Frequently Asked Question

Plants in the Glider Habitat – Real vs. Fake?
By Lisa

A lot of people obviously like to create an environment for their sugar gliders that incorporates key components of a natural, free range home.  Since our fuzzbutts originate from the treetop canopy of the Australia region, then it stands to reason that branches and leaves make up the foundation of the perfect glider environment.  Around here, we really like to simulate the “tree top” home by using natural branches, vines, ropes that simulate vines, and objects that swing (as branches would sway in a tree).

Before we delve into how we manage to accomplish this effect, allow us to share a story with you about our friend, Ralph.  One of the challenges of breeding sugar gliders is how to humanely retire gliders we choose to no longer breed.  As we had lunch with our pal Ralph one day, we told him about our business and happened to mention the “retirement” issue as a hurdle we had to effectively address.

Well, lo and behold, Ralph had a brainstorm of a solution.  He invited us to his home and showed us a space that he had “been wanting to do something interesting with”.  The space is about 10 feet long, 8 feet deep and 10 feet high.  When he purchased his home, there was a cinder block wall freestanding just in this section of his yard.  The wall runs parallel to an oversized picture window in his home and he speculates that the wall was built to give some protection from the sun.  Things can get rather toasty here in the summertime!  A couple of nice tropical trees were already planted in this spot, so Ralph began to build the “Glider Retirement Dream Habitat”.

The enclosure is actually outdoors but completely protected from the elements.  In the winter, he rigs up heat lamps to provide extra warmth in addition to the warmth that passes through the home’s picture window.  In the summer time, the cinderblock wall helps insulate against the high temperatures and several of our gliders have been living peacefully and harmoniously in the house that Ralph built.  

Now that you have some background information, let’s get back to the subject of live plants.  When RGH was originally built, Ralph planted a variety of annuals to accent the original foliage, and also added a shallow pond and waterfall.  The pond is semi-camouflaged with branches and sticks so if a suggie should end up in the water, they have easy access to climb out.  To date, neither Ralph nor his family have observed any of the gliders taking a dip.

From his extended observations, we can only surmise that it’s not a glider’s desire to go for an occasional swim, which makes sense considering their tree top dwelling nature.  But remember those annuals that I told you about above?  Well, those plants didn’t stand a chance!  It didn’t take long for a small band of “old lady” gliders to completely shred Ralph’s new plants to smithereens.

So if you are considering live plants for inside your sugar gliders’ habitat, you might want to think again!  The plant is likely to look very nice when you first place it in the cage, but few people have habitats as large as RGH, and the small plants looked like a bad case of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree” in no time.  The moral of the story is this: gliders may enjoy live plants a great deal, but we don’t think the plant will enjoy the experience at all!

Another option to placing live plants in the cage is to utilize live plants in the play area only.  This way you can supervise the activity and take measures to protect your tender vegetation.  However, it is extremely important that you know what type of plant you are using and whether this plant may be potentially toxic to small animals.  Many normal house plants can be highly toxic and you must be well informed before considering this type of décor/play area.  Purdue University hosts a database of many plants with levels of toxicity to animals and livestock.  To access, click here.

A great option to providing a plant-like atmosphere without having to worry about keeping a real plant alive or worrying about toxicity levels is the utilization of fake plants (or as Arnold prefers … “faux plants”).  We use a lot of artificial foliage in our habitats and one thing we found is that the cheaper it is, the more easily it falls apart.

Last fall, we decorated Sydney Sesame’s cage in a luxurious flow of vined autumn leaves.  It lasted for a couple of months before the stalks were picked clean and we had to rake all those autumn leaves out of the bottom of the cage.  When using faux foliage, check to make sure that there are no little plastic parts that come off easily.  Also avoid the type of plants that have thin wire running through thinly sheathed plastic …. if the wire pops out, you have a serious hazard threatening the safety of your furballs.

Don’t be shy about producing a creative habitat for your suggies! There’s nothing cuter than seeing two big black eyes peeking out through an array of natural looking leaves.  Have fun and happy decorating, your gliders will thank you!

Another Exciting Episode of DEAR ARNOLD
By Arnold

Note: Some of Arnold’s fan mail may be edited cause Arnold wants some of them to be shorter so he can have more space all to himself!  Yuk Yuk Yuk!

Dear Arnold,

My sugar gliders like quite a variety of fruits, but I can’t seem to get them to eat any vegetables.  What is your favorite vegetable?

Picky Eaters Mom

Dear P.E. Mom! 

My fave veggie is sweet potater!

Hey Arnold, Lisa here: Are you eating a sweet potato now?

Yes, I Yam!  Yuk yuk yuk yuk.  And hey P.E. – you should try sweet potaters for your suggies and maybe you will find your efforts no longer “fruit”less …. hehehehe

Arnold Potato Head
Dear Arnold,

I have been having problems getting my male glider to eat anything with protein except yogurt.  Now I know he needs more but he will not touch eggs or crickets.  He won’t even touch the chicken or beef I put in his cage.  Is there anything that is high in protein that I could try to tempt my little guy with?

