Sugar Gliders as Pets – Everything You Need to Know

When people first see a picture of a pet sugar glider or see one in real life, the most common reaction is “Aww!” followed by “I want one!”. This is a very natural reaction because they’re insanely cute animals. But is getting a sugar glider as a pet really a good idea?

In the United States, you can find people going around in malls selling sugar gliders and many are bought as impulse purchases. You should never buy a living creature on impulse, and especially not an exotic creature like a sugar glider.

If you do, you have no clue what it entails to take care of and be the owner of these creatures as a pet. In this guide, I’m going to give an overview of everything you should know before you decide to adopt a sugar glider into your home. That way you can make an informed decision on whether or not a sugar glider is right for you, and if you’ve got what it takes to take care of them. You have to keep in mind that these are living things and not toys – if you buy them, make sure that you’ll stick with them throughout their life.

I highly recommend you read this overview before buying a glider so that you have a good idea of what it entails to take care of one and to avoid unwanted surprises.

What are sugar gliders?

photo of a sugar glider on a white background

I’d like to begin by giving an overview of what exactly a sugar glider is. Since these are exotic creatures for most people around the world a lot of people do not know a whole lot about them.

Sugar gliders are part of the marsupial family. Marsupials, like sugar gliders, carry their young in their pouch. Another example of a famous marsupial is the kangaroo. Sugar gliders are native to Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. They have a flap of thin skin stretched between their fifth forefinger and their ankle, which they use to glide through the air. Their bushy tail is used as a rudder when they’re gliding which allows them to steer and change the direction of where they’re gliding to.

Many people think that sugar gliders can fly, but this is wrong. These creatures can not fly, but what they can do is glide. They glide by jumping off a high tree and extending their “wings” which allows them to float through the air. They can glide amazing distances of up to 165 feet!

Sugar gliders have large, spherical, dark eyes that allow them to see excellently in the dark; they’re nocturnal animals which is why being able to see in low light environments is crucial for them.

Sugar gliders come in many color variations, ranging from white to standard gray.

How large are they fully grown?

For many people, when they buy a sugar glider they buy a baby, which is called a “joey”. Because of this, they have no idea how big sugar gliders get when they’re fully grown. This is important information to know because some animals grow to a remarkably large size even though they’re small as babies.

Iguanas for instance grow from super tiny reptiles into huge, dragon-like creatures which shocks many pet owners.

Sugar gliders also have remarkable growth, but since they’re only the size of a grain of rice when they’re a baby they do not turn into huge animals when they’re mature. Gliders reach maturity at 4 to 12 months of age, with male gliders maturing faster and being slightly bigger. Fully grown they’re an average length of 24 to 30 cm (or around 9.5 inches to 12 inches) from the tip of their nose to the tip of their tail. They’re not large animals and will fit in the palm of most people’s hands.

Can sugar gliders live alone?

No, they can’t. When you get a sugar glider as a pet you HAVE to get at least two of them. Most breeders will not even sell you a single glider. The reason for this is because they’re colony animals that live in large groups called a colony. In the wild they can live in colonies that are made up of up to 7 gliders, so you can imagine that they will not be happy living alone.

If you keep them in isolation they will get depressed and they can even start mutilating themselves from loneliness if they’re kept alone. You might think that you as a human can provide all the love and affection they need. But, you’re not the same species and most likely cannot spend 24 hours a day with them. Therefore, you unfortunately cannot provide all the attention that they need to be happy and they need another companion to live with them.

At minimum you should have 2 sugar gliders, but the more the better as long as you have the space for them.

Are they loud animals?

Sugar gliders can make various sounds such as barking, chirping, crabbing, and sneezing. They make these noises for various reasons. In short, barking means that they believe there’s something wrong or that there’s danger nearby, chirping signals contentment, crabbing is used when they’re scared or for intimidation and sneezing can be heard when they’re cleaning themselves.

They definitely can be loud and vocal if they want to be. Something you have to keep in mind is that they’re nocturnal animals meaning that they sleep during the day and are active at night. This means that any sound they make they will most likely make at night when you’re sleeping and they’re awake.

This of course amplifies the noise since it’s usually quieter at night. That’s definitely something you need to be prepared for, if you keep your gliders in your room, be prepared to be woken up by them barking or making other noises more than once.

Do they smell bad?

Sugar gliders are remarkably clean animals. They groom themselves very frequently and healthy sugar gliders do not smell bad. They clean themselves so often that a healthy glider never needs bathing. However, all animals do have their own natural smell, and of course, they will not be completely odorless.

These animals have scent glands on their body (males have more than females) and they do spread this around their cage.

When you adopt a glider, it is your responsibility to ensure that their cage is clean. If you clean their cage properly and often enough then there shouldn’t be many issues with smell. They can have a bad odor when there’s something wrong with their health or if you’re feeding them a wrong diet, but in general, most owners report that their glider smells quite pleasant when they’re in good shape.

