Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are originally from Australia, Tasmania, Papua-New Guinea, and Indonesia. They have been bred in captivity in the USA and UK for around 15 years. They are part of the marsupial infraclass and their closest relatives include possums, koalas, wallabies, and kangaroos. The name "sugar glider" comes for their preference for sweet foods such as nectar and their ability to glide through the trees, using a membrane similar to a flying squirrel. Sugar gliders are nocturnal marsupials which mean that they raise their young in a pouch and sleep during the day. They are very small mammals, averaging about the size of a hamster. Adults weigh between 4 and 5 ounces, whereas babies are no larger than a grain of rice at birth.
Sugar gliders are often mistaken for rodents, as their size and appearance is similar to the popular domesticated hamster. Due to this, some people, due to lack of knowledge, attempt to keep sugar gliders much as they would a hamster but sugar gliders being exotics are much more complicated to care for.
In the wild, Sugar Gliders live in the tree canopy and rarely venture to the ground. Sugar gliders can be very vocal, depending on the individual. The sounds they make include; crabbing (frightened/grumpy), barking (attention), popping (happy), and crying (usually younger ones looking for Mum). They are social animals, living in colonies of around 10-15 members of mixed gender. Due to this, sugar gliders should never be kept alone, as although sugar gliders bond very strongly to their owners, human company cannot replace that of their own kind. They also rely on each other to keep them well groomed, for warmth and for play.
Sugar gliders can live up to 15 years in captivity, but generally live for less in the wild. They are a rather complicated pet to keep healthy in captivity, as they need a rather large environment compared to other animals of similar size and plenty of stimulation in the form of interaction, foraging activities or toys. Sugar Gliders are prone to self-mutilation, over grooming, discolouration, and depression if not cared for properly, and due to this, it is very important to research thoroughly before committing to buying any exotic pet.
The most complicated part of caring for a sugar glider is their diet. Sugar gliders need fresh fruit and vegetables, a source of protein, and supplements every day to remain healthy. They also need access to fresh water and to be kept warm. Sugar gliders, being native to Australia, are not well adapted to colder temperatures and therefore their enclosure or their environment needs to be kept between 20 to 32°C. This will prevent them from going into a hibernation-like state called torpor, which can be fatal if the glider is not treated in time.
What are they like as pets?
Sugar gliders, compared to other animals of their size, really enjoy human interaction. When purchased from a reputable breeder, sugar gliders are used to human contact and seek interaction with their owners. Unlike more common small pets, sugar gliders will actively come to you for attention.
They are very cheap to keep once you have gotten the original set up. It costs me about £10 a month to feed my sugar gliders, which includes fresh fruit and vegetables as well as all necessary supplements.
They are nocturnal animals, so will be happily sleeping away during the day whilst you're at school or work. This means they will not get anxious being left alone for long periods like a dog or cat might.
Their small size means they're easily portable. Sugar gliders can travel with you wherever you go providing A. It is warm outside and B. You have a suitable pouch with a zip. When indoors, gliders are quite happy to take a nap inside your clothing and are content to stay there until you have to turf them out. I've spent many days with them down my shirt and I've taken them to pubs, doctors appointments, and even grocery shopping. Note: NEVER take sugar gliders out of their pouch outside or in an unsafe environment, they are VERY fast and can scare easily.
Sugar gliders make extremely good therapy pets, especially for depression and anxiety. They are comforting, soft, and very happy to keep you company. They're also extremely entertaining to watch as they're like little acrobats and the more toys you give them, the better show they'll put on.
Sugar gliders live a lot longer than most other small pets, around 15 years in captivity which is about the same as a dog.
They are an easy conversation starter and your house will be the local tourist attraction. I've had various contractors, even paramedics come into my house and the first thing they ask is what's in the vivarium and can they see them.
They are impossible to house train; they will pee/poo on you. A lot.
Price. The price for getting your first two gliders and the set up is around £400 or more. Heating bills in the winter, unless you have some other way to keep them warm, can get rather pricey too.
Some sugar gliders simply do not like people. Not one sugar glider is the same, just like any other pet. You can help ensure your gliders are friendly by purchasing them through a trusted breeder. Trusted breeders and other helpful information can be found on the Sugar Glider UK Facebook group.
They are a lot of effort, especially considering their size. Sugar gliders require a specialist diet which cannot be bought in a shop. This means you have to make it by hand, using various fruits and vegetables and supplements. They need to be stimulated, so toys and forage items need to be purchased and swapped over often. Sugar gliders should also be handled as often as possible for around an hour a day.
Being nocturnal animals, they make awful pets for children. Sugar gliders can wake up any time between 6pm and midnight. Mine are rarely up before 11pm. This can be a blessing or a god send depending on your routine, so it's largely up to individual circumstance whether this is a pro or con.
Other pets, especially cats and dogs, are likely to eat them. It can be difficult to keep them away from each other and accidents do happen. No matter how soft and stupid your cat or dog is, please do not try to introduce them to your gliders.
It's difficult to go on holidays, as you can't take them with you like you would a dog. Many "professional" pet sitters have never heard of sugar gliders, never mind actually having experience caring for them. Unless you have responsible family or friends near by, it can be very difficult finding someone to care for them when you're away.
Sugar gliders' claws can leave shallow scratches when their claws get too long. This isn't really an issue, but the bacteria they have on their claws can irritate the skin causing an itchy, mildly painful rash. For this reason, it is important to keep their claws quite short.
Overall, I think sugar gliders make fantastic pets for those willing to put the effort in. They are not the kind of pet that can be purchased spontaneously, as a lot of research and preparation goes into keeping them healthy and happy. As previously mentioned, a good place to start is the Sugar Glider UK Facebook group, as this is how I became familiar with sugar glider care. For anyone seriously considering sugar gliders as a pet, I would suggest doing a lot of research before committing yourself but they are 100% worth it.