Sugar Glider Cleaning and Hygiene

by Lisa (with a special feature on Sugar Glider Grooming, by Arnold!)

A significant area of concern for sugar glider owners is cleaning.   We regularly get questions ranging from “Am I supposed to clean my glider?” to “Do I have to clean every single toy?” to “Why does my gliders‘ habitat still smell after I clean?”…and everything in between!

Before we get to the actual cleaning part, we thought it would be helpful to first review some important facts about sugar glider grooming, “housekeeping” and the main causes of odors.  Another  point is to realize there are ways to help control odors that don’t rely on time-consuming and exhausting cleaning rituals.

It is important to note that it is not possible to eliminate 100% of odors.  By definition, keeping a pet means you are likely to have at least some mild levels of odors from time to time, despite regular cleanings.  A good example is dogs, which represent the most commonly domesticated pet in America.  Despite being housetrained AND receiving regular baths or other grooming rituals, dogs are still not “100% odor-free” all of the time.  Since the easiest place to start this discussion is by addressing the topic of sugar glider grooming, what better way to open our discussion than with an editorial from the humorous and wise Arnold himself?!

Sugar Glider Grooming, by Arnold:

Crikey, folks…Mum just pulled me away from a second dinner to write a lesson on “groomin’ yer fuzzbutts”.  Most of youz probly know about those “Books for Dummies”.  Well, this article is kinda like that, except methinks we should call it “Groomin’ for Hoomans” – yuk yuk!

First up, we suggies aren’t dirty or smelly animules.  In cat, eerrrrr, “in fact”, Mum often sayz we gliders are similar to cats, who do a nice job of groomin’ themselves.  Well, not only dat, but we suggies also do a most excellent job with groomin’ our playmates too.  So take that, ya “all for me” cats!

Never heard a hooman say that suggies smell like roses!  But unless yer a hooman with “super-duper smellin’ powers”, yer probly not gonna smell much odor on females, neutered males or young gliders, even when ya hold one up close!  More mature, un-neutered males have a stronger, musky smell, and their tinkles smell more than other suggies.  Ya may be able to “wash away” that smell away temporarily, but they’re purty good at making new pee-pees quick!

But ya just don’t need to bathe yer gliders with soap and water.  In fact, we gliders don’t want you bathing us ‘cuz detergents can dry out our handsome skins and coats.  And since we don’t much like water, you could end up getting bit, and it won’t be a “love bite”!  Since some humans just like their suggies to have a “fresh scent”, they can use Sugar Glider Dry Shampoo, which is safe, quick and easy.  Plus we suggies don’t mind.  Once a week, Mum puts a li’l on a toothbrush and gives me a soft brushin’.  Melikes those spa treatments – can you say “OOOHHHMMM”!  Anyhoo, gots to get back to the grub. Hope you enjoyed yer lesson on Groomin for Hoomans!

Love Arnie (aka, Mr. Clean)

What Causes the Odors?

Wow, Arnold’s a hard act to follow. Many thanks to our favorite glider for his contribution on glider grooming!

While our fuzzy friends are quite adept at cleaning themselves, they’re not as efficient at housekeeping.  Sugar gliders toss their food and potty in their habitat, which is the root cause of the majority of odors.  Specifically, the “bad bacteria” buildup from the combination of food splatters, urine and fecal droppings result in most of those stinky odors we’re so frequently asked about.  The major exception is the odor from the musk of intact males.  Clearly, some people are more sensitive to this musky smell than others, but the only remedy for eliminating this particular odor is to have the male neutered.

To alleviate some of the food splatters, you can experiment with feeding your gliders lower in the cage, or try placing a heavier dish in the bottom center of the cage.  Personally, I don’t have an elaborate setup for feeding.  I just use stainless steel food dishes clipped up high on the side of the cage, and then first thing each morning, I wipe off splatters to prevent messy, smelly buildups from occurring.

