The complete guide to Sugar Gliders
Sugar gliders are tiny, omnivorous, nocturnal, and arboreal marsupial possums. Native to the moderate-temperature areas of Eastern Australia and New Guinea, these cute little animals are expert climbers and even better gliders as they can use the skin flaps between their limbs to zip from one tree to the next.
Are they suitable for your home, however? Are they smart, social, and interactive enough to make for good pets? Is there anything specific you need to know about them? We’ll cover all that and more below.
Are they good family pets?
Generally – yes, but there are some things to consider. For one, sugar gliders are not suitable for households with cats or dogs as these animals are very likely to view them as prey.
As for children, a sugar glider can be a good pet for a child, but you’ll need to teach your kid to be gentle with the animal. Furthermore, you’ll have to first socialize the sugar glider properly and get it used with its new home as sugar gliders can bite if they get scared.
As long as the sugar glider is trained to be harmless, and your child is taught how to interact with the animal, everything should be fine. All in all, however, there are better pets for families with kids as most children prefer pets that are more interactive.
Another point to remember is that sugar gliders are nocturnal and need to be socialized and played with in the evening. So, if you have a particularly small child you should consider if this fits with your schedule.
What to consider before buying?
As an exotic pet, there are lots of things about the sugar glider you’ll need to consider. We’ll go over a lot of the specifics of owning these animals below but let’s start with a quick pros and cons list so you can make up your mind on whether you even want a sugar glider pet in the first place.
Sugar gliders are a very exotic pet that few people have. If you get a sugar glider, chances are that you’ll be the only person in your social circle with such a unique animal in your care.
Sugar gliders are exceptionally cute – they are small, fluffy, very agile, and playful, they love to snuggle in our clothes’ pockets and folds, and they can also glide in the air which is amazing to watch.
These marsupials are relatively healthy – as long as you feed them well, clean after them adequately, and you don’t stress them out too much, they should live a long and happy life. Annual vet check-ups are still a must, of course, but another plus is that sugar gliders don’t need annual vaccinations, unlike most other pets.
- Sugar gliders have an average lifespan of 10-12 years. This is on-par with many dog and cat breeds, and it’s great for young 5-8-year-old kids.
Sugar gliders can bite and have sharp teeth. Proper socialization is a must, and you should be careful until they get to know you.
You will need to get the proper vaccines for yourself and your family before owning a sugar glider as these animals can be zoonotic and can carry and transfer various diseases. Consult with a medical professional on what vaccines you’re going to need before you get your sugar glider pet.
- Finding the right vet for a sugar glider can be tricky as most vets don’t have any experience looking after these animals.
Behavior and Temperament
Sugar gliders are very social, lively, and playful animals. They can seem too frightful and defensive at first which means that you should protect yourself from their biting until they get used to you.
However, once you’ve socialized your gliders properly, they will grow to love your presence and will actively seek you out to play with you, climb on your clothes, and snuggle in your clothes’ folds and pockets. That last part is especially fun as they are marsupials so they have the instinct to hide in pockets.
If you want to see just how interactive and fun sugar gliders can be, check out this video by AnimalTV
Another important point to note is that because sugar gliders are so social, they basically need at least one other sugar glider roommate. Solo sugar gliders can easily grow depressed due to the lack of comradery and interaction even if you give them enough playtime with your every evening.
Pet sugar gliders should have an extra-large cage as their main habitat. As these possums are arboreal and love to both climb and glide in the air, there really isn’t a maximum limit for the size of their cage. The bare minimum for a single sugar glider’s cage is 50cm by 50cm by 80cm (20” x 20” x 30”). The cage should be higher than it is wider as the vertical dimension is more important for arboreal animals.
Still, if you can afford a larger cage than that, please do so – your sugar glider will be immensely grateful – the animal will be able to move more, it will be happier, healthier, more playful, and generally better in every conceivable way.
Can you keep more than one sugar glider in a cage?
