Defining Sugar Glider Aggression

by Lisa

I often hear the term ” aggression” used by new keepers of gliders and I wanted to take just a moment to help define and clarify what aggression means when it comes to sugar gliders.  It is rare that I see a glider exhibit truly aggressive behavior.

I define aggression as you open the cage door and the sugar glider runs right at you, jumps on your hand, clamps down and doesn’t let go.  This is an offensive attack.

Nearly all glider behavior that I see is more defensive and fear based as opposed to aggressive.  Scared animals will try their best to ward you off and intimidate you, but they are backing away from you or in a defensive stance, either on the back legs or on their back with arms spread (to make them look bigger) and crabbing their lungs out. Defensive or scared gliders can still try to bite, but the defensive bite is a nip and back off, not a clamp and hold on.

I think it is important to make this distinction because dealing with fear puts us in a different mindset than dealing with aggression.  If we look at this interaction on a purely human level, I think you will clearly and simply understand what I am saying.

If a person comes at you aggressively, with intention to hurt you, you will have a response to either engage in this fight (anger response) or take a defensive stance like hunkering down, running away, or some other fear- based response.  In the instance of sugar gliders, or any animal for that matter, it is the same.  An aggressive animal tends to make most of us either angry or scared.  Both of these emotions are useless tools when dealing with behavior modification in animals.

If we look at this analogy again and substitute the word (and behavior) fear for aggression, then how does this scene play out?

If you encounter a person who is scared, is your response anger or fear?  Not likely.  Most people who encounter a scared person will attempt to comfort.  Now if you apply this same human behavior to your interaction with animals, your results will greatly improve in bonding with your sugar gliders.  Imagine a child who has just been frightened by a bully.  What are our feelings toward this child?

Most people would respond in a calm and comforting manner.  Sugar gliders in a new home will likely see you as a potential threat to their well being until they learn differently.  So treat them in a calm and comforting manner and you will earn their trust for a lifetime.

Behavior Changes: Could it be a teenage thing?

by Arnold

Dear Arnold:

I am a fairly new mother of 3 female sugar gliders.  They are all very social but we made the mistake since they were babies to let them run free in our living room rather than hold them!

Now when they come out they would rather run and play then stay by us.  They will jump on and off my husband and I while they are out and generally will go into the cage when its time to go to sleep (we let them out around 5 am just before their bedtime).  This has been our routine for 6 months.  In the afternoon when I get home from work I hold them in the pouch and give them apple and they would always venture out and lay on my lap in a blanket.

Suddenly, everything has changed and I don’t know why.  I have taken them to the vet twice because I am concerned about them.   Everything appears to be ok, but they are now acting as if they are afraid of us.  They will not come out of the pouch unless I take them out and when they come out to play in the morning, they look for places to hide.  I am very concerned about this.  I can’t think of anything that is different EXCEPT we placed an air machine under their cage, I wonder if that has affected them?

We also bought a large wicker basket that we keep their toys in, they like to chew it when they are out, and maybe that has affected them?

I know they didn’t like their trip to the vet but they appeared to be OK upon return, so why now the changes?  They are eating OK, no change in any of their habits; they still play in their cage at night and love to jump on the bars to wait for a treat.

The oldest of the 3 has always been very laid back since we got her, she very rarely plays and only runs when she is out, otherwise she never uses the wheel, she likes to just lay around and let her sisters groom her.  She weights more but is healthy per her vet!

So, help!  Is it too late to start holding them more to bond them? What do you think the changes are?  Do they exhibit personality changes while going through puberty?  I am lost.  I wonder if anyone else has had this happen.  Please advise.

Dear Josette,

Teenagers can be teenagers regardless of how many legs they have! Us suggies are not immune to those silly ‘ol hormone changes and many of us will challenge our “parents” when we are teenagers. Here’s the good news!  We do tend to grow out of it!

Now to yer other questions.  Is it too late to handle them more? Nope!  Like ya said, they are still young so by all means spend more time with them.  Don’t give teenagers too much freedom ‘ cuz they just might run amuck and take advantage of ya good nature!

On the air machine, me needed to get help on this one.  We have an air machine and it didn’t make us all weird or nuttin’.  But there is some health concerns about certain air machines, like ozone machines.  Seems like some peeps think those could be bad for health.  So find out the technology of yer air machine and read all the good, bad and the ugly on that type of machine on the Internet so you can make a well informed decision, as a good parent does.

And puhleeze, don’t give yer teenage gliders the car keys just yet. They may not be responsible e’nuff.  When me was a little teenage guy, me was more like Rambo than the laid back cool dude that me is today!  So hang in there and give ’em lots of love and attention.

Faces Hugs and Ear Kisses,

On Feeding Sugar Gliders Cat Food

By Lisa

Dear Lisa & Arnold,

I have a friend who after watching my sugar bugs decided that she wanted sugar gliders of her own.  I don’t know where or exactly when she got her kids, but she was having surgery and asked if I would watch them.  Somewhat surprised I agreed to watch them.  

