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Sugar Gliders: Adorable Pets That Need Serious Care
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Sugar Gliders: Adorable Pets That Need Serious Care

Charlie, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 10, 2020

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Sugar gliders are adventurous and acrobatic marsupials that are popular as pets. Using patagia — wing-like, stretchy membranes — and impressive aerial navigation skills, these Australia natives can glide the length of a football field. These adorable creatures might be similar in size to hamsters, but they live much longer, about 10 to 15 years, and require much more time from their owners and knowledgeable care. Sugar gliders are extremely rewarding to keep as pets, but they need an owner with a willingness to commit time, self-education, and effort to their care.

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Sugar gliders are social creatures

Sugar glider lived in continent Austen lick pigphoto / Getty Images

Most glider experts agree that you should never keep one sugar glider on their own. These highly social animals need to be kept in a group of at least two. One sugar glider living alone tends to get depressed and can even die from the stress of loneliness. If you have one sugar glider, provide them with at least 4 hours of daily interaction. Sugar gliders living in a group will keep each other company and demand less of a daily time investment from their owner.

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Bonding with a sugar glider

Petting sugar glider in hand kimberrywood / Getty Images

A sugar glider needs you to handle them often so that they get used to you. When you first bring one home, it’s best to leave them mostly alone to get used to their new cage. You can feed them a tasty treat, like a mealworm, through the bars.

Once they are comfortable taking food from your hand, you can try to pet the sugar glider. Grooming is an important part of socialization among gliders, and they’ll accept petting as a form of bonding. Eventually, you can pick up the glider and take it out of its cage.

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Setting up a home for sugar gliders

A young sugar glinder in the bird cage. kimberrywood / Getty Images

A sugar glider’s cage is their refuge where they go to nest and sleep. Keep their cage in a quiet place and off the floor. Gliders love to climb, and they appreciate a tall cage with multiple levels. Use a substrate to line the cage and catch droppings, such as newspaper pages or cat litter, that you can change out daily. Make sure to also provide branches and perches for the gliders to climb on and enjoy.

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Nests for sugar gliders

Sugar glider sits on arm Ploychan / Getty Images

In the wild, sugar gliders seek out hollows in trees for safety. In captivity, they’re happy to nest in a wooden birds’ nest box with straw or wood shavings to use as nesting material inside. Gliders also like to sleep in fleece-like fabric pouches. Avoid using any material that a glider could snag its nails on. Scrub out nest boxes and launder fabric pouches occasionally to keep them clean and safe for your pet.

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Give your sugar glider 24/7 access to food

Sugar glider eating eugenesergeev / Getty Images

Gliders are insectivorous omnivores that need lots of variety in their diets. In general, keep pellet food available 24/7 and give them fresh food in the evening. Sugar gliders eat a very low-fat diet in the wild and shouldn’t be given too much fatty food in captivity. The type of hanging bowls designed for bird cages works well for feeding sugar gliders. Place food and water sources high up in the cage, away from the floor.

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A balanced diet for sugar gliders

Sugar glider snuggles in towel songphon / Getty Images

The sugar glider’s natural diet is complex and challenging to recreate at home. In addition to dry pellet-based food, they need plenty of fresh protein sources and fruit and vegetables. Experts recommend feeding gliders insects, fresh produce, nuts, and a special blend called Leadbeater’s mixture. You can blend up this mixture of fruit juice, honey, cooked egg, chicken puree, and other ingredients, then freeze it in ice cube trays.

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Training a sugar glider

Sugar glider snuggling in towel James D. Morgan / Getty Images

Sugar gliders can’t really be trained to do tricks like a dog, but they can learn some simple behaviors if you reward them incrementally along the way. They also can’t be potty trained, but if you give them time to relieve themselves after they wake up for the evening before you put them in your pocket, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding an accident. Some glider owners like to teach their glider to “fly” a certain course through the home, using small treats to encourage them to learn the route.

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8

Sugar glider behavior

Sugar glider tongue out DavidCallan / Getty Images

Cute and cuddly sugar gliders aren’t afraid to speak up — they’re surprisingly vocal. They bark, chirp, crab, and whistle to communicate with other gliders and their owners. They’re mostly gentle to humans, but they might bite in self-defense if you provoke them. They typically give a vocal crabbing warning to let you know they’re upset or annoyed before they resort to biting.

Nocturnal and energetic at night, sugar gliders love to snuggle up in one of their owner’s pockets to sleep the day away. They’re also the perfect size for pocket snoozing, measuring about 6 inches long with a weight of 5 ounces.

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Sugar glider routine care

Sugar glider on branch Mark Newman / Getty Images

Sugar gliders don’t need bathing or brushing to maintain their luxurious coats. The main thing glider owners need to watch for with grooming is their nails. If a glider's nails get too long, they can get snagged on fabrics, potentially resulting in injury to the glider. Otherwise, basic care involves keeping the cage fresh and clean. Change out the cage lining every day since it can get stinky fast. Remove any leftover fresh food every morning, wash food bowls, and change out old water with fresh.

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Sugar glider health concerns

Sugar glider on green background eugenesergeev / Getty Images

Sugar gliders tend to be healthy, but they can have health issues like any other pet. A common issue for them is stress; gliders that are lonely or mishandled can turn to self-mutilation. Watching out for injuries is important because sugar gliders are very curious and active animals. Glider-proof your home to keep them out of danger.

Metabolic bone disease results in lameness and occurs when a glider doesn’t get enough calcium in its diet. Another concern is diarrhea because it can dangerously dehydrate a glider very fast.

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