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 In general, keeping your glider healthy is not difficult when you have all the facts! Feeding a proper diet, providing clean water, a safe environment, and tending to your gliders basic hygiene, along with regular wellness visits to a glider knowledgeable vet will help to ensure a long and happy life for your animal companion. 
 
Read through the following to learn about what a healthy glider should look like, when its time to see a vet and even how to trim their nails.
 
General Anatomy
 
Marsupials have some of the most unique anatomic and physiologic features among members of the Class Mammalia. Many of these features are well-grounded, as marsupials are one of the oldest groups of mammals in existence. Certain anatomic features are quite obvious, such as the marsupium (or pouch); however, other may not be as obvious, such as a double uterus.
 
The reproductive tract of the Sugar Glider is one of the systems that reinforce the uniqueness of this group when compared with other mammals.  Sugar Gliders have scent glands that are used for marking territory. These glands may appear as clinical abnormalities (e.g., alopecia) at certain times of the year, but are normal.
 
Male Sugar Gliders have a bifurcated penis, this allows the male to in the two uterus noted in females of the same species.
 
 Female Sugar Gliders have a very unique reproductive tract. Female Sugar Gliders have two cervices
and lateral vaginas. The ureters pass through medially to the vaginas. The marsupium or pouch as we know it is also another unique feature found in Sugar Gliders as well as all marsupials. They have 4 teats and can raise up to 4 joeys at a time but 2 is most common followed by singles.
 
The gastrointestinal tract of marsupials is highly variable across the group. Certain species, such as the Virginia opossum, are monogastric mammals that have an omnivorous diet. Macropods, on the other hand, have a two compartment stomach that serves as a digestive site for ingested browse. Sugar gliders rely on their hind gut to assist with the digestion of gums and plant products.

So you see, the Sugar Glider is a very unique animal and you should not attempt to fit them into your everyday, ordinary pet care routine.

THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW

1.   Sugar Gliders are good at keeping themselves clean.  You may wonder if your glider has a cold when you hear what you would describe as a "sneeze" and then they appear to be rubbing their nose...well this is how they groom themselves.  They will spit into their hands and then scrub their face! 

2.   A Sugar Gliders two front feet or "hands" (for lack of a better description) resemble our own hands, complete with a thumb type appendage .  The largest toe on their hind feet is always clawless and the first and second digits are partially fused (syndactylous) primarily used for grooming.  You should never trim these nails.

3.  You should never hear excessive hissing while your glider is going to the bathroom.  This could be an indication of a UTI or urinary tract infection.

4.  Gliders are marsupials, not rodents and unlike rodents, their teeth do not grow. If they are trimmed, they won't grow back, and the glider will have pain, temperature sensitivity, difficulty eating and drinking, and likely chronic decay for the rest of it's life. Gliders get one set of permanent teeth that are actually part of their lower jaw line (see photos below) that have to last their lifetime.  So NEVER EVER have a vet trim or file their teeth!

5.  Gliders in the wild live in the tree tops, and travel from tree to tree by gliding.  They bite into the trees to extract sap, they dig through the bark for bugs.  This helps keep their nails trim and their teeth clean.  Our pet gliders don't have the same opportunities so we need to assist them with these things.  Trimming their nails is a must so they don't catch on everything and cause injury such as a torn nail bed.   

 


SIGNS OF A HEALTHY GLIDER

 

If you interact with your glider on a regular basis, you will soon be able to pick up the slightest change in their general habits.  Should you ever notice any of the following, a visit to the vet may be in order.

Weight in grams. Unexplained weight loss, or gain may be a sign of illness
Normal sleep schedule (wake up/bed time)
Appropriate Activity levels. Your sugar glider should be alert, responsive, and active. Be sure the sugar glider isn’t inactive,
  lethargic, or even overly active.
Appropriate appetite. Often time, just like a 2 year old, sugar gliders can become picky eaters. However, significant appetite changes may be a sign of a problem.
Any changes in membranes. (nose, ears, mouth, etc.)
 
 Ears should be free of wax and should bounce back when pressed down.  They should be free of tears or lesions
 
Eyes  should bright, clear, and alert - not be sunken in, cloudy, or swollen
 
Mouth should be dry
 
Nose should be pink, free of mucus, and semi-moist.
 