Remember, since we feed many fresh foods to our suggies, there is the potential for spoilage if you don’t regularly wipe up food splatters. Allowing food messes to buildup not only causes odors, but also presents potential health hazards.  It does not take a lot of time to wipe up food splatters and leftovers each morning, but it does require a consistent approach.

And then, of course, there’s everyone’s least favorite subject: The Daily Droppings!  As sugar glider owners, we know when our suggies gotta go, they just go!  We also know urine and feces droppings are full of bacteria that leave behind a very unpleasant smell.  So as part of your morning wipe-down, we recommend you at least wipe down the cage bars, since it can be difficult to see where tinkles have occurred. And it is also helpful to remove visible droppings as well.

In total, this process should not take more than one to two minutes per day.  But again, consistency is key.

Cleaning Methods

There are many different approaches to cleaning, and several schools of thought on what works best.  While we can’t cover every possible method for cleaning, we’ve grouped cleaners into two categories:

1) Natural Cleaners. These products generally don’t contain  hazardous compounds or don’t contain enough to be denied the “Natural” label as defined by the Natural Products Association (95 percent natural excluding water).  But while many of these products do clean well, they do not suppress the growth of bacteria responsible for causing odors.  We feel the best option is natural products with the ability to target odor-causing bacteria while leaving healthy bacteria in place.  Over time, this approach provides a cumulative effect in helping prevent re-growth of odor-causing bacteria, ultimately providing a layer of protection against odors.

2) Detergent and / or Chemical Cleaners.  A more traditional category of cleansers includes bleach, chemical and / or detergent-based cleaners, which often contain irritants.  When using these cleaners, it is important to rinse thoroughly to ensure removal of potential irritants to skin and nasal linings.  These cleaners are designed to remove all bacteria strains – both good and bad.  But you generally want to keep the good bacteria around to maintain a healthy balance, and from a practical standpoint, some people simply can’t take their cages outside to hose them off properly.

Here at SunCoast, we have experimented with all of the above methods, but our preference is the first method.  Our weekly and daily cleaning processes are as follows:

1) Weekly: We use the Sugar Glider Naturals’ two-step process. Step one is a complete “wipe down” of cage bars, cage pan and toys withCage and Toy Wash.  Step two is a follow-up application of Cage & Toy Shield on the same items.  Also, before inserting the clean cage pan back into the cage, we line it with clean newspaper.  Then, we dab and wipe Cage Wash over the clean newspaper to help prevent odors.  Both of these products are 100% natural (except the water); Cage Wash suppresses the growth of the bacteria that cause odors and Cage Shield makes it easy to wipe gunk off surfaces, which is critical to the next step, the Daily Cleaning.

2) Daily: This process consists of three quick steps: 1st: Remove leftover fresh foods, 2nd: Wipe off visible food spills and urine with a clean, water-dampened cloth (we found microfiber cloths work best so far), 3rd: Remove droppings with a paper towel.

Next month, we’ll get into more details about ways to clean specific types of items, like those with intricate parts, corners and pieces. We’ll also review the importance of “pre-treating” new items to prevent odors, talk about ways to clean items already impregnated with odors and also share some tips and tricks on expediting the entire cleaning process.  After all, the less time you spend cleaning, the more time you get to spend playing with your social suggies!

Aflatoxin in Insects?

by Lisa

We have always received questions on whether insects such as mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers may potentially cause aflatoxicity in sugar gliders.

According to the USDA: “Aflatoxin is a cancer-causing poison produced by certain fungi in or on foods and feeds, especially in field corn and peanuts.  These are probably the best known and most intensively researched mycotoxins in the world.  Aflatoxins have been associated with various diseases, such as aflatoxicosis in livestock, domestic animals, and humans throughout the world.  Many countries try to limit exposure to aflatoxin by regulating and monitoring its presence on commodities intended for use as food and feed.  The prevention of aflatoxin is one of the most challenging toxicology issues of present time.”

