Glider Hissing, Negative Reinforcement in Glider Bonding, A List of Common Newbie Questions; Revisiting the Grape Controversy

Why Do Gliders Hiss?
by Lisa

Just yesterday I got a call from a brand new Glider Mama who was concerned that she heard her gliders hissing.  She had read on the internet that when gliders hiss, it means they are constipated.  In my observations, this could be true or false.

Sugar gliders that are hissing while just playing or running around can be a perfectly normal activity.  As we discussed in a previous newsletter, the glider bark can have a double meaning.  Click here to read more about that.

Hissing may just be a way of glider communication.  But there are times when it may be indicative of a health issue.  For example, if your sugar glider hisses while trying to urinate or defecate, then it’s definitely time to pay attention.  Intestinal blockages (constipation) will make the sugar glider strain when they are trying to defecate and they often hiss while straining.  Hissing during urination could also indicate difficulty and is often the sign that people notice when their sugar glider has a urinary tract infection or some other condition causing the difficulty.

Hissing during normal play is just fine.  But hissing while pooping could be a sign of a blockage.  Now while I’m always amongst the first to encourage vet visits, if you suspect a blockage, you might try adding one or two drops of mineral oil to a favorite food.  If this doesn’t work in a day or two, then see a vet.  Not all blockages are the result of constipation.

If your glider is hissing while urinating and seems to be straining and having a difficult time passing urine, it is important to see a vet right away.  Whatever the root cause of the issue, it is likely to be very painful and uncomfortable.

Does Negative Reinforcement Work with Sugar Gliders?
by Lisa

We respect and honor the fact that different people have different viewpoints on how animals should be trained and bonded.  Like everyone else, we hold views that feel best to us, and this is the basis of how we teach people about their new sugar glider pets.

OK, you know how much I love dogs.  Dogs and sugar gliders are my best friends.  Several years ago, my dog Georgia was given a steroid shot because she had a really bad case of the itchies.  Anyone who knows Georgia knows that she is just about the sweetest and gentlest soul on the planet earth.  She got the shot because after having her tested for allergies, she tested positive to allergies to almost everything – grass, mold, beef, carrots – and even borderline allergic to dog hair.  The poor thing is almost allergic to herself!  The veterinarian suggested we give her the steroid shot, which ultimately turned out to be a big mistake.  That same evening, Georgia bolted from the front door and bit a neighbor in her calf, requiring a copious number of stitches.

The neighbor made a deal with me: I could either take her to a specified dog training school, or she was going to call the cops and have Georgia taken from me.  I will add that Georgia has never had a steroid shot again and that she’s never even remotely behaved this way again.  I told the vet what had happened and she confirmed that some animals do not react well to such shots.

I, of course, opted to put her through the doggy training program selected by my neighbor.  It was very militant and not at all kind.  The instructor used a barbed choke collar for training.  And when he gave her a correction, he used all of his might in his over 200 pound frame to make Georgia do what he commanded her to do.

It broke my heart.  I am familiar with a variety of forms of dog training and I find that the kinder, gentler way is more effective.  Rather than instructing a pet to respond out of fear, I prefer teaching from a place of respect for you as leader of the pack.

I am not a fan of using negative reinforcement in training with ANY animal.  Now dogs are dogs, but if you try to use negative reinforcement with a cat, hopefully the cat is de-clawed because he or she will not stand for it!

So how does this all relate to sugar gliders?  Simple, considering that sugar gliders have much more of a cat attitude (catitude) than a dog attitude.  Cats will respond much more lovingly through kindness than through roughness.  Sugar gliders, in my opinion, also respond much more effectively through kindness than through roughness.

I bring this up because there are some videos out on YouTube where a doctor is showing how to handle baby sugar gliders.  And while I respect his achievement as a veterinarian, I think his approach is very old school.  He shows people how to jam your thumb in the mouth of the sugar glider to stop it from biting.  My first comment is that the glider in his video appears to be only about 5-6 weeks out of pouch, and the fact is gliders can’t bite very hard at that age.  I would love to see him do a demonstration with a one year old glider that has come from a neglected or abused background.  I’d be willing to place my bet on the sugar glider.

Bonding is the result of trust (and sometimes patience), and I personally embrace an approach that supports a trusting relationship with our animal friends.  I think being rough with them and doing things to make them afraid of our hands will not create the richest experience in bonding.

Again, this is simply my opinion.  We’ll continue to handle our babies with loving kindness and encourage you to do the same.  A soft touch and patience will pay off.  If an animal becomes fearful of you, you may never achieve the goal of having a well bonded little friend.

A List of Common Newbie Questions
Correspondence between Kris Ann and Lisa

I really appreciate Kris Ann’s email because she hit on so many of the common questions asked by new sugar glider owners!

Kris Ann: Hi, Lisa.  We talked on the phone last week about my questions as a new Suggie Mom of 2 (adoption day was April 29th!), so here goes:

As you say, “Exotic pets require exotic diets”, and I’m freakin out/terrified of feeding “the Babies” something that will make them sick (or worse), as the Vet I interviewed said that’s the primary reason she sees Suggies come to her office.  Research says to watch calcium & phosphorus ratios.  I’ve read that Nuts are a RARE treat because they are high in fat & phosphorus.  What’s so bad about phosphorus?  What’s the detrimental effect? Does a high fat content in the diet effect eyesight as well as cause obesity? 

