Sugar gliders are marsupials. Marsupials keep their newborn in a pouch, similar to opossums and kangaroos. Like opossums they are arboreal (live mostly in trees) and are nocturnal. Since they are a nighttime animal you should respect their privacy and allow them to have a box-like area or preferably a pile of cotton towels to sleep in. Being a night active pet, they will adapt to adults than children who want to play with them during the day. Sugar gliders are omnivores, like opossums, eating mostly insects and food they can scavenge in the wild. In the wild they eat nectar, pollen, acacia sap and bark, insects, etc. The sugar glider obtained its name from the ability to glide after jumping, by using a fold of skin which extends from the fifth finger of the forelimb to the first toe of the hind limb (a patagium). They originate in Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea; there are 7 subspecies of sugar gliders. Most of the imported sugar gliders are the New Guinea species; they like to live in groups in the trees. (As FYI Red ear gliders are not related to sugar gliders. Red ear gliders are turtles). The normal rectal temperature of a sugar glider is 90 degrees F.
Sugar gliders (Petarus breviceps) should be kept in a 24″ x 24″ by 36″ high enclosed cage or larger. An 18″ cage is the minimum size for 1x glider. Being a social animal, sugar gliders should not be kept alone. For a pair we recommend a 6′ x 6′ x 5′ habitat. They all should each have an individual hiding boxes up high in the cage. A fleece pouch can also be used inside the habitat, and hung high up like the nesting box. Any cloth inside the habitat should be of a tight weave. They are indoor pets, but can be kept in an outdoor cage if it does not freeze or if the temperatures do not get above 100 degrees. A range of 50-90 degrees F is recommended, but not sudden changes in temperature. The best temperature setting is 75 degrees, and in the winter maybe a 60-75 watt light a foot away from one side of the cage. Tree limbs, cotton ropes and hollow logs should be provided, along with a nesting box, but remove any frayed cloth or string. If you provide an exercise wheel, ensure it is 6” or larger in size, and a solid type to prevent their toenail from catching in the wheel.
They should be encouraged to chew fresh branches to keep their teeth from being overgrown. Chewing on synthetic materials and ropes are to be avoided. We do not recommend the hardwoods, such as black walnut or oak, or the poisonous type woods such as Alder Buckthorn, Baccharis, Boxwood, Buckeye, Blackcherry, Chokecherry, Kentucky Coffeetrees, Mayapple, Sesbania (Senna Bean), Tung Oil (Tung Tree) and Yew as branches. There are many bush type plants, such as Bracken Fern, Dogbane, Elderberry, Jessamine, Mountain Laurel, Nightshade, Oleander, Rhododendron, St. Johnswort and others also to be avoided. The pine and cottonwood families of wood type branches are recommended. If you are considering adding live plants in a larger cage, please see our notebook of poisonous plants. A hamster-type water bottle is recommended. Bedding of newspaper may be adequate, yet we prefer shredded bark as bedding. Never use the aromatic type wood chips such as redwood or cedar for bedding.
The sugar glider’s diet is mostly vegetables, fruit, insects and sugar glider food. Fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, mixed frozen vegetables and other treats should provide approximately half of their diet. Apples, banana, carrots, corn, grapes, green beans, kiwi fruit, mango, melons, peaches, pears, potatoes (sweet or regular) are only a few of the variety of fruits and vegetables you can feed. Nuts and seeds should be kept to a minimum, or preferably not at all. The pits of fruit should never be fed or allowed to be eaten. Cheese, crickets, other insects, cooked eggs, fish, cooked meat, mealworms, yogurt and some dog food can also be fed. A sugar glider should be fed a dry sugar glider diet as at least half of their diet, preferably 2/3+. One also can use temporally a dry or canned dog food for up to 1/3 of the diet until your sugar glider diet is available. As a dry food a sugar glider will eat about 10% of their weight a day. A complete diet has vitamins and minerals included in the food. The most common problems we see in exotics and birds are nutritional deficiencies and parasites. Nutritional osteodystrophy is a common disease in sugar gliders, and is a result of a low calcium, low vitamin D3 and a high phosphorus diet. Cat food may be a little too high in protein. A diet that contains seeds or dried insects, etc is not a complete diet; a complete diet is formulated to where all of the contents are in a pellet. Similar to other animals a dry food helps reduce dental problems. The exact nutritional requirements of most exotics are not completely known. If feeding a soft or a food with sweets you should expect dental problems to develop. We do not recommend the nectar diets, although they can be utilized as part of their food.
