Sugar Glider Care
Sugar Glider (Petaurus breviceps) Care Information
Sugar Gliders are endemic to Australia and Indonesia and are sometimes referred to as Sugar Bears. They inhabit open forest areas and are very social. As their name suggests, they are capable of gliding relatively long distances (up to 90 meters) from treetop to treetop. They live in colonies of six to ten animals.
Sugar gliders are a marsupial, therefore closely related to Kolas and Kangaroos. Petaurus breviceps are a nocturnal species, so they make ideal pets for people with a busy day time schedule, as they spend most of the day asleep. Sugar Gliders can live up to 15 years in captivity and respond poorly to being re-homed. When cared for properly, they are excellent, loving and loyal companions that will bring you joy for years to come.
There is a lot of conflicting information about proper Sugar Glider care and husbandry, much of which is outdated. In this care guide we will cover everything from housing to breeding, and caring for young Joeys.
Sugar Gliders have a wide range of distribution and can be found on the northern and south east coasts of Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and surrounding isles.
Subspecies - Variations
Petaurus breviceps breviceps
Petaurus breviceps longicaudatus
Petaurus breviceps ariel
Petaurus breviceps papuanus
Petaurus breviceps flavidus
Enclosure - Housing
The most important thing to consider when purchasing or building an enclosure for your Sugar Gilder is that vertical space is more important than anything else. These guys love to climb and be up high. The higher up they are, the safer they feel. A good minimum enclosure size for a pair of Gliders is 24"deep x 24"wide x 36"tall.
Large bird cages work well for Suggies, just make sure the wire is coated with PVC or something similar. Bare wire rusts easily and is difficult to clean. Make sure the spacing between the wire is no more than 1/2 inch x 1 inch. If the cage is not wire mesh it must have vertical and horizontal bars so the Gliders can have foot holds while climbing. The cage should have at least two platforms for climbing. After you have chosen an enclosure, be sure to find a plastic catch tray that is a bit larger than the footprint of the cage, this is used to catch droppings and old food. Be sure the enclosure is high enough off of the ground to prevent the gliders from reaching down into the drop tray and recovering old food. When choosing a spot for the enclosure keep in mind that this species does not appreciate direct sunlight or drafts.
Now onto the fun part, decorating the enclosure! Sugar Gliders prefer to sleep in pouches. Choose something like fleece that will not catch their nails. Be sure to provide two nesting - sleeping pouches per sugar glider.
In addition to the sleeping pouches you must provide a food bowl at the top of the enclosure, along with a water bottle with a nozzle. Don't have open water, it collects feces and urine which can cause a bad odor, along with being unsanitary and possibly causing illness. It is better to use a closed water bottle for this reason.
Sugar Gliders love to run on wheels specifically designed for them, so include one of those along with plenty of hanging toys and ropes for climbing. This will help keep them stimulated and active.
Under the enclosure you should have a catch tray for droppings and fallen food. You can line this tray with any of the following non-toxic substrates:
Recycled newspaper pellets
Care fresh bedding
Wood shavings and cat litter are not recommended for this species. The dust from the litter can cause respiratory irritation, and if accidentally ingested can be fatal. Certain types of wood shavings can be toxic, it's best to avoid them all together.
Adults need to be kept between 70° F and 85° F.
Joeys, when separated from the parent, need to be kept between 86° F and 88° F.
If the temperature in your house cannot support these conditions, investing in a Ceramic Heat Emitter (CHE) may be worthwhile. They do not produce any light, only heat, so it will not disrupt your gliders sleep cycle. Ceramic Heat Emitters can be ordered online or found at your local pet store. Do not set the CHE up inside of the enclose, instead, allow it to hang over top. This will save you an expensive vet bill when your Suggie inevitably decides to investigate the CHE and is burned in the process.
No special lighting is needed for this species, but they do require a day and night time cycle (photoperiod). This can be regulated by having them in a room with plenty of windows. Remember to keep them out of direct sunlight. They are canopy animals and in their natural habitat they are exposed to filtered light only.