Sugar gliders are not the most territorial animals out there so housing two or more of them in the same cage is acceptable. In fact - it’s strongly advisable as these are very social animals and they need the company of at least one other animal of their kind. However, there are some things you should consider before doing so:
For each glider, you want to add to the same enclosure you should increase the minimum parameters we mentioned above by at least 50%. So, for two sugar gliders, please don’t use a cage smaller than 75cm by 75cm by 120cm (30” x 30” x 45”).
Never introduce two intact (non-neutered) males to each other (or even an intact male with a neutered male) as they are guaranteed to fight and not get along. Combining two neutered males, a neutered male with a female, an intact male with a female (which will almost always lead to breeding, don’t forget that), or two females should usually be ok. Also note that if you’ve recently neutered your male, you would want to keep him separate for at least several weeks so his testosterone can have enough time to drop to a harmless level.
Another thing to note is that even if you’re putting two gliders of “acceptable” genders together, you’ll still need to introduce them to each other properly. Gliders are fairly smart animals so proper socialization is as key for them as it is for dogs, cats, and many other pets. For a first step into socializing gliders, we’d recommend this video from The Pet Glider:
- Also, note the ages of the gliders you want to house together. Larger gliders often “bully” smaller ones, even if their genders are compatible and even if you’ve socialized them properly. Gliders usually end their main growth spurt at around 9 months so combining gliders that are older than that should rarely lead to problems. However, putting a 9-month-old glider together with a 4-month-old one may lead to some trouble.
We know all this may feel like too much trouble but as long as you get the age difference, genders (and neutering), and introductions right, you should be able to get your two gliders to get along pretty easily.
In fact, we definitely recommend housing two gliders together instead of keeping them apart or having just one solo glider – these animals are very social and feel much better when they have a friend with them.
Should you let your sugar gliders out of their cage?
Yes, but always with supervision and in a controlled environment. Sugar gliders are physically active and playful animals so keeping them locked in a cage 24/7 – even if it’s a big cage – will make them depressed, lethargic, and will even lead to physical issues due to the lack of proper exercise.
So, you should definitely let your gliders out from time to time.
However, you should also make sure that you’ve taken the following precautions:
- Only let your glider out of its cage in the evening (after dusk) as they are nocturnal animals and that’s when they are most active.
Always make sure that the room is secure and all doors and windows are closed. If your glider gets out of a window you’ll likely never see it again.
Take all other pets out of the room as any cat or even some dogs are almost sure to mistake your sugar glider for a treat.
Remove or hide all electrical cords and other dangerous objects your sugar glider may choose to chew on.
Always stay with your sugar glider when it’s out of its cage.
- Take that time to interact and play with your sugar glider. These animals love playing with their human roommates as long as they’ve got to know us and we’re careful and gentle with them. For a good relationship between you and your gliders you want to play with them outside of their cage at least once per day for at least half an hour or more. Get a snuggly blanket or a piece of clothing with pockets, for example, and your glider will love hugging with you too.
What about the interior of the gliders’ cage?
Sugar gliders love to climb and play so you can put all types of toys in their enclosure. Their food and water bowls should be kept high as these are arboreal animals. Their sleeping area should typically consist of soft leather or cloth pockets that are placed on the sides of the cage.
Feel free to experiment with different sleeping “quarters”, each glider will find its preferable area. Also, you can hang all types of soft toys in the gliders’ cage too.
As for the toilet area, the best solution is to have a graded floor of the cage and a toilet tray underneath it. This will make cleaning after your gliders much easier.
Food and Diet
Contrary to what their name suggests, sugar gliders should never be fed raw sugar, candy, chocolate, or sugar substitutes. Instead, they usually do best feeding on a combination of fruits, veggies, insects, and high-quality pre-mix food.
The general rule of thumb is that 75% of your sugar glider’s diet should consist of sugary food, i.e. sweet fruits and some veggies. The other 25% should be protein – those are best acquired through insects.
The fruits your sugar glider will likely prefer include:
- Sweet corn
For protein, store-bought bugs are usually the best way to go about it. If you don’t want to bother with that, there are protein-rich pre-mix foods. As an additional alternative, you can feed your sugar glider meats and other protein-rich foods. These include:
- Hard boiled eggs
- Peanut butter
Also, keep in mind that some sugar glider owners include homemade fruit nectars in their diets. You can look up some interesting recipes online but always remember to double-check them with your vet.
