Get One Now, Get One Later
By Lisa

As we approach the end of our third year offering this newsletter service, it is quite rewarding to see such a positive evolution in sugar glider education efforts throughout the community.  Most of our new prospective sugar glider humans seem to have a much more solid understanding of sugar glider needs today than they did three or four years ago.  Back in the earlier days, most of our requests from interested parties were for a single sugar glider.  Now most of our requests are for at least two sugar gliders or one sugar glider intended to become a companion to an already existing family pet.

So the good news is that more people are taking the time to learn before entertaining a decision to bring sugar gliders into their home.  While it seems the general population understands that sugar gliders are best kept with buddies of the same species, we still encounter a large number of people who wish to keep two gliders but think that they can get one glider now and then add another one later on.  That’s not the same thing as “getting two”.  Let us share with you why we believe this is not in the best interest of the sugar gliders.

Sugar gliders are colony animals in the wild.  We’ve had the opportunity to correspond with quite a few people that live in countries where these animals are indigenous.  What we hear from these sources is when sugar gliders are out at night playing, hunting or foraging, they always travel in little packs.  It seems apparent that mother nature instilled a highly social nature in the sugar gliders and that solitude is not a trait ascribed to the glider’s true nature.

As Dr C has stated on more than one occasion, keeping exotics (in her opinion) is a privilege and not a right.  We share this philosophy as well.  If you wish to keep any exotic pet in your home, please consider keeping that pet in a manner that suits its true nature.  We feel that you should never try to force an animal to be something that it is not.  Sugar gliders are not solo animals and to keep them as such could lead to behavioral disorders, depression problems, or even self-mutilating activities in extreme cases.

There are two primary reasons cited to us as to why people think that getting one glider now and one glider later is the optimal way to go.  One reason is because the individual or family cannot afford to get two gliders right away.  Our advice here is simple.  Wait until such a time that you can afford to do it right.  Otherwise, you are putting your personal financial issues ahead of the good of the glider.  Good things are worth waiting for and in the scheme of things, what’s a few more months?  Sugar gliders are a long-term commitment and by waiting you will truly honor the nature of the sugar glider.

The second reason we hear frequently is that “I was told by so and so that if you get two gliders at once they won’t bond to the humans”.  Well my friends, at the risk of sounding blunt, ‘so and so’ doesn’t have a clue what they are talking about!  They may have a self-interested motive, which is to only sell one glider.  We find that the “types” of ‘so and so’s’ most likely to use this sales tactic are either small breeders who don’t have two gliders to sell you, or they only have a brother / sister pair and enough good sense to at least prevent you from having a potential inbreeding problem.

Other users of this tactic include pet shops who, if they know you can’t afford to buy two, will go ahead and press you to buy one to get a sale.  There is nothing wrong with making money, but when the money hunt overrides the well-being of animals, then we feel that there is a profound moral problem with this approach.  

In the same vein, vendors who set up for “impulse sales” like in flea markets, home shows, pet exhibits, etc. want to make “any sale” and are not likely to walk away from selling you one just because you can’t afford two at the time.  So their “expert advice” is not necessarily to help you make a well-informed decision or for the good of the animal, but instead designed to get any sale they can.  These folk gnerally have a very human-centric, hamster-like approach to caring for sugar gliders that won’t kill them, but won’t make them very happy either.  We call this the Thrive versus Survive issue.

We also know that there are a lot of individuals out there who have dabbled in breeding a variety of animals.  It is truly rare to find an animal breeder who has always been dedicated to one species and one species only.  Here at SunCoast, we are proud to state that sugar gliders are the only animals we have ever bred and the only animals we ever intend to breed.

A lot of people who’ve gotten into breeding sugar gliders have come from a background in breeding birds.  Now, we don’t claim to know much about breeding other types of animals, but we do receive a lot of anecdotal information from our customers and potential customers.  Common knowledge amongst bird breeders is that if you get two birds (of a certain species), they will not bond to their human keeper.  And while this may be true with some birds, it is not the case with sugar gliders at all.

There are other problems with the “get one now, get one later” approach.  Let’s take a closer look at such a scenario.  

