Environment

All You Wanted To Know About Sugar Gliders: Do Australian Possums Make Good Pets?

Looks can be deceiving: these intriguing critters make overwhelmingly high maintenance pets.

Sugar Gliders are omnivorous nocturnal gliding possums from Australia and surrounding islands. They got their name from their habits: first, they love to eat crystallized sap of the trees in their native environment, and second, they have a membrane of skin between their front and hind legs which acts as a "foldable wing," allowing them to glide through the air from tree to tree. They also have a bushy tail that acts like a rudder.

Sugar Gliders might look like any other fluffy cutie. However, looks can be deceiving: these critters make overwhelmingly high maintenance pets. First, even after several generations of breeding in captivity, they are still a wild animal. Second, their natural environment is tough to replicate in captivity, and they suffer severely if their complex needs are not met. They are sensitive, delicate, and prone to stress-related illnesses. 

Are They Suitable Pets For Kids?

The short answer is "no." Both experts and veterinarians agree that any wild animal is too high maintenance and complicated in their care to make a kid responsible for one. Sugar Glider care requires a serious commitment from an adult. Some individuals can bite. It is also not easy for kids to maintain the nocturnal regimen. 

Sugar Gliders may look adorable, but they are high maintenance, time-consuming, and fragile pets who can suffer and cause frustration in equal measure. Many first-time Sugar Glider owners give them up within a year. They realize that keeping exotic animals requires so much more effort and expense than any domestic one. Sadly for both the animal and the owners, many simply do not accept that until they have experienced it.

What Medical Care Does A Sugar Glider Need?

Sugar glider in a hand.

All Sugar Gliders should be examined as soon as you get them to verify that they are healthy and free of disease, nutritional deficiencies, and parasites. Not every veterinarian has an education in exotic animals or knows how to handle this small marsupial: you must locate a vet who is experienced in Sugar Gliders specifically. Sugar Gliders do not need vaccinations but should have an annual veterinary examination to help ensure they remain healthy.

Is It Challenging To Keep Sugar Gliders Healthy?

Sugar Gliders can suffer from all kinds of diseases all other animals do. But, being a wild animal physiologically, they are much more sensitive to both the mistakes in their diet and the effects of stress than any other pet. In captivity, the Sugar glider can suffer from calcium deficiencies causing leg paralysis and seizures. Iron storage disease is another dietary problem that quickly becomes fatal if not diagnosed early. 

Another particular need comes from their anatomy: having evolved as a lightweight inhabitant of the tree canopy, they have fragile bodies. So even minor accidents in the house lead to severe injuries.

What Should I Feed My Captive Sugar Gliders?

Sugar Glider on a plant.

In captivity, Gliders are often underfed protein and nectar sources and overfed fruit. They cannot survive on dry or pellet type foods, and there is no suitable simple diet consisting of one or two items. They need to feed on approximately 50% animal protein, including crickets, live mealworms, gut-loaded insects, with the rest being nectar, crystallized sap, greens, and not more than 5% of the fruit. They also need something to bite and nibble: in nature, they often strip tree bark to get to the sap. Variety seems to be the key, but any diet should be supplemented with a vitamin and mineral powder containing calcium and reevaluated with an experienced veterinarian.

What Do Sugar Gliders Eat In Nature?

Sugar Gliders are opportunistic omnivores that have unique nutritional requirements that must be met for them to stay healthy. In the wild, they eat acacia gum, eucalyptus sap, manna, honeydew or lerp, pollen and nectar from flowers, and a variety of insects. Same as larger possums, they would eat many other foods when available: acacia seeds, bird eggs, fungi, lizards, small birds, and native fruits.

Can I Keep Sugar Glider Males And Females Together?

Sugar Gliders in a coconut shell house.

Males and females may be kept together only if the males are neutered when they reach maturity around 4-5 months old. Females come into heat a couple of times a year, and the males would attempt to breed. The alternative to neutering is keeping your males and females separate, which can be difficult for you and stressful for the animals: they would not stop calling or trying to get to their family members.

Are Sugar Gliders Expensive?

Both their diet and exotic vet care can be costly. You also need to arrange a cage to keep your Sugar Gliders safe when you are not at home, and to provide them with sleeping nests. The required cage size is one of an aviary: they need to be able to jump, glide, leap, and play. Sugar Gliders are notorious escape artists, so you need to Glider-proof your home, too! Depending on your climate, you will need to arrange temperature control. The sleeping location temperature should be maintained between 75-80°F: everything above 90°F might be too hot, and cold can trigger torpor.