When and how should you feed your sugar gliders?
Some experts recommend that you feed your sugar gliders twice – at dawn and at dusk. Others say that once is enough with the dusk or evening time being preferable to the early morning. Virtually all experts agree that either regime can work so go with whatever suits you and your sugar glider better.
As for how you should feed your pet, keep in mind that sugar gliders are arboreal animals so they feel comfortable when they can get to feed somewhere high in their habitat. So, attaching their feeding cups high on the cage’s wall is usually a good idea.
Another thing to note is that sugar gliders tend to be messy eaters and don’t have the manners of a neat house cat. So, if you want to minimize the amount of cleaning you’re going to have to do, a good trick is to put something like a cardboard box or a shoebox under the sugar gliders’ feeding area. This will greatly minimize the mess in your pets’ cage.
If you’re curious about more in-depth tips and recommendations about a sugar glider’s diet, check out this 37-minute-long Sugar Glider Diaries video.
Do sugar gliders drink water?
A common myth is that sugar gliders don’t drink water. This myth stems from some sugar glider owners noticing that their pets’ water is usually untouched and they don’t need to refill it.
This doesn’t mean that sugar gliders don’t need water, however, so you should always have a bowl of clean water in your sugar glider’s cage. In fact, dehydration is one of the most common causes of pet sugar glider deaths and health problems – if you want to learn more, check out this video:
The reason this myth exists is that sugar gliders get most of their water from their food, namely their fruits and veggies.
If you’re feeding your sugar glider a bit drier diet, however, the animal will need to drink water too. If the air is too dry (below 40% relative humidity), if the weather is too hot (over 30oC or over 86oF), or if your sugar glider isn’t in tip-top shape, there will also be a need for extra clean water.
Besides, even if your sugar glider is in perfect health and its conditions and food are just right, the animal will still drink a bit of water even if you can’t notice a visible change in the water level in the bowl.
So, how to position a sugar glider’s water bowl?
As with their food bowls, a sugar glider’s water should be positioned somewhere high in their cage to give them more comfort. Avoid plastic bowls and go with glass or stainless steel instead.
Sugar gliders are not prone to too many illnesses which is another reason why they make for pretty good pets. There are a couple of issues to consider, however:
Most vets don’t know how to treat sugar gliders as they are not a very common type of pet. Before you get a sugar glider it’s wise to first look for suitable vets near you and make sure that you’ll have someone to take your flying possum to. There are good internet databases such as this one you can use to find your future glider’s vet.
Even though they are relatively healthy animals, sugar gliders can still get sick and suffer from certain conditions. The main problems to look out for include:
- Diarrhea and constipation – this usually occurs either due to an improper diet or too much stress. Diarrhea is especially dangerous as it can quickly dehydrate your sugar glider.
Calcium deficiency – this is why it’s important to get your sugar glider’s diet right. Insufficient calcium in the glider’s food can result in lameness, difficulty moving, and even paralysis.
Parasites – mites, fleas, ticks, tapeworms, hookworms, roundworms, lice, and other common parasites are as dangerous for a sugar glider as they are for a cat or a dog.
Injury – as a small, gentle, and arboreal animal, sugar gliders are naturally prone to fractures, wounds, torn claws, and other such issues. Always be careful when you hold this animal.
Stress – sugar gliders are fearful animals and they can get stressed out by virtually anything such as a change in the diet or the environment, the loss of a friend, a poor diet, a dirty cage, too much handling, overcrowding, boredom, rapid changes in temperature, and so on. A stress glider can lose appetite or start overeating, it can get depressed, overactive, or even start fighting with its roommate.
As with other pets, there are three main ways for you to get a sugar glider:
- Buy it from a pet store
- Buy it directly from a breeder
- Adopt a rescue sugar glider
Of these three methods, the latter – adoption - is both the best and the hardest while the former – pet stores – is the easiest and the least advisable one. The main reason is the same as it is for dogs, cats, and other animals – pet stores don’t give their animals anywhere near enough care, a good environment, socialization, or good health conditions and vet check-ups.