The humidity needs to be relatively high and maintained between 60% and 80%. To achieve a stable humidity level you should run a humidifier in the room your gliders are housed in. Without high humidity their ears will become paper like and crack. If this happens, you need to remedy the low humidity situation as soon as possible to prevent further damage to their delicate ears.
Sugar Gliders are omnivorous and contrary to their name, do not require high amount of sugars or nectar. In the wild, sugar gliders will eat insects when they are available. During the cooler months they will eat acacia gum, eucalyptus sap and other nectars. In captivity, honey and fresh fruits are considered good substitutes for saps and nectar.
ProteinGliders need a fresh protein source. This can be crickets, meal worms or roaches. You should offer 10-12 small, 7-10 medium, or 3-5 large mealworms per glider. You should offer 3-5 crickets per sugar glider as well. Boiled eggs (without the shells), mixed with high protein/low sugar cereal (like corn flakes or Special K) and mixed with either honey or apple juice can be used. One heaping tablespoon is offered per 2 sugar gliders. Yogurt (blueberry or peach) can be offered via 1 heaping tablespoon per 2 sugar gliders. Grasshoppers and june bugs also make great protein sources for your glider.
Fruits & VeggiesFruits & veggies should be offered in small portions everyday and removed in the morning. Examples of fruits and veggies are: apples, pears, sweet potatoes, water melon, honeydew, cantaloupe, carrots, kiwi, mango, and oranges as an occasional treat. Never offer oranges to Joeys.
You must provide a staple food, which can be a dry food or semi moist food. It should be available all day and changed out daily.
There are several commercially available staple foods that you can research and purchase online. Select one with a high protein content.
Vitamins & MineralsFresh fruits and veggies should be dusted with a well rounded multi-vitamin daily. It is suggested to provide one that has vitamin D3, which is essential to calcium absorption. You should also dust fresh fruits and veggies with a powdered calcium without D3.
Your feeder insects must be gutloaded. You can accomplish this by dusting the insects food with the same vitamins you use to dust the sugar gliders fruits and veggies.
Female sugar gliders have a well developed pouch (marsupium). Like all marsupials, the pouch is used by her joey.
Males have an obvious pendulous scrotum and four scent glands, which are located on the forehead (frontal) , chest (sternal), as well as two paracloacal. (They are associated with, but not part of the cloaca.)
In captivity, sugar gliders will mate year-round. This is why care must be taken with your housing. While baby joeys may be cute, you will need to find homes for them all. They can have up to 7 joeys per year.
In the wild sugar gliders mate from June-July.
The gestation period for sugar gliders is 16 days. At this point the joey will find it's way into the mother's pouch and attach itself to the teat, were it will remain for 10 additional weeks.
After the Joey emerges from the pouch, it's eyes will still be closed for around 10 more days and it won't be fully furred.
About 10 weeks after birth, the Joeys will come out-of-pouch for the first time. They will still frequently be nursing. The joey will continue to go back into it's mother's pouch until it is too big.
Fathers play a vital role in raising the offspring. Joeys cannot regulate their own body heat, so when the mother leaves the nest in the evening to eat, exercise and play the father provides will keep the joey warm. He will also keep it clean. This will continue until the joey is about 2 weeks out-of-pouch. If they joey wanders out of the nest, the father will be the one to return it.
Both genders have a cloacal extension that appears to be a penis, but it is so the parents can stimulate urination and defecation. It can be difficult to determine gender at this age. Females will have a small slit for their pouch where you expect a belly button to be. Male joeys will have a small scrotal sack that is about 3 mm in diameter. It is located above the clocal extension.
It is important to remove all but one nesting area once the joey is out-of-pouch. You don't want the joey in one pouch and the parents in another.
Keep an eye and ear on the joey and make sure he is always warm. If the joey is crying, place it on top of the mother. If she does not immediately start cleaning, feeding, or placing the joey in her pouch; she may be rejecting him. If this is the case, you will need to rear the joey by hand.
