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This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter
Hi Gang! Lisa here and welcome to our second issue of the GliderVet Newsletter. In this issue we will cover the all important topic of nutrition. According to Dr. C., most of the serious sugar glider health conditions she sees in her veterinary practice are
avoidable if only their humans would learn how to properly feed our
fine, furry friends. There is a lot of information available on this topic in various books and websites and most of the people we talk to seem to get really confused from all the differing opinions that can be found on this topic. In Dr. C.'s feature article on nutrition, we will share the views of the medical and zoo communities and confirmed by our very own practices here at SunCoast.
But before we get to Dr. C., I want to zip through some FAQ's (Frequently asked Questions) that have popped up since the last newsletter. Then Arnold takes over and will introduce you to your hostesses, Debbie and myself, as seen through Arnold's eyes. Then we'll get to Dr. C. on sugar glider nutrition.
Answers to Your FAQ's
Before we get started, I just want to remind everybody that this newsletter is intended to express the wishes of the whole sugar glider community. So we invite you to submit your stories of interest, your burning questions, your funny sugar glider tails (I mean tales) or anything else that you believe will further the education and enjoyment of keeping sugar gliders as pets.
If you ever want to find earlier issues of GliderVet News, you can access our archives here. If you are looking for sugar glider tested and approved products, check out our ever expanding store here. Pictures of unusually colored and rare sugar gliders are here, and fun pics of sugar gliders sent in by our customers are found here.
Shipping sugar gliders - talk about a Frequently asked Question! I have written a new "How To" article on shipping, addressing this always controversial issue and describing how we do it safely and with low stress for our beloved critters. Lots of people really want to get their sugar gliders directly from good, reputable breeders. Lots of people need to ship gliders for rescue or other reasons. We get dozens of calls each week and have found that most people are really apprehensive about the prospect of shipping. You will learn in detail how we do it, and also hear directly from one of our most recent customers on how well our shipping techniques work.
To read the new "How To" article on shipping gliders, click here.
All About My Humans
By Arnold (with a little help from Debbie)
My humans ... My humans, they are quite a pair
I love to crawl in their clothes and play in their hair.
I love my life with them a lot, it's just fine
And as busy as they are, for me they always have time.
I love to dive bomb their faces and play peek a boo games
I'm a wild little feller and they think I'm real tame.
I've trained them to spoil me and feed me real well
And 'cause they hang with gliders all day I love the way they smell.
In the daytime I dream of a place where it always is night
Cause when I'm with my humans, my life is just right!
Hey gang, Arnold here! Whaddya think of my poem? Not bad for a fuzz butt, eh? Anyway, I know lots of you have talked to or written to or met Debbie and Lisa and I just thought it would be fun for you to know more about them. Let's start with Debbie, cause this was all her idea!
Debbie loves animals so so so so much. I've heard people talking about her, and they think she's kinda quiet and shy, but I know better than that! Out at the Sugar Shack, where I was born in a state of the art just for sugar gliders place, you can find Debbie every single day. I don't know where this quiet and shy thing comes from, cause she talks non-stop to my buddies at the Sugar Shack. She wants to know how they're doing, did they like their dinner, are they warm enough, cool enough, blah blah blah. Debbie really knows how to talk to animals.
In addition to hanging out with the sugar glider gang during the day, she has other animal friends around, too. There's a squirrel that lives at Debbie's house and he lives wild in the trees. Debbie has been his friend since he was just a baby and he knows that Debbie always has nuts and other treats in her pockets for him. He just runs all over Debbie and finds his treats and loves kisses and is very friendly, to Debbie at least. Harvey is Debbie's watch squirrel. If anybody comes too close, better watch out, cause Harvey will attack! He's a one-woman squirrel and Debbie is his gal!
Debbie has had lots of animals since she was just real little. One time she had a skunk named Sinbad, and a goat named Chester and a cow named JR and a pig named Natalie. Her current pets are a menagerie of unwanted critters who were lucky enough to have Debbie adopt them. She has a pair of cockatiels named Hollandaise and Béarnaise (they're a saucy little pair), and a cat named Bon Bon, and a dog named Georgia, and a bunch of turtles that were found in someone's pool skimmer. Up until a couple of weeks ago, she even had a Duck named Lucky, but poor Lucky's luck ran out and he had a really bad injury and is now in Duck Heaven.