In other words, buying an animal from a pet store is both a toss of the die in terms of what you’re going to get and it also helps fund an immoral pet breeding industry.
Finding a reputable breeder instead will negate most of these problems. Such breeders take good care of their animals, keep track of their lineage to make sure that there are no genetic problems and illnesses in the animals, they socialize them well, and they will (or, at least, should, if they are indeed a reputable breeder) also offer you detailed health information and certification.
Adopting a sugar glider is an even better thing to do from any moral standpoint as it allows you to save an animal rather than finance the breeding of more animals. That can be difficult in most states, however, as these pets are quite rare.
Additional costs of owning a sugar glider
Just getting a sugar glider for a couple of hundred dollars is actually the smallest expense that comes with owning such a pet. There are quite a few other expenses that you’ll also need to consider before committing to this pet. These include:
- A large enough cage that would give your sugar glider the freedom to move around comfortably
- A travel cage for when you need to visit the vet or move somewhere
- Food and treats
- Enough toys and cloth pockets for your sugar glider to play with, sleep in, interact with, etc.
- Veterinary care is another expense with at least one annual routine exam being an absolute must
Overall, sugar gliders are not the most expensive pets in terms of initial cost and food but their enclosures and veterinary care can cost quite a bit.
If your state or city doesn’t allow sugar gliders to be kept as pets, if you can’t find one, or if you want something similar that isn’t quite the same as a sugar glider, there are several other types of animals you can consider:
Rats and mice – a lot of people don’t view rats and mice as pets but they do make for a very good alternative to sugar gliders. They are incredibly playful, smart, social, and interactive which are most of the qualities we love in sugar gliders. Rats and mice are also more accessible, affordable, and easier to find vets for. Rats can even be litter-trained which is basically impossible with sugar gliders.
Short-tailed possum – also a marsupial like the sugar glider, these possums are less social than them which means that they are a better choice if you only want one pet. They cost about as much as a sugar glider but overall they cost less cause they require less space. They also love to be carried around in pouches and are nocturnal too. The average lifespan of a short-tailed possum is 4-6 years which is great for kids who are still living with their parents.
Hedgehogs – this is the perfect balance between an exotic look and easy maintenance. Hedgehogs are a very unorthodox and rare pet but because they are pretty common in the Western world, their needs, health, and requirements are very well-known. This makes carrying for a hedgehog much easier than it is to look after a possum or a sugar glider. They are quite affordable too and they are fine being an only pet.
- Crested geckos – reptiles can feel like a weird alternative to marsupial mammals but geckos like the crested gecko are fun pets in a lot of similar ways. They are easier to look after in some respects as they are reptiles and they also don’t mind being handled as this video by TikisGeckos shows. They are also great if you only want one pet and they can live up to 20 years with the right care. Read more in this article
Which USA states are sugar gliders not allowed in?
Sugar gliders are categorized as “Exotic pets” so there are certain restrictions on them that others pets don’t face. As per the Code of Federal Regulations (9 CFR 1.1) that means that the sugar glider is a species that “that is native to a foreign country or of foreign origin or character, is not native to the United States, or was introduced from abroad.”
As such, there are a few states and cities that prohibit the keeping of sugar gliders as household pets. There is no real federal law on the matter but the states’ and counties’ laws apply with full force.
Also, keep in mind, that the information below is only true at the time of writing this article. We’ll do our best to update it in the future but if you’re reading this later on you may want to check for any changes in your state’s law.
So, as of 29th May 2021, there are three states that completely outlaw the possession of sugar gliders as household pets. Those are:
Alaska – the state doesn’t mention sugar gliders by name but it does have a “clean list” of animals that are legal to own. Curiously enough, there are some pretty interesting inclusions on the list such as chinchillas, hedgehogs, and even camels. Presumably, camels are allowed as a type of livestock while chinchillas and hedgehogs are allowed as non-arboreal pets that don’t need as much physical space to live in.
California – the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife does have a list of animals that are illegal to own as pets and sugar gliders, as well as all other marsupials, are mentioned on it.
