healthy including:
- Small amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, and nuts on a daily basis
- Mealworms, moths, or spiders provide protein. Most pet large pet stores will stock these
- Some vets recommend a nutritional mix including honey, a boiled egg, baby cereal, and calcium powder
- Leafy greens high in calcium such as bok choy lettuce and kale
- It’s best to stay away from formulated sugar glider diets. As sugar gliders are a relatively new pet, not enough is known about these formulas and breeders don’t recommend them
Sugar glider health issues
When not cared for correctly, sugar gliders can be prone to a number of ailments, many often diet-related. Some illnesses include:
- Stress - Sugar gliders can become easily stressed from bad diets, a small enclosure, or a disruptive home environment. Signs include loss of appetite and repeated circling of the cage
- Parasites - Sugar gliders can suffer from fleas, ticks, roundworms, and other parasites. Loss of fur and excessive scratching are common signs
- Calcium deficiency - Gliders are very prone to calcium deficiency if their diet isn’t properly managed. Signs include lethargy, lameness, and in serious cases, paralysis. Make sure to add calcium supplements to their diet
- Constipation and diarrhea - Another illness caused by a bad diet. Either from not getting enough fiber or consuming too much citrus fruit
Find a vet that specializes in sugar gliders for annual check-ups, and be sure to get exotic pet insurance for any unexpected illnesses.
Where can I purchase a sugar glider?
As with any exotic pet purchase, you should find a reputable breeder in your area. Look for one with a good online presence and a solid reputation. One who can give you sugar glider care advice and the animal’s history. A baby sugar glider from a good dealer will cost around $200 to $500.
Similar pets to the sugar glider
If you like the sound of sugar gliders but aren’t quite ready to make the big commitment required to look after them, there are a few similar pets that are a little easier to care for. You might want to try out a chinchilla, which tends to be quite low maintenance but is just as cute. A ferret is a good choice if you’re after something a little more lively, and of course, you can never go wrong with a rabbit!