Temperament Changes in Breeding Sugar Gliders
I have finally finished reading ALL of the GliderVet newsletters and I was right about them answering most of my questions. I still have a few though so I’ll start with one of my most important. I read in the newsletters that sometimes when gliders have joeys their attitudes can change. Is this usually a permanent change or do they usually go back to being your lovable little babies?
Good question Shannon,
They usually go back to a calmer state, BUT some gliders will have new joeys in pouch as older joeys are old enough to remove from Mom and Dad. Some gliders can get protective when babies are in pouch or out of pouch. If protective with babies in pouch, then it may seem like they are always protective as some gliders will breed again before the last set of babies is not fully weaned yet, so it becomes a continuous cycle. And removing the male to slow down production is not a good idea as he is very helpful in raising the young.
Breeding sugar gliders is one thing. Keeping sugar gliders as pets is often a completely different experience. I do both! My pets are my pets and my breeding gliders are my breeding gliders until they retire and become pets.
Most of my sugar glider breeding pairs are fine with us putting our hands in their homes, touching them, and in most cases touching their joeys. But I would say about half of our breeding colony is not that thrilled with it. You can see by their jerky movements and suspicious looks that humans might be tolerated, but not really welcome into the space with new joeys. And some sugar gliders can be downright vocal and physical about human presence when joeys are about to or have recently emerged from pouch.
With joeys at hand, you may see temperament changes in either the male or the female or both! Hormones are a powerful force of nature and even the most bonded gliders may surprise you by their turnaround in attitude toward you when they have young.
Most gliders will revert to that self that you knew prior to having young when they are out of the breeding cycle. Most of the people I speak to are most interested in having the best pet experience. If that is what you are looking for, then don’t breed your sugar gliders. Having male gliders neutered is always an option.
Some people really want to have both experiences. They want to breed once or twice, and then have the males neutered to focus on the best pet experience going forward. You can certainly do that but I encourage you to find out the going rate for neutering prior to going there. It seems like the pricing is quite varied and widespread across the country. Some areas are as low as $125.00 and if you’re lucky you might even find a vet that will do it for $75.00. This is quite a bit lower than the averages in my own area. I’ve spoken to some folks that are being quoted $400.00 plus!
My best advice is to have a game plan before starting the game. Know what your costs will be to neuter the male(s) and know what you are going to do with the joeys that are ultimately born. The wrong reason to breed gliders is to just see how the marsupial process works (and figure the rest of it out later). Figure it all out first so that you have no unpleasant surprises down the road and make sure you are prepared to find good and responsible homes for your joeys. If you plan to keep your joeys, which many people do, make sure there is no opportunity for inbreeding.
Done responsibly, the breeding experience can be quite exciting. Just know you may find some attitude changes associated with breeding, and you will have more odor with a breeding male. Have a solid game plan for responsible placement of the joeys once fully weaned.
Bonding Step Number One: From Cage to Pouch
Many prospective glider keepers will read everything they can get their hands on prior to bringing home new sugar gliders. This is a good thing and something we encourage all new pet keepers to do in advance. The better prepared you are for your new friends, the easier it will be for you and the better life your pets are likely to have.
I have the opportunity to speak with a great many people and while most people understand the basic concepts of bonding, many have a hard time taking the very first step. A lot of people see the bonding starting place as carrying the sugar gliders around during the day in abonding pouch. Well, that is not really the starting point. The starting point is getting the gliders from their cage to the bonding pouch and this is something that can intimidate a lot of people, especially when the gliders are not acclimated to the new home and fussy as a result.
While we don’t really recommend wearing gloves (in most cases) to handle the sugar gliders, you might find that wearing some sort of protective hand cover during this first step will not only make the process easier for you, but can be more comforting to your new sugar gliders as well. I’ll expand on this in a moment.
The easiest way, and least stressful way to get gliders from cage to bonding pouch is to do this during the day, while they are asleep. Remove the sleeping pouch with the gliders in it. Either use your bare hand, a bonding blanket, or a paper towel to remove the gliders from the sleeping pouch, which should now be in your lap, and relocate the sugar gliders one at a time to their own, separate bonding pouches.
If you are not sure what a bonding blanket is, then here’s the scoop. Take some fleece fabric either purchased from the fabric store or cut from an old baby blanket or sweat shirt and cut it a little smaller than a face cloth. Let the babies sleep with this little blanket. You can now use a blanket that smells like them to transfer them to the bonding pouch. Spritzing the blanket, your hand, and the inside of the bonding pouch with some bonding potion will help to relax them as well.
Easy enough? Well yes, if they are in the sleeping pouch when you are ready to spend some bonding time. What do you do if they jump out of the sleeping pouch and are running around the cage? This tends to be the bigger challenge for most new glider keepers.
The more you chase them around the cage with your bare hand, the more excited (stressed) you are making your new pets. A big part of developing that relationship of trust with your sugar gliders is to make them feel safe. Chasing them around with your big giant hand is not usually going to make them feel safe. So here’s a simple tip on how to manage a glider on the go. Keep a spare sleeping pouch handy. This is what you are going to use as your hand cover. Again, spritzing with some bonding potion will help to relax the situation. With the sleeping pouch hand cover, use this like a baseball glove to capture your sugar glider. Sugar gliders like to be wrapped in fabric. Of course, you do not want to squeeze them or put pressure on the body. You will simply wrap them loosely in the fabric as this is a comforting position for most sugar gliders. Now transfer the sugar glider to your bonding pouch and let the bonding begin!