What will happen is your glider peeing on you; this is pretty much unavoidable and happens to every sugar glider owner. They do this to mark you. You can minimize this by letting them do their business and waiting for around 30 minutes until after they wake up to hold them, but even then it’s not guaranteed that they will not pee on you. This is something you will have to accept if you decide to adopt a pet sugar glider. It’s part of their instincts.

Housing your gliders

Before you even buy pet sugar gliders, you already have to have their cage set up so that you have a place to put them when you bring them home.

A cage for two gliders should at the absolute minimum be 24 inches long by 24 inches wide by 36 inches tall with a bar spacing of no more than 1/2 inch. The bars should be lined horizontally for better climbing.

Keep in mind that this is the minimum size, and it’s always better to have a bigger cage. In the wild they live in the trees and glide around, so you can see why they’d do best with as much space as possible.

Among other things, their cage should contain quite a few toys in order for your glider to be mentally stimulated, a place to sleep, and an exercise wheel.

Some companies claim that you can just throw an old t-shirt in their cage for them to sleep on, but that’s not good. Sugar gliders prefer to sleep in an enclosed space such as a pouch, so they must have that in their cage.

The cost

When people buy a glider they’re sometimes unaware of the costs that come along with taking care of these creatures. It happens quite often that pet shops or people who sell gliders at malls lie about gliders and the cost of taking care of them.

They say things like “oh, they’re a very cheap, low maintenance pet” while showing pictures of sugar gliders contently sitting on the head of a dog. This emotional manipulation is not something you should fall for.

Sugar gliders are more expensive than most people think. The upfront cost ranges from $750 to over $2,000.

But that’s not all, the yearly cost of giving your glider a good life is around $800 a year!

As you can see, they’re not cheap pets by any means, and anyone who tells you differently to sell you a sugar glider should not be listened to. To see a complete breakdown of the costs of taking care of sugar gliders check out this guide.

Legality

Another important aspect you should consider before you get a sugar glider as a pet is if they’re even legal where you live. In some states they’re completely illegal, others allow you to have them with a permit and yet other states allow you to own them without a permit.

If you’re in the United States or Canada, this is a useful resource where you can check the laws regarding sugar glider ownership for your state or province.

If you’re from a different country, it’s always best to ask your local authorities about the laws regarding sugar glider ownership. In some countries, they’re illegal while in others they’re not. Since there are almost 200 countries in the world I can’t discuss them all so the best way to find out your local laws is by asking.

Time commitment

If you’ve heard that sugar gliders are low maintenance pets then you’ve heard wrong. Sure, if you just want to keep them alive they can be low maintenance, but that’s not providing them with the good life they deserve. After all, you are the one that decided to take care of the animal, so it’s your responsibility to give them the best life you can.

Gliders need a lot of love and attention for them to bond with you. This means you will have to play with them, carry them around in a pouch and of course, you will have to set time aside to prepare and feed them their food.

Especially when you first get them you will have to spend hours playing and bonding with them so they can get used to you. Many people do not realize this, but it’s something that you have to take into account when considering adopting a glider.

To make matters more complicated, sugar gliders are nocturnal. This means that they sleep most of the day and are awake during the night. If you have a schedule where you work during the night and sleep during the day, as most people do, then you and your glider’s schedule might not line up all too well.

All in all, sugar gliders are quite a time sink. You will likely spend several hours per day on your glider. However, I assume that you get a glider because you want to spend to with them, so if that’s the case it shouldn’t feel like a chore. However, it is definitely something you need to take into account and be prepared for. Some people simply do not have enough time to properly care for a sugar glider.

To learn more about bonding with sugar gliders, visit this post.

Their diet

In the wild, sugar gliders feed on a diet consisting of insects and plants. In the summer they usually eat insects while in the winter, when insects are scarce, they mainly consume honeydew, eucalyptus sap, and acacia gum. As their name suggests, they’re very fond of sweet foods. However, in captivity, this diet is quite hard to replicate. Therefore, most pet sugar gliders have a different diet than wild ones.

In captivity, most owners feed their gliders a diet that’s made up of around 25% protein with the rest being fresh fruits and vegetables. As far as treats go, they like to eat insects and nuts such as almonds. It is also important to maintain a 1-2:1 calcium to phosphorus ratio in their diet. What this means is that you must ensure that they have more calcium than phosphorus in their diet. They need this ratio in their diet to stay in good health. If they do not have the correct ratio they can have issues like hind leg paralysis.

Some examples of good fruits that gliders can eat are:

Some examples of vegetables they can eat are:

Foods to avoid include:

  • Garlic
  • Spices
  • Chocolate
  • Rhubarb
  • Raw Lima beans
  • Candy
  • Bread

There are also pellets available for sugar gliders, but unlike some other pets like hamsters, they cannot thrive on a diet of pellets alone.