If the mother is out of the pouch and the joey wanders out of the nest, place the joey on the father's back so the mother can have her feeding & play time alone. She will become frustrated if she doesn't get a break. The father should immediately carry the joey back to the nest.
Once the joey is about 5 weeks out-of-pouch, it will begin the weaning process. Make sure to have plenty of food available for the parents and joey. Around 8-10 weeks (out-of-pouch), the joey will be ready to be separated from the parents.
Example of bonding with joey:
Day 1 - 7: 5 minutes, in sight of parents
Day 8 - 14: 7-10 min., in sight of parents
Day 15 - 21: 10-15 min., near parents, not necessarily in sight
Day 22 - 28: 15-20 min.
Day 29 - 35: 20-25 min.
Day 36 - 42: 25-30 min.
Day 43 - 49: 30-45 min.
Day 50 - 56: 45-60 min.
Day 57 - 63: up to 3 hours
Day 64 onward: should be ready to be weaned completely
Hand Raising Joeys
Rejection is not the only reason you would need to hand rear a joey. There are several factors to consider. If the joey has a birth defect, or perhaps the mother is sick, the mother Sugar Glider may have died or the mother is suffering from low milk supply and is simply unable to feed her joey; you will have to take on the responsibility of hand raising the joey. It is a daunting task but has been done successfully by keepers of every experience level. Of course the joey may be too young or have an unforeseen birth defect and may be unable to survive. These things cannot be helped or prevented, and no matter how hard you try sometimes, the joey simply won’t make it. This is not your fault, it comes with the territory of breeding any species.
Rejection usually occurs during the first two weeks of the joey being out-of-pouch. It may be difficult to determine whether or not the mother is rejecting the joey but here are some warning signs:
- Joey spends a lot of time crying
- Joey leaves the nest and is not immediately returned by either the mother or father
- Joey has scratches or bite marks
- Joey is left alone in the nest for longer than 10-15 mins
- Signs of dehydration
If you are noticing any of these signs it is probably time to intervene. Joeys are easily susceptible to hypothermia. A premature joey may become hypothermic within 5-10 mins of being left unattended. It is important to regulate their body temperature because they are unable to do so at this age.
If the mother is still taking care of the joey, but it is crying a lot and attempting to leave the nest, you should begin to supplement and feed the joey 3-4 times a day.
To check for dehydration, lift the skin between the shoulder blades to create a tent. Once released the skin should go back into place, immediately. If it stays tented or goes back into place slowly, the joey is dehydrated. You will need to begin administering Pedialyte for the next 24 hours.
You will need to call your vet for some supplies. These supplies include a 0.5cc syringe or Feeding Tips, plus a 1.0cc syringe, Unflavored Pedialyte, Distilled Water, and the formula replacement.
To prevent bloating, you will need to gradually increase the amount of formula you add to the pedialyte over a period of four days:
Day 1: 25% replacement formula, 75% Pedialyte
Day 2: 50% replacement formula, 50% Pedialyte
Day 3: 75% replacement formula, 25% Pedialyte
Day 4: 100% replacement formula
Feeding Reference Guide
- Age of Joey
- Amount to Feed
- Newly OOP - 2 weeks OOP
- 0.3 - 0.5 cc's
- Every 1-2 hours
- 2 wks OOP - 4 wks OOP
- 0.5 - 1.0 cc's
- Every 2-3 hours
- 4 wks OOP - 6 wks OOP
- 1.0 - 2.0 cc's
- Every 3-4 hours
- 6 wks OOP - 8 wks OOP
- 2.0 - 4.0 cc's
- Begin Weaning
While feeding the joey, you have to keep it warm. It is suggested that you microwave a small fleece pouch or piece of fabric and wrap the joey in it. You may have to periodically reheat the blanket. Once the joey is warm ,you can put a small drop of formula on his mouth, this should stimulate him to eat. If he does not lick it off, try rubbing it around his mouth a little, taking care not to get any in the nose. Liquid in the nose may cause aspiration.
