Do sugar gliders make good pets?
While sugar gliders are cute and look friendly, their appearance can be misleading
Sugar gliders are palm-sized marsupials, with big black eyes, quirky large ears, a memorable dark stripe running from the centre of their heads to their backs, and skin flaps on both sides for gliding.
These distinct features make them popular in the exotic pet trade, but their cute and friendly appearance is misleading; did you know that sugar gliders are nocturnal? Or that they live in large family groups, are very loud, and their dietary needs are very complex?
Do you think these animals would make a great addition to your household? Here are some sugar glider facts that may change your mind:
1. They need their family
Sugar gliders are incredibly social animals. They live in family groups of up to 10 adults, and have a strong communal structure usually consisting of one dominant male and multiple subordinate males and females. Sugar gliders are territorial and will fiercely defend their nest and food resources if needed. They congregate in tree hollows, where they keep each other warm by huddling. In captivity, sugar gliders are often kept alone which is detrimental to their mental health; they are prone to depression and at times will self-harm. However, when sugar gliders are kept in a social group, they will bond strongly with their own species and can become extremely aggressive to their human owners.
2. They have very specific diets
Exotics veterinarian in British Columbia, Dr. Adrian Walton, says that, considering all issues, the sugar glider’s diet is the biggest concern he deals with. Their diet is seasonal and very complex. Sugar gliders eat tree gum, saps, nectar, pollen and live insects. If they do not get the opportunity to process these types of nutrients, which are high in carbohydrates, they will suffer from malnutrition. For sugar gliders kept as pets in Canada, they face additional challenges because most of the foods they consume are not grown locally.
3. Although small, they need lots of space
In the wild, sugar gliders can travel as far as one kilometer from their nest in the search of food or a mate. Their home range can encompass up to 17 acres. They move through the forest by leaping or gliding from tree to tree and can glide as far as the length of a football field! Replicating these conditions in a domestic setting is not possible. When sugar gliders are restricted and cannot perform their normal behaviours, they can, like many exotic animals in captive conditions, become depressed and lethargic.
4. Sugar gliders are night owls
If you walk through a sugar glider’s natural habitat during the day, you probably won’t see them. Sugar gliders are nocturnal animals; they sleep during the day and become active when night falls. If sugar gliders appear during the day, it is likely because they are ill or unhealthy. Interacting with sugar gliders during the day will disturb their sleep and rest patterns, which often causes stress for the animal. If disturbance is frequent and persistent enough, this will ultimately affect their health.
Keeping active nocturnal animals is often also stressful for the owner. Sugar gliders, for example, will not only make sounds when moving around, but also communicate with each other with barks, hisses and buzzing sounds. On top of that, when stressed or spooked, they will make sounds known as “crabbing,” which has been described as sounding like ‘metal caught in a paper shredder.’ Besides vocal communications, sugar gliders also communicate with a range of chemical and pheromone cues, which most people would consider to be a very unpleasant aroma.
5. Sugar gliders are wild animals
Sugar gliders are considered wildlife, which means that they are not domesticated; they have not co-evolved with humans. These little creatures might tolerate human presence, but their needs in captivity are identical to the needs of their wild counterparts. The living space we share with our dogs and cats, if done appropriately, can be sufficient to meet their behavioural and physiological requirements, but this is not the case with wild animals like sugar gliders. The only place wild animals can thrive is in their natural habitat. In the sugar glider’s case, this is in the forests of Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and in Northern, Eastern, and Southern Australia.
Want to learn more about the differences between domesticated and wild animals? Click here
Sugar gliders do not make good pets. They are wild animals whose complex needs can never be met in captivity. Forcing them into a domestic life of confinement results in a pet that is suffering, unhappy and unhealthy.