Do sugar gliders learn their names or sounds? What not to feed; When you can’t get fresh food

This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the December 2012 edition of the GliderVet News.

Holy Moly!  Another year has come and gone. How time glides!

Let’s start off with our Holly Daze Greetings and best wishes for all of you two leggers and four leggers out there.  We hope this year has been good to you and that next is even better!  If you’ve still got room on your suggie-shopping list, we have a few of our new Foraging Cup toy with holiday colors left in Arnold’s store.

We still have room on our reservation list for a few folks interested in getting sugar gliders before the end of the year.  Call 727-343-8577 and we’ll tell you all about our 2012 models!  Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

This month we’ve got a few fresh topics for you and one of those topics is what to do when fresh foods are not so easy to find!  But before we get to that, can a sugar glider learn its name?  Are they like Rudolph in knowing who they are?  We’re also sending you more detailed information on “what not to feed”.  Just as its important to know what items are health beneficial, what are some of the items that can be health detrimental?  Balance, Grasshoppers, is what we strive for here at Arnold’s Ashram.

Please remember that this newsletter is intended to express the wishes of the whole sugar glider community.  Every article published in this newsletter is a result of someone just like you taking the time to write us with thoughts, ideas, stories and questions.  Send your comments to us here.

If you ever want to find earlier issues of GliderVet News, you can access our archives here.  Fun pics of sugar gliders sent in by our customers are found here.  If you are looking for sugar glider tested and approved products, check out our ever expanding store here.

Are you new to sugar gliders or just in the early stages of trying to decide if one is right for you?  Questions you can ask yourself to help  make this very important and long term decision are here.  

A very confusing area for those considering glider ownership (and for some current owners too!) is diet.  See what our vet has to say here.  And if you decide that a sugar glider (or two!) would become future members of your household, then you might want to check out Arnold’s great deals on starter kits, with or without cages.

Will a Sugar Glider Learn Its Name, or is it the
sound of the treat jar that perks the ears?

by Lisa

Call them by name!  Here Rover, come Spot … and your dogs are barreling down on you like bowling balls.  Will sugar gliders learn their names?  Ask Arnold and he will say ab-so-wootwy!  But between us, do they really know their names, or is it the sound of our voice?  I do think some sugar gliders learn their names as I have tried on many occasions to call to them one at a time.  But Arnold, you could call out Humphrey and he will come to that name too!  If he hears the “I’m calling you” sound of my voice, he comes to me.

My dog Breesy will also answer to a lot of different names.  I can call her by her real name, or Precious, or Sweety or Knucklehead … and guess what, she comes to me no matter what.

It’s a wonderful thing when you have sugar gliders that respond to the sound of your voice and will return to you when you call them. And most of us will usually call our four legged friends by their name, and many of us use a variety of names for our pets depending on our moods and their behavior.  Please don’t make me explain Knucklehead in this episode.  If you’ve had a dog, especially a puppy, sometimes that just fits.

So what do you do if your sugar gliders do not respond to you calling them?  I’ll let you in on a little secret.  You can use the Pavlov’s dog trick here.  Shake that treat jar!  I always shake the jar before I start handing out treats.  Now that sound gets them perked up, pointed in my direction and heading down like a bowling ball.  Now I’m talking about my sugar gliders, not my dogs.  Sugar gliders tend to be more cat-like in their response to humans, in many ways.  But one way you can get their attention, attendance and affection is to sound the yummy signal by shaking the treat jar first.

OK, so I’m well aware that there are those of you out there that may not use treats in jars like the dried fruits or yogurt drops found in Arnold’s store.  Well, there are alternatives.  You want to associate a sound with the promise of treats. Even if you hand feed a few mealworms, or crickets, or use licky treats, you can put items in a small jar and still make a sound.  I’ve not personally tried using a clicker, but I’ve spoken to several folks over the years that have used a clicker for a similar purpose.  Clicker training has been used for years with a wide variety of animals.  With sugar gliders, we may be using such a device only to get them to come back to human.  And for them, the device signals “if I come back to human, human gives me a yummy!”

Having the ability to have your sugar gliders return to you is a big advantage.  They can disappear into places in even small rooms that can make them very hard to find if they don’t want to be found.  I suggest you don’t give them free roam until you are having success in having them return to you.  I think like small children, best to know where they are and what they’re up to at all times.  Also, if you give them too much freedom too quickly, they tend to become more independent and not as interactive with their humans.

The fun of having them goes beyond just watching their beautifully acrobatic feats.  It also includes having them come to you, interact with you, hang out in your pouch, shirt or pocket.  So use those treats as bribes to get them to associate you with the bringer of good things.  And don’t overdo it.  Remember, treats are like dessert and dessert should only make up 5 percent of less of their total food intake for the day.  If you enjoy hand feeding them, then offer them some of their regular food by hand so they are getting a good balanced meal.

