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 there’s a ton of new glider owners out there in January 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 negative information to the contrary. 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.
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 our vet’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, our vets have discussed the importance of having a higher calcium to phosphorus count in food choices for sugar gliders. To briefly reiterate what was 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 our vets, cat food should also be avoided with sugar gliders. Many exotic animals that are “new” to being kept as pets are often given cat food when first introduced. This happens simply because there are no alternative manufactured foods available yet (there is now).
Our vet 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 glider specific staple 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!
Accident Prevention is the Best Medicine
Since many of you may have received new sugar gliders (from SunCoast or otherwise) for the Holidays, I’d like to spend some time on safety and give you a partial list of items / products and normal household accessories that I believe you should consider avoiding in order to keep your gliders safe and protected. While this list is by no means intended to be all-inclusive, it does contain the types of items I believe may negatively impact a sugar glider’s physical health and directly responds to hundreds of questions we get asked each year.
Leashes and Harnesses
When leashes or harnesses are used for pets, it’s important that the item is properly fit to avoid such things as chafing, rubbing and choking. Also, when in a harness or leash, the animal should be able to move in a normal and unrestricted manner. Sugar gliders have an extra fold of skin called the patagium or gliding membrane. Because of the patagium, it is impossible to put a body harness on the animal without restricting the use of the patagium. If the glider attempted to glide from your shoulder to another object, the thin-skinned gliding membrane will be encumbered. I do not recommend the use of leashes and harnesses with sugar gliders. Well-bonded gliders do not need them and zippered bonding pouches are a much better alternative. Sugar gliders also do not respond well to a restrictive feeling on their body, and if you are in a bonding process, use of a leash/harness may very well impede that bonding event.
This topic has been covered in the past as well. Heat rocks are inexpensively made appliances and the thermostats often break, causing the appliance to become excessively warm. Your best bet is an out of the cage warming device where the animals cannot directly touch either the heat element nor the electrical cords.
Mini Blind Cords
A good suggestion for owners of any indoor pets is to cut the loop on the bottom of all blind cords. Many animals such as sugar gliders, cats, and ferrets can easily get caught in these loops and strangled. A simple precaution that all pet owners pets would be wise to practice.
Each year, countless numbers of sugar glider lives are lost from drowning in toilets. If you allow your sugar gliders free reign in your home, I suggest that you keep them under your supervision and always close the toilet lids before allowing them out of the cage. Again, this is another very simple precaution you can practice that could very well save your pet’s life.
Remember, prevention is the best medicine!
‘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!