Handling female sugar gliders with joeys in pouch
Does a female sugar glider need to be fed differently when she has joeys in pouch? Is it OK to handle her at this time?
We often get asked questions by small hobby breeders about what to do and what not to do when female sugar gliders have joeys in pouch. We offered a four part series several years ago covering many breeding questions we get asked frequently (series starts here) and we offered a three part series on how to become a sugar glider breeder, which starts here. And I think the two biggest questions that we still get asked on a regular basis is about things to do (and not do) with the female (Mum) sugar glider.
First off, if you are following a good, supportive plan of nutrition, like we speak of so often in our newsletters, you don’t need to do anything differently. If there is a chance your sugar gliders can breed, then you should be feeding them as if they are pregnant all the time!
Remember, change equals stress. Diet changes can be stressful. That is why when changing diets, you do it gradually to acclimate the animals to new foods. If you feed to the possibility of pregnancy all the time, then you will not be making any dietary changes when you are aware that the female has JIPS (joeys in pouch).
Fact is, you will not always know when your female has bred with the male and is pregnant. You may not know for many weeks that she is carrying young, until the obvious tell tale signs give you a clue that babies are on board. Some people don’t know their female has young until the tell tale sign of a tail sticking out of the pouch. Other people do not realize their sugar gliders have bred until they actually see young joeys in the sleeping pouch or nest box.
So don’t wait until things are so far along to act on feeding the right diet. If you have a male and female glider in the same habitat and they are over 6 months out of pouch age, they may be breeding. I’ve had some start breeding as young as 5 months old. And if they are related, they will still breed. Many people are under the misinformed belief that related gliders (father/daughter, mother/son, brother/sister) will not breed. Not only is this incorrect, but it is something that you should be very conscious of avoiding. Inbreeding is not at all a good idea with sugar gliders. If you are getting a male and female pair of sugar gliders, make sure your breeder is able to supply you with animals that are not related. Don’t be shy to ask them how they keep track of such things.
Sugar gliders can also run concurrent pregnancies. What does this mean? Sugar gliders have a dual reproductive system. The females can get pregnant on different occasions and actually carry young of different ages. They can get pregnant while nursing older young. So if you believed that your sugar glider could not get pregnant again while nursing, please think again as this can be part of the strange world of sugar gliders.
Now to the question of handling and playing with your female sugar glider when you know she has JIPS – the key here is to be consistent. To change her routine in any big way will cause stress. As I said earlier, the key to supporting successful breeding is to keep the stress as low as possible. If you take your sugar glider out to play every day, continue to do so. If she is not as eager to come out and play, then give her that space. If you take your sugar glider to work all day and have her pouched all day, you may want to reconsider that. But if she is used to being handled, you should continue to handle her. You don’t want her to feel separation anxiety of being away from you, if that is what she is used to.
I think what happens more often is that people who do not handle their gliders a lot tend to do it a lot more when they have joeys in pouch because they “don’t want to miss anything”. Be consistent. Consistency will keep the stress levels lower. Don’t pay more attention to her and handle her a lot more and flip her over more just to see how big those peanuts got since yesterday (or this morning, or an hour ago). Unless this is what you do with her all the time!
Some people have expressed concern that handling the female will cause the babies to detach from the teat, and they will die if that happens. Female gliders do not nest the whole time they have JIPS in the wild. I saw an awesome video a few years back of a female glider gliding in slow motion. When she landed on her tree, you could see the body absorb the shock of a long range landing. Sugar gliders are built for activities while carrying young and joeys in pouch can survive the activities of the Mum, even major league long jumps. Just use good judgment as very tiny joeys in pouch will demise if they are forced off the teat. But they do reach an age of development where they are able to re-attach.
Also, when handling gliders, I think it is better said that when sugar gliders are out with their humans, they handle us. Most gliders are not real happy with “being held” but would prefer to hold on to us. A subtle but important difference.
It is not necessary for you to palpate the abdomen to see if you can figure out how many joeys are in there. It is not necessary for you to peek in the pouch. Just do the things you normally do and let nature do the rest. So you see, handling in and of itself is not bad. Stress is bad and that is what you want to avoid.
I also suggest avoiding having your friends check out the pregnant glider, unless your friends typically interact with your sugar gliders. Do what it is that you always do. Be consistent. Feed a healthy supportive diet all the time. And enjoy the show!
Do breeding gliders make good pets?
Yes! And No! I’m sure many of you are thinking this answer is not too helpful. So let me see if I can explain this a bit better.
Some breeding gliders can be both good parents and good companions to humans. Other gliders may be very bonded to you (or not) and get very territorial when they have young. Instinct can kick in and protection of the young becomes more important to some gliders than anything else. So now you no longer have that great pet experience you enjoyed.
Generally speaking, I think non-breeding gliders make the best companions. My own family members are set up in non-breeding colonies. It can be a lot of fun to play with the very young joeys of sugar gliders that are not threatened at all by your presence, but you can’t count on that being the case. The only way to know how your sugar gliders will respond to you when faced with this situation is to be in the situation. Hormones are a powerful force of nature.
I have some parents that are as gentle and sweet as can be. That is, until they have young out of pouch. It can be the male acting protective, the female acting protective, both of them acting protective or neither of them!
I have some parents that are as gentle and sweet as can be. And when they have new joeys, they will grab my hand, as if to pull me into the nest box to share in their new bundles of joy. I admit, this is some pretty special stuff, but you can’t count on it being that way.
I think most newbies are better off starting with a non-breeding pair. Once you get some experience under your belt, you can add an intact male to your colony and experience what breeding is all about.