I would like to share one more last thought on licky treats.  This is not my favorite way to offer treats to my sugar gliders.  I have quite a few that taste with their teeth.  I prefer using something solid like dried fruit pieces or even fresh fruit pieces as the treat.  That way, as your sugar glider eats the treat, you don’t risk getting an unwelcome bite.  Licky treats can actually encourage some sugar gliders to bite on their human’s fingers.  If you think about how a sugar glider eats, many will begin by licking the item, then they bite into it, chew it (for a long time) and then swallow.  It’s just part of the process of eating. Sure, there are gliders that will just lick soft foods like applesauce or yogurt off your fingers, and never bite down.  If you have one inclined to use the teeth when taking treats, then don’t use licky treats!

What Not to Feed 
Excerpted from an article on general pet care

We’ve had a more glider-specific discussion on this before here, but I  found this new list on Web MD and realized many of the foods cited as bad for dogs also apply to sugar gliders.  So we’ve plucked a few of the items from this list for your consideration.  You will see some overlap from our list and this list, and just take that as more evidence that you may want to reconsider if you are offering these foods.  

Some of these may seem rather obvious to some of you, for others perhaps a surprise.  We try not to make assumptions.  If we can help one person who does not see it as obvious avoid a potential hazard, then it’s worth saying.  I can’t imagine that some of these items would ever be offered on purpose, but sugar gliders are fast when it comes to helping themselves.  Being aware of just how hazardous some things can be can help prevent an accident before it happens.


No matter how good and healthy you think the guacamole is, you shouldn’t give it to your pet.  Avocados contain a substance called persin.  It’s harmless to humans who are not allergic.  It has been found to be toxic to many animals.  Persin is in the leaves, seed, bark and leaches into the fruit.  This, combined with high fat content, means we’re suggesting you avoid this food for your sugar gliders.  If you’ve fed avocado before, please be aware that foods containing known toxins may not always create illness upon feeding.  It can take years to build up to where the toxic element becomes apparent.  If you choose to ignore this warning, please feed fruit that is farthest away from the pit to reduce the amount of persin intake.


Beer, liquor, wine, foods containing alcohol – none of it is good for your pet.  Alcohol has the same effect on animal livers and brains that it has on humans.  But it takes far less to do its damage. Just a little can cause vomiting, diarrhea, central nervous system depression, problems with coordination, difficulty breathing, coma, even death. And the smaller the animal, the greater the effect.  This may be one of those “well that is so obvious” issues to you, but keep in mind, Granny’s rum cake, mouthwashes, liquid meds may all contain alcohol.  So don’t share the cake and be careful of things that may be out when your sugar gliders are having free run time.  A little bit is a big problem!

Onions and Garlic

Onions and garlic in all forms – powdered, raw, cooked or dehydrated – can destroy red blood cells, leading to anemia.  That can happen even with the onion powder found in some baby food.  A very small amount occasionally is probably OK, but if there is risk, why risk it? There is no solid evidence on how much is too much, just solid evidence that too much is health detrimental, sometimes even fatal.

Coffee, Tea, and Other Caffeine

Caffeine in large enough quantities can be fatal to animals.  And, there is no antidote.  Symptoms of caffeine poisoning include restlessness, rapid breathing, heart palpitations, muscle tremors, fits, and bleeding. In addition to tea and coffee, including beans and grounds, caffeine can be found in cocoa, chocolate, colas, cold medicines and pain killers.  I’ve found my sugar gliders foraging in the kitchen garbage more than once, and while I’m not a big coffee drinker, it is where most people toss their used grounds.  My kitchen garbage usually contains several used tea bags, and if it’s caffeinated tea, it can still pose a high risk for caffeine poisoning.

Grapes and Raisins

Grapes and raisins are a food many use to treat sugar gliders.  But it’s not a good idea.  Although it isn’t clear why, grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure.  Vomiting may be an early sign.  And within 24 hours, signs of lethargy and depression may appear.  Some have suggested that the oxylates in grapes are responsible for the kidney failure, but major studies have been done in dogs of all sizes, and other foods containing oxylates are tolerated.  So why grapes?  Even the ASPCA cannot answer this, but we have suspected for years that grapes were a potential problem for sugar gliders, and with major research being done on other animals, we’re sticking with this recommendation.  Try blueberries instead!

Milk and Other Dairy Products

On a hot day, it might be tempting to share your ice cream cone with your sugar glider.  And if your sugar could, it would thank you for not doing so.  Milk and milk-based products can cause diarrhea and other digestive upset.  We suggest avoiding all dairy such as milk, cheese and ice cream.  Most sugar gliders seem to tolerate yogurt well, but if you see signs of diarrhea, assume that your glider may have a bit of lactose intolerance, so even yogurt should be fed in small quantities and only occasionally.  Dairy can also be an allergen to many animals, so if you have an itchy sugar glider, try eliminating even yogurt from the diet and see if that does not clear up the urge to itch.

Macadamia Nuts

… and all other nuts, for that matter.  Many people have discovered their sugar gliders love nuts and their argument for still feeding nuts is this “But I only give them a little bit”.  Even one peanut is bigger than a sugar glider’s brain.  Small in our minds is often a massive quantity to sugar gliders.  Macadamia nuts have a higher toxicity level than other nuts, but avoid all nuts, even the occasional little piece.  Sugar gliders are not built to digest nuts and seeds.  The fat content is too high, the body cannot digest it, and nuts can present a choking hazard.  There are many known healthy options to choose instead!