Fur should be soft, fluffy, and smooth. Broken, oily, and/or dull fur may reflect a problem. Check for hydration by gently pulling up the fur on the back of the neck, and releasing it. Fur should bounce back quickly when hydrated. If the fur stays "tented", the sugar glider is dehydrated. The fur should also be looked over for possible cuts, or other lesions. Fur should not have any unexplained wetness, bald spots, or unusual color.
 
Movements and legs should also be noted. Limping, or not using limbs is a sign of several possible health conditions. The sugar glider will need treated as soon as possible.
 
Feet, and nails should also be checked. Feet should be pink, and free of any cuts. Skin should be smooth, not flaky or dry. Nails should be trimmed as often as needed. Usually two/three times a month depending on the sugar glider. Nails should not appear "yellow", infected, swollen, red, or overly "thick".   All about Nail Clipping
 
Tail should be full, fluffy, and flexible. No bends or breaks.
 
Stool should be well formed, similar to mouse dropping. Stool that is too hard, or too wet may be a sign of illness.
 
Teeth and Gums Sugar gliders have very special teeth and gums. Unlike rodents, they do not continue to grow throughout a sugar gliders lifetime. Never float or trim a sugar glider's teeth. Sugar gliders have retractable gums that cover the teeth when not in use. Sugar Glider experienced Exotic vets will know this. Unfortunately some vets without glider experience may not. Sometimes they are treated like rats or other small animals and some poor gliders have had this happen to them. They get one set of teeth and they do not keep growing or grow back. Just so you know.


WHAT IS WRONG WITH MY GLIDER???

DEHYDRATION

 Signs & Symptoms

* Tent test *
* lethargy
* decreased ability to urinate
* Decreased appetite
* Marked change in behavior
* Loss of interest in previously loved activities
* Slow movements
* Droopy ears
* Dull eyes

 

*What is a “Tent Test” ?

 If you suspect that your glider is dehydrated, perform the tent test.

Gently pull the skin between the shoulder blades up and away from the body.
Release the skin.
If the skin goes back into place quickly, the glider is NOT dehydrated.
IF the skin stays tented, then there is some dehydration.

Dehydrated gliders should be seen by a vet. If the dehydration is severe, the glider will require sub-q fluid injections. Dehydration is often a symptom of a greater concern. Always seek a vet's advice and intervention when a glider is dehydrated.

 


 WHAT IS HLP or HIND LEG PARALYSIS?

 If you notice that your glider is not using its back legs or is dragging its back legs, you NEED to get that glider to the vet.
This behavior is noticed for one of 3 reasons:
      1) The glider has contracted Hind Limb Paralysis (HLP) from a poor/incomplete diet
     2) The glider has contracted HLP from a bacterial infection or parasite which inhibits calcium uptake
     3) The glider has sustained an injury.

It is IMPERATIVE that you go to the vet and that when you are at the vet you have them do x-rays and culture and sensitivity to test for infection. You will NOT know the reason for the change in mobility until these tests are done. IF you can rule out injury and infection, then you know that the glider's issue is diet related HLP.

In any case, request a short course (10-14 days) of liquid calcium supplement for your little one. If it is diet related HLP, request a longer course of liquid calcium supplement.


 PARASITES

 Excluding Giardia in this little conversation as Giardia treatment is much longer and intensive than say roundworm or hookworm treatments although same sanitary techniques will be needed....

Let me start by saying that todays parasites are much harder to treat than those of yesteryears due to parasites building immunities/resitants to those long standing de-wormers/anti-parasitics, more often than not it will take a combination of drugs used consecutively to effectively treat the parasites

This topic will mainly deal with 2 of the most common anti-parasitic drugs.....Panacur (Fenbendazole) and Strongid (Pyrental Paomate)

Both Panacur and Strongid have a VERY LOW risk of toxicity to the host animal ie the parasite infested glider. This is due to the fact that these drugs are not made to be absorbed by the host animal, they pass safely through the host and while in the intestines are ingested by the adult parasite thus killing the parasite...

Dewormers/Anti-Parasitic drugs DO NOT KILL THE OVA/EGGS!!!! The eggs are safely tucked within their almost bomb proof outer shell awaiting proper "conditions" to hatch. This is why proper treatment requires 2 or more treatment doses 3 weeks apart to effectively treat, you must wait for all of the eggs to hatch, become larva (worms) and then ingest the anti-parasitic

Both Panacur and Strongid will need to be dosed in 3 consecutive day treatments to be effective in killing all adult parasites. This is due in part to the fact that parasites do not always eat every day, most times eating every other day or every third day....

