With their large inquisitive eyes and adorable faces they lend themselves well to a cartoon version, sometimes even given a new name “Sugar Bears.” But purchasing sugar gliders from some of these mall kiosks or vendors at the home show may be a tragic mistake.
In Florida yesterday, 10 WTSP News reported that one veterinarian received at least four dead or dying sugar gliders in the past several weeks. Each of these gliders were malnourished, underweight, or suffering from neurological disorders. All were purchased at mall kiosks, according to Florida Veterinary Services
Not so perfect
Here in Utah we are more often frequented by Texas-based company, Tropical Attitude Pets. Also called Custom Cage Works, Tropical Attitude was a vendor at the International Sportsman’s Expo in 2009 but pulled out of the 2010 event for unknown reasons.
It was at a home show that Linda fell head over heals for a pair of sugar gliders sold by Custom Cage Works.
“I was totally impressed with how he handled ‘his’ personal gliders, and how well he explained everything about the care, diet, and upkeep of them… Everything he was telling the prospective buyers sounded ‘simple’, and that sugar gliders did not require a lot of time or care. He also said that they rarely get sick, so vet bills were not an issue.”
And in fact, the Custom Cage Works site takes the claim to good health even further stating “They are very clean, have no fleas, and do not carry any diseases, therefore need no shots.” But Linda would soon find that wasn’t true.
“After I had them home for about 3 days, the one glider developed severe diarrhea. I called CCW several times to find out what I needed to do, but they never returned my call. I was able to find a vet (75 miles away) to see him. He was diagnosed with severe giardia, and was about 5 weeks old. The other glider was about 6 weeks old. He said that they were far to young to be taken away from their parents. Both gliders were medicated at the same time. The Vet informed me of several health issues to watch for, that were not presented to me by CCW.”
Gliders are not immune to giardia or other parasites and illnesses
The Utah Department of Health says “Giardiasis affects all age groups in humans, and Giardia cysts can be found in dogs, beavers and other domestic and wild animals. Giardia is found in soil, food, water, or surfaces that have been contaminated with the feces from infected humans or animals.”
And sugar gliders are not immune. This claim that they carry no diseases was untrue, and unsafe. Because of this Linda was later able to convince the home show not to allow Custom Cage Works to sell there again. But they still visit Utah at fairs, mall kiosks, home shows and other venues. There has been no reported transfer of giardia to humans from sugar gliders.
Not every big breeder is a “glider mill.” There are many responsible breeders and rescues that sell sugar gliders legally as well. So how can you protect yourself from hardship and heartache of getting an unwell animal? The Mill Breeder Project, a not-for-profit group who work to stop these things from happening, gives these guidelines:
*The following lists are based on personal experience as a sugar glider owner and the author is not or does not claim to be a veterinarian.
Where Not To Buy a Sugar Glider (also how to identify a too young glider)
- Anybody that recommends a heat rock. If your suggie is fully weaned and ready to leave mom and dad it can regulate it’s temperature on it’s own and does not need a heat rock.
- Any breeder or Broker that claims you have to feed their diet, such as a pellet food with an apple and a slice of bread or a bird food diet or just a plain pellet food. Sugar gliders are omnivores and need a wide variety of protein, fruits, and fresh vegetables.
- A person that recommends a small bird cage or a parakeet cage for an animal that is arboreal. That means it spends most of it’s time in the tree tops. The smallest cage should be at least four feet tall by two foot. Or the equivalent by going three feet tall and three feet wide. The tallest cage you can find or build the happier your babies will be in their LARGE home.
- Sugar gliders are not easy pets or inexpensive pets to own. They are an exotic critter which means a special vet or an extra cost just because they are an exotic and not like a cat or dog. Some gliders require more time to adjust to their new home and new family, also if scared and pushed can draw blood when they bite. They require a lot of socialization from their new human parents as well as a lot of patience so you don’t scare your new baby.
- Anybody that is in a public place or that brings a group of joeys for you to see that are all lumped together in one cage. There is no way of telling who is related to who. The person can not tell you about the individual personality of any of the babies such as who may crab, who is a rough groomer, or what their favorite food is, etc.
