Extreme Introductions

by Lisa


Most people agree that sugar gliders are much better adjusted when living with at least one member of its own species.  This is the sugar glider’s nature after all; it is the way Mother Nature intended them to live.  So forcing a sugar glider to live alone, without its own kind, is basically asking it to be something it is not.

Unless you are intimately familiar with normal sugar glider behavior and activity levels, it would be hard for a novice glider keeper to know the difference in their sugar glider’s behavior if it were not what is was intended to be.  I’ve spent many blessed years with lots of these blessed little critters.  It is a very rare exception that a glider is at its best when living alone.

Once a new glider keeper having a single glider learns this information, well then the search is on to find an appropriate companion.  Too bad so many places that sell gliders don’t tell people this up front, but it is what it is.  Thank goodness for all those people who take time to do their own research on our beloved sugar gliders real nature, and choose to do the right thing.

We’ve discussed the standard process for introducing two sugar gliders many years ago.  You can read that article by going here.

So what if you do this and it doesn’t exactly work?

Let me assure you that this procedure works in most circumstances.  I don’t want to discourage you to get your single glider a companion because you think the risk is they will reject each other.

I’ve had to rely on the community to really figure out a more extreme method to introduce sugar gliders safely.  Like I said, most will do fine with standard procedures.  My personal experience on having to take more extreme measures is limited.  Why you ask? 

Hey, good question.  I have so many sugar gliders that if it doesn’t work out with two of them, I can try a new partner.  Most people are not in that position.  But I like to keep things easy and with a Sugar Shack full of sugars …. I don’t have to force the issue.  We can run our own program of bachelor or bachelorette!  What?  No rose?  Well what do you think about him/her? 

Sugar gliders do have preferences, and I strive for love at first sight.  If it’s not quite that magic moment, don’t feel lost on it!  We have some good answers for you.

As a medium size breeder, we can’t always help the small hobby breeder through our own experiences.  We simply have more options.  So we’ve decided to ask several of our distressed correspondents to try something to keep things safe for the sugar gliders and safe for their peeps.  Thank you to all of you who’ve trusted our knowledge of gliders to go out on an untested premise to prove what we thought would be true (especially Nicole).  So here’s the scoop and instructions on when to resort to these measures.

If you’ve tried a good standard procedure, and your sugar gliders got entangled in a ball of crabbing, biting, rolling around ball of fur, you have a problem.  You DO NOT want to risk the safety of the sugar gliders.  I’ve heard some breeders say … AHHHH, just let ’em work it out for themselves. They’ll get over it.

That’s brutal!  Why risk injury if there is another way?  Sugar gliders are social, but also very territorial.  In the wild, they could run away.  In a closed environment, they have no options.  So play it safe.  You don’t want to just play it safe for the gliders; but also for yourself.  Once this rolling ball of fur starts, how do you end it?

I’ve not seen it often, knock on wood.  But I will tell you this.  I’ve had to learn the hard way and if you try and separate animals that are fighting, even animals as small as gliders, you will get bitten and scratched.  They do not let go easily.  With extreme introductions, we recommend that you do it in the bathtub.  It’s a fairly sizeable area, and definitely neutral.  What I mean by neutral is the space doesn’t have the scent of any animal (except maybe us!).

The slippery surface of the bathtub may be a bit disconcerting to the sugar gliders, but I see that as a good thing.  You see, I’m a big fan of Cesar Milan, Dog Whisperer.  If you are not familiar with him, he is always talking about a distraction.  The bathtub is a nice and safe distraction for the sugar gliders.  It may make them a bit uneasy, but you know they are safe.  If the sugar gliders are distracted, this will lessen the risk of them tying up together.

We now have a safe space to introduce the sugar gliders, but there’s one more part to this: you need to protect yourself.  We’ve only had about a dozen people report back on this technique so far, and with 100% success.  But I know sugar gliders and they all have their own personalities.  So I want to give good advice, and still play it safe.  It’s too easy to make some easy accommodations to protect yourself if you need to break up an ugly scene.