Most parasites have a 21 day cycle. Meaning its an average of 21 days from the point of hatching until the adult parasite will start to lay eggs. This is why re-treatment is commonly done 21 days from the last day of the initial treatment. The key is to break the cycle, to get treatment to the newly hatched parasite before it matures enough to start laying more eggs....

As I said above the parasite ova/eggs outer shell is almost bomb proof. Most take boiling water temperatures to effectively kill it. They are also very "sticky" and will adhere to almost anything (shoes, hands, pouches, toys etc etc etc). And as we are talking microscopic eggs (you cant see them by the naked eye) hand washing paying special attention to the under fingernail area for the ENTIRE twinkle, twinkle little star song is IMPERATIVE between cages if you have a positive fecal or even suspect that you have a parasite issue so not to cross contaminate amongst your gliders and/or other animals in the household...REMEMBER humans can and will contract parasites from their infected animals and visa versa.

I would advise that if you have a positive fecal in one of your animals that all animals in your household be treated for parasites as cross contamination is a frequent problem.

PROPER PROTOCOL FOR PARASITE INFESTATION


1.   Positive Fecal = start first 3 day anti-parasitic drug regiment, after the 3rd day your 21 day countdown to retreatment starts. If you are using a drug combo regiment (ie 3 days of strongid followed by 3 days of panacur or vice versa) the 21 day countdown starts after the last day of oral drug regiment....
2. All cages, toys, pouches etc that have come in contact with the infected animal<s> will need to be sterilized DAILY during the entire treatment regiment, including the 21 days wait time in between drug treatment and 21 days wait time before 2nd fecal is done. Simply throwing your pouches into a washing machine will do nothing but spread eggs around throughout the load and subsequent loads. You will need to boil for a full 10 minutes anything that is boilable and all wheels, toys etc will need a 30 minute soaking in a boiling water and bleach bath afterwards left to air dry completely before re-introduction into cage.  All cages will also require a daily cleansing with a strong bleach and water at the very least (steam cleaners will cut your cleaning time down immensly) REMEMBER TO WASH HANDS IN BETWEEN CAGES AND AFTER DEALING WITH ANY AND ALL POSSIBLY "CONTAMINATED" ITEMS!


3.   21 days after the last day of the first anti-parasitic drug regumine starts the next round of drug regiment.


4.   3 weeks to a month after the 2nd drug regumine/treatment is when a 2nd fecal is called for. Any fecals done before this can and will possibly result in a false negative test result as fecals require eggs being produced by adult parasites in a significant number to show positive. If 2nd fecal shows negative (clear) the daily cleaning/sterilization ends but this 2nd fecal if negative does not mean you are parasite free, not until you have had 2 negative fecals 3 weeks apart AND with the first negative 3 weeks after last day of drug treatment are you "all clear"


5.   3 weeks to a month after 1st negative fecal a 2nd fecal will need to be done. 2nd negative fecal = all clear, your done!! YEAH!!!

If at any point in the above 5 step treatment regiment the drug treatment goes over or under a 3-4 week interval or positive fecal results YOU MUST START AGAIN FROM STEP 1


WHAT IS GIARDIA?

Giardia is a protozoan parasite that is quite common in humans and animals. It is the most common parasite found in dogs, cats, birds, cows, etc.

Giardia colonizes in the small intestine. It is not spread through the bloodstream or through other parts of the gastrointestinal tract.

Once colonized, giardia absorbs nutrients from the walls of the small intestine.

HOW IS IT SPREAD?
Giardia can be spread by the injestion of contaminated water or food, or through "poop to mouth" contact. In other words, in places where there is poor hygiene. We all know that our gliders are not the most hygienic. So, if giardia exists in the poop of one glider, and the glider comes in contact with that poop and then goes to give him/herself a bath, the giardia is spread.

It can also be spread to humans if you don't wash very well after coming in contact with a glider or cage that is infected with giardia.

Not all giardia infections are symptomatic. So, it is possible for yourself or your pet to be an unknowing host.

Cysts are excreted in the feces. Giardia cysts are VERY hardy and can survive months, even in cold or heat. Cysts also can survive without "hatching" in the small intestine of a glider for long periods of time (dormancy). Stress can trigger a chemical reaction that will move the giardia out of dormancy.


WHAT are SIGNS/SYMPTOMS?