You get a glider.  You bring your new pet home and it’s scared witless.  Well, this is not unusual behavior for gliders coming into a home for the first time.  Gliders bond by scent and are territorial.  Ideally, the glider was handled by its breeder to keep it human friendly, but the reality is that the glider may have developed a bond with that breeder.  You, as the new caretaker, must develop your own relationship of trust in the process of bonding with your new pet.

There is also the unavoidable change in territory when a glider goes into a new home, and this creates stress for the sugar glider.

Then there is separation anxiety when a single glider is brought in.  The new glider, in most cases, was likely housed with another glider, or gliders, prior to coming home with you.  It’s never been away from its own kind.  This is a big stress factor and one that can be avoided by choosing to bring in two gliders together.

Four potential stresses.  That’s a lot to handle alone, and that’s just on the first glider.  The next issue is this: what happens when you bring the second glider home, the one intended to become the original glider’s buddy?  Let’s assume that this was done two months later and that both gliders were approximately 8 weeks out of pouch age when brought home.  At this point, the original glider is nearly four months old and quite a bit larger than the new baby.  It has also established its habitat as its territory.  As much as it suits the glider’s nature to have companionship, you have to understand that the gliders can be strongly territorial and may initially reject a newcomer.

If the older glider decides that the new glider is a threat to its territory, fighting will ensue and the baby won’t stand a chance. Serious injury or death could occur.  To handle this situation properly, you will need a two-cage setup for some period of time.  In the process of solving your single glider dilemma, you have now created, at the very least, a temporary situation of two single gliders.  You will also have the added expense of another cage and complete setup. To learn more about the issue of introducing sugar gliders, click here to read an earlier article from 2002.

We hope this article has given you some valuable food for thought. Two sugar gliders can be bonded to humans and bonded well.  Arnold lives in a foursome and the original three were all bonded simultaneously.  The trick to doing this is to spend one-on-one time with each glider.  If you put them both in the same bonding pouch at the same time while initially bonding, it will slow the process.  But if they each have their own bonding pouch, or you handle them one at a time, your rewards will be rich and the gliders will be happier and more well adjusted with their own built-in fuzzy buddy.

Another Exciting Episode of …. DEAR ARNOLD

Note: Some of Arnold’s fan mail may be edited cause Arnold wants some of them to be shorter so he can have more space all to himself!  Yuk Yuk Yuk!

Dear Arnold,

My sister, Barbara, and I have a little puppy and we put the pup in a small pool and are teaching it to swim back and forth between us. Would a sugar glider learn a trick like that?

Luv, Wanda

Dear Wanda,

I wonda where you got such an idea?  Sugar gliders do not like water at all.  There’s no way your sugar glider will Swim Bab’s Way.  Kenya understand that?  Israel good idea to keep your suggies high and dry.

Your friend,
Arnold the Land Lubber


Dear Arnold,

I’m trying to come up with names for my new gliders and I was wondering how you got your name?

Still Nameless in Newark

Dear SNIN,

When I was an itty bitty baby, I woke up to find that the fuzzy one who’s pouch I crawled out of had turned into a giant!  Cuz I was so little, me Lisa has kinda helped me fill in me memory blanks.  Ya see, my original mum didn’t want me.  But that’s OK, cuz me new Mum is T-riffic.  Lisa is me Mum now and when I was a wee bloke she got up every three hours to make sure I was fed and piddled and warmed and loved.  I didn’t have no name yet.

And I sorta remember that big Lisa would get kinda sad some times cuz I wouldn’t eat a lot and she would say stuffs like I was skinny and scrawny.  Well, me didn’t like the sounds of that, so one night I decided to eat like a piggy.  My pal Dr C told Lisa that I could eat as much as I wanted and that I couldn’t have too much yummy in me tummy when I was that young.

So one night, being all sick and tired of being called scrawny (not a name I wanted for the rest of me life), I decided to load it up.  Lisa was always so happy when I ate two whole servings of me food, and on this one night, I ate five of em!  And Lisa was so happy.  First she said I looked like a tick, whatever the heck that is … and then she kept calling me Ahnold … her big strong boy …. With a big strong chest … I liked the way it sounded, so I kept on eating up the food stuff so she would keep calling me that!  So that is how I got my name!  And to this day, I am the one and only Arnold T Schwarzenglider!  Yuk yuk yuk … ain’t that cool?