As a reminder, whenever your sugar glider crabs, you should take this as an opportunity to calm them down and make them feel safe. Hold them from the outside of the bonding pouch, speak in a low, soft voice until the crabbing ceases. Use a shh shh sound as you would with an infant. When you are able to find that right combination of holding and sounds that comforts your glider, do it every time they crab. By becoming their comforter, you build the trust more quickly.
Changing, Mixing, and Alternating Staple Foods
Last month we introduced a brand new staple food to the sugar glider community called Wholesome Balance Chicken and Brown Rice Blend. I’m pleased to say that we are getting a lot of reports from gliders coast to coast of two patagiums up! Remember Mikey from the cereal commercials? He likes it! And he doesn’t like anything! We’re really happy to know that so many others are having the same experience we did.
This new product has raised questions, however, about how to go about changing diets. Most of us know from past pet experiences that sudden dietary changes can often be hard on the digestive systems of animals (on people too!). It is often encouraged by the veterinary community that when changing food plans for pets that it be done gradually over a one to two week period. Now, most household pets are of the domestic variety e.g. dogs and cats. Most of us feed our dogs and cats pre-made dog foods or cat foods. We don’t typically supplement dog and cat diets with the variety of fresh foods that we do with sugar gliders and other exotics.
In the case of dogs, it is easy to mix Kibble Brand A with new food, Kibble Brand B in varying proportions so that there is more Kibble Brand A in the mix at first, weaning away from Kibble Brand A until the bowl is ultimately filled with only Kibble Brand B. As said above, this process should take place over a one to two week period. Most dogs won’t pick around their food, although I’m sure there are some that will. They will eat what is in their bowl, often gobbling with unbridled enthusiasm until dinner is finished.
In the case of sugar gliders, we promote a diet plan of a good high quality (animal- based protein) staple food in conjunction with a rotation of a fresh fruit or vegetable and fresh proteins with vitamin and calcium supplementation. So the staple food portion of the diet only makes up a portion of the overall plan of nutrition.
Unlike the case of changing a dog diet, which is usually just a one course meal, changing the staple portion of the sugar glider diet only constitutes part of the diet. This is not to imply that one should not offer the staple food as a mixture with old Brand A and new Brand B. You can certainly do that and it’s probably a good idea to do so. BUT, don’t be surprised if your sugar gliders prefer the taste of the new food, they will only eat the new food and either ignore the old food or use the old brand of food as baseballs which you will find strewn around the habitat (inside and out). Unlike dogs, sugar gliders are not gobblers that will eat it simply because it came from you.
Because most of the diet is remaining the same, you may not have problems with disturbed digestion from changing the staple portion of the diet. I found this to be the case with my own colony of gliders as we did try the mixed approach and many of the gliders ate the mixture, but most of them picked out the kibble they preferred. The ones who ate new food over old food did not have diarrhea or other signs that can happen when diets are changed too fast.
We are strong advocates of a quality pellet food being incorporated into the overall plan of nutrition because it is important to have free feed access to food around the clock, even though sugar gliders are nocturnal. Young (growth stage) sugar gliders and breeding sugar gliders will often eat during the day as their bodies require more calories to support their own growth or their joey’s growth and development. I also find that older gliders will eat during the day. Gliders that are sick or recovering from illness will also eat during the day and this is often one of those behavior changes that can clue us in to illness. So the bottom line is that a free feed staple food is important for all gliders in all life cycles.
One of the most important factors in defining a high quality pellet food (staple food) is that the primary source of protein is animal protein and not vegetable protein (often some form of grain or soy). When reading nutritional labels you should know some basic facts about how nutritional labels are written. You will not likely see how much of each ingredient is included in the product. However, to comply with labeling requirements, there are some standards that are employed by food manufacturers.
The ingredients are listed in order of percentage inclusion in the food product. So ingredients listed first comprise the largest percentage of that ingredient in the food. The ingredients listed toward the end of the list are included in much smaller amounts and maybe even just trace amounts in the food product. Some companies include these trace ingredients often to persuade consumer choices.
For instance, they might include a miniscule amount of something simply so they can claim it is in the food because people see this food element as really good and healthy. An example of this practice might be “probiotics” or “taurine”, things we see on labels that most of us see as good but are they necessary for sugar gliders or our other pets, really? Something like probiotics may be great, but if left at room temperature for too long, the “good bacteria” are no longer alive – thus no benefit at all.
The point here is simple. The first several ingredients listed on the label are the most important. Animal proteins are superior to vegetable proteins, but vegetable proteins are really cheap, so most often employed in the manufacture of feeds given to many species of animal. Do you want cheap or do you want the healthiest? That is up to you to decide.
Some people are perfectly happy with the staple food they are presently giving their sugar gliders. But since so many of us are really into diets of variety for our sugar gliders, could this concept apply to the staple food as well? Sure. Why not?
If you are using a high quality staple food now and want to try something else like Wholesome Balance or Zookeepers Secret, you can do that. You can use one today and another tomorrow, or a mixture of the two. One thing I know about sugar gliders is that too much of the same thing over and over again can cause some of them to get bored with the diet. Variety is the spice of life and if you choose to employ that idea even in the offering of staple food, I can find no reason not to go that route. Of course, I did run this thought by a couple of our vet associates as well, and they concur that this approach can be fine.
Other than during times of food testing, we tend to stick with one brand of staple food with our colony of sugar gliders. It’s the easier way to go. If you are more comfortable mixing it up, then go for it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that most of you don’t have quite as many sugar gliders to feed each day as we do! If that’s the case, saving time may not be as high on your list as it is on ours.
‘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!