Frequently Asked Question:
What is the Best Sugar Glider Pre-packaged Food?
Note to readers: This article appeared in July 2002, and some things have changed in the sugar glider food area since then. For one thing, there are more staple foods available. Also, unlike when this article was written, we now produce our own exclusive sugar glider food with manufacturing handled by an experienced feed maker. But our opinions of the foods mentioned in this article have not changed. None of them except the positively reviewed ZooKeeper’s Secret use animal protein as the main ingredient of the food. Click either of these links above to find out why the animal protein issue should be important to you.
Without a doubt, the area of most concern for new sugar glider owners revolves around nutrition. With the advent of the Internet, access to information has increased. Availability of all this information seems to create confusion for a lot of people and hopefully we can straighten out some of that confusion here.
First of all, is it important to have food available to your gliders 24 hours per day? Our contention is that it is very important, and Dr. C.has repeatedly stated that small animals need access to food round the clock. We choose to feed our gliders a 7-day fresh food rotational diet. There are a other possible paths to good nutrition, and regardless of which path you choose for your pet, having a good staple food as part of that plan is very important, especially if your gliders are young or are breeding.
Whether you are on a fresh food diet or some variation of Leadbeater’s mix, a supplemental staple food is a wise choice. Uneaten fresh food or uneaten Leadbeater’s mix must be removed in the morning so that the gliders do not potentially eat spoiled food. From the time this food is removed until evening time, there should be food available in the cage. This is where a sugar glider appropriate staple food becomes important.
As you know, we are dedicated to breeding happy and healthy gliders. It is of the highest importance to us that our gliders’ nutritional needs are met as best as they can be in a captive environment. Over the course of the years, we have had the opportunity to try a wide range of staple foods before settling on ZooKeeper’s Secret. We have selected a short list of the most prominent staple foods available and will share with your our findings on and opinions of each.
Now I admit that I am neither a doctor nor a nutritionist, but we’ve done a significant amount of testing and have had many conversations with people who are more educated than we are in these matters. It is from this information that we feel qualified to share these opinions with you. The best diet plan is paramount to our success! In reviewing the available staple food products on the market, there are four issues we have identified as important.
First, the food must be nutritionally correct for sugar gliders, offering a reasonable amount of protein as well as an adequate amount of fat in the diet. Did she say fat in the diet? Some fat is important in a sugar glider’s diet, particularly with lactating females. But excessive fat can be very, very harmful. Along this same line, no or little fat can be equally harmful.
The second consideration is the consistency of the food itself. Most of the prepackaged food is manufactured into some sort of pellet or little round ball. This is an important consideration because hard foods may irritate the gums and may interfere with the animal’s ability to eat; other than the swelling on the jaw, animals may appear healthy. This condition can ultimately lead to spreading of harmful bacteria and even death.
Third, how the food is intended to be used? In other words, was it developed to be a complete diet for the sugar gliders or simply a supplemental formula intended to be fed in conjunction with a variety of other food items including fruits, veggies, bugs, other protein sources or perhaps Leadbeater’s mix?
Let’s make this simple. Exotic animals require exotic diets. I do not believe that there are any single pre-packaged food products available now or ever that will meet the nutritional and enrichment needs of sugar gliders. Sugar gliders thrive with variety in the diet. If you are simply feeding your sugar glider nothing but a pellet food each day, I hope you will seriously reconsider this practice, as it is very, very likely that your sugar glider is not getting all that it needs.
Keeping healthy pets is not just about feeding them a bunch of pellets each night. The enrichment of having a varied diet is so important to gliders, and while your gliders may be kept alive with these types of pellets, I can just about guarantee that your glider is not as happy, healthy or well adjusted as it could possibly be. The keeping of exotic animals is a precious gift and it is up to us as their keepers to do the things that will keep them healthy and happy.
Let’s look at this another way. Dogs and cats are domestic animals as opposed to being exotic animals. Dogs and cats have also been kept as pets for thousands of years. The number of dogs and cats kept as pets will always greatly exceed the number of sugar gliders kept as pets. So millions of research dollars are spent on coming up with prepackaged foods that are suitable to maintain the health and happiness of domesticated animals. This is not likely to happen within our lifetime with a sugar glider food. The fact is, there just aren’t enough of them out there for a very large, established, reputable company to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to come up with a “one food does it all formula”. Besides tons of money, it also takes years to make true scientific claims on the safety of a complete, single serving food product.
The fourth consideration is the inclusion of eucalyptus in the pre-packaged food formula. In my opinion, this is nothing more than a ploy by manufacturers to make the food product appealing to prospective customers. As most of our readers are American, I believe most are apt to believe that since sugar gliders come from Australia, and Australia is just chock full of eucalyptus trees, that sugar gliders simply must require eucalyptus in their diet.