Lisa: Yes, high fat can cause obesity and can also give the appearance of what looks like cataracts in the eyes, but if you look closely, the white spot moves.  It is actually excess fat in the eyes and looks a lot like cataracts. 

Phosphorus depletes calcium from the body and one of the primary nutritional diseases of sugar glides is metabolic bone disease, caused by a shortage of calcium.  Even if you are giving calcium supplements, too much phosphorus will still deplete calcium.  The common name for this condition hind leg paralysis.

Kris Ann: How many hours a day do Suggies sleep?  18 out of 24 hours?  Is there an approximate, generally speaking “slumber schedule” that we can expect?

Lisa: Trick question?  They usually sleep all day and will be up a lot at night, but take a lot of naps at night as well.  I would guess they sleep about 18 hours over a 24 hour period, generally speaking.

Kris Ann: We wash our hands with an unscented soap before handling the Babies.  Is this overkill? (Again, as a new Mama learning a whole new species, I don’t wanna mess up.)  If so, do you recommend a particular type of soap?  Dial?  Neutrogena?  Any ol’ plain unscented glycerine soap? Ivory? (Are you chuckling yet?)

Lisa: I’m always chuckling, at least I try to ….. unscented is the best. What type is not so important.

Kris Ann: Chewing: Should the Babies be provided with some type of chew toy?  Do they need that, or would they simply find that enjoyable like other animals?  If so, would any fruit tree branch in the cage be OK?

Lisa: Gliders don’t have to chew, but some like to chew.  Fruit tree branches are great!  Just make sure they have not been sprayed or treated with pesticides or herbicides.

Kris Ann: Variety being a key factor in diet, I mixed boiled egg with “Kashi” brand high protein Honey, Almond (oops!) flax cereal.  There are no preservatives on label.  But almonds are the most heart healthy nuts (for humans!) and they’re such tiny chips in the cereal.  Is that bad? (The Babies LOVED it!)

Lisa: I doubt a little would do any harm, but I tend to avoid nuts completely.  Not just because of the fat and phosphorus issue, but it could be a choking hazard as well.  Sugar gliders are not well designed to eat nuts and seeds, although they do find them yummy.

Thank you so much for your time and expert advice. 

Grace and Peace,
Kris Ann

Grape Controversy Revisited
Correspondence between Shane and Lisa 
(edited for newsletter)

Hello!  I just read your article about the connection with grapes and kidney disease/failure in sugar gliders and other household animals. After doing some research, I have found that certain strains of grapes have low oxalates, and some have high oxalates (oxalates have been found to cause kidney stones in humans, as well as animals in high amounts).  Seedless grapes and most grapes found in grocery stores contain very little amounts of oxalates, and others, mainly seen is concord grapes, which is the same strand they use for making grape jelly and wine, but also is sold in some stores.  

I believe instead of giving an opinion that all grapes are a risk, that you should try to dig up more information regarding the different strands of grapes and making a new article that sheds some light onto which kinds of grapes to feed to sugar gliders.  I have bought regular red seedless grapes, and my little guy has been fine so far.  We usually switch it up every few days.  One day grapes and blueberries, the next apples and peaches, the next cantaloupe and strawberry, etc.  He loves his grapes, and I don’t have the heart to take them away from him.  It’s too cute watching the furry little brat suck the insides out of a grape!  Please, I’d appreciate an article explaining about oxalates and which grapes have a lower amount of this stuff in it. Thanks for hearing me out! 


Hi Shane,

I really appreciate your email.  At the time we did the article, there was not much known and studies have since been done linking certain types of grapes to kidney disease.  Studies I’m aware of have been done in humans, and more recently in dogs.  I’m sure there are others out there, but who has time to read them all?  Not me, when I have a bunch of baby animals that need playing with (which is the best part of my day!)

It was, and is, our intention to simply share with people that grapes can be a risk.  A lot of people, as you know, won’t take the time to study and distinguish between grapes.  We simply wanted to give a heads up that unless you’re sure that grapes are ok, you might want to walk on the safe side and avoid grapes.  I fed grapes to my gliders for years with no problems, but a lot of people were calling and emailing with stories of sudden glider deaths and the only common denominator was that they had grapes the night before.  We’ve discussed this with several veterinarians and they all concurred that certain grapes can cause problems.  Your viewpoints are welcome and appreciated.  I thank you for taking the time to share this.

That all said, while your idea about oxalates being the driver of grape problems sounds plausible, it’s a pretty big jump to then assume grapes lower in oxalates are a solution and then OK to feed.

From our perspective – and for the sake of the over 12,000 folks who receive this newsletter – we always walk on the safe side, and if some grapes are a risk, then in my opinion, it’s better to just say “avoid  grapes” – especially when there are so many yummy alternatives out there.  Otherwise, people can and will get confused, some not do their research, others substitute when they are in a hurry etc. and all of a sudden “you said some grapes are OK” turns into “you killed my glider”.  Not on my watch, thank you!

So, while I can appreciate there may be science along the lines you have discussed, we still don’t have anything specific on gliders, and I’m still going to say “avoid grapes”.  But what I will do is link to this piece from the grape article so people who desire to do the research and take the risk that oxalate levels are the solution can benefit.

‘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!