Sugar gliders are marsupials, and are from either New Guinea or Australia. The scientific name is Petaurus breviceps and there are several subspecies, depending on where they are from. Of course, all marsupials possess a pouch in which the young develop.
Sugar gliders are nocturnal, arboreal creatures. They are very social animals that usually live in groups of 6-10 animals. Males have well developed scent glands, one on the forehead, and one on the upper chest (throat), which appear as bald patches. The unhaired areas can appear quite obvious, and the inexperienced owner often mistakes these glands for ringworm or some other skin disease.
One of the most common conditions that we see in practice with sugar gliders is related to diet. The diet of wild sugar gliders includes saps and gums from eucalyptus and acacia trees, nectar and pollen, manna and honeydew and a wide variety of insects and arachnids. Their diet varies with the seasons. They are primarily insectivorous in the spring and summer months, and during the winter months, they feed on gum from the eucalyptus and acacia trees, as well as sap and sugar excretions from the trees and sap-sucking insects. While sugar gliders do like fruits, nuts, and grains, these are not a major part of their natural diet.
The captive diet should include nectar, insects and other protein sources, some vegetables and limited fruits (fruits often have a reversed calcium:phosphorus ratio, which is not healthy for them). Protein is very important, and various protein sources should be offered, including insects (gut-loaded mealworms and crickets), eggs, pinky mice, lean meat and commercial protein sources (such as high quality cat food and monkey chow). Carbohydrate sources should include sap and nectar, and offering nectar, honey and artificial nectar products are encouraged. Commercial products include prepared lory diets and Gliderade, from Avico, Fallbrook, CA. Commercial sugar glider and insectivore diets are available and should be included in the diet.
It has been recommended that sugar gliders should be offered 50 % Leadbeater's mixture and 50 % insectivore/carnivore diet, and a small amount of other foods as treats. Sugar gliders are not very discriminating and will usually consume whatever is offered, and they will also pick out favored foods, almost guaranteeing an unbalanced diet.
Blend egg until homogenized, gradually add honey/water, then vitamin powder, then baby cereal, blend after each addition until smooth. Keep refrigerated (3 days maximum) or freeze in portions for later use.
Malnutrition is commonly seen in sugar gliders as a result of misinformation regarding dietary requirements. Obesity may occur due to a high-fat diet and lack of exercise.
Nutritional osteodystrophy (metabolic bone disease, nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism) occurs as a result of an incorrect calcium:phosphorus ratio. This commonly presents as hindleg weakness, and may progress to paralysis, unless the diet is corrected and treatment is instituted by a qualified exotic animal vet. Because sugar gliders are nocturnal, their ultraviolet light requirements are unknown, but by providing a sugar glider with a full-spectrum ultraviolet light may prove helpful in preventing this problem. Patients identified in the early stages of the disease may benefit from cage rest, parenteral calcium, vitamin D3 supplementation and dietary correction. Severe cases may be treated with calcitonin-salmon to more quickly supply calcium to deficient bones. Diets should contain approximately 1% calcium, 0.5% phosphorus and 1500 IU/kg vitamin D on a dry weight basis. Gut loading insects with calcium is important for sugar gliders.
Before acquiring a sugar glider, please take the time to adequately research husbandry, care and diet, and make sure that you can commit to providing your new pet with the best diet available, to prevent nutritional disorders.
Copyright © 2006 Margaret A. Wissman, D.V.M., D.A.B.V.P.
All Rights Reserved
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