After feeding you must stimulate the joeys cloaca in order to encourage defecation and urination. To do this you can moisten a q-tip and gently rub it on the cloaca. Urine is clear, feces will be brownish-orange. If the stool is loose you need to seek out veterinary care immediately. Often times, rejected joeys will be dehydrated, so it may take a full 24 hours before it will urinate. You will have to do this until the joey is about 5 weeks old.
Housing Rejected Joeys
The joey needs to remain warm at all times. To accomplish this, you must house him in an incubator. You need to ensure the temps remain between 86° F - 88° F. The humidity should be maintained between 60-80% at all times.
It is strongly recommended that you carry the joey around with you as often as possible. You can use a small carrying pouch placed inside of your shirt. This will give the developing joey the much needed emotional support it needs until it is old enough to be housed with another glider.
Health - Wellness
While sugar gliders are typically hardy, there are a number of ailments to look out for. Always find an exotic vet that treats sugar gliders before you bring one into your family. Make sure to schedule yearly check-ups for your Glider; preventive medicine is the best medicine. The majority of illnesses listed below are the direct result of a poor diet, which has comprised the required nutritional intake of the glider. In order to ensure the best possible health for your sugar glider, you need to feed a varied and balanced diet. Be sure to review the diet section of this care sheet for information on the (captive) dietary needs of Petaurus breviceps.
Listed below are the most common problems sugar gliders and their humans encounter:
Malnourishment Result of poor diet. Symptoms include: Body tremors, hair loss, low activity levels, depression.
Obesity Poor diet. Bring your glider to the vet for a nutrition plan to get your slider down to a healthy size.
Nutritional Osteodystrophy (Metabolic Bone Disease) Not enough calcium or D vitamin.
Traumatic Injuries Trauma and trauma related injuries are the most frequently treated medical presentations in Marsupials. In a situation where a sugar glider has suffered from a fall, vet care should be sought out immediately. Damage to the ribs and lungs can be life threatening.
Oftentimes, sugar gliders will fight for dominance. When this occurs, the glider will be left with wound(s) on the shoulders, back of the neck, and more rarely, the head. The wounded glider should be separated from the other and housed in a hospital enclosure. You must trim their nails to prevent further tearing. Cleaning the wound is absolutely necessary since, like humans, sugar gliders harbor bacteria in their mouths that can cause infection. To clean the wound you should use a sterile saline solution and pat dry. Apply an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin; without the pain reliever. Alternatively you can use Silver Sulfadiazine.
Once the wound has been cleaned, you should call your vet. Wounds that have not been treated by a vet, no matter how severe, run the risk of becoming infected. Bite wounds can also occur during mating. Dominance wounds will be healed externally before fully healing internally. This is why the wounded glider must be separated from it's cage mate until fur starts to grow back.
Dental Disease Can be avoided with proper diet that includes fresh insects. The hard exoskeleton of the insects helps to clean the teeth. Make sure your vet does a dental check when you bring your glider in for their yearly check up.
Paracloacial Gland Impaction A sugar Gliders anal glands should never be expressed if they become impacted. The cloaca is a multi purpose opening and expressing anything into it can cause severe infection. Typical treatment includes antibiotics or removal of the glands if impaction becomes a chronic issue for the glider.
Respiratory Diseases usually a secondary infection. Can be caused by improper substrate (wood shavings as a substrate) , could be bacterial, fungal, viral, parasites, yeast, neoplasia or trauma. Must be diagnosed by a vet.
Retrobulbar Abscess This is simply an abscess of the tooth. Surgery is usually required to remove the tooth and clean the abscess. Treatment includes a round of antibiotics.
Ear Margin Canker The main culprit is low humidity or dehydration. This should be treated by a vet. Symptoms may include swelling around the ear, dry, cracked or damaged ears.
Failure to Thrive Causes could be that it was rejected by the parents or the mother has a low milk supply.
Infertility Infertility is associated with the Mosaic color morph. Infertility is usually only exhibited in males.