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GliderVet # 83:  The Elusive Black Glider; Resolutions; Humidity is Important, What Not to Feed

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GliderVet Newsletter
Your resource for safety first, expert
advice on our sugar glider friends!
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This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter
==========================

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the January edition of the GliderVet News.  

Every January we like to take some of our “best of” information and create a quick overview of glider care for our readers, as we know many families bring new pets home during the holidays.  So for you oldies, you’ll find some of the same topics we’ve covered before, but perhaps a reminder is good.  For the newbies, we hope that this gets you off to a good start with your new sugar gliders.

And for everyone, we have a picture of what appears to be a black-faced sugar glider.  His name is Elvis and he was born here at SunCoast.  I’ve never seen a glider colored quite like him and I wanted to share a few pictures with you, click here.  If anyone has seen a glider like Elvis, let us know.  Does this color have a name?  Should we come up with a name for this color?  

Before you ask, I'm sorry to say, he is not available!  One of our long term customers and part time helpers HAD to have him.  Rob and his wife love really dark sugar gliders, so they took Elvis home with a couple of girlfriends to live in their already multi glider household.  They also live really close to me, so I’ll get to see him often.  Rob has said that his color is darkening even since we took these pictures.

In this newsletter, we are going to briefly share SunCoast’s New Year's Resolutions with you, just to keep the community in the loop on where we are headed.  As far as I know, we have the only sugar glider website that works with a team of vets as well as a couple of nutritionists and chemists on issues specifically related to sugar gliders.  We trust our group of experts to help us (and so you, through this newsletter) to weed through the contradictory information you may find on different websites or even in books.

The thing about websites and books is that they get outdated.  Many sites do not keep up with new science and the more we know about our pets, the higher quality life we can provide them.  Some websites and companies even distort the truth and facts about sugar gliders in order to support their own personal marketing agendas.  There's a big difference between keeping animals alive and keeping them at optimal health.  We rely heavily on the guidance of our experts in maintaining our own colony of sugar gliders at optimal health.  It is our desire to bring this same access to you and hope you will take the time to learn with us.

We also have a brief comment on the topic of humidity and your sugar glider, very appropriate during the winter months.  Finally, we will review some information for sugar glider newbies - what not to feed you sugar glider.

If you are new to glider keeping, I really encourage you to spend time reading through all of our past newsletters, which you can now search through with a search engine created for us by Google.  We’ve been offering this free newsletter service for eight years now, so nearly any question about sugar gliders that you can think of has been answered by someone qualified and knowledgeable.

Diet has always been, and will likely to continue to be, the area of husbandry most are confused about.  Read the November 2005 newsletter for a sample of a healthy diet presentation.  Just as important as including foods of proper type and nutritional value, there are foods that should be avoided as well to maximize safety.

Please remember that this newsletter is intended to express the wishes of the whole sugar glider community.  Every article published in this newsletter is a result of someone just like you taking the time to write us with thoughts, ideas, stories and questions.  Send your comments to us here.

If you ever want to find earlier issues of GliderVet News, you can access our archives here.  Fun pics of sugar gliders sent in by our customers are found here.  If you are looking for sugar glider tested and approved products, check out our ever expanding store here.

Are you new to sugar gliders or just in the early stages of trying to decide if one is right for you?  Questions you can ask yourself to help  make this very important and long term decision are here.  

A very confusing area for those considering glider ownership (and for some current owners too!) is diet.  See what our vet has to say here.  And if you decide that a sugar glider (or two!) would become future members of your household, then you might want to check out Arnold's great deals on starter kits, with or without cages.


SunCoast Sugar Gliders New Year’s Resolutions

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By Lisa

We make New Year’s Resolutions every year as a company, and probably like you, we don’t always stick to them. But we try very hard to.  We wish to thank all of the professionals who've taken the time to work with us in any capacity this year as your contributions have been critical to our success and the success of this newsletter.

Interestingly, I have a nephew who recently graduated vet school and we hope he will get more involved with our educational outreach after he completes his internship.  Plus, his brand new wife, as luck would have it, is a nutritionist!  So congrats to you, Kris and Carrie, and we look forward to working with you more after Kris completes his internship this upcoming year.