Colonization in the small intestine results initially in inflammation. We can't see this in our gliders, so often the very first sign we have is a change in behavior since the glider will be uncomfortable.

Other symptoms include:
* diarrhea
* malaise
* nausea

* decreased appetite
* weight loss
* foul smelling stools (may smell sulphuric)
* pain - this is often the cause of SM. ALL CLOACAL SMING GLIDERS SHOULD BE TESTED FOR GIARDIA.

It is important to note that gliders may not exhibit ALL symptoms, so a vet visit is warranted when any symptom is noted.

While not fatal to humans, Giardia is known to be fatal to smaller animals.

Fast and effective treatment is necessary!

What is the TREATMENT for Giardia?

Treatment is usually flagyl (metronidazole)


PREVENTION?

To prevent recurrence and to aid in treatment, CLEAN, CLEAN, CLEAN.

* Cages, toys and bedding should be cleaned with bleach and/or other disinfectants. Minimize toys and items in the cage until the infection has passed.

* QUARANTINE. This is VERY important. Gliders must be kept in a separate cage. It is best if they are also in a separate room.

* Utilize a cage cover to minimize the chance of Poop being thrown outside of the cage

* Provide only bottled water

* Wash VERY well after handling a glider or cage infected with giardia. Change clothing that might have come in contact with infected surfaces immediately after handling the glider or cage. Disinfect door knobs, etc (any surface you might have touched) after as well. It is best if you wear gloves to do this type of cleaning.


SELF MUTILATION IN SUGAR GLIDERS

There are many reasons a sugar glider might self mutilate. These include:
1) Pain (of any etiology)
2) Stress/ Anxiety/
3) Post surgical - issues with stitches or staples
4) Following injury inflicted by another sugar glider
5) Return of feeling after paralysis/paresis
6) Confusion/fear - especially when awakening from anesthesia
7) Long standing and untreated parasite or bacterial infection.
8 ) Boredom from neglect by owner
9) Abuse by owner
10) Nutritional needs not being met
11) Grief over loss of cage mate either by death or separation


While self mutilation is seen frequently post neuter, it can occur in any glider of any gender, age or color. Often, self mutilation begins with over-grooming. The owner might notice that the glider has removed the hair on a portion of the chest, belly or tail. There is a characteristic sound that a glider who is going to self mutilate makes. It is specific to self mutilation and is called the SM sound. This sound is difficult to describe, but some have described it as a cross between a crab, a hiss and a desperate cry of pain. Owners should be educated to get a glider in an e-collar immediately if they hear this sound.

Among the most lethal of self mutilation categories is mutilation of the cloacae. One of the most troublesome to treat is mutilation of the tail. In cases where amputation of a portion of the tail is necessary, amputation should occur a few joints above the injured area.

Self mutilation is not the death sentence that it once was. With proper treatment from the vet and the owner, most gliders can overcome self mutilation and go on to lead happy, healthy lives.

THE VET VISIT:
Once a glider who is self mutilating is brought in to see the vet, the veterinarian should perform a series of tests as well as a physical examination. Any irritated or over groomed site should be very thoroughly examined. A FF/FS should be conducted. C&S and urinalysis are also indicated. The aim of the veterinarian’s visit should be to determine a cause so that treatment is not of only the SYMPTOM, but is of the underlying event. If all of the aforementioned tests come back clear, x-rays should be taken to search for broken bones, tumor or other abnormality. Sugar gliders are infamous for trying to chew out their own maladies. In most cases, the glider will have to be anesthetized to clean and repair the damaged area. It is imperative that the veterinarian fit the glider in an e-collar prior to the glider awakening. This will minimize any risk of further damage.

Once the cause of the SM has been ascertained, the vet should then prescribe medications and educate the owner.


MEDICATIONS
:
Without question, ANY glider that is self mutilating should be prescribed a MINIMUM of 4 days of pain medication. 7-10 days is recommended. This will not only help ensure that the SM behavior does not recur, but will also assist the glider with tolerating the irritation of the e-collar. Furthermore, it will go a long way toward convincing the owner that you, the veterinarian, have the glider’s needs at heart. While metacam is excellent for decreasing swelling, it should be used with caution in sugar gliders due to links to liver damage with prolonged use. Butorphanol is the preferred pain medication.