Sugar gliders prefer to be housed in pairs although it is adequate to keep one by them self. In the wild they live in groups. If you have only one sugar glider give them daily attention and even allow them to ride around the house in your pocket, unless there are dogs and cats free. We do not recommend taking them outside. If housing a male and female together expect them to produce a litter up to 2-3 times a year. Unless bred a female will go into estrus every 29-30 days once she is over 7-14 months old. The gestation period is 16 days, with an average of 1 to 3 babies being born. The young joeys leave the pouch around 60-70 days, but stay in the nest till almost 120 days. If the young are removed from the pouch too early cataracts may develop. Cataracts may also occur in the young, especially if the mother is obese. If a milk replace is needed, a low lactose formula is recommended. A female has 4 teats in her pouch. To avoid pregnancy you should wean the new babies by 4-5 months of age. At weaning the babies should weight about 2 oz. If you have 2+ sugar glides in a habitat we do not recommend having 2 or more males together.
We recommend periodic fecals on all exotics, and especially a sample of a new addition one month after adopting. If you happen to take their body temperature, expect it to be 89-92 degrees. We recommend to periodically weighing all small exotics. Sugar gliders average 4-5 ounces in weight, and 4-7 inches in length as adults. The males usually are larger than the females. The amount of fat in the gliding membrane (5th finger to 1st toe) can help determine obesity. They have a bifid penis or a bifid clitoris and cloacal. Males have front scent glands while females have glands in their pouch. Males also develop a bald scent gland on their head. Both have paracloacal glands. The marspials are described in more depth in the marsuipal handout. The anatomy is different in a marsupial than a dog or cat, and thus the spay procedure, if done, is much more difficult and performed in a manor similar to a rabbit. The average sugar glider can live up to 10-15 years, but 9 years is more realistic. For more information go to www.sugarglider.net, www.sugargliders.org, www.isga.org, or www.surgargliderintro.com or a better site is to go to asgv.org and sign up for their periodic newsletters.
Orphan Sugar Gliders and Marsupials
We have an orphan handout for most of the other mammalian species that you should also receive with these modified directions. Hand raising an orphan sugar glider will take a lot of time, determination and if the orphan is less than 2 months of age you should expect a very high loss.
- Keep the joey at a room air temperature of 86-93F; there are heated incubators for such purpose. A dial thermometer and heat lamp in a box or container is second best; ensure the joey cannot escape.
- Provide a pouch or sock for the joey to live in; preferably soft and furry.
- Feed every 1-2 hours, 24/7 until the eyes open in a couple weeks. Feed 20-25% of the joey’s body with daily with milk (i.e. a 30 gram joey will need at least 0.9 ml every hour). Wombaroo milk replacer is preferred, or Esbilac puppy as a second best product.
- Use a gram scale to weigh the joey every 1-3 days until weaned.
- Once the eyes are open you can feed the joey every 4 hours; at this time the growth of fur should be noticeable and the heat does not have to be above 90F. At this stage you can feed once every 4 hours 24/7. Add 1 ml of canola or rapeseed oil to 20 ml of milk, still feeding 20% of body’s weigh or as much as they can drink eat each feeding. Eventually you can reduce to 4x/day, then 2x feedings a day and once a day when weaning. Weigh the joey if in doubt that they are eating.
- Stimulate the orphan to urinate and defecate by cleaning the uro-genital area with a wet warm wash cloth; do this at least 3-4x a day.