Sick Gliders Can Be Gentle, Injured Gliders Can be Grumpy
Growing up around a lot of animals, I remember being warned often as a child to be careful around sick or injured animals. They may just turn on you! This makes some sense to me. I know that I am personally getting over a rather nasty sinus infection and if I were to be completely honest with you, I would have to admit that I had some grumpy moments during this episode. So if we get grumpy when we don’t feel well, doesn’t it make sense that the animals would respond the same way?
Perhaps this is quite true for many species, yet my experience has shown me quite differently with sugar gliders. Many exotic animals, particularly small ones, have the ability to cloak illness. Why do this? If they were to look and act all sickly, they become prime targets for predators seeking out the weak and the old as the easiest prey.
Mother Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has bestowed upon many of the beasts of the world the ability to look well in spite of an underlying illness. This can be very challenging for us humans as often we see our sugar gliders as healthy and fine, then suddenly look sick, and the sick look doesn’t often last long before demise. Typically when sugar gliders look sick, they can be mortally sick so it is important to respond as quickly as possible as you may not have much time.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when sick, sugar gliders get into a very weakened condition and their temperament appears to be gentle, calm, relaxed and just downright sweet. This seems so contrary to the prevailing viewpoint that sick animals should be handled with caution as they may respond with increased tendency toward biting and defensiveness. A very sick sugar glider does not tend at all to have this response.
As a matter of fact, I am often pleased when we have to treat a sick glider and it starts to get its “grump on”. This is a clear signal to me that the animal is feeling better and is beginning to show signs of annoyance by my over attentiveness and medicine giving. You know they are feeling better when they get that “enough already” attitude. In sick gliders, the crabbing sound is often weakened and as they get stronger, if you have a glider prone to crabbing, the sound gets louder and stronger as the animal recovers. I’ve learned to appreciate their ability to express annoyance because this is a clear sign that they are getting their strength back and returning to a state of vigor.
Fortunately, I don’t have a great deal of experience to share with you in regards to injured sugar gliders. However, I do have a recent experience that showed me there can be quite a contrast between the behaviors of the sick versus injured.
I had re-homed two baby sugar gliders and the new parent called me shortly after the adoption to tell me that something was wrong with one of them. Now before I go into this more, please understand that I do not blame anyone for this. Sometimes in spite of our very best intentions, accidents happen. However, I think there are some important lessons to be learned from this experience.
The problem that my customer noted was a lame back leg. Her initial thought is that it was a birth defect. She brought the glider back to me and we immediately brought her to the vet. In addition to pulling her back leg up, her behavior seemed off. She was very fussy and was trying to crab and bite. Although her crab was weak and her bites were strongly directed, her lack of physical strength prohibited her from doing any real damage.
The vet exam showed that she had three fractures in the rear leg bone. This is a very serious injury. How did it happen? We will never know the answer to that and once such a thing happens, I think it’s more important to work on a solution supportive to the animal’s comfort and recovery than to worry about what happened. What was done was done and the best we can do at this point is to try and provide an environment of healing and relief.
There is not much a veterinarian can do to set such small bones. The sugar glider has a very light and fragile bone structure so it does not take much force for such an injury to occur.
The fact this little one showed such great annoyance by her attempts to crab and bite I took as a clear sign that she is in pain. Sadly, she did not survive but a few days. In this particular case, her grumpy attitude was clearly a sign that she was in pain, and by her struggles to maneuver, I would have to guess that the pain rather severe.
This is what I mean when I say sick gliders can be gentle, injured gliders can be grumpy. I will wrap up by saying this. If you have the slightest suspicion that your animal is sick, please see a vet as soon as possible because many exotic animals can cloak illness. Do not wait for a sign of the animal getting grumpy as a sign they do not feel well, because just the opposite seems to be true of sugar gliders.