Well, let’s take this out of the realm of speculation. I’ve written to both the Taronga Zoo in Australia and Australia Zoo (ever watch Crocodile Hunter? That Australia Zoo!). Anyway, my inquiry was based on the leaf of eucalyptus being part of the natural diet. I did not hear back from Taronga Zoo yet, but here is exactly what Australia Zoo had to say:
To answer your question on the habitat of Sugar Gliders, I can tell you that it is widely variable depending on what part of the country you are in. Two things that the species requires in the wild are a reliable food source (insects, nectar, pollen) and hollows to nest in.
Yes, they do live in eucalyptus forest and quite a few different types of woodland right down to tall heathland. They do not eat eucalyptus leaf so why add this to the diet??
Now that you know the four criteria we look at when making good nutritional decisions for our sugar gliders, let’s take a comparative look at some of the products available and how they rate with us.
Reviewed Product #1:
Exotic Nutrition’s Premium Sugar Glider Diet
Reviewed Product #2:
Exotic Nutrition’s Sugar Glider Diet with Eucalyptus
The first time I glanced at a label on these diets, I admit I was initially impressed. The Premium is the only sugar glider diet that has over 40% protein, and if you’ve read past issues of our newsletter you will know that we are big advocates of high protein. The Eucalyptus diet has just over 25% protein, OK if you are using other sources.
But upon further review and actually trying the food, here is what we discovered. While the protein ratio is good, the fat content is excessively low! Reason? The protein is derived from soy, and with all the protein derived from vegetable sources only, it is not in the least bit nutritionally correct for our insectivorous little friends. Vegetable protein sources do not provide the best balance of essential amino acids to help gliders maintain health.
This pelleted diet is intended to be a complete sugar glider diet, thus depriving sugar gliders of the enrichment needed to keep them at their happiest and healthiest. Also, if a diet such as this is fed in conjunction with some variation of the Leadbeater’s mix, it could throw off the desired total diet ratios of vitamins/calcium, carbohydrates, and protein.
We found these foods spoiled in the cage quickly, even though we change out our staple food once a day. On very hot and humid days in Florida, the food was developing a white powdery substance on it.
And to this development most of the gliders said yuck.
Out of the many foods we tried, these were the least favorite when using gliders as the ultimate judges. More of it was tossed out of the cage than actually consumed.
By the way, both diets contain eucalyptus, and we’re not at all sure why given the comments from the Australia Zoo.
Reviewed Product #3:
Our testing on the Brisky’s line of sugar glider feed was somewhat short-lived, as we had already had the experience of reviewing the Exotic Nutrition products and Brisky’s had some similar attributes we had felt were less than desirable for our sugar gliders. Vegetable protein sources do not provide the best balance of essential amino acids to help gliders maintain health, and the main ingredients appear to be wheat and corn.
One brand of Brisky’s is now touting eucalyptus as part of the formula. This may be more “manufacturer’s hype” than benefit in a good sugar glider diet, given the comments from the Australia Zoo.
This pelleted diet is intended to be a complete sugar glider diet, thus depriving sugar gliders of the enrichment needed to keep them at their happiest and healthiest. Also, if a diet such as this is fed in conjunction with some variation of the Leadbeater’s mix, it could throw off the total diet ratios of vitamins/calcium, carbs, and protein.
Reviewed Product #4:
We have had a rather difficult time finding the nutritional values of the Pretty Pets line of products. However, from observation, the multi- colored pellets packaged for birds, reptiles, and sugar gliders all appear the same. We’ve asked to received the nutritional analyses of these products, however, have not received a response from the manufacturer. From our observations, its appears to be nothing more than glorified bird food. We also found information on Glider Central referring to a study that was performed by the I.S.G.A. (International Sugar Glider Association) stating that the sugar glider pellet food sold by Pretty Pets is identical in formulation to their juvenile iguana diet. Vegetable protein sources do not provide the best balance of essential amino acids to help gliders maintain health, and the main ingredient appears to be corn.
This is another of the brands of hard pellet food. We have also heard of concerns that the brightly colored food dyes used in this food can discolor the feces, thus leading one to believe that something is gravely ill with the sugar glider. We’ve heard accounts of people experiencing green poop, which could be an indicator of illness in animals. One of the pet owner’s best indicators of a sugar glider’s health is color and consistency of their droppings, so a diet that creates these illusions can mask the health status of your pet.
We tested this food with a small number of sugar gliders and overall, they did not show much interest in it despite the very sweet smell.