Are Sugar Gliders Messy Or Smelly Animals?

Sugar glider on a bush.

They definitely can be. Being used to the arboreal habitat where their excrement falls, they do not hesitate to poop and pee on just about everything when they are out or are interacting with you. You have to expect pee and poo on your clothes, hair, hands, and furniture. Expect to clean the cage weekly: Sugar Gliders use both their scent glands and urine to mark, and they throw food quite carelessly. So their cage gets smelly fast.

Can I Let My Sugar Gliders Roam Around The House?

Gliders require a lot of space, and a lot of mental stimulation to keep them healthy. They have to be allowed out of their cages daily but need to be very closely supervised because they get into trouble very often. Sugar Gliders being caught by house cats, burning themselves on the stove, falling into a drain, or drowning in a toilet are not just anecdotes. Our houses are an utterly alien space for these forest creatures (and their classic possum curiosity gets the best out of them - they do not hesitate to bite power cords).

You need to remember that Sugar Gliders are nocturnal, so you will have to exercise them after dark. They quickly fall ill if their natural cycle is disturbed or they are kept awake during the day, so they are best for "owls" who have time to handle them at night.

Do Sugar Gliders Bite?

Gray sugar glider.

Humans can tame Sugar Gliders. However, they are not domesticated species. The degree to which each can be tamed varies drastically between individuals, with some never learning to enjoy human company. Not bonded Sugar Gliders can be nippy or bite you. A startled Glider can cause a deep wound: they can crack even tree bark with their teeth! They are not suitable pets for those with young children.

Are Sugar Gliders Noisy?

Gliders produce many vocalizations, including "singing," high-pitched, "barking," and hissing. As nocturnal and very interactive animals, they would often "bark" all night long as a part of their normal behavior. Scents are also an essential part of Sugar Glider communication: they are used to mark territory, convey the health status of an individual, and even mark their community members (unmarked "stranger" ones would be attacked and violently expelled).

Can Sugar Gliders Die Because Of Stress?

Two Sugar Gliders.

Stress-related illness in Gliders is often seen in critters that lack social interaction with other Sugar Gliders, or those that are kept awake during the day. Stress leads to depression and behavioral disorders, causing loss of appetite and self-mutilation. They will bite their skin, pace back and forth, overeat, or stop eating.

Can I Have Just One Sugar Glider? Would My Company Not Be Enough?

Sugar Gliders are extremely social animals that get depressed when housed alone. In their natural environment, they live in large family groups or colonies consisting of up to ten adults, plus the current season's young. They exchange chemical signals, maintain constant contact with each other, groom, touch, and play with their family members. They can be tamed and become tolerant of human handlers. But, unlike for dogs, a human can not replace their own species companions, and one pair of Gliders is also not enough.

Where Do I Buy A Sugar Glider To Make Sure I Do Not Give Money To An Illegal Source?

Sugar Glider.

It is next to impossible to determine the origin of the animals sold in pet shops or online marketplaces. But you can be sure that no responsible, committed breeder would place their animals there. You can consult with a local exotic animal vet specialist: they might point you to a breeder who has healthy, well cared for animals. Sugar Gliders are readily available from many rescues, too.

Are Sugar Gliders Squirrels?

While some call Sugar Gliders "Flying Squirrels," they are not rodents. The similarity is the result of the adaptation to arboreal habitat. Sugar Gliders are marsupials, like kangaroos or North America's opossums: females have a little pouch on their bellies.

Is It Legal To Have A Sugar Glider As A Pet?

Cute little Sugar Glider eating fish snack while being held.

In many countries and states, including their native Australia, it is illegal to keep Sugar Gliders as pets, mainly because a lot of animals come through criminal channels: illegal capturing and breeding in awful conditions with high mortality are common. The neglect is also widespread due to the difficulties of caring for them, so many Sugar Gliders die early or end up in rescues.

Can you keep just a single Sugar Glider?

Sugar Gliders are extremely social animals that get depressed when housed alone. In their natural environment, they live in large family groups or colonies consisting of up to ten adults, plus the current season's young.

About the Author

Antonia is a sociologist and an anglicist by education, but a writer and a behavior enthusiast by inclination. If she's not writing, editing or reading, you can usually find her snuggling with her huge dog or being obsessed with a new true-crime podcast. She also has a (questionably) healthy appreciation for avocados and Seinfeld.

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