As you might know, we have been active in the sugar glider research community and have volunteered to assist in some of their efforts, some of which we hope will be forthcoming this year.  We also conduct our own research, often with the help of volunteers from this newsletter list who test products and provide input.

With that background, here are some of our resolutions for the year:

One of the largest sellers of sugar gliders is spreading the statement "All Sugar Gliders carry Giardia" as a fact. They are also saying Giardia "can be very useful in balancing their digestion". We believe this is an attempt to cover up the fact they are selling sick babies, because at best the first statement is a gross exaggeration of reality and the second statement is simply not true. The facts are:

1.  Some (not ALL) sugar gliders carry Giardia.  But if a single glider in a colony is infected, it's possible 100% of the colony will become infected.  So when referring to a single colony (or breeding facility), it could be true that "All Sugar Gliders carry Giardia"

2. Giardia interferes with digestion, there is nothing "useful" about the presence of it

The second statement is a known fact, just search the web for "Giardia interferes with digestion" or ask your vet.  As to the first statement, we are planning to do a study to determine what the "normal" infection rate might be.  We think it could be close to zero, based on previous results with our own colony.  Our testing will take some time, but we intend to scientifically prove the truth on this issue; it will be the first study of it's kind on sugar gliders.  You can raise sugar gliders that are mostly free of Giardia if you care enough to do so, and we're going to prove it.

We also plan a project to look at health issues related to cages.  We went through a good deal of this several years ago, when there were only a few manufacturers.  Now there are a lot of cage manufacturers, and they often copy each other’s best selling styles.  So you have a lot of look-alike cages.

Now, our local cage distributor has always made sure that ALL cages we sell at SunCoast have been fully tested for both lead and zinc issues.  But we are finding that more and more companies are importing cages that have not been tested and we urge you to make sure this testing has been done before you buy a cage.

Also cage related, we’re hearing rumbles about PVC coated wire cages and sick gliders again after it being off the radar for some time.  These cages are very popular in the glider community and we’re very sure not every PVC cage is a problem or there would be a lot more noise about it.  What we’d like to find out is which cages, or which manufacturers of PVC coated wire for home-built cages, or which types of wire might be the source of these problems and try to prove something one way or the other about this topic.  For example, there is a PVC coated wire used in lobster traps that is treated to resist salt water corrosion – is that wire safe for gliders?

This kind of challenge is particularly suited to the list of 12,000 sugar glider enthusiasts who read this newsletter, since you’re everywhere and have a wide variety of experiences.  If you are aware of any unexplained health issues which might have resulted from or happened in a PVC coated wire cage, please let me know here:

lisa@sugar-gliders.com

Finally, our testing has started on some new products in the glider health area and we like testing periods to run for a long enough time to have high confidence in results.  If things work out there, you will be seeing some of these new products this year. One of these projects has been going on for 2 years now!

As sugar gliders become more popular, product offerings tend to increase, so be sure any new products you run across are safe before you use your own sugar gliders as guinea pigs.  Do some research first, ask about products (our products or anybody else's) on the large glider community chat boards:

Glider Central    and    Glider Gossip

The only people or companies who would urge you to avoid a knowledgeable group of pet owners such as the folks on these boards are people or companies with something to hide!

Product safety should be the responsibility of the vendor, but more and more this responsibility is falling on the shoulders of the consumer. We want to do our part to help you make informed decisions about the products you choose for your sugar babies.


Humidity: Important to Good Glider Care
==========================
By Lisa

Winter time is always a time that we get lots of emails about itchy gliders and nearly all of these inquiries come from states where humidity is low in the winter months.  If you live in a dry climate, consider an inexpensive humidifier to use in the glider room.

Low humidity will not only cause itchy skin, but could also contribute to the very thin ears to get dry, flaky and in the worst cases, cause the ears to literally dry up and crumble.  If this happens, the ears will not grow back. So take precautions this time of year and keep their room humid for those fuzzbutts!

