What NOT to feed?
I get asked this question all the time: “Can you please give me a list of the foods my sugar gliders cannot have?” And for a long time, I have avoided answering the question because I feel it is impossible to come up with a complete list, or even close to a complete list, of the food items gliders should not have. But every January, there are a ton of new glider owners out there who may have been given improper information on feeding, so I decided to list some of the foods that I know are often fed to sugar gliders, despite information which indicates caution. This way, we can at least start off with a partial list of the most common “mistake” foods people continue to feed to their sugar gliders. Remember, this is a just a short list of foods we strongly encourage you to avoid for your gliders, but is in no way intended to be a complete list.
And when reading this list, please note our approach is this: if there is a solid reason to question whether to feed gliders a certain food, we simply avoid feeding it. Why take the risk? At the same time, we acknowledge some experienced glider keepers may disagree with a few of these choices, and so be it. The intent here is to prevent new glider owners from stumbling into a problem of their own making.
Nuts (or any high fat content foods):
While sugar gliders may look, and act, a bit like flying squirrels, this is where the similarities stop. You see, the internal anatomy and digestive processes of these two animals are quite different and while squirrels can handle the higher fat content of nuts, sugar gliders cannot. Nuts not only present a health risk due to the high fat content, but they are also provide a choking risk. The sugar glider’s esophagus is only about the size of a pin head. Have you ever noticed how your glider chews and then will sometimes spit out a pulpy substance? Sugar gliders mash their food in their mouths and swallow the juices and will often discard the left over substance by spitting it out. This is perfectly normal glider behavior.
The risk of high fat foods is the gliders’ inability to digest the fat well. So this suggestion to avoid nuts includes all foods of a high fat content including avocado, ground beef, pork, cheese, etc.
Sugar gliders that are fed a diet too high in fat will often display a cloudiness in their eyes. This white looking condition in the eyes could very well be fatty deposits. If there are fatty deposits in the eyes, can you only imagine what the excess fat is doing to the rest of the organs? I have seen this condition in sugar gliders who were not necessary overweight animals.
If you have an underweight animal, you may want to increase the calorie count to get them to a healthier weight, but do so without using high fat foods.
Lettuce does not contain much nutritional value for sugar gliders and can often induce diarrhea in these animals. Don’t fill your sugar glider up on lettuce because it lacks the nutrition they need. There are many fruits and vegetables that have much higher nutritional value and these are the types of foods better suited for your sugar gliders menu planning. Make the meal choices count; and in our opinion, lettuce does not count for much.
Cheese (or any dairy other than yogurt):
As mentioned above, cheese is a high fat food and we have already discussed the dangers of feeding foods too high in fat. But there is also some controversy surrounding the question about lactose intolerance in sugar gliders. Personally, I think the fat issue is enough for me to avoid cheese with my gliders. And I have found that certain milks do indeed produce results that appear to be indicative of lactose intolerance. The only dairy we opt to feed here is yogurt. Until better studies are undertaken to determine whether lactose intolerance is fact or fiction, as it applies to sugar gliders, walk on the safe side and avoid all dairy products other than yogurt. We give our baby gliders yogurt at least twice per week and our adults get yogurt at least once per week. They seem to do quite well with this one dairy product which is high in protein in and calcium, both good attributes for a sugar glider well rounded diet. By the way, we count yogurt as a protein serving in following Dr C’s suggested guidelines for a good sugar glider plan of nutrition.
Corn (or any foods where the Phosphorus ratio is higher than the calcium ratio):
If you recall from past newsletters, Dr C has discussed the importance of having a higher calcium to phosphorus count in food choices for sugar gliders. To briefly reiterate what she said about this, phosphorus binds to calcium and is expelled from the body, thus increasing risk for a calcium deficiency disorder. This a common condition for improperly fed sugar gliders. Now this is an extreme oversimplification of the digestive process, but this publication is here to give advice and not to be a super detailed science journal. We would like you to stay awake while reading this information!
OK, back to corn. Sugar gliders LOVE corn, but the phosphorus count is much higher than the calcium benefits in this particular food. I remember when Arnold was a joey, he was in my shirt as I was preparing to cook dinner and I opened a can of corn and he literally dove straight in. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him happier as he two fisted the tasty morsels and made a complete mess of himself, my kitchen counter and my dinner plans. I wiped him down and put him back in his nest box with his girls and they pinned him flat down and proceeded to lick him from head to toe (which he didn’t seem to mind either). It was a great day in the life of Arnold, but knowing that corn is really not good for them, it was his last great encounter with the niblets.
Corn is not the only vegetable that you need to avoid due to high phosphorus ratios, but it is the most common food I hear people feed that we would recommend avoiding. For a listing of popular fruits and veggies and their CA/Ph ratios, click here.