Thanks for the question,
Your pal,
ATS, The Worminator!

Well, that’s all Blokes!  Tune in again next month for another exciting episode of Dear Arnold!  Don’t forget, you can share your short comments or fun questions with me by clicking here.

Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C Says On… Changing Behavioral Disorders
by Dr. C., of course!

Unlike people, animals can’t tell us what is wrong, where they hurt and what they feel like.  In the veterinary practice, we have to look for the signs indicating illness and as discussed in past newsletters, the same signs can indicate a variety of different medical conditions.

Animals that have been abused or neglected will often display behavior patterns that might seem very much like the signs we see indicative of a diagnosable medical condition.  We often hear from people who have gliders that act in a seemingly aberrant manner, yet their veterinarian is unable to find a medical cause for the behavior. Perhaps this can indicate that the vet has not yet run the right test, but the point I’m trying to illustrate is that not all abnormal behavior can be medically diagnosed and treated.

After illness is ruled out as a cause of the problem, we can make an educated guess that the difficulty is behavioral.  Behavioral issues are extremely challenging to contend with.  So how does one go about fixing such a problem with a sugar glider?

The answer is that you may not be able to.  Exotic animals kept in captive environments will typically learn to trust their keepers at a young age.  If the keeper has ignored the animal’s innate needs, this type of neglect can cause a variety of problems with the animal that may not be correctable.

Depression is a common issue we hear about with sugar gliders.  They are extremely social animals and many people choose to get only one, in spite of the animal’s true nature to live in a colony setting.  We’ve discussed depression in the past and have seen that it can cause overeating, undereating, and/or self mutilating behaviors, to name a few.  Sometimes, the depression can be rectified by bringing in a suitable companion glider or spending significant time between glider and human.  But when making a decision to take in a glider with known behavioral problems, please understand that there is no guarantee that you will be able to do all the right things and have this glider become a trusting, affectionate pet.

Some animal’s behavioral issues are so deeply imbedded that they may never come to a level of trust with people.  This may be particularly true of animals that have been in abusive homes where they were taunted or teased, only fed sporadically, kept in filthy or over small habitats, etc.

Most animals will not develop problem behaviors unless something happens to them to create the behavior.  So my advice is this: start off with young gliders and develop a bonded relationship with them from a young age.  Understand that bringing older gliders into the home may also bring a variety of issues prohibiting their eventual trust of you.

Whenever bringing any exotic pet into the new home, make sure you have the time to meet the animal’s needs, not just now, but for its lifetime.  Make sure to have any new pet examined by a veterinarian before introducing it to your current glider.  Keeping exotic pets is a privilege, not a right, in my opinion.

Many of the older gliders that are available for adoption were purchased by people who did not consider the animal’s best interest in making the decision.  So many people write to us and want to “save” a glider from a home of neglect.  Proceed cautiously when making this decision and understand you may be signing up for a long-term commitment with an animal that may never become the type of pet you really want.

I also implore you to not do something like this on “a trial basis”.  In other words, if it doesn’t work out, you will just find a new home for the critter.  This is irresponsible and only compounds the animal’s existing problems.  People who have pets that are loved and well cared for will rarely get rid of them.

I think we all understand that sometimes life events occur that disrupt a good animal keeper’s ability to do right by their pets.  For example, an out of the country move, disabling accident, family illness, etc. are sound reasons for outplacing the animals kept by the family.  But these events are rare.  Most people who look to get rid of pets are doing so because they grew tired of the responsibility or the expense and are looking to take the very animal they instilled bad behaviors in and dump that problem on someone else.

Veterinarians are not animal psychologists or pet psychics, but we can provide appropriate advice on caring for your pet.  By starting with young sugar gliders and practicing good husbandry skills, your gliders will remain healthy.  Remember that most behavioral disorders come from neglect or abuse and by educating people on the appropriate way to keep their exotic pets, we can hopefully avoid these problems.  Preventing behavioral problems is much easier than attempting to fix an existing issue.

As always, these topics are driven by your requests, so send your questions about glider health care issues by clicking here and we will do our best to include in a future edition of the GliderVet Newsletter.  I send my wishes for good health to both you and your sugar gliders.  I’ll see you again next month! (Click here for Part 2)

Dr. C.  
(Janine M Cianciolo, DVM)