There also seems to be some evidence that low humidity may contribute to abandonment of joeys when breeding gliders.  We rarely have the problem of low humidity in Florida, but on nights when we do need to fire up the heaters (which is not often) we still put humidifiers in the room.  We have had the unfortunate experience of increased joey abandonment in cold months and as we learn more and discuss this issue with more professionals, lower humidity does lead to increased water consumption and higher risk of dehydration. Of course, nursing females need to be fully hydrated in order to support milk production.  Humidifiers are cheap, so don’t take risks with your gliders, especially if they are breeding!


What NOT to Feed?
================================
by Lisa

I get asked this question all the time: “Can you please give me a list of the foods my sugar gliders cannot have?”  And for a long time, I have avoided answering the question because I feel it is impossible to come up with a complete list, or even close to a complete list, of the food items gliders should not have.  But there's a ton of new glider owners out there in January who may have been given improper information on feeding, so I decided to list some of the foods that I know are often fed to sugar gliders, despite information to the contrary.  This way we can at least start off with a partial list of the most common “mistake” foods people continue to feed to their sugar gliders.  Remember, this is a just a short list of foods we strongly encourage you to avoid for your gliders, but is in no way intended to be a complete list.

Nuts (or any high fat content foods):

While sugar gliders may look, and act, a bit like flying squirrels, this is where the similarities stop.  You see, the internal anatomy and digestive processes of these two animals are quite different and while squirrels can handle the higher fat content of nuts, sugar gliders cannot.  Nuts not only present a health risk due to the high fat content, but they are also provide a choking risk.  The sugar glider's esophagus is only about the size of a pin head.  Have you ever noticed how your glider chews and then will sometimes spit out a pulpy substance?  Sugar gliders mash their food in their mouths and swallow the juices and will often discard the left over substance by spitting it out.  This is perfectly normal glider behavior.

The risk of high fat foods is the gliders' inability to digest the fat well. So this suggestion to avoid nuts includes all foods of a high fat content including avocado, ground beef, pork, cheese, etc. 

Sugar gliders that are fed a diet too high in fat will often display a cloudiness in their eyes.  This white looking condition in the eyes could very well be fatty deposits.  If there are fatty deposits in the eyes, can you only imagine what the excess fat is doing to the rest of the organs?  I have seen this condition in sugar gliders who were not necessary overweight animals.

If you have an underweight animal, you may want to increase the calorie count to get them to a healthier weight, but do so without using high fat foods.

Lettuce:

Lettuce does not contain much nutritional value for sugar gliders and can often induce diarrhea in these animals.  Don’t fill your sugar glider up on lettuce because it lacks the nutrition they need.  There are many fruits and vegetables that have much higher nutritional value and these are the types of foods better suited for your sugar gliders menu planning.  Make the meal choices count; and in our opinion, lettuce does not count for much.

Cheese (or any dairy other than yogurt):

As mentioned above, cheese is a high fat food and we have already discussed the dangers of feeding foods too high in fat.  But there is also some controversy surrounding the question about lactose intolerance in sugar gliders.  Personally, I think the fat issue is enough for me to avoid cheese with my gliders.  And I have found that certain milks do indeed produce results that appear to be indicative of lactose intolerance.  The only dairy we opt to feed here is yogurt.  Until better studies are undertaken to determine whether lactose intolerance is fact or fiction, as it applies to sugar gliders, walk on the safe side and avoid all dairy products other than yogurt.  We give our baby gliders yogurt at least twice per week and our adults get yogurt at least once per week.  They seem to do quite well with this one dairy product which is high in protein in and calcium, both good attributes for a sugar glider well rounded diet.  By the way, we count yogurt as a protein serving in following our vet's suggested guidelines for a good sugar glider plan of nutrition.

Corn (or any foods where the Phosphorus ratio is higher than the calcium ratio):

If you recall from past newsletters, our vets have discussed the importance of having a higher calcium to phosphorus count in food choices for sugar gliders. To briefly reiterate what she said about this, phosphorus binds to calcium and is expelled from the body, thus increasing risk for a calcium deficiency disorder.  This a common condition for improperly fed sugar gliders.  Now this is an extreme oversimplification of the digestive process, but this publication is here to give advice and not to be a super detailed science journal.  We would like you to stay awake while reading this information.