Reviewed Product #5:
Happy Glider by Pet Pro
We have not actually tried this food, however it has been mentioned to us on several occasions and we thought it at least deserved some mention in this review. Vegetable protein sources do not provide the best balance of essential amino acids to help gliders maintain health, and the main ingredient seems to be corn.
This is another one of the hard pellet foods. But it is not touted as a complete sugar glider diet, which we consider as a big plus for this product! The manufacturer at least understands that sugar gliders need other sources of nutrition to maintain a happy, healthy life!
Reviewed Product #6:
High Quality Cat Food
You might ask yourself what this entry is doing in a review for sugar glider pre-packaged foods. Well, we felt it important to mention, as many people to this day are still feeding cat food to gliders in spite of research indicating that the feeding of cat food may cause intestinal blockage or renal (kidney) failure. We thought this was a good time to mention this issue again.
Sugar gliders are relatively new as pets and not a lot of research has been performed. Cats are strict carnivores and sugar gliders are insectivore/omnivores. If you are feeding your sugar glider cat food, please stop and give them something really good for them.
Reviewed Product #7:
As you probably know already, this is the supplemental staple food we chose to feed our gliders. Let me state that SunCoast Sugar Gliders is not in the business of manufacturing food. (Please note: as of 2009, the previous statement from July 2002 is no longer true, we now feed our colonies Wholesome Balance Chicken and Rice Blend).
And while our gliders are quite happy and healthy on the diet program they are on, we continue to test and learn about new products, as they become available. If we find a superior staple food is available sometime in the future, not only will we use it for our own gliders, but we will keep you informed as well. In the meantime, these are the qualities of ZooKeeper’s Secret that make us appreciate this food source as far superior to the ones reviewed above.
The primary ingredient in Zookeeper’s Secret is animal protein. Diets using animal protein as the primary ingredient (as opposed to vegetable protein like soy or corn) contain a better balance of essential amino acids to help gliders maintain health and thrive.
It comes in a semi soft pellet form, and is made with insectivore / carnivores in mind, which is just what a sugar glider is. This is not a food developed for another type animal and repackaged for gliders.
The manufacturer does not really even market to the consumer market, their primary market is the zoo community. Specialized personnel, including veterinarians and nutritionists, staff zoos! I prefer the recommendation of a veterinarian or animal nutritionist to the opinion of a pet store owner or food manufacturer any day!
This food not intended to be a complete diet. Fresh sources of fruits, veggies, proteins and vitamin supplements are suggested to feed with this product. For more information on the feeding program we use (developed by Dr. C.), click here.
This food has a reasonable shelf life and will not spoil quickly in the sugar glider’s cage. The nutritional ratios are sound for a supplemental staple food and the ingredients worthy of a sugar glider. And most importantly, of all the foods tested, the sugar gliders love this one the best. This was not even a close contest!
Needless to say, if a eucalyptus version of this food becomes available, we won’t be using it…
So there you have it. Our opinion, based on experience. I’m sure many will disagree, particularly the food manufacturers. And others will say “Yea, but you guys sell ZooKeeper’s Secret, so it helps you to say it’s the best”. That’s a fair statement, but think about what it means. We sell ZooKeeper’s Secret because we have it – we feed it to our own gliders. If we fed them something else, we would sell something else, and we will, if we find anything better. Those of you who own SunCoast-born gliders or have seen the pictures know how healthy and happy our sugar gliders are. So I ask you –
Why would we sell anything else?
The Story of Baby Roscoe
Submitted by Crysta (Missoula, MT)
The night of Sunday April 14, I woke up to an amazing humming sound. I noticed that Rozy, the smaller of the two gliders, was in the nest box. I wasn’t worried, it was such a pretty song. I waited until Monday night to check on the girls. That is when I noticed something very pink, it looked like something on Rozy’s foot. My husband got the flashlight and I shined it in and watched the “pink thing” move. It was a very tiny baby glider all pink, but he was completely out of the pouch. I of course panicked and called Lisa the next morning….
To read the rest of the incredible Baby Roscoe story, click here.
Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C Says On… Marsupial Anatomy and Reproduction!
By Dr. C., of course!
Sugar gliders belong to an order of mammals known as marsupials. Animals you may be familiar with from this order include kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, and koala bears. Although today most marsupials are found in The Australia Region (Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, the nearby islands) and the Neotropics (Mexico, Central America and most of South America), the first marsupial stronghold was in North America. They first appeared during the early Cretaceous Period when the dinosaurs reigned, and later reached Australia by way of South America and Antarctica, which were connected at that time in history. The most primitive marsupials evolved are the Didelphidae. The North American opossum is a member of this group.