Debbie tells me that I'm her favorite all the time, but I've overheard her tell that to Cory, and Fais Do, and Bon Bon and Georgia and the birdies and the turtles ... but I don't care cause she makes us all feel real special, each and every one.
Now, on to my other buddy, Lisa. Ya know how I said that people think Debbie is quiet and shy? Well, that's not true about Lisa. Lisa loves to talk! Just ask anybody that's ever called her, she will talk and talk like there's no tomorrow. I don't personally know a lot about Lisa's background, but I heard rumors that she worked at something called a corporation and was some kind of financial bigwig or something, and as the story goes she just ran out screaming "I'm gettin' out of the rat race and raising me some ... hmmm, don't like rats very much .. and Debbie said "Sugar Gliders!". And Lisa said "Sugar What?" Ha ha ha ... what she didn't know then, she sure knows now!
Anywho, Lisa spends lots of time in "the office". She sits in front of this lighted box and lets me play all over the place. And she wears lots of bonding pouches and carries around little bitty me's all day long. I love the babies. Lisa doesn't let any of the other gliders go around the babies cause she said they might be mean, but I like to kiss them. I think its cause I've been neuterized that I'm so nice. But anyway, if you ever want to talk to Lisa, just drop her an email and she will certainly call you back. And as long as you talk about sugar gliders, well, she's just real happy.
But don't ask her about something called accounting or ask her to do your taxes cause her eyes glaze over and her head spins around and smoke comes out her ears. She always says something really strange that she heard from some woman named Lily Tomlin ... even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat! What does that mean? Rats are fuzzy and warm and I think they're kind of cute. What's Lisa got against rats?
And one last thing! Lots of you know Lisa as Viva (La Glider), but do you know Debbie's nickname? Around here, we call her the Mistress of Marsupials... yuk yuk!
Exotic Pet Vet
What Dr. C Says On...Glider Nutrition
It's Not Hard, Just The Most Important Thing You Can Do
Many common disease conditions in sugar gliders are the direct result of improper diet. Their name "sugar glider" suggests that sugar and fruit make up a large portion of their diet, however, this is not the case. Sugar gliders are omnivorous meaning they eat a variety of foods. You will also hear sugar gliders referred to as insectivore/omnivore indicating that insects make up a large portion of their diet in the wild.
In the sugar glider's natural domain insects are primary to the diet, and when insects are abundant is generally when most of the breeding will occur. Insects are very high in protein, so it stands to reason that breeding gliders require a significant amount of protein in their captive diet when breeding is taking place.
Sugar gliders will rely on other food sources as the abundance of insects decrease in the colder winter months. Plant products such acacia gum, eucalyptus sap and other nectars make up the majority of this seasonal diet.
Sugar gliders eat manna in the wild. Manna is a crusty sugar left from where sap flowed from a wound in a tree trunk or branch. Gliders also consume honeydew, which is an excess sugar produced by sap sucking insects. Honey and fresh fruits are considered good substitutes for the sap, manna and honeydew free ranging sugar gliders eat naturally in the wild.
I am offering a suggested diet plan that has been refined as a result of my close working relationship with SunCoast Sugar Gliders. I can say from firsthand experience that this diet is highly successful as SunCoast has experienced impressively low disease and death rates, as well as high production rates. The joeys born at SunCoast are healthy and weight sufficient, which are great indicators of a good diet plan. This diet includes all fresh foods prepared daily and offered at time intervals that will prevent sugar glider access to foods that may have spoiled.
Now I am compelled at this point to tell you that there are many paths to good nutrition if you have a sound understanding of the sugar glider's nutritional needs. Balance is very important and avoidance of foods that could ultimately be disease supportive is important. If you are well versed in what these issues are, then variance from this diet can be acceptable.
As we proceed to the specifics of the recommended diet plan, keep in mind the importance of environmental enrichment. The subject of environmental enrichment covers a lot of topics, but for the sake of this article we will focus on the nutritional enrichment issues. Major zoos, the world over, are very focused on nutritional enrichment. This simply means that variety in the diet is important to the overall well being of the animals being cared for.
Let's face it, would you like to eat the same thing everyday? By varying the foods offered, you are creating stimulation for your pet that produces several benefits. Amongst these benefits are the prevention of boredom, and food variety also enriches the overall health as each item offered will have varying values as they relate to nutrition, vitamins and minerals.
