Sugar gliders are a popular exotic pet due in part to their small size and cute, yet unusual, appearance. As with any other exotic pet, a potential owner should be aware of the care requirements and personality traits of sugar gliders before acquiring one.
Sugar Gliders in the Wild
Sugar gliders are marsupials, not rodents (but flying squirrels are rodents). Sugar gliders start life off in a pouch (like a kangaroo) and are called joeys when they are babies.
They hail from Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea, and live in tree tops. Their name is derived from their diet since they eat the sweet nectar and sap in the wild and from the flap of skin they have between their wrists and ankles that allows them to glide between trees. They are omnivorous, meaning they will eat both plant material and meat. Their food choices in the wild include nectar, fruit, insects and even small birds or rodents.
Sugar gliders live in social family units in the wild called colonies. This social life gives them a trait which makes them inclined to bond well with their human family but on the other hand, if they are deprived of social interaction, they will not do well (in fact they can become depressed to the point where they may die).
Sugar Glider Behavior
Sugar gliders make endearing, playful, and entertaining pets. As mentioned above they are very social, and ideally, they should be kept in pairs or groups.
Human interaction is also very important if you want a friendly and social sugar glider, especially if you decide not to have more than one. Allowing them to ride in your pocket or in their pouch that hangs around your neck during the day is an easy way to bond and interact with your sugar glider.
Sugar gliders are fairly clean and do not have complex housing requirements.
In addition, they tend to be fairly healthy (but you should make sure you have an experienced exotics vet for your sugar glider) and they can live to be 12-14 years old in captivity.
Gliders aren't great house training candidates and their nails are sharp and will scratch if they need to dig in while climbing or landing on you (keep them well trimmed). They also have sharp teeth and although they are not aggressive they will bite if they feel threatened or frightened. If they are not acquired tame and aren't used to being handled, it may take a great deal of time and patience to get your sugar glider to the point where they are cuddly.
Sugar Glider Diet
Sugar gliders have fairly strict dietary requirements. The ideal diet for a sugar glider is still a widely debated topic but more and more research has been done over the years to determine some of the best options for pet owners. Dietary imbalances from inappropriate calcium and phosphorous ratios are common but are easily prevented by feeding a proper diet.
Sugar Glider Cages
As for housing, a cage of 24 inches wide by 24 inches deep by 36 inches high is a good minimum size for a pair of sugar gliders. Bigger is always better when it comes to housing and the height is more valuable than floor space due to the gliding activity of these little marsupials. The cage wire should be no more than 1/2 inch wide and the bars should be horizontal to allow climbing. The interior of the cage should contain lots of toys, an exercise wheel, a nest box and/or a glider pouch. Branches, ropes, and ladders provide lots of opportunity for climbing and exercise.
Bonding With Your Sugar Glider
If a sugar glider is not tame when acquired, time, patience, and gentle frequent training sessions will eventually allow bonding of the glider to its owner. Gliders adore being near their owners, inside a shirt (hint, wear two shirts and let the glider hang out between them or else their claws will tickle or scratch you) or in a pocket. They will be lovely companions who view you as an equal with the proper time and care. Sugar gliders do not respond at all to punishment or domination so treat them with respect, gentleness, and understanding and you will be rewarded with a devoted companion!
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT