Sugar Glider Rescue – Part II
By Lisa

We get a ton of calls and e-mail from people who are trying to decide
whether to rescue or buy a joey.  Quite often the people who choose rescue end up with problems they never anticipated – problems we are asked to help them resolve.  Here are a few of the more frequent problems: the glider won’t bond, won’t eat, is sick and therefore expensive to keep, or the glider just won’t get along with other gliders.  Many people feel good about “saving the animal” and are severely disappointed with the end results, and these critters end up bouncing from home to home. 

But the Exchange doesn’t fix the problem, it just hopefully makes it less painful.  The only thing that will fix the problem is education, and with this series of articles on rescue, we hope to make sure you fully understand the all the issues surrounding a rescue.  In last month’s article, we began this series by discussing what a rescue is not.  To review that article, click here.  This month, we review an actual rescue situation we experienced here at SunCoast.

Oftentimes, rescue situations come about as a result of some life-changing event in the human caretaker’s life.  Case in point, we took in a group of over twenty sugar gliders several years ago.  The original keeper of these gliders was a small breeder in FL and he and his wife split up rather suddenly.  He used to keep all of his gliders in separate “paired off” cages, but due to having to move to a new home, dealing with his personal emotions, and trying to get his life back on track, he put all of the gliders in one large outdoor aviary.

Unfortunately, when we agreed to take these gliders in, we found that the cage was outdoors (in Florida, during the hottest month of the year) with no shade in the yard at all.  It was a sad and sorry sight to behold.  I do think he felt badly for doing this to his gliders, but he was not in the best emotional state to make good decisions for himself, much less his animals.  He was trying hard to focus on finding good homes for not only sugar gliders, but a plethora of other exotics he kept as well.  We paid him $600 for the cage and all the sugar gliders, an amount significantly below the price one would expect to pay for sugar gliders.  But the money we put into these animals after the initial purchase added up quickly and this is the part all potential rescuers should be prepared for.  Sick or desperate animals are going to require rehabilitation, and it costs money.

We felt that the first order of business was to physically examine all of the sugar gliders.  This was no fun task trying to deal with a rather large group of animals who had not been handled for quite awhile and kept in a highly unsuitable situation.  We got through the physicals and separated out animals who were sick-looking or carrying joeys.

Our next step was to acquire, build, and locate new cages for this group.  We had to assume that all of the gliders in this giant colony were related to each other in some way, so how do you go about setting them up in smaller size groupings and ensure that no future inbreeding would take place?  There was only one way to completely ensure this and that was to find a new opposite sex mate for every single animal in the colony.

Dr. C insisted that these animals undergo a full forty five day quarantine period and told us, in no uncertain terms, that we were crazy if we were planning to integrate them into our breeding colony prior to completion of quarantine.  So the new group of gliders lived at my home during quarantine.  I’ll share with you a rather pertinent fact about my home – I don’t have a suitable place available to handle such a large quarantine.  So then we had the expense of creating a makeshift quarantine setup until relocation could begin.

We also incurred numerous costs on medical exams and treatments for the six sick gliders from this group.  In fact, the whole rescue operation rapidly became a bottomless pit of bills and expenses, plus we ended up losing two of the gliders in the colony.  We now had about twenty little beings that needed a place of their own, an unrelated mate, an upgraded diet, and lots of love and understanding.

The next phase took us nearly a year to accomplish.  We were able to adopt out a few of these gliders to individuals who needed companion animals for glider pairs that had lost mates.  Through re-arranging some of our pairs and trios, along with bringing in a few more gliders from outside sources, we were finally able to accomplish suitable opposite-sex companions for all the sugar gliders.   Each pair / trio was finally in a new cage in a peaceful, controlled environment.

I bet at this point, many of you are feeling that over time, by breeding these gliders, that we were able to re-coup much of the money we spent to bring in this rescue colony.  Well, think again, mes amis! Many of these gliders turned out to be very poor parents.  They either did not breed, did not bring joeys to full term, abandoned their joeys, or cannibalized them.  Once any of our gliders have been deemed to fit into any of these categories, we stop breeding them immediately.  And nearly all of them ultimately stay here at SunCoast, as we feel a strong obligation to ensure these animals have a good life for the rest of their time on this planet.

Please take from this story one simple message: if you are getting into a true rescue of sugar gliders – where neglect, abuse, or abandonment has taken place – make sure you are prepared for it emotionally and financially.  It’s not going to be easy.

If you think that rescued sugar gliders will integrate well into a small breeding program, you may just find that is not the case.  What you may end up with is limited space for a bunch of animals in need of extensive care, different diets, veterinary visits, and who are unlikely to contribute to their own upkeep.  It is a tremendous responsibility and one that you should approach with eyes wide open before jumping in.  We weighed these risks before taking in this colony as we had done several smaller rescues prior to this event, but to be quite honest with you, the stack of bills at the end of the event were significantly higher than we had planned for.

Rescued animals can be significantly more expensive to maintain than animals raised in loving and supportive environments.  Many of their health issues are more stress induced, and these types of situations can be hard to treat and resolve.

Another Exciting Episode of …. DEAR 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,

I take my gliders out during the day a lot just to hold them and love them. Sometimes their hair looks funny. It’s kind of flat and sticking up kinda weird like. But at night, they look like their typical fuzzy and well-groomed selves. I know that I’ve read that the fur can be a sign of health problems. Any ideas what is going on here?

Bad Hair in Baltimore

Dear Bad,

Hehehehehe ….. I think me may know what’s up. Meself is a victim of pouch hair. This is the sugar glider version of what methinks you hoomans call bed head. See, I sleeps amongst three other fuzzbutts whose butts are significantly larger than meself. And I prefers to sleep on the bottom cause it’s the warmest and coziest there. So if me beauty sleep is disturbed in the middle of the day, I haven’t had time to grooms meself and tend to not look quite as hansome as I do in the evening, when I always looks terrific!

Anywho, you right about the look of the fur being a good sign to tell how your suggie is feeling, but if they look good at night, they probly all right … now this is what I want you to do! Forget to close the cage door tonite, and let yer fuzzies come dive bomb you at about 3AM! That’s high party time for us and we are looking good. I want you to run to one of those shiny things that makes you able to see yersef (a mirror?) and take a good long look at your head fur …. Pretty? Methinks not! Bad hair days can affect the best of us!

Your groovin and groomin glider pal,

Dear Arnold,

My name is Pikachu and my Mum Tree is Juli.  I wanted to send you me picture and let you in on a little secret.  My ancestors in Australia started that whole Croc Hunter thing and the secrets have been passed down through generations.  I think Steve Irwin is a big copy cat!  I live in Florida like you, Arnie!  And here we only have alligators.

Yours truly,
Pikachu, Original Croc Hunter

Dear Pikachu,

You are such a brave boy!  Do you eat the alligators you slay?  I heard they taste like mealworms!

Your admirer,
Meal Worm Slayer

Well, That’s all Blokes!  Tune in again next month for another exciting episode of Dear Arnold!  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… Unproven Diet Plans – Part I

By Dr. C., of course!

Without a doubt, the most frequently asked questions that are submitted to me about good glider care involve diet.  Diet is a critical aspect of good husbandry skills with any pet, particularly exotic pets as high quality pre-formulated diets typically do not exist.  So learning how to manage your pet’s diet properly will have a direct impact on your sugar glider’s long term health and well being.

Apparently there is a lot of ongoing discussion on several of the internet communities concerning the use of human dietary supplements such as Ensure, Sustagen and Boost in a sugar glider diet.  We suspect a prescribed diet using these ingredients to feed sugar gliders began with a very specific situation but now has snowballed into a “diet plan”.  It is not very likely the use of these ingredients was ever intended as part of an ongoing “diet plan”, and they can possibly impact your glider’s health negatively.  So let’s begin this discussion by looking at the purpose of these sort of products in the human setting.

On the Ensure official website, this nutritional supplement is described as follows:

ENSURE is complete, balanced nutrition for supplemental use with or between meals.  When consumed in appropriate amounts, ENSURE can be used as a sole source of nutrition: For people on modified diets · For people at nutrition risk · For those with involuntary weight loss · For people who need a low-cholesterol or low-residue diet · For patients recovering from illness or surgery

I also encourage you to look at the list of known side effects of using such products in humans.  If you are using a diet based on Ensure, Sustagen, Boost or any other similar type of formula.

My first question to anyone who wishes to feed a sugar glider a human nutritional supplement like these is this: Why would you feed your pet a human product designed for sick, chronic, underweight, or recovering humans?  Next, what empirical data exists to equate human needs to sugar glider needs?  In other words, do you assume that human nutritional requirements and sugar glider nutritional requirements are the same?  In my opinion and experience, this is not likely the case.

I really want to encourage you to stick with a sugar glider plan for diet and nutrition that has been time tested and proven.  This is one of those areas where I personally feel that information derived from the internet can be potentially dangerous to keepers of exotic animals. But before I go further into my personal thoughts on such a diet, let’s briefly examine where the diet came from.

Lisa has given me background information on the first individual to experience a success story by using the product Ensure as the basis for a nutritional approach to aid in the recovery of a sugar glider diagnosed with cancer.  I wish to commend this individual for her success and for her dedication and commitment to find answers in the best interest of her sugar glider.  I understand that she has gone to great lengths and sought the advice of several professionals in her quest to find answers to resolve a life-threatening situation.

I do believe that when a glider is at risk, losing weight, losing energy and on an obvious downhill slide, that immediate measures must be taken if that life is to be saved.  The ultimate goal is to then support that animal in such a way that the highest quality of life can be obtained and it sounds to me like the approach that was taken was highly successful.  It’s hard to argue with success, but the fact remains that this diet was used to save the life of a sick sugar glider.

Here is where I wish to caution the rest of the community: if you use a diet plan that includes an ingredient designed to support a critically ill human as a mainstay diet for healthy animals, my concern is that the long-term effects will be unfavorable to animals with normal metabolisms and good health status.

This month, I wanted to lay some groundwork for this discussion by sharing the facts on this type of nutritional.  Next month we will complete this topic and I will share with you why I think following
such a plan is not in your pets’ best interest.

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 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)