Worried in ILLINOIS

Dear Worried,

Hmmm …. another food question!  Well, we don’t want your little glider to not be as big and strong as he should be, so let me make a few suggestions fer ya.  You just might have to trick him!  Yup … the trick to it all is to trick him!  My Mommy has had to trick me before, but all in all I’m a pretty good eater.  Here’s the scoop.  If he really likes yogurt, sneak stuff in his yogurt that has more protein … like chicken or turkey baby food, or boiled eggs all mashed up.

Have you ever offered him some mealworms or boiled chicken?  Most little suggies just can’t control themselves in the presence of good worm and chicken apertif!  Sometimes though, the suggies don’t know how to eat the mealworms or crickets and they might need someone to show them, like another glider or a human bean. Don’t want to sound gross, but you might have to expose the guts for your little guy … and believe me, once he gets the hang of it, then it could become one of his favorite things!  Other ways to trick him is to find other things he does like to eat like applesauce (and different flavors are good) and do the same thing me suggested for the yogurt … mix it up or blend it in a blender!

Love, Chef Arnold

Tune in again next month for another exciting episode of Dear Arnold where Arnold and his boy buddies will introduce their new boy glider band called … ta da …… N StYNC! Don’t miss their first hit single … You are my moonshine!

Don’t forget, you can share your short comments or fun questions with me by clicking here.

Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C says …. on Toxoplasmosis

By Dr. C., of course!

This month I will be discussing toxoplasmosis and whether gliders are susceptible to this condition.  Toxoplasma gandii is a parasite, which infects warm-blooded animals.  Cats complete the life cycle of this parasite and pass the eggs into the environment in their feces.

Many marsupials, such as wallabies, can contract toxoplasmosis and it can cause life threatening conditions if untreated.  Signs in wallabies often include diarrhea, anorexia, lethargy, subnormal body temperatures, and trouble breathing.  It is speculated that wallabies are particularly susceptible because they are often kept in yards.  Even if you don’t personally own a cat, most yards are visited by stray cats, which inevitably urinate and defecate.  This increases the risk for exposure to toxoplasmosis.

I am not aware of a case of toxoplasmosis in sugar gliders, however, being a warm blooded animal they are certainly susceptible to this disease.  It is important to keep your sugar gliders away from kitty litter boxes (if you have a cat), avoid feeding undercooked meat, and always wash fresh fruits and vegetables.  Most people do not take their gliders outdoors to play, as this can be a risky proposition with the curious glider (it may just run up a tree!).  If you are in the habit of taking your glider outdoors, you may wish to avoid letting the glider play in grass where cats may have visited.

If you have been gardening in an area cats frequent, make sure to wash your hands with hot soapy water before handling your sugar gliders.  As I stated above, toxoplasmosis has proven to be a quite serious threat to the sugar glider’s fellow marsupial, the wallaby.  I have no reason to suspect that given the right set of circumstances that sugar gliders would not experience similar reactions to exposure. It’s much easier to control a sugar glider’s roaming area to exclude those places where cats frequent, unlike the grazing wallaby.

Toxoplasmosis is a zoonotic (can spread to humans) disease and it can affect people and cause serious disease or death to the unborn human fetus.  Good cage hygiene practices help to reduce the spread of disease from animal to animal and from animal to human.  You may have heard that pregnant women should avoid exposure to outdoor cats.  This disease is the reason for that medical recommendation.  For additional information concerning this disease, you may wish to ask your veterinarian or your medical practitioner.  

Since that’s all I have to offer on toxoplasmosis (without getting too boring with all that medical jargon!), I’m going to take the opportunity to update you on the past topic of cage cleaning and offer some additional suggestions.

As you may recall, last year I recommended the use of a product called Novalsan.  Unfortunately, this product is not readily available to the public.  It is used often in veterinary practices, but not typically offered for resale in veterinarian offices.  Some of our subscribers have successfully found the product available at feed stores, but only on a very limited basis.

As much as I personally like this product, I realize it does not do much good for the community if you can’t find it anywhere.  Debbie and Lisa have tried a variety of products that are commercially available and presented one in particular to me to review and asked me to state my opinion.  The product is called Scooter’s Choice.  It is a non-bleach veterinary type disinfectant and cleaner.  This product is EPA registered and biodegradable.  It is my primary concern that the product works effectively against a range of bacteria, viruses, yeast and fungi when cleaning the cage.

According to the summary of anti-microbial activity provided by the manufacturer, I am satisfied that this product will work as an effective cleaner for your sugar gliders’ cage (and other pets as well).  Debbie and Lisa chose this particular product for me to review because they enjoyed the pleasant smell and the fact it is in a pre-mixed ready to use formula, obviously important issues to most consumers.  Once the cage has been thoroughly cleansed, you might consider using a surface coating product to help keep the surface cleaner in between major cleanings of the cage.

The product that is used at SunCoast for this purpose is called Cage Shield.  It is a direct contact spray that inhibits food, feces, and other organic matter from sticking on to cage, toys, and other habitat surfaces.  In other words, organic material is more easily wiped away when a product such as Cage Shield is utilized.  The active ingredient in this product is safe for direct animal contact.  Questions concerning cleaning product recommendations have been coming up a great deal lately and I trust this advice will give you another option for safe and reliable disinfecting practices.

Tune back in next month for a brand new topic. These topics are driven by your requests, so send your questions about glider health care issues 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)