There are also special sugar glider diet plans, an example of such a recipe can be found here. Many glider owners also supplement their food.

As you can see, when you get a sugar glider there’s a lot you have to take into consideration when it comes to feeding them. You have to ensure they get the right calcium:phosphorus ratio and make sure they eat the correct foods. When compared to other small pets, such as hamsters, feeding is a lot harder; you can’t simply give them a diet made up of pellets like you can with other pets.

Click here to learn more about what sugar gliders eat.

Sugar gliders have a long lifespan

Something else that you have to consider before you get a sugar glider is that they live for a very long time. In the wild, they have a lifespan of 3 to 9 years. But in captivity, they can live for up to 15 years, pretty much as long as dogs and cats!

If you’re adopting a glider, you have to be really sure that you want one and can take care of one for their entire life. Of course, they will always remain incredibly cute, but at some point, the novelty factor will wear off.

You cannot decide that at some point you are bored with them and do not want them anymore. They can not survive if you release them into the wild. It happens all too often that people buy a glider on impulse only to later realize that they are not financially prepared, or do not have the time to give these creatures a proper life. As a result, many of them end up either being abandoned or brought to a shelter.

You have to make absolutely sure that you’re ready for the long term commitment of raising and taking care of a glider before you get one. If you’re not sure if you can take care of an animal for 15 years it’s better to get a different pet. Something like a mouse might be a better fit in that case because they have a shorter lifespan, are lower maintenance, and are cheaper.

Of course, their long lifespan is also an advantage – it gives you a lot of time to bond and build a friendship with your glider.

They are intelligent creatures

Sugar gliders are quite intelligent. They can learn tricks and learn their own name and come when their name is called.

This makes them a very fun pet to have, but it also means that they need quite a lot of stimulation. Toys can do some of the work of entertaining your glider, but not all of it. They need a lot of attention from you to be happy and fulfilled.

Are they aggressive?

Sugar gliders do generally not exhibit aggression towards humans. They are capable of biting, but they rarely do so. Especially gliders that are used to you and recognize your scent will rarely bite.

Luckily, they will only bite if they feel like they’re threatened just like any other animal. Their fight or flight response might kick in when they feel threatened and if they cannot run away the only option they feel they have is to fight – thus resulting in them biting you. Their bites do not inflict a whole lot of damage, so if you do get bitten it’s usually not a very big deal.

When they are teenagers they might bite a little bit more frequently and bite anything that looks interesting to see how it tastes (source). This phase does not last very long and they do not bite very hard.

Overall, they’re not aggressive pets and do not frequently bite.

Are sugar gliders affectionate?

Since sugar gliders are colony animals they are more affectionate than animals that live alone like Syrian hamsters. They will often consider their owner to be part of their colony and develop a bond with you. Especially if you put in the work, and spend the time they need to develop a bond with you they can show a lot of affection.

When a glider trusts you, they will definitely display affection towards you, but not to the extent that pets like dogs do. You have to keep in mind that they have not been domesticated nearly as long as dogs have, so in essence, they’re more wild than dogs which have been by our side for thousands of years.

A good way to build a bond with them is by playing with them and carrying them around in a bonding pouch. Bonding pouches are special pouches that you can wear around your neck with your glider in it. That way they get used to being around you and your scent.

Sugar gliders will show affection towards you by grooming you (just like they would a member of their colony) and by they might give you small little love bites.

Pet sugar glider checklist – are you ready to adopt one?

Now that we’ve gone over a lot of the things that come with owning a pet sugar glider, let’s go through a checklist of the things you need to be a successful parent to these marsupials.

  • Enough money to take care of your glider (at least $800 upfront and $67 a month)
  • A space that’s large enough for quite a big cage
  • The ability to get at least 2 gliders so they do not get lonely
  • Enough time to spend with them so that they become used to your presence and bond with you
  • The willingness to accept and adapt your schedule to the fact that they’re nocturnal and are mostly active at night. Be prepared to be woken up several times during the night if you keep them anywhere near where you sleep!
  • The ability to learn about their diet and prepare the proper foods for them
  • Confidence that you’re able to take care of them for 15 years because that’s how long they can live in captivity

If you can check all these points, you might be ready to take on the responsibility of caring for a sugar glider.

Conclusion

I hope this overview of what it takes to successfully take care of a sugar glider was useful for you as a potential parent of one of these creatures.

Sugar gliders can be very cute pets, but many people underestimate how much time and effort it takes to properly take care of them. I hope that this guide sheds some light on this issue and helps you be better prepared.

Sugar gliders are not low maintenance by any stretch of the imagination and it’s a sad reality that a lot of people do not realize this. As a result, there are way too many gliders that end up abandoned. If we would all do a bit of research before taking the plunge I am hopeful that we can drastically reduce this number and give gliders the good home and living environment they deserve to have.

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