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.
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
- 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
- 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
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.
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
the first and second digits are partially fused (syndactylous) primarily used for
grooming. You should never trim these nails.
should never hear excessive hissing while your glider is going to
the bathroom. This could be an indication of a UTI or urinary
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
- 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
Eyes should bright,
clear, and alert - not be sunken in, cloudy, or swollen
- Mouth should be
- 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
cover the teeth when not in use. Sugar Glider experienced
Exotic vets will know this. Unfortunately some vets without
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
Signs & Symptoms
* Tent test *
* 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” ?
you suspect that your glider is dehydrated, perform the tent test.
Gently pull the skin between the shoulder blades up and away from
Release the skin.
If the skin goes back into place quickly, the glider is NOT
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.
IS HLP or HIND LEG PARALYSIS?
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
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
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.
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
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
Giardia is a protozoan parasite that is quite common in humans and
animals. It is the most common parasite found in dogs, cats, birds,
Giardia colonizes in the small intestine. It is not spread through
the bloodstream or through other parts of the gastrointestinal
Once colonized, giardia absorbs nutrients from the walls of the
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
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
Other symptoms include:
* 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
Fast and effective treatment is necessary!
What is the TREATMENT for Giardia?
Treatment is usually flagyl (metronidazole)
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
5) During recovery, the Self mutilating glider should be separated
from cage mates - In a separate cage 24 hours per day.
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
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.