by Sam Barron
Sugar gliders have captivating little faces, friendly dispositions, and can live up to 15 years in captivity.
Sugar gliders are quickly becoming one of the most popular pocket pets in the United States. Adorable little marsupials that hail from places like Australia and Indonesia, sugar gliders have captivating little faces, friendly dispositions, and can live up to 15 years in captivity. While they make wonderful little pets, sugar gliders are still considered exotic animals and require specialized feeding, in order to keep them happy and healthy. Are you interested in bringing one of these cute little fellows into your home? Keep reading to learn about the dietary and nutritional need of the sugar glider.
In the wild, sugar gliders dine upon a wide variety of foods and their digestive systems have adapted to this. Active little omnivores (or animals that eat both plant and animal proteins), these adorable marsupials require a diet that is not only high energy, but is also very high in protein. In the wild, a sugar glider will not only dine upon nectar and sap, but also fruits, insects and small animals, such as baby birds. In order to maintain a healthy sugar glider, it is therefore necessary to imitate not only his natural habitat as closely as possible, but also a similar diet.
Due to the fact that sugar gliders are high energy animals, they should be fed a diet that is high in carbohydrates and sugars, but low in fats. Diets comprised of 20-30% fruit, 40% vegetables, 30-50% protein, and 15% carbohydrates work well for sugar gliders and will help keep your pet free from nutritional-based health problems. The use of calcium and vitamin additives is highly suggested and will help to balance out your pet’s nutritional needs.
Sugar gliders are very discriminating diners and, given the opportunity, will develop a picky palate. While we often think of this as a cute, human-like behavior, it can be potentially dangerous to your velvety little friend. Sugar gliders who are allowed to pick and choose what they will, and will not, eat often fall into nutritional ruts and can miss out on well-balanced meals, because their well-meaning humans avoid giving them healthy stuff, in favor of the yummy treats they prefer.
Variety is the key to healthy sugar glider nutrition, as it is for almost all animals and it is often a good idea to either blend your sugar glider’s foods, to ensure that she gets a good balanced meal, or to resort to certain meals on certain days of the week (ie: Mondays are vegetable day). Quite often, the blender method is the best route to take because, not only does it allow you to mix in things that your sugar glider wouldn’t eat on his own (such as his calcium or vitamin additives), but excess, unused portions, can also be placed in a Ziplock baggie and frozen for future use.
Healthy foods to add to your sugar glider’s diet include broccoli, corn, sweet potatoes, sugar snap peas and carrots in the vegetable group. Most fruits are good for sugar gliders, with the exception of citrus, which can cause diarrhea, and bananas, which most sugar gliders seem to dislike. Figs are a wonderful fruit for them, high in protein, although they can become pricey when out of season. Another good protein source is to add hard boiled egg to your glider?s meal. Offer your sugar glider his food late in the afternoon or early in the evening and remove the dish first thing in the morning. Fruits that have set out all night not only run the risk of collecting fruit flies, but also grow bacteria at an alarming rate; all uneaten portions should be thrown away and the dish should be thoroughly cleaned for use the next night.
Low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese are both safe to offer your sugar glider in small amounts (generally no more than 1 tablespoon per week). These are excellent sources of calcium and sugar gliders usually seem to enjoy eating these tasty treats. Just be careful not to feed yogurt without active live cultures or yogurt that is high in fats; a diet high in fats can cause paralysis in sugar gliders.
Other good additives to a sugar gliders diet include high-protein monkey chow (which can be fed as a dry treat to nibble on during the day or moistened and mixed in with their night time feedings), baby foods (pour the excess into small ice cube trays and freeze to prevent wasting what your glider won?t eat in one sitting), and specially prepared sugar glider nectar. To maintain good protein levels, another good source of protein and calcium is to provide “shake and bake” insects; crickets and mealworms that have been placed into a plastic baggie with a generous dusting of calcium and vitamin powder, and then shaken to coat them thoroughly.
However you decide to ensure your pet’s nutritional needs are met, just make sure that you do not rely upon any one type of food to feed your sugar glider. This can serious ill effects upon your pet’s health; sugar gliders are very susceptible to health problems such as white muscle disease, hind leg paralysis, and white eyes, all of which can be prevented through proper care and nutrition. Additionally, sugar gliders that are fed an improper diet can quite often (though not always), have a strong odor about them, particularly in their urine, contributing to the belief amongst novice pet owners that these cute little marsupials “smell bad.”
Some things to avoid, when choosing sugar glider foods are candies and junk food, onions or food that has onion powder in it (these are toxic to sugar gliders and many other pets), houseplants, ferret or other animal foods (they are generally too high in fats or contain things that are not healthy for gliders), or distilled water. Also, when feeding insects to your sugar glider (or any other insectivore pets), do not catch wild insects and attempt to feed them in place of store-purchased insects. Wild insects often carry bacteria and can, quite often, have pesticides on them that can be potentially harmful to your furry little friend. Additionally, beware most foods that advertise being low-fat. Aspartame (Nutrasweet) contains phenylalanine which has been known to cause brain lesions, and saccharin has been found to produce cancer in laboratory animals. While extensive research has not been done to see if this includes sugar gliders as well, it?s generally a safe bet to avoid it and feed your pet alternative treats.
A rather obvious part of your sugar glider’s diet, yet a part that must be mentioned, is water. Sugar gliders should have access to fresh, clean water on a daily basis and should have easy access to it at all times of the day. When you first get your sugar glider, it is always a good idea to offer him not only a water bottle, but also a small cup of water, ensuring that he knows how to drink from a bottle. Continue to give him fresh water in the cup, as well, until you are sure that the water level in the bottle is decreasing, due to your glider drinking it. If deprived of water for more than a day, your sugar glider can quickly dehydrate and may die, so be sure to pay close attention and make sure he gets lots of fresh water to drink.
Sugar gliders make wonderful little pets and, with proper care and nutrition, will provide your family with loving entertainment for years to come. While it may seem overwhelming at first, responsible glider owners and breeders will be sure to tell you that it’s far easier than feeding a bunch of humans… And, quite often, far more rewarding.