Frequently Asked Question:
If I get a male and female glider, will they have babies?

By Lisa

OK, OK … no snickering now!  This is actually a question we get asked a lot and it’s a very legitimate question.  As sugar gliders are still relatively new as pets, we’ve found that many of our new glider owners have had experience with all kinds of other animals in the past.  Some people have bred dogs or cats, or perhaps horses or reptiles, and many of them have bred birds.  While neither of us know a great deal about breeding animals other than sugar gliders, we have learned over the years that many birds must bond with each other before they will breed.  Some birds can be paired with an opposite sex bird for years and never reproduce.

This is not the case with sugar gliders.  If you have a male and a female together in the same cage, you can pretty much count on them having babies at some point in time.  Sugar gliders are colony animals in the wild and will live with many.  They do not “pair” off and mate for life.  In captivity, we have seen that gliders kept in pairs will develop extremely strong bonds and can experience depression or other issues when a mate is lost.  Some are easily accepting of new mates, while others seem to pine for a beloved lost companion.  With good introduction procedures, however, even the ones who were “in love” will eventually accept a new mate and continue life happily. 

If an opposite sex pair of sugar gliders does not reproduce, then there may be a medical condition in either one of the gliders making reproduction improbable.  Or they may be actually breeding and due to stress, or poor diet, or some other condition may lose their babies when they are still in the embryonic stage or in the pouch.  We have found when gliders have too little protein in the diet they will on occasion cannibalize their own young.  While cannibalization is not a common occurrence with sugar gliders, it can happen.  Too much stress can also contribute to this very undesirable behavior.

OK, now that we know if you get a male and female that they are likely to have babies, let’s discuss what you can expect in numbers.  Sugar gliders will generally have one or two babies at a time.  And they will breed generally two times a year.  Sometimes we have gliders that will breed three times a year.  It is possible for them to have three babies at once, but this is very, very rare.  At SunCoast we have only seen triplets three times.  Frankly, we would prefer to see only one or two as we believe that having so many babies will ultimately take a toll on the female’s body.  We are not aware of any documented cases of sugar gliders having more than three babies.

So what happens now?  Your sugar gliders have bred and the presence of babies becomes obvious when you see what looks like a peanut under the skin of the female’s abdomen.  Or you may see two “peanuts” indicating that she is carrying two joeys.  The babies are in the pouch for quite a long time so remember the adage “a watched pot never boils.”  The female’s belly area will keep expanding, and getting larger, and getting bigger, and you just know you will have babies out of the pouch any minute.  

Well, it may still take another month!  First time human sugar parents are always anxious when joeys are in the pouch.  You will see the emergence of the babies over a few days.  You might see a tail sticking out of the pouch, or perhaps a limb.  And it still may take another three days before the baby fully emerges.  You might check on your new glider parents and see a tiny pink baby or two and check the next day and not see them anymore.  Guess what?  They will sometimes get fully back in the pouch!

Do not start holding the babies immediately.  When they first emerge, they are just barely furred and the eyes are still closed.  A good rule of thumb is to hold the babies after eyes are opened, on the condition it does not upset either the Mommy or Daddy Glider.  This is not a time to be causing stress in the environment.  We know it’s hard to be patient, but it’s so important that you let nature take its course.

If the parent gliders are OK with you holding the baby, start off with just brief periods of holding initially and we advise that you stay in plain view of the parents.  Some will get quite upset if you leave the viewing area.  You might start off with just five-minute spans of baby holding time.  If you see any signs of either parent fretting, return the baby to the nest immediately.  It’s not worth taking any chances – you’ve come this far already.

As the joey or joeys get older, you can hold them for longer periods of time, but remember that babies need to feed often, so don’t stretch that time out too long.  At some point you may notice that the female leaves her babies behind and she will take some time for herself to stretch the legs or get a good meal.  Generally during this time the male will stay behind and baby-sit.  Male sugar gliders make very good fathers, and it is not advisable to remove the male from the cage while babies are present.  He will give a lot of relief to the female and help care for the babies by keeping them warm and clean.

There are “bad things” that can happen in some instances of breeding sugar gliders, which we will discuss in future issues of the newsletter.  For the sake of this article we have chosen to stick with what you can normally expect.  Now that you know some basic information ,
about sugar glider birthing, it’s only appropriate that we advise you on how the government expects you to handle this blessed event.

