Basic Health Care Information:
The number and type of injuries and illnesses which are common to sugar gliders is vast and varied. However, there are some things that are ALWAYS true of gliders and every health care provider and owner should know.
1) Gliders are colony animals and thrive in groups of 2+. Gliders kept as single pets do not engage in the species specific behaviors common to those in pairs or colonies. Encourage single glider pet parents to seek a friend or two for their glider. ( Under "Pet Parent Information Sheets" there is help for finding a reputable breeder or rescue home).
Note, however, that sugar gliders are also territorial animals. Therefore, when introducing a new sugar glider to an established cage/colony, proper introductory techniques should be practiced. Provide your pet parent with our written information onintroductions.
2) Gliders are very sensitive and prone to extreme stress. A vet visit can be very stressful for them. Allow the pet parent to hold the glider for your exam if they are bonded. Enlist the help of the pet parent throughout the exam. This will help to calm and reassure the glider.
3) We do not spay female gliders (see health section for reasons and explanation). So, we recommend neutering male gliders to prevent inbreeding - especially in large colonies or family units where there could be a close family relationship. Inbreeding does bring with it many health issues in sugar gliders. If your pet parent is planning on breeding, be sure to provide them our written information on breeding.
4) A sugar glider's tail is SEMI-prehensile, NOT prehensile. They cannot safely support their body weight with their tail. You will never see one hanging by their tail. Therefore, you should not hold a glider by the tail. Doing so can cause a break or dislocation very easily.
5) A sugar glider's teeth are NOT like rodent teeth. They do not continue to grow. Therefore, you should NOT float or file a sugar glider's teeth - ever. A sugar glider has 40 teeth.
6) Sugar gliders very frequently attack themselves and cause injury when awakening from anesthesia. They are sensitive to repeated anesthesia use. Therefore, a sugar glider should NOT be anesthetized for a simple wellness exam. Anesthesia should be used only when absolutely necessary.
7) Sugar gliders - especially those that are mill bred - frequently carry parasites. Because they are colony animals, the parasites will continue to infect them over and over unless proper protocol is followed for ridding the gliders AND the environment of the parasite. This protocol is found in our "Pet Parent Information Sheets" section. When one glider in a colony is infected, it is best to treat EVERY glider in the colony.
8) Sugar gliders have a high rate of metabolism so the standard pre-surgery guidelines do not apply. Withholding food and water is not necessary, and can actually cause complications as low blood sugar can induce seizures.
9) A sugar glider requires a specialized and varied diet. Gliders who are fed commercially available pellet foods typically do not live long lives. Discourage your pet parents from feeding a pellet as their primary staple or protein source. We have provided written information about this as well in our "Pet Parent Information Sheets" section.
10) Safe and varied enrichment is essential to the sugar glider's emotional health. You are welcome to provide your pet parents with any of our various enrichment articles found in the "Pet Parent Information Sheets" section of this website.
11) Due to stress (which exacerbates health issues in gliders AND can lead to self mutilation) and the fact that gliders are nocturnal, a glider should never be kept overnight at your office. Educate the parent on what to look for overnight, and send them home with phone numbers of those of us who have been through these things in the past. We will help them set up a hospital cage and monitor the glider through the night. These phone numbers can be found in the "Pet Parent Information Sheets" section of this website.
12) The cloaca is a multipurpose opening and therefore, should never ever be sewn shut. Additionally, nothing should be stuck up into the cloaca except in extreme emergencies.
General Wellness Exam
A wellness exam should contain the following at a minimum:
* General physical exam - history and physical
* Brief dental exam
* Fecal float and smear
* Urinalysis (optional)
Although sugar gliders do not require any vaccinations, they should have an annual well visit. Sugar gliders are prey animals and their nature is to hide any signs of illness for as long as they can. Once symptoms are obvious, the animal is normally in extremely poor condition. The annual visit establishes a baseline of data which can be used to track overall health and more easily spot the early signs of medical issues.
A routine exam of a sugar glider is very similar to that of other companion animals. It shouldinclude evaluation of the following:
- Taking history from owner: should include age, diet fed, previous medical issues, unusual behavior, number of cagemates and other pets in the household
- weight: changes in weight are often a sign of illness or diet concerns
- eyes: check for pupil reflex and abnormalities (such as cataracts); should be no redness, irritation or discharge; third eyelid should not be visible
- ears: should be no redness, irritation or discharge. Should be upright/perky.
- mouth and teeth: check for gum swelling, redness or irritation; check teeth for presence of tartar, decay, breaks and mobility; check for signs of abscess
- abdomen: palpate to check for signs of enlarged organs or tumors
- cloaca: should be no discharge; in males, if penis visible be sure no signs of dryness or necrosis
- pouch (females): check for signs of infection, including redness or discharge. POUCH SHOULD NOT BE MANIPULATED OR EXAMINED IF GLIDER IS OR MAY BE PREGNANT: CAN RESULT INLOSS OF JOEYS
- pom (males): if present, check for presence of testes; some vets remove the pom during neuter.
- feet/nails: check for signs of injury, including swelling or redness
- heart: average heart rate is 200-300 beats per minute
- lungs: should be clear with no wheezing or rattle; average respiratory rate is 16-40 breaths per minute
- fecal float AND smear: check for parasites (many owners feed bee pollen which can be mistaken for, or mask, presence of parasites)
In addition, some veterinarians will try to capture urine for a urinalysis. Blood work is not normally done, as glider must be anesthetized.
Some procedures common to other companion animals should NEVER be done to a sugar glider. These include:
- Floating or filing teeth: gliders’ teeth do not continue to grow; floating teeth will cause pain and difficulty eating
- Expressing the anal glands: this can cause damage to the glands and surrounding tissues resulting in pain; sugar gliders can self-mutilate when pain is felt. Because the cloaca is a multi-purpose opening, expressing the anal glands can result in devastating damage to other organs or pathways. If a glider is repeatedly presenting with anal gland issues, the glands should be removed.