When she came over with them I didn’t want to put them near my babies.  They smelled terrible and looked even worse.  She cheerfully plunked down a bag of cat food and said they would eat only every other day or so…. My heart fell into the pit of my stomach and I began to cry.  I told her that cat food was not Sugar Glider food… she said she didn’t have time to fuss with those “Fussy” “Expensive” diets… I said come here and within a few minutes I had two weeks of Sugar Glider meals made up.  I said you wouldn’t feed your son who is 2 years gasoline in his milk bottle, would you?

I had her gliders for 2 weeks until she could take them back.  I feed the diet right off the SunCoast web site (weekly diet version here) and her gliders started looking good.  They had round tummies and didn’t smell.  We found her a cage that suited her needs better (I gave her mine and I bought a much larger home for my fellas).  And I showed her how to use the vitamin supplements as well.

Now 4 weeks later her babies are looking “almost” as good as mine and are even growing their hair back. They were in sad shape.  Now we make sugar food for our babies together and order our sugar glider necessities together.

She didn’t think I knew what I was talking about since who ever she got her babies from told her cat food a few times a week would do fine.  So after showing her your web site and looking through ALL the newsletters and on the boards she is a believer.

Thanks for having your site out and arming me with the proof to show folks the way it should be done.  As always love to Arnold and his gang of face huggers!

Wosret & Crew
And Momma Jody too
Dear Wosret & Crew and Jody too!

It is hard for us to understand at times why so many people want to ignore good husbandry advice on how to keep their sugar gliders at optimal health.  We all hear so much about the long life span of sugar gliders, and find that many gliders do not achieve the 10-12 years of life that we hope for.  In many of these cases, it is a result of poor nutrition.  We are assuming that your friend’s gliders are relatively young and to be in the condition that you shared with us is clearly evidence of poor diet and poor housing.  All aspects of husbandry are important for their physical and mental well being.

It is also hard for us to understand how so many people still think that cat food is a good option to feed sugar gliders.  Dr C explained to all of us many years ago why cat food is a bad choice.  To simply summarize her statements, cats are carnivores and sugar gliders are omnivores, meaning that cats require higher levels of protein and a different balance in the total plan of nutrition.

When sugar gliders first hit the scenes in North America, there were no “sugar glider foods” per se.  So like many exotics, keepers of these animals will choose to feed either dog food or cat food because other options did not exist.  As sugar gliders have gained in popularity, there are options (some better than others) for feeding them a species-specific diet.  Improvising was a necessity back 12-15 years ago, but we don’t need to improvise any longer.  Life spans in captivity are also significantly longer as well as we have learned how to feed sugar gliders a balance of foods more specific to their needs.

Also, with sugar gliders being as small as they are, even feeding a top shelf, first class diet should not cost more than $10-$15 a month to feed two gliders.  I can’t even feed my two big dogs “cheap food” for that monthly budget (not that I would because keeping pets means that we have a obligation to them to give them the best we can). With any living being, including us, diet will go a long way toward increasing health and vitality, reduce disease opportunity, and extend life span as well as quality of life.

We are delighted to know that your friend has seen the light.  We appreciate you sharing this story because it so vividly depicts how profound the impact of good diet is to overall health.

Keep up the good work!

Lisa (and Arnold too!)

When Do You need to get a USDA License?

By Lisa

Dear Lisa,

I have had several gliders for a few years and have purchased products and refer new owners to your site frequently to purchase theirs.  I have a question about licensing.  I am beginning to allow my gliders to mate and would like to become a licensed breeder but do not know how.  Can you give me some instructions on what hoops I need to jump through?

Dear Brenda,

Information on licensing and how to become a sugar glider breeder is addressed in some articles here.  You have to have four breeding females before you even qualify for a USDA license.  If you have three or less females, you can sell them legally under the hobby rule.  But the USDA will not give you a license until you meet this minimum number of animals (not even if you beg).  You will need to check with your State Wildlife Commission to see what state rules apply to you, and in certain cases, you may even require a city or county license.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again.  Having a USDA license is not a “seal of approval” or statement of quality.  It is simply a statement of meeting very minimal requirements in the eyes of the law.  And the law won’t even allow for small hobby breeders to obtain the license.  Research on a breeder, referrals of previous customers, and gut instinct will tell any prospective buyer more about a company than a USDA license.

Brenda, if you feel not having the license is a hindrance to you finding good homes for your babies, then print off the section of the USDA law explaining the hobby rule, and encourage your prospects to contact your past customers so they can find out more about you as a breeder.  And to all prospective buyers, do not trust that having a USDA license alone means you are dealing with a reputable breeder. Many USDA breeders have less than shiny reputations.  Research, research, research and let your own homework help you make this important decision.

If you have more than four breeding females, then you must have a USDA license.  It is not a hard license to get, but you do need to plan ahead to get it because the process can take some time.  You will also need a veterinarian who will provide you with a written plan of veterinary care (form provided by USDA), which must be kept on site at all times and updated annually.  Many people are intimidated by the prospect of getting a USDA license, but it’s really not a big deal and the paperwork is pretty light.  The costs for the license are on a sliding scale based on your size and are also payable annually.

Hope this helps!

Your friends,
SunCoast Sugar Gliders (USDA licensed breeders)

‘Til next time, in good health for you and your sugar gliders!