Flagyl should be prescribed if parasites are even suspected. Remember, the aim with self mutilation is to decrease the risk of recurrence and to minimize damage. Antibiotics should be prescribed for a minimum of 21 days if infection is suspected or confirmed. A prophylactic prescription of antibiotics is recommended when the damage is significant enough that infection is likely. Follow-Up visits should be scheduled once the round of medications has come to a close to repeat tests.

EDUCATION:
The veterinarian should educate glider owners following the SM exam. Five points should be made very strongly:


1) Diet is extremely important in the healing process for sugar gliders. A glider recovering from injury should be fed increased protein. A glider on antibiotics should be fed yogurt 3-4 X weekly. It is strongly recommended that a glider be fed a diet that has shown great success with facilitating recovery in gliders. BML, HPW and Priscilla Price’s Pet Glider Diet are but a few of these widely known diets.

2) The e-collar is NOT AN OPTION, it is a MUST. Glider owners will often tell of gliders “popping out” of the e-collar or of the glider fighting the e-collar for days. A self mutilating glider will very quickly create even more damage if the e-collar is not kept on. The e-collar must be worn throughout the duration of treatment and until the wound has healed COMPLETELY. Gliders have successfully lived in an e-collar for years at a time, so there should be no worry about duration of treatment at this time.

There are two different types of e-collars. Recently, great success has been shown from the use of an 8 inch bird collar with snaps that is cut down to just above the innermost row of snaps for the glider. This creates a satellite-type e-collar. The other type of e-collar is called a shot-glass style because it resembles a shot glass in it’s narrow shape. For tail injury, the e-collar is the only thing to keep the glider from reaching the tail.

3) Go online and seek out others who have successfully seen one or more gliders through self mutilation. There is a very active, very knowledgeable, very experienced and very supportive online community of glider owners. Networks of glider owners have committed to responding to SM emergencies very quickly. The experienced online community can offer advice for aftercare, medication delivery, where to purchase additional collars, diet and modifications to make to the cage to make it both safe and accessible to the glider in the e-collar.

The online community is populated by a handful of people who have had multiple experiences with self mutilation and have become very well versed in SM aftercare, etiology and theory. These people have made themselves available by phone to any vet or owner who wishes to consult with them. They are:


Val Betts   806-274-9177
Mary H.     979-478-7546
Bourbon     321-331-1608

Every vet and owner who ever comes in contact with a self mutilating glider should keep these numbers on hand.
Furthermore, there are many websites that are either partially or wholly devoted to the care and prevention of self mutilation in sugar gliders. These site addresses should be given to the owner during education along with a strong recommendation that they visit each site, register, and make contact with someone with experience. These great site to refer to for help and information is:

 

The Sweet Spot

Glider Central



4) The care and treatment of a glider who is self mutilating is very time intensive. The owner must be willing and able to devote 24 hours / day to the glider for the first few days.
In situations where this is not feasible, the owner should be made aware that there are those in the community who have agreed to open their homes at any time to a glider dealing with self mutilation. Rescue homes in Texas and Florida will take in gliders at any time. These should be strongly recommended over euthanasia. If the owner is unsure, encourage them to relinquish the glider to the vet’s care and then the vet can contact any of these homes through the sites noted above.

5) During recovery, the Self mutilating glider should be separated from cage mates - In a separate cage 24 hours per day.

AFTER CARE

Once an owner has been educated, the vet should expect a few things from the owner. An owner who is dedicated enough to put the time and effort into saving their glider will research and register at the above sites. They might return to the vet with questions and suggestions, as well as information from these sites. The veterinarian should be open minded and willing to research and try new methods. As stated before, the people giving this advice online have most likely been through this several times.

The owners primary jobs after leaving the vet are prevention and treatment. Preventing further damage and recurrence are essential. The owner should keep the glider in the e-collar and should start or continue the glider on a diet that is rich in vitamins, calcium and minerals while maintaining a 2:1 Calcium to Phosphorus ratio. The owner should possess a gram scale and keep track of the glider’s weight loss or
gain by weighing them every other day. The veterinarian can expect that medications will be delivered as prescribed, the cage will be modified to make it safe and accessible, and the glider will be kept clean and free of infection. Experienced glider owners will also check daily for dehydration and can deliver sub-Q fluids if necessary. Overall, once the glider leaves the vet clinic, it can be expected that it will be doted upon and treated almost constantly for the first week of treatment. Therefore, the vet should expect to hear form the owner at the first sign of change.


 
spoonfulofsugars@glidersandgear.com
©2009 C.A. Steele
     262-325-7137      
Delavan WI  53115