Sugar gliders are presently classified as exotic pets.  For this reason, there are government regulations that you need to be aware of.  First of all, anyone who breeds sugar gliders with the intention of selling the joeys is required to have a USDA license.  The APHIS division is responsible for handling licensing under the Animal Welfare rules. 

In addition to needing USDA licensing, you will also need to check with your State regarding licensing.  We are in Florida and are required to carry a State of FL license issued through the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.  Some localities also require licensing, so make sure you are fully informed on these issues before your sugar gliders start breeding.  Failure to do so could result in fines and/or possible confiscation of your fuzzy friends.

If you have male and female sugar gliders co-habitating and decide you do not want them to have joeys, then consider having the male glider neutered.  Spaying is not presently a good option for females, but male neutering can be done quickly, safely and effectively. 

Now here’s a helpful insider tip for you.  Let’s suppose your sugar gliders had joeys and you want to find them good homes.  Do not name them!  Once you name them, you will never let them leave.  Ooops, you already named them?  If you do keep the offspring, it is very important to understand that you cannot keep babies with the parent gliders forever, unless all males are neutered.  Sugar gliders will breed to their own offspring given the opportunity.  While we are on this topic, you should also be aware that male and female siblings cannot be housed together as they too will try to breed upon maturity.  This sort of close lineage inbreeding can lead to a number of serious health issues for the offspring of closely related parents.

Arnold: What’s a Potty? And why do you want me to use it?
By Arnold

O Boy, O Joy .. how happy is me!  I didn’t get bumped this month and I am soooooo happy me wants to spin my Wodent Wheel wight off its spindle … yuk yuk yuk yuk.

But before I delve into potty stuff, I wanna tell ya about my ole friend Dr. C and what she did this week.  Hehehehehe.  She stops by me house the other day and she has two of my very distant cuzzins with her.  In Australia, we call these our relatives from the land up over … get it …we from down under… Hehehehehe … ooooohhhhheee I am an excessively silly and giddy suggie today!  OK, so here’s the scoop. Dr. C comes by with these two North American opossum babies with her.  If ya wanna peek at them, you can click here:

Anywho, did ya know that we are really distant cuzzins and that they are the only critters in North America that have babies from a pouch just like my mom did?  They’re not bad looking little tykes, but me doubts they’ll ever grow up to be so cute like me.  Bark … Bark!

Lisa and Debbie gets lots o peoples asking them if us suggies can be potty trained.  To that I say Potty Schmotty!  Now do you think my free range relatives have these potty thingys up in treetops?  Let me try and ‘splain a few things here.  Animals that tend to live most of their lives on the floor of the forest will pick a place to “go” so they don’t mess up their house.  Us gliders and other animals that live in the high rise spaces of the forest have a powerful force of nature on our side.  It’s called gravitee.  What gravitee does is makes it so that us animals who are higher up in the social circle of the forest don’t have to worry about housekeeping.  You see, when we go, our stuff gets gravitee’d to the forest floor and now it’s the ground dwellers problem.  Humans are ground dwellers, so you humans have an instinctual need to be concerned with potty stuff.

Now that I’ve shared some of the secrets of nature with you, allow me to tell you a few things about glider personalities that might help you humans deal with our lack of potty finesse a bit better.  First off, baby sugar gliders (joeys) seem to just eat, sleep and poop a lot.  Lisa told me even baby humans are like this so me guesses it’s just a baby thing.  When us sugar gliders get a bit older, we start to realize that when we have to “go”, its probably best not to go in our sleeping pouch or nest boxes, cause it leaves stinky stuff in the place where we sleep, so we do become more selective about the going process.

Also, whenever I just wake up, I have to go really bad.  Sometimes I go a couple of times then I don’t have to go again for several hours.  If I am out and about with Lisa helping her with important things during the day, sometimes I get the urge to go while I’m in my travel pouch.  Lisa says I start squirming like a two year old, whatever that means.  Anywho, Lisa will take me out of my pouch and put me on a paper towel.  I’ve come to learn that she is much happier if I relieve myself on the paper towel instead of her blouse.  So over time we’ve kind of worked things out between the two of us.  But if Lisa is ignoring me and I gotta go, guess what?  I just go.  So if this kind of thing really bothers you, then pay attention, OK?  Me and my suggie friends will try and cooperate if we can, but it’s really not our nature to be so picky about go spots.