OK, back to corn!  Sugar gliders LOVE corn, but the phosphorus count is much higher than the calcium benefits in this particular food.  I remember when Arnold was a joey, he was in my shirt as I was preparing to cook dinner and I opened a can of corn and he literally dove straight in.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him happier as he two fisted the tasty morsels and made a complete mess of himself, my kitchen counter and my dinner plans.  I wiped him down and put him back in his nest box with his girls and they pinned him flat down and proceeded to lick him from head to toe (which he didn’t seem to mind either).  It was a great day in the life of Arnold, but knowing that corn is really not good for them, it was his last great encounter with the niblets.

Corn is not the only vegetable that you need to avoid due to high phosphorus ratios, but it is the most common food I hear people feed that we would recommend avoiding.  For a listing of popular fruits and veggies and their CA/Ph ratios, click here.

Bird seeds or parrot food:

I most often hear from people that have purchased their sugar gliders from pet shops that the recommendation and products sold to go home with the sugar gliders is bird seed or parrot food.  I have no idea where this idea came from and how anyone could think it is a good idea for gliders.  All I can guess is that people in pet stores see these critters as living in tree tops in the wild (like a bird) and they glide, which is kind of like flying (like a bird).

Please do not feed your sugar gliders bird food!  Bird food is usually made of foods like seeds, nuts, dried fruits (like raisins) and sugar gliders are simply not built to even be able to digest this type of food. It saddens me when I hear information this poor is still commonplace in some venues.

I think the best and easiest explanation I have heard on feeding bird seed was from Ellen of Glider Central.  As Ellen put it, birds have an organ called a gullet which enables them to digest such foods. Sugar gliders do not have a gullet. Simple enough, right?

Cat Food:

Cats are carnivores and sugar gliders are omnivores.  According to our vets, cat food should also be avoided with sugar gliders.  Many exotic pets that are “new” are often given cat food when first introduced as pets.  This is simply true because there are no alternative manufactured foods available yet.

Our vets shared with me several years ago how this was the case with ferrets (and other species as well).  Science exists that shows that as more species appropriate diets are implemented, the longer the lifespan the captive species will enjoy.  Carnivores need a whole lot more protein than omnivores.  There are much better alternatives than cat food and to achieve optimal health, your best advised to go with a more specific pellet food like Wholesome Balance.

Grapes:

In July and August 2006 we had a discussion on grapes and raisins as a potential bad food for sugar gliders.  We’re going a bit out on a limb with this discussion, but why take a chance when there are other foods that exhibit safer and healthier qualities, such as blueberries.  We won’t go over this whole topic again, but you can click below to read the original articles:

Grapes: Part I

Grapes: Part II

Chocolate:

I started off this article by stating the oft asked question of "what can’t I feed my sugar gliders?"  Most people know that chocolate is a bad choice for dogs and assume the same is true for sugar gliders. We are going to assume that is correct.  Anything with empty calories should be avoided, whether it poses a direct health risk or not.  Empty calories do nothing for your pets’ long term well being.

In closing, I often get comments from folks that they know certain foods are probably not real good for their gliders, but still feed it now and then because the gliders like it so much.  The quest should be to find healthy foods that your gliders clamor for.  I know mealworm night is always a food fest around here.  Blueberries are well received, as are many foods in the melon family.  Papayas will make most of my gliders wake up early for a taste of that fabulous tropical fruit. Experiment with healthy foods that make your gliders happy.  There is no need to ever feed foods that are known or even suspect to be unhealthy food choices, because there are far too many healthy foods available that gliders will love just as much!

'Til next time, in good health for you and your gliders, we sign off in appreciation of all of you who share great glider adventures with us! 

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GliderVet Newsletter
Your resource for safety first, expert
advice on our sugar glider friends!
>=<---- >=<---- >=<---- >=<----

That's it for this month's GliderVet Newsletter.  I hope you liked what we had to offer!  If you have any stories, questions, pictures, suggestions for topics - anything glider - you would like to share or see covered in the GliderVet newsletter, please send them here

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Viva La Glider!  Arnold

Lisa
SunCoast Sugar Gliders

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