Candy and Gum

Candy, gum, toothpaste, baked goods, and some diet foods are sweetened with xylitol.  Xylitol can cause an increase in insulin. This can lead to blood sugar issues and has been shown to show liver failure in some cases.  And we don’t just want to pick on xylitol.  We want to caution you away from any artificial sweeteners like saccharine and aspartame as well.  Check labels on yogurt containers and make sure that no artificial sweeteners are used.  Processed sugar is something we have always recommended you avoid, but science shows this is likely to be a lot less harmful than the artificial sweeteners.  So say no with a big giant no to all artificial sweeteners.


Most people know that chocolate is bad for animals.  The toxic agent in chocolate is theobromine.  It’s in all kinds of chocolate, even white chocolate.  The most dangerous kinds, though, are dark chocolate, chocolate mulch, and unsweetened baking chocolate.  Eating chocolate, even just offering the tiniest licky treat of icing, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors, seizures, and death.

Raw Eggs

There are two problems with raw eggs.  The first is the possibility of food poisoning from bacteria like Salmonella or E.Coli.  The second is that an enzyme in raw eggs interferes with the absorption of a particular B vitamin.  Cook it!  Problem solved.

Raw meat and fish

Like raw eggs, raw meats and fish can contain bacteria that cause food poisoning.


It’s not a good idea to share salty foods like chips or pretzels with your sugar gliders.  Eating too much salt can cause excessive thirst and urination and lead to sodium ion poisoning.  Symptoms of too much salt include vomiting, diarrhea, depression, tremors, elevated body temperature, and seizures.  It may even cause death.  Sugar gliders are spicy enough without adding seasonings like salt!

Sugar Foods and Drinks

Too much sugar can do the same to sugar gliders that it does to humans.  It can lead to obesity, dental problems, hyperactivity, and the onset of diabetes.

We don’t intend for this list to be a complete guideline of foods to avoid.  That would be quite an impossible undertaking.  We do hope, however, that by helping you understand how some foods that we might normally think are OK could pose risks, we can help you make better decisions in your food choices.

We can’t get fresh food now! 
by Lisa

We are so spoiled living here in Florida.  I’ve lived my whole life in the deep South.  I suppose that I just assumed that everyone in the U.S. had access to fresh fruits and veggies year round, but I’m hearing from you that is not the case, prompting this article.

We are big advocates of feeding fresh foods to the best of your ability.  Fresh foods tend to be much richer in vitamins and minerals and as foods sit around, the potency of the nutrients tends to diminish.  But what if you just can’t buy fresh foods at certain times of the year, like now?  We’ve put together a list of alternatives to fresh foods for you.

The easiest to find for most people will be frozen fruits and veggies. There are lots of choices on the veggie side in the frozen food section, and fruits may be a bit harder to find that way, but you can find them.  Most of the packaged frozen foods are flash frozen which is a process to help preserve the nutritional value.  I’ve seen very large bags of frozen fruits at Sam’s Club.  I don’t have a Costco nearby, but I would imagine they have similar offerings.  The frozen fruits at Sam’s club are often offered in variety packs that may include four to five different varieties of fruits, so with one bag, you have different choices to feed during the week.

Another very healthy choice for those of you who are a bit more ambitious is to dehydrate your own fruits and veggies during peak seasons.  You can buy dehydrated foods, and if I were inclined to go this route, I would look for ones with no to minimal preservatives. The more preservatives in the food, the less healthy that packaged food will be.  Very long shelf lives on foods can often indicate heavy doses of preservatives as well.  So your choices are to dehydrate your own foods or buy dehydrated foods with an eye to preservatives used.  My recommendation on how to offer dehydrated foods is to rehydrate them before serving.  This can be done by soaking in water or even fruit juices.  I’ve heard from a couple of people who even use dehydrated meats and will use water or broth to rehydrate before serving.

For the even more ambitious, you can certainly can your own fruits and veggies.  This way you know exactly what is going into it.  If it is your habit to can, and you load up with lots of sugar in those canned fruits, you might want to eliminate the sugar for your sugar gliders consumption.  Extra processed sugar is not going to do them any health favors, although I’m quite sure they would enjoy the sweeter taste.  They will also enjoy the canned fruits without the added sugar (unless you’ve spoiled them already).

In some health food stores, you may be able to find canned fruits without preservatives or added sugars and this would be just as good.  We think that canned fruits from the typical grocery are generally going to be loaded with sugars and other additives.  If this is your only viable option, please find the brands with the lowest sugar AND rinse the fruits off before serving.  This won’t alleviate the issue of preservatives used, but it will reduce the amount of excess sugars.

Perhaps your best bet is to load up when times are a-plenty and freeze batches to carry you over the winter months.  It is too late this year for many of you to consider this option, but your suggies will be around for a long time, so put it on your calendar to remind you near summer’s end to provision up for the winter.  Fresh will always be best, so staying closest to that goal is where you want to be!

‘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!