- The tails on the joeys should not be smooth looking they should be a full fluffy tail. Any smooth tailed joeys are under four weeks old and WAY too young to be away from their parents. The person should also know when the joey came out of pouch, which is like a second birthday. They should be at least 8-12 weeks old depending on what they looked like when they came out of pouch.
- A joey that makes a baby-like cry when held or put on a strange surface. A fully weaned joey will not cry for his/her parents as they can eat, drink, and potty on their own. Another sign of a too young joey is if it rides on another gliders back it is way too young to be away from it’s parents. A weaned suggie will not ride around on another gliders back. Except for mating behavior.
- A baby glider that walks on your arm or on a surface that looks kinda like a dog that is walking through tall grass and is trying not to get their feet or legs wet after a rain storm. A baby that is all sprawled out on all fours and that is not steady as it walks or that is not sure footed.
- Any person that will NOT let you see the sugar glider before you purchase your new family member.
- A breeder or broker that will not let you handle the suggie and play with it before you buy it. You need to see if that sugar glider or baby glider will accept you or if it is tame or has been handled by the breeder.
- Any sales method that is geared toward children. Suggies can be a family pet but they are not a good starter pet for kids. Gliders are not a good pet for children to have the responsibility of feeding and bonding to an animal that can and will draw blood if scared and also may like to nip or be a groomer.
- Any persons that says a glider will get along with any other pet, such as a cat, dog, or ferret. Gliders should not be let loose with any other animal whether it is supervised or not. If you have a cat or dog that chases animals outside in the wild, they will chase a suggie.
- Any sales person or breeder that says suggies don’t bite hard enough to draw blood. Any animal that is scared and that is pushed into a corner can and will bite to defend itself. Any critter that has teeth can bite,
- Anybody that says they won’t potty on their new owners is lying about glider behavior.
- Anybody that tells you or shows you how to bond or stop a glider from nipping or biting by physical force. You have to use common sense in bonding/training your suggie as to not use any physical force that could hurt or kill your baby glider. The ONLY type of verbal or physical discipline technique that CAN be used on a glider is the behavior the moms and dads use toward their babies. It is subtle at first and WILL NOT hurt your glider. You try to mimmick the behavior that you observe between male and females and also the way the parents teach the baby gliders what behaviors they will tolerate. You use a loving touch and do not scare the glider into crabbing or lunging and biting your hand. You may get groomed or nipped until they understand your glider talk.
- Sugar gliders live in colonies out in the wild, so any person that says a lone glider for it’s entire life is ok. A pair is always better together.
Do not buy:
- Any sugar gliders fur that is matted looking or wet looking could be a sign of a parasite or bacterial infection.
- Any glider that is lethargic and not awake looking at things that are going on around them. They should be aware of movement in their area. A suggie can freeze when scared but in a few seconds to a minute will take a treat or at least be aware of their surroundings.
- A suggie that will not eat it’s favorite treat.
- A wet tail or poop that is matted to their rear end or their tail can be a sign of illness. If they are not grooming themselves. It also can mean that they are too young to be a way from the parents as they can help and teach the babies to groom themselves.
- The eyes that don’t look full of life and are dull looking, blueish color, or that look infected or have a lot of gunk in them.
- The ears that constantly stay down and that don’t stand up when sweet talked to, or that look dry or scaley.
- Greasy or sticky fur can be a sign of an illness or too many gliders together in dirty conditions.
- Their fur should be shiny and very smooth and soft to the touch. Diet can also effect their fur quality.
- A skinny sugar glider where the ribs are showing and wobbly as they walk can be a sickly glider or a sign of dehydration.
- Any suggie that has loose or watery stools. Any poop or pee that has a very strong or foul odor.
Linda’s sugar gliders survived, unlike many in the same condition, because she was able to see a qualified vet, but “Choco” isn’t out of the woods, even now. Determined by vets to be a sign of inbreeding, he is missing his sexual organ as well as having a melanoma. But Linda will still care for Sam and Choco and loves them. She doesn’t tell people not to buy sugar gliders as pets, only warns them to be careful who they buy them from, and to do research before.
Some links that can help in your research:
- Glider Central
- Sugar Glider Help Site
- Mountain West Pocket Critters Conference