I think it’s a good idea to have two people present, but not necessary. Put a bowl of water in the tub.  Keep a pair of gloves handy.  This is there only for an emergency fight intervention.  Who likes to get bitten?  Not me!

Now what you want to do is put a single drop of vanilla extract between the shoulder blades of each animal.  Gliders find this smell attractive.  You might also keep a bottle of sugar glider dry shampoo on hand.  This will lessen their natural smell.  Once applying the vanilla extract, remember only one drop each, put them on opposite ends of the tub.  Place a freshly washed pouch in the tub.

The feedback I’ve received from our awesome community members has all been similar.  The gliders will walk around a bit and sniff (new territory).  Their footing is a little off balance (distracted).  What’s that new smell?  Yummy!  Most gliders reported have started to clean themselves first, then moving toward the other glider with them starting to clean each other.

I have one last important point to share.  Newly introduced sugar gliders will use their front hands (paws) to pull each other closely.  They will seem quite intimate and it is not uncommon for most people to feel some apprehension that it is all fixing to break loose into the bad scene.  But checking each other out and sniffing and cleaning each other is normal.  You will know if it’s a problem.  

There is no crabbing and biting when this dance is going on.  There may be a bit of half hearted crabbing, but I promise you will absolutely know if it’s a serious issue.  There is much crabbing in a problem situation and a lot of rolling around and biting.  I promise you, you will ABSOLULTELY know if it’s a problem.  Dancing together may make you unsure.  Fighting, you will FREAK out!  No question about the difference here.

If you get into a serious issue, then put on those gloves and hold them partly in the water.  They hate being put in water that way, but it is a non-harmful distraction that should get them to release their grip on each other.  If it gets to this point, which would be an exception to the reports we are sharing, be sure and dry them thoroughly.  We don’t want them to catch a chill.  

This is about safety after all!

My best wishes for you and your gliders are that new companions accept each other easily and happily, which is often the case.  If not, you have a safe way to make it happen, because in the long run, sugar gliders are happiest with buddies of their own. 

How long can Sugar Gliders Breed?

by Lisa

I have a criteria list that I consider as I make decisions on when to retire our breeding gliders on a case by case basis.  Some animal breeders will breed them til they drop.  I think that is just wrong.  If we are going to ask animals to do this, we have to be humane.

I’ve retired some gliders at very young ages, maybe as young as two years old.  I would do this if they cannibalized or maimed one of their young.  Usually by the time that happens, they already have new joeys in pouch.  If they are successful with the next litter, I may reconsider breeding them again, but repeat offenders are always retired.  In this case, I’m likely to only retire the female.

Our retired females live in all female colonies and are sometimes adopted out to families free of charge that have lost a companion animal and need a new older glider friend.  Our only stipulation is that they not breed this animal ever again.  Also, the sugar glider must be somewhat handle-able.  More challenging animals will stay with me because I don’t want them bounced from home to home if they are too much of a handful for new keepers.

Female sugar gliders that have birth defective babies are retired immediately.  I had a female glider that had two joeys that both had a big ear and a little ear.  While this may not have had any other health ramifications for the offspring, I just think it best to end a breeding line when any sort of birth defect occurs.

We keep close records of how many joeys a female glider has had since we started breeding her.  On average, we have 3.8 joeys per year per breeding female.  Some females may only have 1 joey all year.  Others have had as many as 8 or 9.  This concerns me.  Many breeders would disagree with the philosophy of retiring the big producers, but I feel it humane to give the poor gals a break.  That is too much on a little body and overproduction will prompt me to consider retirement, especially if she seems to be on the thin or depleted side.

Any female that looks like she is losing weight or slowing down is retired.  We will also retire a mommy if her babies are low birth weight as this is another good indication that she’s just not able to well support young any longer.