For example, carrots and corn are both vegetables, but they have significantly different food and vitamin values when consumed. Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which is very good for your sugar glider when offered in the right form and amounts. Corn, on the other hand, has a high phosphorus ratio and too much of this vegetable can actually elevate disease opportunity in your pet.
Now let's get into the specifics of the diet plan I've developed for SunCoast Sugar Gliders. A primary objective in developing this diet was to come up with universally accepted foods that over 95% of the population will consume heartily. You can feed a great and nutritionally balanced diet, but if the animals don't like it, then they will feast on individual components of the diet which will cause a lack of nutritional balance.
The diet is a three part feeding routine, plus the administration of
vitamins and minerals with the second part:
1. A fresh protein source.
2. A fresh source of fruit and/or vegetables. The fruit and vegetable
servings should be sprinkled with a daily dose of vitamin and calcium
supplements to ensure adequate nutrition.
Both of the fresh components should be fed in the evening with uneaten portions removed in the morning.
3. A staple food available all day, everyday to make sure that adequate food amounts are offered. You will likely find that your sugar gliders will eat the fresh foods first and will nibble at the staple food throughout the day and night. It has been our observation, particularly with breeding animals, that they will wake up during the daylight hours for a snack. It's the sugar glider's version of what we call the "midnight snack".
Offered on a four day rotation with one item offered from the following list daily:
Gut loaded mealworms - Feed 10-12 small, 7-10 medium, or 3-5 large mealworms per glider
Gut loaded crickets - Feed 3-5 crickets per sugar glider
Boiled eggs (without shells) mixed with high protein/low sugar cereal (like corn flakes or Special K) and mixed with either honey or apple juice. One heaping tablespoon is offered per 2 sugar gliders.
Yogurt (blueberry or peach) - 1 heaping tablespoon is offered per 2 sugar gliders
Special Note: Just weaned joeys are not quite ready for the mealworms or crickets yet, so substitute Gerber chicken baby food mixed with applesauce or sweet potatoes for the protein portion of the diet. Offer small mealworms weekly until the joey learns how to eat them without any trouble.
June bugs and grasshoppers are also good insects to feed your sugar gliders. While SunCoast does not feed either of these insects, I do recommend them as good protein sources. Never feed lighting bugs to your gliders.
Fruits or Veggies
Offered in single portions daily and varied from day to day depending on the time of year and availability of these items. This is merely the list that SunCoast uses and is not intended to be all inclusive. The amount to feed is about the amount that would equal one apple cut into 8 pieces with one piece fed to 2 sugar gliders.
Apples - Pears - Sweet Potatoes - Watermelon - Honeydew - Cantaloupe - Carrots - Kiwi - Mango - Oranges (only once a week and never to joeys) - Blueberries
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Vitamins and calcium should be given daily. I recommend Vionate as a well rounded vitamin designed for small animals. To supplement calcium levels, I recommend Rep-Cal Calcium, the phosphorus free without Vitamin D3 added version. Vionate already contains Vitamin D, so you don't need it in the calcium. The vitamins should be sprinkled on the offering of daily fruits or veggies. You will just add a pinch of both Vionate and Rep-Cal. Do not overdose the vitamins. Too many vitamins can be just as harmful as not giving them at all.
I also suggest a third supplementation for breeding sugar gliders. We've found that using a milk replacer product like Arnold's Choice Possum Milk Replacer, sprinkled on the fruit and vegetables has shown beneficial effects to the lactating female. 1/8 teaspoon every day is the amount used by SunCoast. During pregnancy, it is advisable to gear the diet more towards the needs of the female and its OK if the male is indulging in the same foods. If you find the male is getting overweight from this diet, I suggest that you purchase a Wodent Wheel or some other device that will give him access to good exercise.
Offered in the cage at all times, Wholesome Balance Chicken & Brown Rice Blend is the staple food used at SunCoast; it is a balanced formula and sugar gliders really like it. This protein rich dry food product is a great supplemental food to your gliders fresh diet. (Note to readers: ZooKeeper's Secret was our staple food for 7 years; like Wholesome Balance, animal protein is the main ingredient but it's a semi-moist food.) It is very important that small animals have access to food continually throughout the day. This is particularly important for breeding animals. There is no commercially available food that I would recommend as the single source of nutrition for your sugar glider.
