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 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 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):
Next month, we plan to bring you information on the calcium/phosphorus ratios of fruits and vegetables. 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. Come back next month for an expansion of the list of fruits and vegetables and their calcium/phosphorus ratios.
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?
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!
When Safe Toys Become Unsafe! ================================
Due to a couple of emails from concerned glider keepers in the community, we thought it 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 around 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 to the habitat.
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.
Running wheels are a product that need to be checked regularly. We recommend the Wodent Wheel brand wheel because it is fully enclosed and has a solid running platform. Wheels with open rungs, like the old hamster type wheels, may present a significant hazard for long tails. The grid type of running wheel can create a “pinwheel” effect when the sugar gliders go potty in the wheel, which they will unfortunately do – we refer to it as “going on the go”! The open wheels are fine for single gliders, in our opinion. But we don’t think sugar gliders should be kept as solo pets. And when you have multiple animals with access to a wheel, they will use it together. This is why we prefer the closed type wheel like Wodent Wheel. With multi-critters, they may “fly” out of open wheels, increasing risk of awkward falls and injury.
The main issue you need to check with Wodent Wheel is that the bar that runs through the enclosed wheel is clean and gunk free. If the bar gets gunked up, a tail or tails could get caught on the apparatus. Over the years, the Wodent Wheel company has been proactive in continually improving the product, but as said earlier, even the best made products will wear in time and need to be maintained.
I clean my wodent wheel stands and then use Cage Shield to slow down new gunk from sticking to the bar. Cage Shield will also serve as a rust deterrent. If you do get minimal rust on the stand, then sand it off and use Cage Shield to extend the life of the wheel. If you get a lot of rust, start over with a new wheel. What you want is a smooth metal bar in the middle that cannot catch a high motion tail.
Some people have taken to putting a PVC pipe over the bar, but this leaves small openings on either side that could create a pinch hazard, so we do not recommend this as a remedy. This PVC cover just trades one potential safety hazard for another, and in our opinion increases the chances for accident. Keep in mind that the potential for hazard can be avoided by keeping the bar clean and smooth. Update: as of 2011, Wodent Wheels now come with a built in axle cover that eliminates the risk of tail injury from dirty / sticky axles.
We will continue to seek out the best glider products and work with our manufacturers to keep improving on the present products, but at the end of the day, please remember that most products will show wear and tear with time. And as responsible glider keepers, it is up to each of us to make sure our glider accessories are maintained well and replaced as needed for the safety of our beloved pets.
‘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!