Frequently Asked Questions: One or Two?

Most people we talk to understand that sugar gliders are best kept in groupings of two or more.  But why wouldn’t they be? They are colony animals in the wild so it is their very nature to crave constant companionship, something even the most devoted of all glider humans is unable to provide.

Let’s look at it this way.  Pretend for a moment that you are a head zookeeper.  You wouldn’t set up habitats for giraffes that have no tall trees for giraffe snacks, right?  You wouldn’t set up a polar bear habitat with warm water and white beachy resting places, correct?  The trick in keeping exotic animals is to do as much for them in captivity that we possibly can to emulate their life in the free range.  This means keeping them in a habitat that supports their movement and exercise needs and feeding them a diet that is balanced nutritionally for their particular species needs.  We need to provide
climate and lighting to emulate the exposures they would experience
in the wild, and keep them in a manner that supports them.

Colony animals need to have companionship.  We’ve discussed in a previous newsletter the type of behavioral imbalances that can develop by improper husbandry skills (click here to review article).  But we felt compelled to discuss this particular issue of keeping one vs. two directly because the question comes up a great deal.

Many people think it’s a good idea to get one glider and then add another one later.  We wish to discourage you from thinking in this manner.  Separation anxiety is a likely response, and you may not recognize the symptoms if you have not had a lot of experience and exposure to a large number of different gliders.  And if you do go this route, and do indeed acquire a second glider at some future date, you can’t put a baby glider in with an older glider without first going through introduction procedures (click here to review article).

If it’s a bonding issue, and you think that getting one glider will be easier for you than having two gliders, then consider the consequences. It may be only slightly more challenging to bond with two gliders as one.  But once you’ve bonded with the two of them, the time commitment is considerably lower for multi-housed gliders than it is for single gliders.  If you set them up in a large cage with lots of toys and accoutrements, they will keep each other company and keep themselves amused.  This is not to say you do not need to spend time with them because you do.

For single gliders you need to spend 3-4 hours per day to even come close to meeting their emotional needs, and even that may very well not be enough time.  And you can’t just carry them in a pouch all day and have that count as all the time that needs to be invested.  You also need to commit to considerable evening time when the glider is awake and active.  It needs companionship for play and socialization, as well as a warm body to sleep next to.  So you see, it is really a whole lot more demanding to maintain a single glider than it is to keep two or more.

If it’s a financial issue, then we encourage you to wait until such time that you can do sugar gliders right!  It’s unfair to a little suggie to be kept solo simply because your budget will not allow you to get the sugar glider a buddy at this time.  Good things are worth waiting for.  You may read on other websites that sugar gliders can die of loneliness.  Although we have often seen from past rescues that single kept gliders do not transition to new caretakers well, we disagree that loneliness is the actual cause of death of solo gliders.

A common occurrence is for the newly rescued glider to basically go on a hunger strike, so dying of starvation is indeed a possibility.  We’ve also had calls from substitute caretakers over the years asking for our help and guidance.  A typical plea will go something like this: “My friend had to leave town and I’m watching his/her sugar glider.  The poor little thing just won’t eat.  What should I do?”  Well, the best response to that question is to get your friend to come home.  A single kept sugar glider will become so extremely co-dependent on its usual caretaker(s), that the absence of its human(s) is likely to cause some level of grief and depression.

On the flip side, when we’ve had some single kept rescues come into our care, we’ve noticed significant behavior changes shortly after introducing suitable companions to these gliders.  They would begin eating well, responding well and just generally perk up.

It’s easy to make these assessments for us because we are around gliders every single day of the year.  We see the sadness that happens when a companion glider has to be relocated either due to medical reasons or demise.  The sole remaining glider often becomes abject and sometimes even a bit frantic. 

To emphasize this point, here is an email we received from Mari in Japan:

Hi Lisa,

It’s been a while since I last wrote you, but I just wanted to “report” about how things were going here.  I can finally understand why you hammer on the fact that if we want to have a suggie, we should get a pair and not just one.  Remember I told you about some problems I had with my girl suggie before I got her a little boy friend?  Well, they’re all basically a thing of the past.  She eats just fine (now) … her eating habits have definitely improved.

The most exciting thing, though, is that I can now let her run around in my bedroom without a harness!  Remember I said that I wasn’t able to handle her without a harness because once she ran away I couldn’t catch her again?  Well, now she has a friend to come back to, so I don’t have a problem there anymore.  I’m SO glad, because, although I didn’t have much choice regarding the harness (click here for SunCoast’s opinion on leashes), I didn’t like the idea very much.  So when I got the new suggie, I decided that it wasn’t right that one was in a harness and the other one wasn’t.  So I decided to try her again without a harness.  In the beginning I still had a problem catching her, but after a while she started coming back out on her own.  She even jumped onto me the other day – and now I don’t have to use the harness!

You hit the nail on the head in your newsletter – or I should say Arnold did.  I do think boy suggies are easier to handle and much friendlier than girl suggies.  But my little girl has the most adorable personality and I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. And my two
suggies just love each other.

Mari (from Japan)

Another Exciting Episode of Dear Arnold
By Arnold, with a little help from Lisa

Dear Arnold,

My husband and I have two precious Suggies (Tutter and Mayzee).  I, like some other glider parents, work during the day and needed a way to play with the gliders safely in the evening.  We went to Walmart, like Lisa suggested, and bought a junior camping tent.  It was pretty inexpensive and it fits in our spare bed room.  Tent time has really paid off for my gliders and I.  The tent was really helpful when I  introduced my new female (Mayzee) to my male (Tutter). The tent gave us a neutral location and both of the gliders were able to explore on their own in a safe environment.  It has really paid off during the bonding experience with Mayzee.  She was very scared and aggressive when I first brought her home and now she is comfortable climbing on and around me. 