There are three primary things to consider before breeding that I always mention to any prospective customer considering breeding. I warn them that the breeding sugar gliders can get protective, as we just discussed. Then I advise them of the more pungent nature of the breeding male, development of his musk glands and propensity to urine mark. Male gliders will mark anything that “belongs to them” which could include you. Neutering of the males will shrink the musk glands and usually take care of the habit of urine marking. Intact males, whether breeding or not, will have a more pungent odor. This is just the way life is, even if you feed a so-called “no stink” food or avoid feeding them bugs – “feed bugs = stink” is a myth not founded in reality. Last, but not least, prospective breeders should have a good plan in place for what they intend to do with the offspring.
Offspring cannot live with parents once they mature for the risk of inbreeding. Male / female offspring cannot live together unless the male is neutered also due to the risk of inbreeding. I encourage all small breeders of sugar gliders to not let their joeys go to new homes alone. If they can’t supply two gliders to their new homes, then they should help that new glider keeper find a suitable companion glider so these little guys are kept together with their own kind.
I will admit, the process of breeding sugar gliders is a lot of fun to observe. Having sugar gliders as pets is one thing and breeding them is something else altogether. They are both enjoyable experiences and sometimes can work together, but don’t count on it.
All I ask is that you know what you’re getting into before getting into it – research! That goes for keeping gliders simply as companion animals or breeding them. The more you know upfront, the better the experience will be for the animals and for you!
My glider’s buddy died, what do I do now?
‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
— Alfred Lord Tennyson
Death is an unfortunate fact of life when keeping pets. I personally am very attached to Tennyson’s quote. It makes it much easier to accept the loss. I simply try to remember as many good and fun times as I can, and I then can smile through my tears.
One of the most challenging aspects of what I do here at SunCoast is acting as a grief counselor of sorts. I guess we all need someone to talk to when a tragic event occurs in our life. When we first started this website, I was uncomfortable in this role. As time has gone by, I feel blessed that I am the one many come to share their grief.
As humans, we all have to find the way to work through that grief. I suppose I am one often contacted because many glider keepers are in touch with the fact that their gliders might be grieving as well.
This is true. Gliders do exhibit grief-like behaviors and those can run the gamut from lethargy and low appetite to frenetic searching for their lost friend. We already know that sugar gliders have different personalities, just as people do. With that comes different ways they will express their loss of a colony mate.
The most challenging situation occurs when sugar gliders are kept as twosomes, which is the case in most households who have researched sugar gliders before buying. When one sugar glider passes on, the remaining glider is now alone. For many gliders, this may be the first time they are totally without glider companionship.
If you are in the midst of such an unfortunate event, the first thing you want to do is to keep a close eye on behavior. ANY CHANGE in behavior can indicate a deep sense of loss. You will also want to spend as much time as you can with the remaining glider. While you can’t exactly fill the paws of another sugar glider, you can at least provide the touch and physical contact that our beloved colony dwellers need. This is the way Nature made them. Physical contact from glider to glider is important to their mental well being.
This will take care of some of the short term issues of grief. There are also long term effects that you should be concerned with. I am a strong advocate of all sugar gliders having buddies of their own kind. I am also in the business of raising and selling baby sugar gliders, BUT, and this is a big BUT, in this situation, bringing home a new joey may not be in your best interest nor your surviving glider’s best interest.
The reason for this is simple. As social as sugar gliders are, they are also territorial. You do not want to put a much smaller joey in the habitat (territory) of a larger, stronger glider. You might get lucky and have it all work out, but most reputable breeders will tell you that it is best to go through an introduction process. The process of introductions should only be started once that joey is close to the survivor in size, which could take several months (more on Introducing Gliders here). Also, you should not put an immature female in with a mature male, which means in this case, it could take even longer to get the two of them co-habitating peacefully.
I do believe that the sooner you can address the companionship issue, the better off your survivor will be. In effect, this means finding a good, healthy glider of the same maturity level as your survivor. There can be an age difference, as long as the maturity level is close to equal between the animals.
The challenge to finding a good companion glider is locating someone who is willing to re-home their glider(s) and has gliders that have been properly cared for and properly socialized. The fact is, usually people who love and care for their pets aren’t willing to let someone else have them. There are exceptions to this, such as moving to a place where the gliders cannot feasibly go, but these are exceptions to the rule. Most people looking to re-home gliders don’t have time for them, and have not handled them much, so you have poorly socialized animals. Now such an animal can still make a good companion for your surviving sugar glider, but may not ever become the best friend to you.
In cases where sugar gliders live in larger colonies (more than two to a habitat) the severity of the situation is greatly reduced. I keep my sugar glider family members in a threesome and a foursome.
We did lose Janine last year; Arnold’s family used to be a foursome. I left this group as a threesome intentionally, as I want time to properly grieve myself. I am less concerned for the wellbeing of the survivors in this situation, as they still have other glider roommates to snuggle up with, play with and groom.
One last thing to consider is to try and figure out why your sugar glider passed in the first place. It is rare that people will choose to have a necropsy performed. And even with necropsies, we don’t always get the answers we are seeking. I do not say this to discourage necropsies, I think they are a good idea. But of more importance is to have the surviving glider(s) wellness checked.
Before you bring any more sugar gliders home, make sure you don’t have a contagious condition. If you do bring new sugar gliders home, it is prudent to follow good quarantine procedures so you don’t introduce a potentially contagious condition to your survivor.
You can never replace a lost friend. You can only have the memories of your experience or a brand new experience. I think Margaret Mitchell said this best:
I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken – and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.
‘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!