If you have a sugar glider with something obviously wrong and is exhibiting heightened defensive behavior (crabbing and biting), consider if this is happening because the animal is suffering and in pain. What you do from there is something you will need to dig deep to find out. Admittedly, I am not the best person to advise you here. Compassion is a beautiful word, and an attitude I would like to embrace all the time. Sometimes being compassionate is very hard to do. Knowing an animal is in pain is also hard to handle. I often will defer to my vet’s advice on this matter. I know my vet will be a lot more objective about decisions than I will with such difficult choices.
This is only presented as an example as we do change things up fairly often depending on the seasonality of fruits and veggies – when fruits and veggies are in season and abundant, they are the most delicious and at the best price. Best of both worlds, if you ask me!
We highly recommended sticking to fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding canned and baby food alternatives as typical meal servings. To periodically substitute frozen produce, or baby food fruit and vegetable formulas is acceptable, but usage of these alternatives should be the exception and not the rule.
There are numerous previous articles stored in our archive pages that you can refer to that will help guide you to appropriate modifications of these food selections and explain dietary considerations more in depth. But for those of you who just need a simple, easy to follow plan, then stick with this guide as closely as you can. The fruits and veggies we typically select fit within overall guidelines as suggested and supported by many vets (and personal experience!), considering calcium / phosphorus ratios and the protein selections are made with a low overall fat content.
This is the diet plan we use for our breeding sugar gliders, which require a higher protein intake than non-breeding gliders. You may modify this diet for non-breeding gliders by skipping the protein offering for three of the seven days on the menu. The diet is also presented in serving sizes meant for two sugar gliders. If you have more gliders, you will have to adjust the portions accordingly (we hope you don’t have only one glider.) Expect to have leftover food each day. Also remember, just because a glider ignores something on one day does not mean the glider doesn’t like it. We often see the whole colony eat lightly on some nights and suspect it may be an environmental influence. Please note: for any item with a “*” or ** or *** see the bottom of the menu for more info – fruit portion size, methods for serving supplements, and Concoction you can substitute for regular menu when you don’t have the time to follow it.
We feed the gliders all offerings on the menu at one time, in the late evening or early night. All uneaten food should be removed each morning, except leftover Wholesome Balance, which does not spoil and is intended to provide balanced nutrition outside of feeding time.
A couple of notes on our approach to diet before the details:
We really recommend strongly that you feed bugs to your sugar gliders because they are classified as preferential insectivores. When bugs are available in the wild, they will choose bugs as their primary source of feeding, even if manna is widely available – they choose insects over “sap sucking”. They love bugs! It is an easy enrichment to offer them and the more we can enrich the environment with food choices, large cage space, toys and other things to stimulate them as they would be in the wild, the better adjusted they will be. Giving animals the opportunity to experience life as they were intended to have experiences is the best way to honor them for who they are.
2. Animal Protein in the Staple Food
We suggest animal protein over other protein sources because it is the superior feeding protein. The reason many food products are made with other proteins, the predominant being soy, corn, or whey instead of animal protein, is because it is much cheaper for the manufacturer. This approach does not provide equal or superior protein and related amino acids in the diet. We avoid using products with soy as a dominant source of nutrition because it is high in phytoestrogens (female hormones) and more than a few nutritionists think adding hormones to the diet is not desirable – why risk it?
3. Definition of “Variety” in Diet
Too many people mistake “variety” as feeding many different things every day, but if you look at each day, the menu is the same. Understand the difference? This is a bit of upside down thinking. Offering a choice periodically that is pre-made (like our Concoction below) will accommodate the busy lifestyles most people have, But we just don’t recommend doing this daily, because too much of the same thing is boring and goes against the principles of enrichment. Variety is enriching! For more on this topic and the importance to animal well-being, read our diet article Thrive versus Survive.
