Providing a Home for a Sugar Glider
Before bringing home a sugar glider, make sure you have made arrangements for suitable housing, diet, and exercise.
Sugar gliders are very active, playful, intelligent, and inquisitive animals. They can develop strong bonds with their owners if given consistent and plentiful attention. At least 2 hours a day of interactive contact is recommended. Shorter or less frequent attention to a sugar glider that is a lone pet could result in the animal being depressed and could possibly lead to behavioral problems. Because they naturally live in colonies, sugar gliders should be housed in groups. Sugar gliders are also territorial, and the dominant male in a group will mark the other group members with his scent gland. Any sugar glider entering the group’s territory without that scent can be a target for aggression. The sugar glider will also mark you and anything in its surroundings with its scent.
A large cage, at least 24 by 36 by 36 inches (61 by 91 by 91 centimeters), with a secure lock is recommended. The enclosure should have enough room for exercise as well as a place to put a food dish and a nest box or shelter in which your pet can sleep during the day. If the nest box is mounted high up in the cage, there must be enough room above the box to ensure that the sugar glider does not rub its elbows on the roof of the cage, which can cause their gliding membrane to tear. The mesh grid on wire cages should be no more than 1 by 0.5 inches (2.5 by 1.3 centimeters). Wire-bottomed cages allow droppings to go through to the tray below and can making cleaning easier.
Sugar gliders tolerate temperatures from 60°F to 90°F (15°C to 32°C); however, their preferred temperature range is 80°F to 88°F (27°C to 31°C). They should be kept in a warm room, away from heating or air conditioning vents and direct sunlight.
Appropriate bedding materials may include shredded newspaper or paper toweling, dry moss, cotton, leaves from a live branch, or wood shavings. Tree branches can be placed in the cage to allow climbing; however, certain woods are poisonous and should be avoided. Do not use almond, apricot, black walnut, cherry, or peach branches. Apple or citrus tree branches that have not been treated with pesticides are suitable. Some bird toys or other small animal toys, such as swings or chew toys, may also be appropriate.
In the wild, sugar gliders feed on tree sap, nectar, and insects. In captivity, they require a varied diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables and protein from various sources (primarily insects). Fresh water must be available at all times.
Specially formulated mixtures for sugar gliders have been developed and are available in exotic pet stores or on the internet. However, most of these are meant to be fed as part of a varied diet and should not be relied on as the only food source. Artificial nectars that mimic the sap and nectar that sugar gliders eat in the wild should account for about half of the diet. The other half of the diet can be a mix of commercial pelleted diets made for sugar gliders, live insects treated with extra calcium, and small amounts of fruits, nuts, and vegetables (these should be no more than 10% of the diet overall). The diet should also include appropriate vitamin and mineral supplements. Your veterinarian can recommend suitable diets and supplements and provide directions on their usage.
Fat intake should be kept to a minimum. Nuts should be provided only as an occasional treat because they are high in fat and protein, and sugar gliders will often eat them to the exclusion of healthier foods. Do not use canned fruit because of the preservatives and refined sugars in these products. Candy contains too much refined sugar and should not be given to your sugar glider. Chocolate must never be given to your sugar glider because it is poisonous to them. Pits of fruits are also poisonous to sugar gliders. Small quantities of dry cat food can be fed as a source of protein if insects are unavailable. However, cat food should only be used until a supply of insects can be obtained; feeding cat food to sugar gliders in large amounts or over an extended period may lead to medical problems.
It is important to thoroughly wash raw food items with fresh water before giving them to your pet to reduce the chances of exposure to various intestinal parasites that can cause diarrhea and vomiting.
Pet sugar gliders maintained on a mainly fruit diet are very susceptible to nutritional osteodystrophy, a condition in which the bones soften because of an imbalance of calcium and phosphorus in the diet. Diets should contain a daily protein source—a commercial extruded protein pellet, mealworms, crickets, or small amounts of cooked skinless chicken. Use of a balanced calcium/phosphorus supplement with vitamin D3 and a multivitamin supplement can help prevent nutritional diseases.
Dental disease is more frequent in sugar gliders fed diets high in soft, sugary foods. Feeding insects with hard exoskeletons can help maintain dental health.
Branches placed in the cage allow sugar gliders to climb. Small items from pet stores can be placed in the cage for the sugar gliders to climb, push, or carry. Taking your sugar glider out of its cage and interacting with it every day helps reduce boredom and behavioral problems. To reduce the possibility of injury, never leave a sugar glider unattended outside its cage.
Also see professional content on feeding and housing sugar gliders.