GliderVet Newsletter  |  Sugar Glider Vet Newsletters 2012

GliderVet #118: Dear Arnold, Get Prepared for the Joey Birth Adventure

This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter
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Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the February 2012 edition of the GliderVet News!

This month, we're opening up with a couple of questions addressed by our handsome and humorous marsupial, Arnold. Then, we answer frequently asked questions on birthing and raising sugar glider joeys, kind of apropos for the 'month of love'. This is one of those areas that many current and potential sugar glider owners have a keen interest in delving into. Read on to make sure you understand all the implications of "having a baby" - there are a lot more than you think!

Before glidin' in, a store-related announcement. If you haven't visited Arnold's little store lately, then you may not have seen the Contempo Cave. It's become very popular among glider patrons and their human partners in crime, so be sure to check it out!

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.
Dear Arnold
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by Arnold

Dear Arnold,

I purchased Thimble and Truffle as babies last April and they are doing really well. Tigger, my older glider, had lost his cage mate and Lisa suggested that because of his age, it might be smart to purchase a pair instead of just one new glider. She was very smart to suggest that because last fall Tigger began to show a few signs of aging and earlier this winter he passed away. He was still very active, but especially compared to the younger ones, we could see that he was gradually slowing down. He lost some hair on his tail and would occasionally turn down his favorite foods. While he was always the first one to get up for a treat in the evening, for the most part Tigger just started to act like an older animal. Luckily, Thimble and Truffle are still a pair, and as much as we miss Tigger, it helped to know that the little guys still had each other and that no one was left alone.

Lisa C
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Dear Lisa C,

Are you related to my Lisa Tree? What can we say? If you happy, we happy! Suggies are a social bunch, which is why my mum tree recommended considering Tigger's age when ya were looking for a new buddy for him. And now that Tigger's glidin' around in that big ole pie in the sky, he's at peace knowing his buds, Thimble & Truffle, have each other!

Luv Lisa Tree's Arnie;-)
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Dear Lisa,

Lately I have noticed that Thimble and Truffle are not eating as much Wholesome Balance so I purchased a small coffee grinder just for them and I have been using it to grind about half of their nightly amount into a fine powder. I have been sprinkling that into their yogurt or into a bit of applesauce and they seem to like it that way. I can't think of any reason for not feeding them that way but I know that nutrition for exotic pets can be pretty specific so if you know of any reason for me not to be doing that, please let me know. I searched the newsletters to see if there had been anything in there about crushing the food but I was not able to find that.

And I've also noticed that they will actually eat more of the dry pellets now that I am giving a variety with some whole in the applesauce, some crushed, and some just plain. I think it just makes eating more interesting for them. I have had someone here telling me that gliders should not chew hard pellets but mine have chewed on some wooden toys apparently just for the fun of it. (I take those away from them.) Plus I would think in the wild they must have to chew on some bark in order to eat sap. That is why I stick to the newsletters for information. There is always more to learn but I feel like what is there is time-tested and vet-approved. Thanks again and talk to you later!

Lisa C
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Hi Lisa C again!

Yer idea to crush the food is fine. Kinda sneaky how you make the important staple part of the diet fun - yer purty smart (for a human!) Lisa Tree sayz once ya mix with something else, it will spoil because of the something else. But some mixing, some whole and mixed, some just by itself - a virtual chef al la glider methinks. Bravo!

It’s like you peeps eating cereal, sometimes you eat it outta da box, sometimes ya mix it with milk and of course it won’t be good tomorrow if ya mixed with milk, but it sure makes it more fun than just plain all the time! Yo Lisa B … does we have a coffee grinder? If not, then chop chop and get one cuz Lisa C has a great idea!

There'z no evidence that eating hard food is bad for sugar gliders. Ya make a splendid point that suggies pull back bark with our teeth to find sap and bugs. Its not like we can’t handle hard bark, so why do sum peeple say that hard pellets are bad! Show me the science and show me any of me large numbers of colony mates have EVER had a problem cuz of hard pellets!

The info superhighway sometimes gets gridlocked by bad ideas and the idea that hard pellets are bad, is well … just wrong. We know cuz we proved it right here at lil ole SunCoast!

Arnie ala yum yum (who thinks sum ideas are dum dum!)
Get Prepared for the Joey Birth Adventure
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by Lisa

So you think you are interested in witnessing the miracle of glider birth at home? Well, how cool is that? Really, how wonderful to see little babies coming out of a mother’s pouch. The whole marsupial thing is such an interesting evolution of nature. One thing I find particularly intriguing is that marsupials are an ancient expression of reproduction. During the Mesozoic Era, over 200 million years ago, marsupials outnumbered placental mammals in North America!

Alas, we are not here for a history lesson. What we wish to address today is owning a "breeding pair", as opposed to breeding gliders as a business. The upside to the birth experience at home is obvious. Many people wish to have and to share the experience of pouch emerging younglings, especially with their children. However, unlike having puppies or kittens at home, there are significant issues after the birth that need to be taken into account and planned for.