Now, one last thing.  When we do go, we make little hard #2’s similar to a mouse turd.  Not that I know how mice go, but that’s what Debbie said I had to say.  And when we go #1, well you know what that is like already.  Debbie says I have to tell you that boy sugar gliders go more than girl sugar gliders when it comes to #1.  That’s cause boys will sometimes use their #1 to mark stuff they like and if your suggie likes you, well guess what, he will leave you a nice little surprise.  If you don’t like your sugar glider marking you that way, maybe you should get him neuterized like me!  It didn’t hurt at all and I think my human friends love me better this way.  And you know me!  I love to be loved!

OK now … gotta “go”!  See ya next month!

– Arnold, CEG (Chief Executive Glider)

Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C Says On… Hind Leg Paralysis

By Dr. C., of course! 

This month’s topic concerns hind leg paralysis, which is most often a nutritionally based deficiency involving calcium, phosphorus and/or Vitamin D.  Sometimes it is referred to as metabolic bone disease.  Metabolic bone disease is not really a single disease but a term used to describe many types of medical disorders affecting bones, in animals and humans.

The most common type of metabolic bone disease affecting sugar gliders is known as nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism.  Hind leg paralysis only describes one of the signs noticed by  keepers of sugar gliders, but is not really a disease in and of itself.  I will try to keep the technical nature of this description to a minimum.  However, I think it important that you understand this is a complicated disease with a variety of symptoms and possible root causes.

First off, the parathyroids are glands located near the thyroid glands.  These glands produce parathyroid hormone.  This hormone effects the metabolism of calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D by the bones, kidneys and intestines.

Animals (including humans) need calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D in specific balances to remain healthy.  These chemicals are important for many functions in the body, not just for bones and teeth.

Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism results from a deficiency in dietary calcium, an improper balance of calcium to phosphorus in the diet, too much dietary phosphorus, and/or a shortage of Vitamin D.  If calcium concentrations in the blood are too low (hypocalcemia), the parathyroid gland produces excess parathyroid hormone.  This causes calcium to be removed from the bones to correct the low calcium levels in the blood.  When calcium is removed from the bones they become weak and are more likely to break.

Hypocalcemia can also cause the nervous system to become more excitable.  This in turn causes muscle tremors, tetany. and sometimes convulsions.  It can also cause a generalized weakness,
lethargy and lack of appetite.

Things become more complicated bio-chemically when we consider the roles played by Vitamin D and phosphorus.  Vitamin D has a major effect on increasing calcium absorption from the intestinal tract.  Now for the sake of keeping an extremely complicated process simple, suffice it to say that through transitional phases in the body, Vitamin D ultimately aids in the absorption of calcium through a series of reactions in both the liver and the kidneys.  It is through the transformation of Vitamin D that calcium is able to properly absorb.  Without Vitamin D in the diet, calcium is an element that is relatively insoluble and difficult for the body to use.

When choosing foods to feed your sugar glider, you should note the nutritional analysis on the food label or research other sources of available information on fresh foods offered.  In addition to ensuring that calcium levels are sufficient in your pet’s diet, you should also note the phosphorus levels. 

Phosphorus is an element that is easily absorbed by the intestines, but it can combine with calcium to form calcium phosphate compounds that are not absorbed, but excreted in the feces.  This process is especially prevalent if excess calcium is present.  Elevated levels of phosphorus can also negatively effect the proper transformation of Vitamin D into a usable form, due to the effects of excessive phosphorus on the production of parathyroid hormone.  I wish to reiterate here that I am taking some liberties to condense and simplify very complex bio-chemical functions to emphasize a point. Too much dietary phosphorus ultimately inhibits the effectiveness of the body to absorb and utilize calcium in a manner supportive to good animal health.

As a sugar glider owner, it is important that you understand that a well balanced diet is critical to your pets long term health.  One of the components of a good dietary plan will include provisions for proper amounts and ratios of calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin D in the foods that your glider eats.  You want to maintain a positive calcium to phosphorus ratio.

Metabolic bone disease develops over time from extended poor feeding habits.  If you begin to see signs of tremors, weakness, paralysis or lethargy, see your veterinarian immediately.  Often when symptoms such as these present, the disease may be in a late stage and immediate treatment will be prescribed.  Your glider may require aggressive treatment to reverse the effects of nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism.  This may include diagnostics such as blood work and/or radiographs, hospitalization, calcium and/or vitamin injections, fluids, oral calcium and a diet change.

Remember, prevention is the best medicine and feeding your sugar glider a healthy diet will ward off many unwelcome conditions.  

I send my wishes for good health to both you and your 
sugar gliders.  I’ll see you again next month! 

Dr. C.

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.