I think it just boils down to good judgment.  If the female is robust and still a consistent, but not overly productive mother, I’ve had some breed as long as 10 years.  This is exceptional, but I’ve allowed that to happen, with many retired years left in her golden age.  Many of our retired females will live 3-4 years or more after retirement.  
Our males are often mated to a new female as we do not believe that males can excessively breed.  And on some occasions, it is really obvious when a male and female are inseparably bonded.  You can just tell.  In those instances, while not that common, I will have the male neutered and allow them to live out their natural life as a pair in their own retirement condo.  So that’s how we do it!  

You just have to take each situation as it comes to you and use your best judgment to keep your practices humane.

A Simple List of Answers for the Glider Newbie! (FAQ)

by Lisa

OK newbies, this one’s for you!  Basic questions and simple answers that can make your new experience safer and more enjoyable for everyone, especially your gliders.

Are sugar gliders low maintenance?

Yes and no.  A little knowledge goes a long way.  Proper diet is one of the most important aspects of their care along with appropriate habitat set up and environment.  They only need to be fed once per day with fresh foods discarded in the AM and good cage cleanings  twice per week if you have a suitable size habitat.  Temperature is also important.  So that’s the short answer to the yes part.

The no part is here because they want A LOT of attention.  After all, if you brought them home (them in as at least two of them), give them a lot of time.  They develop connections similar to dogs and are socially needy that way.  So time spent is critical to their well being and good adjustment.

Can you make them not nocturnal?

You can, but we’ve not found a single vet (we’ve even asked zoo vets) that think it a good idea.  You see, it can mess with their natural rhythms (Circadian rhythm: See Wikepedia) and most private glider keepers will not be as diligent as a zoo, for example.  Zoos keep all lights, temperature and other critical activities on timers or time schedules to pull off the concept of the “nocturnal house”.  And to do this, you need to keep a natural sunlight environment all night and a dark environment all day.  So if you want to live in a cave by day and keep bright lights on all night, consider this approach a good option for you.  Maintaining their natural rhythms is important to their long term health and well being.

Will sugar gliders not smell if you feed them certain foods?

Male gliders, if not neutered, will get musky as they get older as they develop dominant scent glands.  They also will develop special boy pee pee (sorry for getting so technical here) that can be quite pungent.  It’s urine marking similar to a cat.  This does not happen until they are about 5 – 6 months old.  But you will notice as your male gets older, he will get stinkier.  Females and neutered males, smell is pretty easy to control with a good diet, not overdosing  vitamins, good room ventilation and proper cage cleaning.

Will they be OK with cats because they are not rodents?

If you have a cat that hunts, then you already know that they are not just about rodents.  After all, lizards, bugs, even snakes are prey to the stealthy hunting cat.  It’s really about movement, not smell or zoological classification.  Now I’ve successfully kept cats and gliders, but my cats were rather laid back and didn’t show much interest in even many cat toys.  But a cat is a cat and I would never trust them alone together.  If you have an outdoor cat, have they brought you more presents that were rodents or birds?  See what I mean?  I don’t think they distinguish by smell.  Actually I know this to be true.

How are they with dogs?

The answer is pretty much the same as cats.  I hate to pick on a particular species, but Jack Russell terriers are great rat hunters.  They are smart, fast and seem to not mind biding time.  Many gliders have been killed by JR’s.  Again, a movement thing. 

Can you take sugar gliders to any vet?

No, most vets do not see sugar gliders and you need to find a vet with sugar glider familiarity.  But all you have to do is call around.  If the first vet you call doesn’t see gliders, ask them for a referral.  They usually know who the good specialty vets are.

How are sugar gliders with children?

Sugar gliders are not good kid pets, but they are great family pets. The sugar glider social needs are usually much too much for the typical child to accommodate.  The sugar gliders also have a life span that is far too long for a child to commit to.  Most young children don’t understand the concept of a 15 year commitment, especially if they don’t know what 15 years is yet.  So Mom, Dad … please get a family of sugar gliders that are a primary responsibility of an adult and share this great experience with your kids.  If you really want to get a cool pet for a young child, check out webkinz!  And Dad, by the way, Happy Father’s Day you awesome ole Sugar Daddy!

‘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!