OK, ‘nuf said on the overall approach, here’s the weekly menu:
– One Tablespoon of Wholesome Balance or fresh ZooKeeper’s Secret(toss any uneaten ZooKeeper’s from previous day)
– One serving of melon* with supplement sprinkled** (watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew)
– Mealworms (8-12 worms per sugar glider, depending on the size of the worms)
– Fresh water
– One Tablespoon of Wholesome Balance or ZooKeeper’s Secret
– One serving of carrots (wash them and sprinkle supplement while still wet)
– Crickets (3-5 per sugar glider, depending on the size of the crickets)
– Fresh water
– One Tablespoon of Wholesome Balance or ZooKeeper’s Secret
– One serving apples with supplement sprinkled or you can mix supplement with eggs (gliders seem to prefer red apples, particularly ‘red delicious’ apples)
– Canned Grasshopper (1 per glider) or 1 Tablespoon of mashed boiled eggs mixed with apple juice
– Fresh Water
– One Tablespoon of Wholesome Balance or ZooKeeper’s Secret
– One tablespoon of yogurt (NO aspartame!) with supplement mixed in well (did you know yogurt contains 26% protein?)
– One serving of sweet potatoes or yams
– Fresh Water
*Fruit and veggie servings are equated to the equivalent of 1/8 of a large apple for two gliders. For less dense foods that have a higher water content, such as melon, you would offer a larger piece. For denser foods, like sweet potato, you would offer a slightly smaller piece. Portion control is very important!
**There are several ways to get gliders to eat the vitamin and calcium supplement. Because we are offering supplements to a large number of gliders each day, we’ve found the easiest way for us to administer the Vionate Vitamins and RepCal Calcium is to mix them with Arnold’s Choice Possum Milk Replacer. This makes the supplement presentation taste good and attracts the gliders to it. With many gliders, using only the vitamins and calcium supplements directly on food will make them “ignore” the food.
We mix the formula with one part Vionate, one part Green Label RepCal, and two parts Milk Replacer. Put it in a cheese shaker and give a single generous sprinkle to only one course of the nightly meal, about 1/4 teaspoon for each pair of gliders (1/8 teaspoon each). This method is fine whether you have two gliders or many gliders.
The vitamins taste a bit icky and the calcium tastes like chalk. By adding the possum milk replacer (which tastes like cake mix), we are flavorizing the supplements to make them more appealing. It just makes things easier and will prevent them from avoiding foods that have been supplemented.
A second method to offer the supplements is to mix into juice or nectar ice cubes. This turns the process of giving supplements from chore to treat! Combine 32 ounces of apple juice or peach nectar with 1 Teaspoon of Vionate and & 1 Teaspoon of Rep-Cal Calcium.
Then pour this mixture into 30 ice cubes and freeze. Serve one cube per night for 2 sugar gliders and one cube every other night for 1 sugar glider. Nectar works better because it’s thicker and the supplements will suspend a bit longer as you pour trays. Either way, juice or nectar, poor quickly after blending so that the majority of the supplements don’t sink to the bottom of the pitcher before pouring.
An alternate method to administer supplements is to give a pinch of just the vitamins and calcium supplements (without Milk Replacer) to your gliders each day, but we highly recommend that you “hide” it well in the food offering, not always easy to do when your evening menu choices are not conducive selections for mixing in vitamins. Many gliders will avoid foods if they have too much vitamin taste or too much chalky calcium taste.
The most important issue here is that you give your sugar gliders supplements on a regular basis. Captive diets require the necessity of calcium in order to maintain nutritional balance. Calcium deficiency diseases are amongst the most common ailments that sugar gliders contract. And vitamins are necessary for calcium absorption amongst many other beneficial qualities. Offering supplements is as important to the diet as feeding proper foods in proper portions.
*** Concoction is what we feed on days when we are not around all day, like Sundays and major holidays. You can make it in advance, and if feeding a lot of animals, then a quick scoop per cage and they have their full meal in one casserole-looking-goop! We use one ounce of white chicken meat, one tablespoon vanilla yogurt, one tablespoon of applesauce, and the supplements.
‘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!