I do not recommend that you substitute cat food as your choice of staple diet for your sugar glider. Cat food is designed for cats and cats are strict carnivores. To put this in perspective, many years ago when ferrets were becoming popular, ferret owners fed cat food, and over time it was discovered that this incorrect nutritional balance was ultimately bad for the ferrets. We have no reason to believe this is not the case with sugar gliders as well.
Fresh, clean water should be accessible at all times!
If you plan to give additional treats to your sugar glider, do so after they've eaten a significant portion of their meal. You can also use ordinary meal items as treats, for example, hand feed your pet its mealworms. You enhance your bonding and friendship and are feeding your pet what it already needs. If other treats are offered, the quantities should be very small in relation to the whole diet consumption. Think of it as dessert! And too much dessert leads to obesity. Obesity in any animal leads to significant health problems.
Dr. C's Top 10 Nutrition Tips
1. Fresh water should always be available.
2. Never add vitamins to the water supply.
3. Offer meals that are at least 40% protein for non-breeding gliders and 50% protein for breeding sugar gliders.
4. Supplement proteins with a variety of fresh fruits & vegetables.
5. Keep a high quality staple diet in the cage at all times
6. Feed fresh portions of fruit and veggies in the evening and remove any foods that can spoil in the morning.
7. Avoid preservatives and pesticides in the diet.
8. Avoid excessive fat in the diet - meat products should be lean.
9. Maintain positive Calcium/Phosphorus ratios.
10. Gut load your bugs before feeding to the sugar gliders.
The Most Frequently Asked Food Question!
What is your recommendation on Leadbeater's formula?
The original Leadbeater's formula was, as I understand it, was developed by the Taronga Zoo as just part of a rather extensive feeding schedule for captive sugar gliders. Here is the total Taronga Zoo diet as published in one of my veterinary handbooks.
3 grams apple
3 grams banana/corn
1.5 grams dog kibble
1 teaspoon Fly pupae
3 grams blueberries / kiwi fruit
2 teaspoon Leadbeater's mixture **
4 grams orange with skin
2 grams pear
3 grams sweet potato
On Wednesdays: feed day old chick when available
or large mealworms.
** Leadbeater's mixture
150 milliliters warm water
150 milliliters honey
1 shelled hard boiled egg
25 grams high protein baby cereal
1 teaspoon vitamin supplement (Vionate)
Mix water and honey, blend egg in separate container, add water/honey mix, vitamin powder, and baby cereal, blending each until smooth. Keep unused portion refrigerated.
OK, now back to the question. My first thought on this is that Leadbeater's mix was designed as just a small part of an overall feeding plan. I am aware of several variations of this mixture designed to make it more complete, however, I have some reservations. My primary reservation is based in how the necessary vitamins are administered. If the product is refrigerated, or frozen as suggested by some recipes, I am concerned that the vitamins may lose some potency.
Look at it like this. Have you ever read your own vitamin containers and noticed that it may contain language like "keep in a cool, dark place" or "store between 65 and 80 degrees"? Have you ever noticed that certain vitamins are packaged in brown or some other dark packaging? While I do not purport to be a nutritionist, common sense tells me that certain vitamins will change or lose value if kept in a way other than as recommended by the manufacturer.
In closing, I am an advocate of feeding fresh foods to exotic animals. I see a great number of exotic animals in my practice, and because exotics are relatively few in number as compared to the more traditional domestic pets, I am not yet convinced that there is an adequate pre-packaged food product available that meets all the needs of the sugar glider. If you want to keep an exotic pet, you should be willing to feed it an exotic diet. If you want easy, then get a more traditional pet that you can feed once a day in a bowl on the floor. It is difficult as a professional in my position to see that the demise of most exotic pets is due to the owner's lack of knowledge on proper nutrition and environment.
This is a diet plan that I can endorse as I've seen firsthand the success of this program. I would prefer not to comment on the many variations that are published as I do not have good firsthand experience with them. If you believe that you have a program is that is healthy for your sugar glider, I suggest that you review the plan with your veterinarian to insure that it is appropriate. Remember, there is more than one path to good nutrition, this is just the path that I recommend to my clientele.
I'll see you again next month!
P.S. If you have any additional questions about this month's nutrition program, send your inquiries here and I will follow up on the frequently asked questions in a future edition of GliderVet Newsletter.
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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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