Now that I have had my gliders for awhile we get in the tent and they really use me as their tree.  They run around and play with their feather teaser and get sweet treats from the Mommy tree.  I must add though, when guests come to home they find it quite amusing that I have a tent set up in my spare bedroom and find it even more amusing that I hang out in the tent with my gliders and watch TV in the evenings.  Oh well such is life!

Carrie C.

Dear Carrie,

We’ve received just oodles and oodles of emails from lots of humans that have stories so similar to yours, but I liked how you said Mommy tree, so I decided to share your story with the world. It’s a known fact that famblies that play together are happy famblies and
“going camping” is a great healthy activity …. even if its just indoors.

Your buddy, Arnold
Dear Arnold,

How do I teach my glider to glide?

Treeless in Arizona

Dear Treeless,

I luv this question.  Yuk yuk yuk …. I really don’t think you should try the tree method cause … well … don’t want to insult you but your personal aerodynamics are a bit crude … hehehehe … you might land with an awful plop.

Here’s the scoop, Arizona.  You need to get your suggie to trust you a whole lot, so that your suggie wants to come to you and be with you.  And the fact is this: Us gliders just kinda know how to glide automatically.  Ya see, when we start to get big enough to venture on our own, we learns that we can hop and jump.  Then when we starts to get to the jumping part, our “wings” just pop out automatically cause its all connected to our hands and feet.

And if you have a baby joey glider, and it ever tried to jump away from you, you probably freaked out cause we land with a bit of a splat … see we land flat and not always real graceful like either.  And the reason we splat is cause our body is flat … its like your human version of the belly buster in a cement pond.

My mommy and I play gliding games a lot.  We started by her placing me on top of the curtain rods and she would just take a step or two backwards, then promise me something yummy for me belly, and zoom zoom, thar he goes!  It happens really really fast and we tend to jump for the highest point on you, which is the place you call your face. We do this so you can get a good view of the glide motion cause we know you like it so much ….. hehehehehe.  Now I just climb to the top of the curtains by me big boy self and it’s like ready or not…Here I come!  Glidin’ is a real hoot!  I sure wish you could try it
some time…methinks you would love it!

Your palster, Cap’n Arnold
Dear Arnold,

I often take my gliders into the bathroom to play.  Of course, I stop up all the drains and close the toilet lid first!  My young male glider, Creeper, thinks it’s great fun to run on the toilet paper roll.  We call it the “glider treadmill!”


Dear Jamie,

Great Scott!  That sounds like so much fun … What a Charmin story!  Keep havin’ fun and let the good times roll.  Yuk yuk yuk!

Luv Arnold

Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C says …. on Hand Feeding Joeys

By Dr. C., of course!

A frequent question fielded at Suncoast Sugar Gliders is “are the babies hand fed?”  As this relates a great deal to the gliders’ ultimate health, Lisa & Debbie have asked that I address the question directly.

Our babies are not “pulled” early to be hand raised.  They stay with the parents until being weaned and do not leave the Suncoast facility until they are 8 weeks out of pouch, and only after we are certain that they are eating well on their own.

Pulling babies before weaning can cause a number of problems, the first challenge being the hand raising itself.  The young sugar glider is unable to regulate its own body temperature and must be kept warm or they will quickly chill and become hypothermic.  However, if the baby is kept too warm, dehydration can occur.

Feeding needs to occur approximately every two to three hours around the clock depending on the age and body weight of the joey when taken from the female.  The formula needs to be made fresh each feeding to prevent bacterial growth.  The young often do not want to suckle as the top of a syringe is not “Mom”, so care must be taken not to aspirate the baby (i.e., force too much formula into its mouth causing it to choke or get formula in its lungs).

The formula itself is problematic because artificial formulas can never match the nutritional value of mother’s milk, even with a good commercial formula like Arnold’s Choice Possum Milk Replacer.

Due to the above problems, hand feeding is difficult even for the experts.  At Suncoast, when we have been forced to hand feed babies due to illness in the mother or rejection by the mother, the success rate is only around 50%.  Even under the best of circumstances hand fed joeys (we are only talking about those pulled before weaning) tend to be undersized, need vitamin supplementation and often seem to be less hardy, perhaps due to a weakened immune system.

By waiting until the babies are weaned, we can be assured that they have been raised on an appropriate plan of nutrition, simply stated “mom’s milk”.  This is very important early in life as antibodies are passed to the young through colostrum found in the mother’s milk.  Staying with the parents also exposes them to “being” a sugar glider.  As such, the young socialize with each other and parents and learn many important behaviors from their experience.

Once the joeys are taken from the parents, they go through a period of human-glider socialization.  All the young are handled and carried in a pouch frequently by Debbie and Lisa.  Handling and interacting create the strong bond between owner and glider, not bottle raising as some breeders assert.  In fact, the hand feeding of psittacines (parrots, macaws, etc.) is a point of controversy currently as many hand fed baby birds seem to have difficulty upon reaching sexual maturity and at times the bond with the owner seems to deteriorate.

When considering the purchase of a young sugar glider, it is the post pouch experience that is most important.  Was the young glider socialized to people after being taken from the parents or was it placed in an isolated cage and shipped off to a pet store?  Were its physical needs and psychological needs attended to?  Does it appear healthy and robust, with bright shining eyes and coat?  Does it appear curious and inquisitive or shy and easily intimidated?  By researching the glider’s background you will have a better chance of purchasing the type of friend you are looking for.

Tune back in next month for a brand new topic.  If you have more questions about breeding or glider health care issues, send them by clicking here and we will do our best to include them in a future edition of the GliderVet Newsletter.

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

Dr. C. (Janine M Cianciolo, DVM)
Dr. Janine M. Cianciolo