Sugar Glider Vet - The Veterinarian's Sugar Glider Resource
Diagnostic Procedures
Withany animal that is prone to self mutilation (as gliders are) it is important that you KNOW what you are treating whenever possible.  Yes, we do recommend treating with antibiotics at times when you are unable to diagnose, but ONLY if you have completed all testing that is commonly performed on sugar gliders. 
 
Here are a few common pet parent complaints/symptoms and procedures that should be performed:
 
Dragging back leg or legs
It is the natural reaction of most glider owners to want to assume that their glider has HLP (Hind Leg Paralysis/Metabolic Bone Disease) any time a glider is dragging his/her back legs.  However, there are many things that can cause this.  Therefore, accurate diagnosis is a MUST.   Sugar Gliders will drag their back legs if they have a minor injury, have HLP or even sometimes if they have a parasite.  So, if the chief complaint is dragging back legs, the following should be your course of action:
 
X-rays - full body- look for fractures or breaks along spine, hips and legs.  Also check for impingement upon spine
 
Urinalysis - a bacterial infection can leach calcium from the bones, leading to HLP
 
Fecal analysis - including a giardia SNAP test.  Parasites are notorious for leaching calcium from bones in sugar gliders.  
 
Consider also Blood work to check calcium levels and parathyroid levels. 
 
TREATMENT is dependent upon the cause.  See TREATMENT protocols for additional information.
 
 
Dehydration
Dehydration in sugar gliders is a SYMPTOM of a larger, more pressing issue.  Therefore, when a veterinarian is presented with a glider who is dehydrated, it is imperative that the dehydration be treated, but even more important that the veterinarian discover the CAUSE of the dehydration.
 
Common causes of dehydration include (but are not limited to):
* parasite infection
* HLP/metabolic bone disease
* bacterial infection (esp. of bladder, kidney, or UTI)
* viral infection
* dislocated joint
* broken bone
* kidney failure
* over heating
 
Therefore, tests should include any or all of the following until a cause is found:
 *  Fecal analysis - including a giardia SNAP test.
 *  Urinalysis
 *  x-rays
 *  Bloodwork
 
 
Seizures
Seizures are not uncommon in sugar gliders.  There are currently 4 known causes of seizures in sugar gliders:
 
Hypoglycemia - gliders have a very high metabolism and are prone to seizures when they awaken and become active.
 
Dehydration - see above for dehydration information.
 
Illness/Disease - Many illnesses and injuries in sugar gliders can lead to seizures.
 
*  Neurological seizures - when no physical cause is found, and the seizures are noted on more than one occasion, then the cause is labeled as neurological.  Most neurological seizures are triggered by stress or anxiety.
 
Therefore, testing should include:
  • Fecal Float and smear - because parasites can cause nutritional imbalance. SNAP test for Giardia might also be indicated.
  • Review of feeding routine and time since last meal
  • Review of diet
  • Test for dehydration
  • Urinalysis - to check for possible infection
  • Blood work - if indicated to rule out illness or nutritional imbalance
 
 ***  It should be noted that sugar gliders will also display "death seizures" which are those seizures that glider will experience in the moments and/or hours prior to death.  Death seizures are different in that the glider will usually flatten itself out with all limbs straight out to the side.  Additionally, the glider will not recover from the seizure.  The glider will remain lethargic and might be unresponsive following one of these seizures.  Typically, these seizures will get closer and closer together just prior to death.  Death seizures are indicative of impending death.
 
 
Hissing while urinating or defecating
In sugar gliders, hissing while urinating or defecating usually means UTI and/or constipation.  However, it should be noted that as the glider reaches sexual maturity, many will develop this behavior as habit. When a glider presents with this as the chief complaint, it is best to r/o UTI or constipation.
 
Testing should include:
  • Urinalysis
  • Fecal float/smear
  • Culture of feces and urine
 
 
 
Lethargy
A lethargic glider is generally indicative of advanced disease or illness.  Lethargy in a glider should be taken very seriously and treated very aggressively, as the mortality rate is high once a glider becomes lethargic.
 
There are many reasons a glider might become lethargic, but, as was mentioned, the lethargy generally indicates that the glider is in extreme distress.  Accurate diagnosis is the glider's only hope for recovery at this point and is often the only comfort you can give a grieving pet parent should the glider pass away.
 
Therefore, tests which may be conducted include:
  • Fecal float/smear
  • SNAP test for giardia
  • urinalysis
  • Assess level of hydration
  • x-rays
  • ultrasound
  • fecal and/or urine culture
  • blood work
 
 
Overgrooming of eye brows or tail
Sugar gliders will sometimes "overgroom" themselves.  This tends to indicate either illness or stress.   It is important that a physical/medical cause be diagnosed or ruled out.
 
Overgrooming = Areas of missing or thinned fur with no skin irritation.  Commonly seen on top of head or tail.
 
Common Causes ofOvergrooming:
  • Stress
  • UTI
  • Parasites
  • Injury
 
***Overgrooming is often discounted as stress related with no other testing.  It is often indicative of another condition and steps should be taken to r/o illness or injury. 
 
It’s important to take a thorough history from the owner.  This should include questions regarding:
  • Changes in the home such as moving, and addition or loss of any animals
  • Behavior changes in this glider including appetite and play
  • Recent introductions or attempted introductions with this glider
  • Noises made during urination or defecation
  • Previous history of overgrooming 
 
Initial Testingshould include:
  • Physical exam (including dental exam)
  • Fecal float and smear
  • Urinalysis
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
***NOTE:  Intact males will have a bald spot on the top of the head.  This is a scent gland.  It is normally in the center of the head and will appear oily or brownish from secretion of hormones.  Some neutered males will continue to have this bald spot, but there will be no secretion. 
 
Bald spot photos for comparison:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Swelling
Swelling is a symptom of an illness or injury. It is vital to find and treat the cause of the swelling.  The pain caused by swelling will often lead to more damage from self-mutilation.
 
 
Recommended Diagnostics
  • Full physical exam:  most times, the swelling will occur in an area distal to the actual injury; it may be necessary to shave the tail to allow visualization
  • X-rays
 
 
Diarrhea
The potential causes for diarrhea in a sugar glider are very vast.  Glider's may contract a slight case of diarrhea from any stressful event and/or from any illness or injury.
 
Therefore, it is essential that diagnostics to determine the cause of diarrhea begin with a history to ascertain how long the diarrhea has progressed and any circumstances which might have lead to stress or illness in the home.
 
As a general rule, we do not recommend treating for diarrhea unless it continues for more than 24 hours.
 
Potential causes of diarrhea include, but are not limited to:
  • stress - especially in young gliders/joeys
  • parasitic infection
  • bacterial infection
  • feeding of too much melon or acidic fruits
  • food intolerance or allergy
  • medication reaction - especially to antibiotics
  • anxiety
  • diet change
 
Diagnostic testing should include any/all of the following until a cause is found:
  • detailed case history - including diet and environmental stressors
  • fecal float/smear and SNAP test for giardia if indicated
  • review of medications
  • urinalysis
  • fecal and/or urine culture if indicated
 
 
 
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