Sugar Glider Ick

Sugar glider joey
Sugar glider joey. Getty Images/Kristina Parchomchuk

Sugar gliders are known for their odd noises, sweet loving appetites, and plush fur but a disease (or more appropriately a syndrome) has been popping up in these marsupials more and more often. Sugar glider "ick" is the common name for this syndrome that has many symptoms but is recognizable due primarily to the change in coat appearance in gliders that are affected. It is called ick because of the "icky" appearance of the fur.

What is Sugar Glider Ick?

Ick (not to be confused with freshwater fish ick/ich) is the name for a syndrome that causes a variety of symptoms. Diarrhea, a lack of appetite (anorexia), oozing from the pouch, and primarily a sticky feel, especially on the belly of a sugar glider, resulting in matting of the fur and an unkempt appearance, are all seen in gliders with ick. Death can occur in untreated sugar gliders due to the anorexia.

What Causes Sugar Glider Ick?

It is suspected that the main culprit for ick in sugar gliders is a microscopic protozoan called Simplicomonas, according to Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney. This is a parasite that lives in the intestinal tract of affected sugar gliders and is thought to be the cause for the diarrhea and poor coat quality. It is usually seen in young sugar gliders called joeys. Stress is also suspected to play a role in the cause of this disease.

How Do You Diagnose a Sugar Glider With Ick?

Fecal matter is needed in order to diagnose ick in a sugar glider.

Special testing (fecal wet mounts and fecal PCR's) by your exotics veterinarian and outside laboratories can find this parasite so your glider can be treated appropriately. Symptoms of the disease will also be taken into consideration as will groups of sugar gliders since this is a very contagious disease for colonies but many other diseases can look similar to ick (such as mastitis, malnutrition, stress, septicemia, gastroenteritis, failure to groom, etc.).

It is also important to remember that if one sugar glider has ick then it is most likely true that your entire family of sugar gliders has ick.

How is Sugar Glider Ick Treated?

Thankfully successful treatment can be accomplished by your exotics veterinarian by administering a course of a medicine that helps with the diarrhea, kills off the parasite, and prevents any secondary infection from the parasite. This medication is given in the mouth for 10-14 days in addition to subcutaneous fluid therapy (fluids injected under the skin), probiotics, and syringe feeding. Special marsupial formulas to hand feed can be purchased online from Australia otherwise many people are successful in using homemade formulas. The Leadbeater's Formula is often mixed with one part puppy replacement formula, half a part of unfiltered apple juice, calcium powder and probiotics to hand feed a sick glider. This provides extra nutrition for a sugar glider diagnosed with Simplicomonas.

Can Sugar Glider Ick Be Cured?

Yes! Many sugar glider families have been cured of ick after the proper course of treatment from their exotics vet and continued to test negative for the protozoan years later. Some individuals feel as though any sugar glider that tests positive or shows symptoms of ick should be euthanized to prevent the spread of the disease but this is unnecessary.

Ick can be cured if it is caught right away and if the treatment plans are followed by the owner. Sugar gliders that are left malnourished without being syringe fed will become dehydrated and die therefore medications, fluid therapy, and assisted feeding are all vital to the success of any glider with this syndrome. 

Where Do Sugar Gliders Get Ick?

It is not known for sure where sugar gliders get this protozoan from but we do know it is contagious from glider to glider. Some sugar gliders may simply be carriers of the disease. Handling gliders outside of your household could potentially bring this parasite into your colony as could outdoor exposure. You should always wash your hands after handling your own sugar glider or someone else's (especially if it is at a pet store or breeder's house) and understand that risks are involved if you let your sugar glider walk around outside on the ground.