- Hawaii – this state’s prohibition of sugar gliders and other wildlife is even more understandable than the others as Hawaii does have strict laws that aim to protect its native plant and animal life from foreign invasive species. So, no matter how much you insist that you “won’t let your sugar glider out”, the state's Department of Agriculture’s rule book just won’t allow it.
The USA states that require permits for owning a sugar glider
Even if you’re not in any of the 3 states above, you still may have to go through some paperwork if you want to legally own a sugar glider pet.
- Georgia – owning a sugar glider in Georgia is perfectly legal as long as you get “A valid documentation that the animal originated from a source inspected and regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture.”
New Mexico – here, you don’t need documents for where you got the sugar glider from but you do need a permit for owning non-domesticated animals granted by the state’s Department of Game and Fish.
Pennsylvania – like New Mexico, Pennsylvania allows its citizens to look after exotic and wild animals as long as they have been given a permit to do so by the Pennsylvania Game and Wildlife Code ( Title 34, Section 2961-2963).
The USA states where owning a sugar glider is permitted everywhere except in some major cities
The third group we should note are the US states that place no restrictions on owning sugar gliders as pets but some of the cities in those states do have their own rules. There are three such states:
Minnesota – The exotic gliding marsupials are legal to own all across Minnesota except in St. Paul. That’s been the case since 2007 when sugar gliders were banned in the city “as a preventative measure” – the city feared St. Paul’s climate wouldn’t be suitable for these animals and people would abandon them.
New York – Sugar gliders are legal everywhere in New York State except in New York City. The reason cited by the New York City Health Code Article 161.01 is that “any animal that is naturally inclined and capable of inflicting harm upon human beings” should be banned, including all marsupials.
Utah – The state of Utah is also welcoming to sugar gliders except in Salt Lake City which bans all animals “not indigenous to the continental United States”.
Which USA states are sugar gliders allowed in?
Barring the 9 states above, all other 41 USA states allow sugar glider pets as of the writing of this article. Again, things may change in the future so check with your local Wildlife Department before committing to getting a sugar glider but everything should be fine in the following states:
Do sugar gliders smell?
Not really, at least not to a significant degree and not under the “right” circumstances. Typically, a sugar glider will have a mild musky odor but – unless you’re incredibly sensitive toward smells – it shouldn’t be anything unpleasant.
But, if this worries you, we’d advise you to first check out your future sugar glider in person and see if you’re comfortable with its odor before you bring it home.
That being said, there are some circumstances when a sugar glider will stink a bit too much for most people’s preferences and that’s when it’s male and unneutered. As with most other mammals, unneutered sugar gliders will naturally stink more – it’s just a part of their physiology.
The solutions here are easy – either neuter your male sugar glider or go with a female. If you don’t plan on breeding your males or they are not registered as “purebred” there’s just no need to keep them unneutered.
Now, say you’ve got female sugar gliders and even their mild odor is a bit too much for you – what can you do about this?
There are several possible fixes for that with Sugar Glider Diaries explaining some of the best ones in her YouTube video here In short what you can do is:
Stop overcleaning their cage as your sugar gliders are likely “over-marking” it to compensate. Instead, try cleaning their cage at stages and not all at once.
Manage your sugar glider’s diet so that it includes high-quality and non-aromatized foods.
Get a good air purifier for the cage. This may feel simplistic but it does help mask even the mildest of odors (which is all you should have to deal with if you’ve followed the above steps.
- Get high-quality pelleted substrate for the tray underneath your sugar gliders’ cage’s floor grate. This will do a lot of work in masking the smell of your sugar gliders’ poop and pee. At the end of the day, a neutered or female sugar glider just doesn’t stink – their excrements do. Quality substrate should help with that. Just remember to put it in the tray under the floor grate, not on the floor itself.
Sugar gliders are rare, unique, and wonderful pets. In many ways, they are easy to take care of, but they do have some crucial points you’ll need to accent if you want to take good care of your sugar glider. These include a large enclosure, access to an experienced vet, proper socialization and daily interaction, as well as a well-balanced and healthy diet.
Do that and your sugar gliders will be happy to be a part of your family.