And this is one reason why we offer the “cooked in the can” insects from ZooMed; they are free of Aflatoxin risk.  We decided to ask the biologists in ZooMed’s Research and Development department for more information on this topic, which we feel is important to share:

1)  ZooMed’s insects are sourced from a farm located in Indonesia, where corn is not a staple.  Insects are never fed corn, which is the main source of one of the particular molds that causes the toxin

2)  ZooMed performs regular testing to specifically check for a variety of molds, including those that generate Aflatoxins, and have never come back with any traces.  Additionally, ZooMed does two to three times MORE testing than what is required by law, which provides peace of mind and ensures the integrity of their products

3)  During the re-sorting and canning process, ZooMed uses a heating process that ensures no molds can survive

Now, we know lots of people like to feed live bugs to there sugar gliders and we certainly have no problems with that!  

But if you’re not a live bug kind of person, you can be assured that by feeding your gliders ZooMed worms, crickets and / or grasshoppers, you are getting a safe product that’s free from Aflatoxins.  

Once you open a can, Zoomed and SunCoast recommend some common sense steps to a good bug meal.  First, it is important to replace the plastic cap and then refrigerate the can after opening.  Leaving a can opened at room temperature (or warmer) encourages mold formation.  Secondly, use up the contents of the can within a week to ensure ultimate safety and product integrity.

Do Sugar Gliders Need Food Available Around the Clock? 

by Lisa

We frequently get asked whether sugar gliders need to eat during the day.  Here at SunCoast, we see all sorts of behaviors when it comes to eating preferences.  But as with most things, there is no “One Size Fits All” answer to the question of whether you should leave food available for your sugar glider during the day.

In general, the groups of sugar gliders most likely to need access to food during the day include those with specific nutritional needs related to their current health status and / or life cycle stage: sugar gliders who are babies, breeders, elderly or sick.  In our 11 years in the breeding business, experience has shown that roughly 90% of all of our sugar gliders do, in fact, eat throughout the day.  And while the majority of our sugar gliders are in breeding stages, many of our other (non-breeding) gliders also like to eat during the day.

With the exception of hunting animals in the wild with limited access to food, most animals do not eat once daily.  Dog owners typically feed their dogs twice daily.  Cats tend to be “grazers”, which is actually the perfect word to describe the ideal eating scenario for mammals.  Grazing on a healthy balance of foods throughout the day is a healthier option for everyone, including humans, because it helps prevent a single daily “calorie overload” and also aids in stabilizing blood sugar levels.

When it comes to leaving your sugar glider access to food during the day, the most important factors are nutritional balance and safety.  If you choose to leave food out for your gliders each day, be sure to choose a food with balanced nutrition (not a snacky food) that also will not spoil.  Here at SunCoast, we leave out a feeding cup each day with Wholesome Balance, which was specifically developed with the proper balance of nutritional ratios to maintain a sugar glider’s optimal health.  It is animal protein based, low in fat, with the proper balance of vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates.

If you don’t normally leave food out during the day, it may take a few days before your sugar gliders become wise to the fact there’s some grub available.  Just like humans, each sugar glider is unique, so while some may immediately start grazing throughout the day, others may take longer.  We find in most cases, sugar gliders that never touch a staple food are being overfed the fresh foods.  If you offer excess food, gliders will eat the preferred items and throw off the intended nutritional balance of the diet.

Many people talk about how “no scientific studies have been done on glider diets”.  That’s simply not true.  Here is a clinical study comparing 3 popular diet approaches for sugar gliders (SunCoast supplied the animals for the study):

Comparison of Sugar Glider Diets

Portion control is important as well as nutritional balance.  Many people who are feeding primarily fresh foods are pretty much winging it on their own insofar as nutritional balance is concerned.  According to many doctors, this can create an unhealthy situation for sugar gliders.  Using a high quality balanced pellet food as the mainstay of the diet with the fresh foods used as the enrichment part of the diet helps to create a much healthier and stable long term balance.  

There’s much more to cover on this topic, so we will continue this discussion next month, including feeding recommendations from a wide variety of veterinary and nutritional experts specializing in exotic animal nutrition and husbandry.

‘Til next time, in good health for you and your gliders, we sign off in appreciation of all of you who share great glider adventures with us!