Bird seeds or parrot food:
I most often hear from people that have purchased their sugar gliders from pet shops that the recommendation and products sold to go home with the sugar gliders is bird seed or parrot food. I have no idea where this idea came from and how anyone could think it is a good idea for gliders. All I can guess is that people in pet stores see these critters as living in tree tops in the wild (like a bird) and they glide, which is kind of like flying (like a bird).
Please do not feed your sugar gliders bird food! Bird food is usually made of foods like seeds, nuts, dried fruits (like raisins) and sugar gliders are simply not built to even be able to digest this type of food. It saddens me when I hear information this poor is still commonplace in some venues.
I think the best and easiest explanation I have heard on feeding bird seed was from Ellen of Glider Central. As Ellen put it, birds have an organ called a gullet which enables them to digest such foods. Sugar gliders do not have a gullet. Simple enough, right?
Cats are carnivores and sugar gliders are omnivores. According to Dr C, cat food should also be avoided. Many exotic pets that are “new” are often given cat food when first introduced to the market as pets. This is because often, there are no commercially manufactured foods yet available. This is no longer true for sugar gliders.
Dr C shared with me several years ago how this was the case with ferrets (and other species as well). Science exists that shows that as more species appropriate diets are implemented, the longer the lifespan the captive species will enjoy. Carnivores need a whole lot more protein than omnivores. There are much better alternatives than cat food and to achieve optimal health, your best advised to go with a more animal-specific pellet food like Wholesome Balance.
In July and August 2006 we had a discussion on grapes and raisins as a potential bad food for sugar gliders. We’re going a bit out on a limb with this discussion, but why take a chance when there are other foods that exhibit safer and healthier qualities, such as blueberries? We won’t go over this whole topic again, but you can click below to read the original articles:
I started off this article by stating the oft asked question of “what can’t I feed my sugar gliders?” Most people know that chocolate is a bad choice for dogs and assume the same is true for sugar gliders. We are going to assume that is correct. Anything with empty calories should be avoided, whether it poses a direct health risk or not. Empty calories do nothing for your pets’ long term well being.
In closing, I often get comments from folks that they know certain foods are probably not real good for their gliders, but still feed it now and then because the gliders like it so much. The quest should be to find healthy foods that your gliders clamor for. I know mealworm night is always a food fest around here. Blueberries are well received, as are many foods in the melon family. Papayas will make most of my gliders wake up early for a taste of that fabulous tropical fruit. Experiment with healthy foods that make your gliders happy. There is no need to ever feed foods that are known or even suspect to be unhealthy food choices, because there are far too many healthy foods available that gliders will love just as much!
I want to buy a large bag of the sugar glider food, how long will it last? I want to save on shipping costs?
Fact is, according the gubmint, if ya sell food, then ya can only say it lasts for 6 months if using natural preservatives and 12 months if using chemical preservatives. Now I’m no chemist, but melikes the sound of natural bettah! So methinks me prefers natural, which means it won’t last as long.
My Lisa tree did a test. She held some food for almost six months and then got some right “off the truck” and she gave us each 2 bowls of pellet food (plus our other fresh stuff) for several days. Well, we really like it better fresh and natural. You two leggers like cereal: do ya like it best when you open the box and bag? Or do ya like it best when its been in the pantry for months? Methinks we all like stuff best when fresh!
So me advice is don’t overload on the staple food – keep a fresh supply on hand and use it daily. And we should get it daily, just like some of ya 2-leggers eat rice every day. Our staple food is a basic part of our diet (and much more balanced than just rice!). And the fresh foods, well, those keep us interested. Variety is the spice of life, AND we need a basic well rounded meal course each day to keep us the most fittest and healthiest!
We bought 3 gliders from you about three years ago. My question: are the sleeping pouches you sell still big enough for three sugar gliders when they are three years old? It seems like they are always tearing small holes in the side of their sleeping pouch. I didn’t know if they needed to be a little bigger?
The sleeping pouches here at SunCoast are big enough for 3 even when we suggies are all grown up and honkin’ big, like meself! Think about it like this: You 2-legged peeps wear holes in yer socks after awhile, right? Well, same goes for our pouches.
We suggies do lotsa nestling inside our pouches. And after awhile, some holes can start happenin’ from love bites, rough and tumble games, chewin’ gliders – and all da rest of our crazy suggie antics!
So it’s not about the size of the pouch, but just the fabric wearin’ out over time, espeshlly if ya wash ’em a lot, or use with gliders that like to chew. So dependin’ on how many gliders stay inside a pouch, yer pouches will have to be replaced every year or two (kinda like yer socks – yuk yuk yuk!)
Love, yer favorite sleepin’ beauty,
It’s always a good time to go over safety tips for keeping toys and other glider accessories in good working order. Even the best made products will wear out in time and need to be replaced. It is critically important that you check out toys, sleeping pouches and other glider accessories for signs of wear and tear.
