Health Concerns


Sugar Gliders are community dwellers in nature. They have a real, physical need for close companionship of their own kind, and should not be kept singly. Yes, if you spend hours and hours with your glider every single day, he might seem to be perfectly happy. But even if he is, what happens if you suddenly can't be there all the time? If you had to be in the hospital for week, or unexpectedly go out of town, would there be anyone else who could give your glider the daily attention he needs?

Almost every day I get e-mail from someone telling me confidently that their glider doesn't need a glider companion because they spend plenty of time with it. Okay, think about it this way. Imagine that you are being taken to another planet, to live there for the rest of your life. You will never again return to earth. You won't even be able to communicate with another human being, let alone see or touch one. The aliens from this planet are very friendly and caring and promise to take good care of you and spend lots of time with you every day, and provide for all your needs.

Can you honestly say you could be happy there without the companionship of another human? For the rest of your life? Humans also have a high need for companionship of their own kind, so it really shouldn't be that difficult for us to understand this same need in gliders, should it?

Please don't buy one glider to save yourself money. Having two won't prevent them from bonding with you, and in fact will reduce their stress level so they can bond with you better. Two won't cost any more to take care of than one, they're just as easy to carry around with you, and they're twice as much fun. And if you can't be with them for any reason, they still have each other.

Hind Leg Paralysis

Sugar gliders are prone to some conditions that cause paralysis of the hind end, causing them to drag their back legs, and ultimately leading to death. Often it seems to be related to calcium deficiency, which causes loss of bone mass and broken bones (particularly the hips). It can also happen in times of stress, such as when a glider moves to a new home.

I lost my first male glider to hind leg paralysis only a few days after I got him. (That's him, with his mate, in the photo above.) Necropsy showed areas of bacteria overgrowth in the intestines, which is often caused by stress. As part of my glider's diet now I give them apple cider vinegar in their drinking water. One of the many benefits of this is that it acidifies their digestive tract, making it less inviting to these types of bacteria. I also give them occasional doses of Bene-Bac, which contains "good" bacteria cultures that help to combat the overgrowth of opportunistic "bad" organisms.

Following is an e-mail I received from an expert; I'm reprinting it in its entirety rather than try to paraphrase it, because it's just too good to mess with:

I read with interest your health issues article on hindleg paralysis and would like to offer my opinion. When we analyze illnesses we often try to ascribe all the problems to one central cause, so in the case of a sugar glider having hindleg paralysis then death I would think that the process that led to death simply had paralysis as an effect along the way. We've seen rabbits who were perfectly healthy at 6 months of age when they were sold and moved to a new home, only to die acutely a week later. The cause of death is an acute overgrowth of intestinal bacteria that are capable of secreting potent toxins. In the case of your sugar glider, I believe that the beginning stages of absorption of the intestinal toxins is specifically neurotoxic, showing itself in the hindlegs first, probably due to the simple fact that the hindleg neurons have longer to carry nerve impulses, making them more vulnerable to disruption. Or the toxins could be absorbed into the spinal cord first then ascend to the brain.

At any rate, the prevention would be to avoid stress, which is pretty impossible when they're moved to a new home. And nobody can tell ahead of time which gliders will be susceptible to stress related disease.

Antioxidants like Vitamin E might be cytoprotective to the intestine or somehow maintain intestinal bacterial population stability.

One idea would be to have the glider in a cage or home that goes with him to the new home. Gradual transference to a new cage and return of the cage (or have it purchased outright) might prevent the major stress of moving. Also, we have had success in rabbits that presented with mucohemorrhagic diarrhea from moving stress by treating immediately with enrofloxacin (Baytril) twice daily orally for 7 days. Some relapse later and die.

Hope these ideas help.

Brett Hayward, DVM

Blindness / Cataracts

In another article in the August 1994 issue of Exotic Market Review Linda Watkins told about her discovery that overweight mothers can produce offspring that have white eyes, or white spots "floating" in their eyes. The ones with white eyes were completely blind. Her vet determined that the white was fat buildup, and she felt it is probably due to too much fat in the mother's diet.

In a July 1995 article she also talked about babies born with "white" (no black tip) tails. For some reason, these babies seemed to develop cataracts when they get older. Linda found that feeding the parents diluted (half water) carrot juice every day until the baby was weaned seemed to help prevent the cataracts from developing. The babies were given the carrot juice until at least a month after weaning.

UPDATE There are subspecies of gliders (Petaurus breviceps ariel, I believe) that have white-tipped tails. I doubt it was really linked to blindness, more likely her gliders had some ariel bloodlines!

I've seen paintings of three subspecies, in an old old book owned by another breeder. One of them was more tan in color, with yellowish undersides, and one had white-tipped tails. The third looked more like the gliders we have. My friend was so intrigued when she first saw the book that she actually traveled to Indonesia to see the gliders there. She told me she saw many different subspecies of sugar gliders. Ours are probably a mixture, so it's not surprising that oddities like white-tipped tails and tan gliders crop up once in a while.

Herniated or Inverted Pouch

I've received letters from several glider owners asking about this condition in their females. I have no information other than knowing that apparently it can happen. A trip to the vet would definitely be in order on this one!

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