The young are born after a very short gestation (16 days for sugar gliders) and have minimal anatomical development. The heart, lungs and kidneys are only partially formed. And many of the cranial nerves have not yet developed. But at this stage, armed with only sharp clawed front feet, and a continuous arc of cartilage across the shoulder girdle (this structure otherwise only found in reptiles and monotremes (the platypus is an example), the baby makes its way to the pouch (marsupium) where it attaches to the nipple. This primitive shoulder will later break apart and develop into a typical mammal shoulder girdle, complete with clavicles and sternum. In case you didn’t catch it, the name “marsupial” is derived from the word marsupium, which is Latin for pouch.
When sugar glider young first enter the pouch and attach to a teat, the teat will swell, thus holding the young in place for approximately 7 weeks while its development continues. If the young were to become dislodged from the teat during the early stages, they are likely to perish. Once birth has taken place and the babies are implanted in the pouch, handle the female gently. Many people do not realize that their sugar gliders have successfully bred and given birth until several weeks later, when the pouch will start to distend a bit making the presence of babies more obvious.
If one baby is present, the pouch will swell on one side of the female’s abdomen and begin to take on the appearance of a “peanut”. If two babies are present, the female’s pouch will swell on both sides and you will see two “peanuts”. This is not the way you will find this stated in a medical journal, but I thought it appropriate to use the popular vernacular to best explain the look of a female with joeys. It is possible for a sugar glider to have up to three joeys, although more than two at one time is quite rare.
The pouch offers varying degrees of enclosure. In some species, for example the wooly opossum, the pouch is distigle and the young are exposed. The young finish developing in the pouch. The amount of time needed varies by species. In sugar gliders, it is roughly 70 days.
Marsupials also have what is know as a cloaca, which is a common opening for the rectum, the urinary tract and the genital ducts (Reproductive system). The male has a bifurcated member, meaning it is forked on the end, and might appear as if he has two members. The female has a corresponding bifid reproductive tract, that is the vagina and uterus are double. The female has an estrus cycle and may display some signs of a female in heat. Without getting into a heavy discussion on biology, it is during this estrus cycle that the females will be sexually receptive. You are not likely to notice a visible discharge as you would in other mammals like dogs. During estrus, you may notice the female or her mate cleaning the area more often, which is nature’s way of recycling nutrients.
Of the senses, vision is poorly developed, while the senses of smell, feeling, and hearing are well developed. A large portion of the brain of the North American opossum is devoted to the sense of smell.
Although considered “primitive”, these unique specializations of the marsupial have allowed for their survival since the time of dinosaurs. New aspects of their physiology and life strategies continue to be researched. I have heard it suggested that sugar gliders may be capable of delayed implantation. What this means is that a fertilized egg will not implant immediately and remain in a dormant state until implantation occurs. Under such conditions, it may appear that a female became pregnant without the presence of a male. However, because of the unique anatomical features of the sugar glider and marsupials in general, the egg does not actually “implant” as it does in other forms of mammal. Without having access to specific studies regarding the capability of sugar gliders to delay implantation, my suspicions are that this is not a likely ability of the sugar glider.
Because of the rather short 16 day gestation period seen in sugar gliders, one event you might experience with your breeding gliders is their ability to impregnate again once babies are born from a prior mating event. On quite a few occasions at SunCoast, we’ve seen babies in the pouch of apparently different ages. For example, the mother sugar glider will have one baby that is 4 weeks out of pouch and will obviously have the signs of a significantly younger baby still developing in the pouch. Once the embryo has completed the gestation period and relocated to the mother’s pouch, she is no longer “pregnant” in the terms we normally think of pregnancy. The birth has happened and it is the unique nature of the marsupial that development will continue in the marsupium. It is during this time that breeding can again occur and the mother may become impregnated with joeys already in the pouch.
If you suspect that babies may be present, I suggest that you increase the female’s protein intake (up to 50%) to provide the extra nutrition the nursing mom will require. If you are not already doing so, be sure that the female is given a good vitamin supplement and calcium supplement. I recommend Vionate and Rep-Cal as my choices for supplementation. Also, Debbie and Lisa have chosen to give a third supplement to their breeding gliders, the marsupial milk replacement formula Arnold’s Choice Possum Milk Replacer. While medical science has not proven the benefits of adding this third supplement, it certainly will not hurt the sugar gliders when given in small dosages.
Remember from a previous article, too much vitamin/calcium supplementation can be just as bad as not enough. So please do not get overly enthusiastic with the supplementation when your sugar gliders have babies. The best course of action is to maintain appropriate nutrition and protein levels from fresh food sources.
I send my wishes for good health to both you and your sugar gliders. I’ll see you again next month!
P.S. If you have any additional questions about this month’s article, send your inquiries by clicking here and I will follow up on the frequently asked questions in a future edition of GliderVet Newsletter.