Not all sugar gliders are created equally. One of the attributes we love best about our fuzzy little buddies is the uniqueness of their personalities! Gliders will also exhibit different behavior patterns based on those personalities.
As you know, we take the business of testing products seriously here at SunCoast. With as many animals as we have at the Sugar Shack, it gives us the opportunity to have a great environment to test similar products with a wide range of animals, because we know that while one group may play nice with a new product, another grouping may make mincemeat out of it in a matter of days. We probably look at somewhere between 10-15 items before any make it into our store.
One thing I can tell you is that I have not seen any product that over the long run does not wear out, except maybe stainless steel items.
So lets look at some of the “hazard” signs you should look for when cleaning your gliders toys and accessories. If you do not clean your glider products that often, at least do a weekly check on your products to make sure they continue to be in good working order.
Look for signs of chewing in the seams. If the gliders are wearing holes through their sleeping or bonding pouches, replace them. A small hole in a pouch may leave enough room for a head to squeeze through, but not out again. This is a risk you do not want to take.
Sugar gliders do not have to chew to stay healthy as some other animals do, particularly those in the rodent family. But some sugar gliders like to chew. I tend to categorize the chewers in two groups:
1) I find that bored sugar gliders tend to chew more than stimulated gliders. You can increase their stimulation by adding more activities(toys) to the habitat. Also, keep some toys out and some in and exchange them every once in awhile.
2) But now and then, we meet a sugar glider in the second category of “good old fashioned overachiever”. These sugar gliders, while not too common, can chew up things in a heartbeat. If you have one of these overachievers on your hands, then be super selective with your toy selection. If your glider always chews up wood toys, try hard plastic toys. Severely chewed products should be discarded. It is rare that a glider will chew a toy and swallow the splintery pieces. As a matter of fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of such a case. As we stated earlier in this newsletter, many gliders will chew food and spit out the pulp. So while the hazard to your glider may not be high risk for choking on these splinters, splintered or chewed wood can present other hazards that you want to avoid.
Suncoast’s Top 8 Glider Problems to Watch For
With comments by Arnold!
There are lots of conflicting opinions on the web about what’s goodfor gliders. However, there’s not nearly as much conflicting opinion on what’s bad for gliders, so we like to publish “bad idea” lists this time of year. Drumroll, please: Top 8 Glider Problems
8. Open toilets
Us gliders are super-fast and we’re not going to be able to climb out once we drop in. Close those lids, two-leggers!
7. Toys with loose strings or unraveled rope
Whatcha thinkin there? Can’t ya see we could get caught in that? We do run around like fuzzy tornadoes, so if we can twist it in a knot, don’t let us have it.
6. Products made from fabrics that unravel
Hey, didn’t me start off life with four feet? Isn’t this what happened to one of ’em?
5. Live plants
Many plants can be toxic – if ya not sure it’s safe, don’t use it! And if you do use a live plant, be sure to say goodbye to it – we’re gonna strip it down and likely kill it!
4. Cages smaller than 36 inches by 30 inches by 18 inches
What kind of insane idea is the starter cage? Some of me buddies start off in new homes in floor to ceiling super mansions … No one (glider or human) ever tole me that the cage was too large! On the flip side, too small is a problem and will contribute to strange and wacky behavior. One sign of a cage too small is back flipping. Back flipping to suggies is like head banging to hoomans. Too weird.
3. Open rung running wheels / wire hamster wheels
Hello, see that long thing dragging behind me? That’s called a tail. I’d like to keep it please!
2. Gliders Leashes or Harnesses
What am I supposed to do with me patagium (glidin’ membrane) if wearing one of these? ‘Cuz we have a membrane, these don’t fit us right and are uncomfy. Try wearing one size too small underwear backwards for a week and get back to me on this one, OK?
1. Heat Rocks
Now wear that underwear on your head so you can look as silly as this one! Me body temp is almost the same as yours. If you are comfy in short sleeves, I’m gonna call that perfect for me! What? Sugar gliders can’t regulate their own temperature? You heard that from a reliable source?
OK, I will admit that is true .. but ONLY WHEN YOU ARE TOO YOUNG to leave your Mum and Pops … and if you with them like you s’posed to be, then Mum and Pops will keep ya warm. And if you do really need extra heat ‘cuz your hoomans keep a cold house, get an out of the cage heating device like a space heater or ceramic heat emitter! Heat rocks so DO NOT rock!
Can you find web sites recommending some of the above products? Sure. But make sure you check the date, OK? Some ideas thought to be fine 10 years ago have proven not such good ideas over time, yet often persist and are even touted as new ideas because they are so different from the current common experience of glider owners.
If 99 / 100 people tell you something is a bad idea, and that 1 person left tells you the other 99 are “outdated”, just how likely is that?
‘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!