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Small Mammal Medicine: Sugar Glider:
Basic Information for Sugar Gliders

Sugar Glider—Petaurus breviceps

Natural history The sugar glider is native to northern and eastern Australia, New Guinea, and surrounding islands. This arboreal, nocturnal creature spends its days in leaf-lined nests in tree hollows. Sugar gliders are extremely social and vocal.
Taxonomy Class Mammalia
Interclass Marsupialia
Order Diprotodontia (kangaroo, koala)
Family Petauridae (possums)
Diet Free-ranging gliders feed on insects, larvae, arachnids, and small vertebrates during the spring and summer. Plant products such as sap, blossoms, and nectar make up the bulk of the diet during the autumn and the winter wet season.

There are a number of captive diets recommended for gliders. The commonly recommended diet listed below comes from the Taronga Zoo. The following recipe feeds two animals:

Apple (3 g)
Banana/corn (3 g)
Grapes/kiwi (3 g)
Pear (2 g)
Melon (2 g)
Orange with skin (4 g)
Sweet potato (3 g)
Dog kibble (1.5 g)
Fly pupae (1 tsp)
Leadbeater’s mixture (2 tsp)
Day-old chick, when available (once weekly)
Large insects, mealworms once weekly

Leadbeater’s Mix:
150 ml warm water
150 ml honey
1 shelled boiled egg
25g high protein baby cereal
1 tsp vitamin/mineral supplement
100mg calcium carbonate

Mix water and honey. In a separate container, blend egg until homogenized, then gradually add vitamin/mineral powder, then baby cereal, blending after each addition until smooth. Keep refrigerated. The mixture can be frozen in ice cube trays.

Husbandry Sugar gliders are social animals that normally live in groups of five to twelve. These groups are exclusive and territorial, and introduced gliders may be attacked.

Solitary gliders require at least 1-2 hours of human attention daily.

Provide as large a cage as possible like a tall aviary wire cage. Wire spacing should be no more than 1.0 x 0.5 in (2.5 x 1.3 cm). Cage furniture should include items for visual security (i.e. hide box, sleeping pouch) as well as exercise and enrichment (i.e. branches, shelves, solid running wheel, swings, and bird toys). Provide supplemental heat during the winter months.

Normal physiologic values
Cloacal Temperature 89.6°F 32°C
Pulse 200-300 bpm
Respiration 16-40 bpm
Body weight 80-160g (the female is smaller)
Mean life span 12-14y in captivity 4-5y (in the wild)
Sexual maturity females (8-12 mo) males (12-14 mo)
Gestation 15-17 days (young stay in the pouch 70-74d)
Birth weight 30-50 grams
Litter size 1-2 (usually 2)
Weaning age 110-120 days
Target environmental temperature: 65-90°F or 18.3-32.2°C
Anatomy / physiology
  • Gliders possess a large gliding membrane (patagium) which extends from the 5th digit of the forepaws to the ankles.
  • The tail is weakly prehensile and it also serves as a rudder during gliding.
  • Dental formula: I (3/2) C (1/0) PM (3/3) M (4/4) = 40
  • The incisors are specialized for gouging tree bark.
  • An enlarged cecum assists in digesting gum from the acacia tree.
  • The bifurcated penis splits about halfway down the protrusion.
  • Testicles are permanently descended into pendulous, pre-penile scrotal sacs.
  • Males possess large prostate and Cowper’s glands.
  • Females have two uteri and two long, thin lateral vaginae
  • Females are polyestrous, cycling every 29 days.
  • Scent glands: male (frontal, sternal, paracloacal) female (within pouch)
  • Gliders may enter torpor during the winter; torpor may last up to 16h/day.
Restraint Options for restraint of the sugar glider includes:

  • Grasp the head between the thumb and middle finger.
  • Scruff
  • Restrain through a small cotton bag or pouch
  • Inhalant anesthesia

Venipuncture
  • Larger volumes: Jugular vein, cranial vena cava +/- tibial artery
  • Smaller volumes: Lateral saphenous, lateral coccygeal, cephalic, and femoral veins
Preventive medicine Annual physical examination
Dental prophylaxis as needed

Important medical conditions
  • Alopecia, stress-related
  • Bacterial enteritis
  • Cataracts
  • Cloacal or rectal prolapse
  • Dental disease
  • Encephalomalacia, hypovitaminosis E
  • Malnutrition
  • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism
  • Obesity
  • Self-mutilation of the penis and scrotum
  • Traumatic injury
  • Urinary tract infection, urolithiasis
References and further reading

Banks RE, Sharp JM, Doss SD, Vanderford DA. Exotic Small Mammal Care and Husbandry. Durham, NC: Wiley-Blackwell; 2010.

Carboni D, Tully TN. Marsupials. In: Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. Mitchell MA, Tully TN (eds). Saunders, St. Louis, 2009. Pp. 299-325.

Dyer SM, Cervasio EL. An overview of restraint and blood collection techniques in exotic pet practice. Vet Clin Exot Anim 11:423-443, 2008.

Johnson-Delaney C. Feeding sugar gliders. Exotic DVM 1(1):4, 1998.

Lennox AM. Emergency and critical care procedures in sugar gliders, African hedgehogs, and prairie dogs. Vet Clin North Am Exot Anim Pract 10(2):533-555, 2007.

MacPherson C. Sugar Gliders. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series; 1997.

Mitchell MA. Biology and medicine of the sugar glider. Proc North Amer Vet Conf 2000. P. 1014.

Mitchell MA, Tully TN. Manual of Exotic Pet Practice. St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

Ness RD. Introduction to sugar gliders. Proc North Amer Vet Conf 1999. Pp. 864-865.

Quesenberry KE, Carpenter JW (eds). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 2nd ed. Philadelphia, WB Saunders, 2003.

Smith MJ. The reproductive system and paracloacal glands of Petaurus breviceps and Gymnobelideus leadbeateri. In: Smith AP, Hume ID (eds). Possums and Gliders. Australian Mammal Society; Sydney, 1984. Pp. 321-330.

Author: Christal Pollock, DVM, Dipl. ABVP-Avian; Lafeber Company veterinary consultant

Date: July 12, 2009; Updated February 14, 2010