It seems that most of the sugar gliders sold in the U.S. today are sold with males neutered. Personally, I think this should be at the discretion of the new sugar glider keeper, and this is how we offer our sugar gliders at SunCoast Sugar Gliders. Basically, we offer "three sexes": males, females and neutered males.

Unlike the placental mammal, the out of pouch (OOP) event is not a moment in time, but rather a process. Sugar glider joeys get to the point they simply no longer fit inside the mother’s pouch, and so their body parts start hanging out. In fact, prior to a complete pouch emergence, it is very common to see little paws, little tails and little behinds sticking out of mom’s pouch as the joeys continue to grow.

Joeys may come out of pouch briefly and then later that day you check on them, and where did the joeys go? In many instances, they were able to fully get back into the comfort and safety of mom’s pouch. Then one day, that effort no longer works and the joey is now completely out of pouch. They will continue to stick their heads in the pouch to nurse, with the rest of the body out of pouch. It’s quite interesting and amusing to watch this.

Now what about the downside to breeding? I never discourage anyone from going on this adventure; I simply encourage anyone consider doing so to look at the big picture. First, there can be a difference in having sugar gliders as pets and breeding sugar gliders.

Particularly inexperienced (younger) pairs may get quite protective when they have young. In other words, they may not want you messing with them or their offspring. This is an instinctual response to protect, and as sugar gliders are territorial, you may become an unwelcome visitor in their home. Some sugar gliders who have young, and this applies to any stage of the process (in pouch, out of pouch, just weaning, etc), will do all they can to ward off ANY visitors. This can be true even when you bring them fresh food and water; sometimes, the message is simply “back off Jack!” This is one extreme direction the process may lead. The other extreme is to have sugar gliders that grab your finger and act as if they want to pull you into the nest to “come see, come see, come see what we did!”

You will not know how your sugar gliders will respond to having young until you actually get to the event. If you have super, lovely, wonderfully bonded sugar gliders who breed, you might find an extreme personality change (...or you might not!) Only time will tell. This behavior change does seem to soften as the sugar gliders become more experienced parents; but then again, not always.

The next thing you should consider is this: Intact male sugar gliders, when mature, will develop two dominant musk glands. These glands produce a pungent musky smell, as well as a very strong smell of urine; both scents are designed to mark territory. Male sugar gliders will rub their musk on their colony mates, their physical territory and nest, as well as on well-bonded humans. But the marking does not stop there. They will also use their special high octane urine to mark as well! Some males are more prolific about this than others.

Simply put, your male sugar glider may pee on you a lot if he is not neutered. And be forewarned, it is a stronger, fouler smell than the urine of a neutered male or female sugar glider. These smells have nothing to do with diet. It just is what it is. A few people are OK with it, but most people find it unpleasant, to say the least, and some find it completely intolerable. As far as we can tell, it just depends on how sensitive a person's nose is to smells. So before getting an intact male, be realistic. Can you deal with the smell?

Last, but certainly least, and this is the most important issue to me personally, is what are you going to do with the joeys once they are fully weaned? Inbreeding should be avoided at all costs! Given the chance, offspring will breed back to parents and opposite sex siblings will breed to each other. PLEASE DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN! And do not believe information that indicates this cannot happen. Not only can it happen, it does happen and it only serves to weaken the gene pool; allowing this to happen will diminish the health and strength of that family line. If you wish to breed sugar gliders, this is a major responsibility that you must be prepared for.

One part of being prepared means having budgeted funds to provide for new habitats, so that the offspring can be appropriately separated before they become of age. What does “of age” mean? That is a wide target, but I’ve seen some sugar gliders become mature as young as five months out of pouch. So use that as a guideline to the time frame in which they must be removed from the parents cage.

One bit of advice that I share with families considering a breeding adventure is to check around with local vets prior to bringing the new sugar gliders home. Find out what they charge to neuter. Many people hope to have one or two litters of joeys, with the intention of having a larger colony, and understanding that all males must be neutered if they are to live together in perpetuity.

Now let’s look at some scenarios. Assume you are OK with the first point that sugar gliders may become protective. And let's say you have accepted - and will live with - the fact that the males will be a bit odiferous. Now you need to complete your plan in the expectation of having the great joey experience.

Scenario One: Your male and female had a joey! YAY! Congrats! How exciting, and no doubt cuter than a bug in a rug. But now, the joey is getting older and the parents have new peanuts in the pouch. What do you do? The problem here is not about having an older sibling in the habitat while new joeys are about to emerge. An older sibling is quite unlikely to harm its younger siblings. It is part of a colony, a family. The danger is that the joey is getting old enough to breed with one of its parents and many people jump to the conclusion that all they need to do is separate the joey. This is a good idea, right? Well, yes and no.

The joey will need to be separated before it matures (and just to be safe, let’s call that at five months out of pouch), but and this is a big ole BUT, the joey does not deserve, nor should it be forced, to live alone. This defies the deep nature of the sugar glider and will quite likely cause a great deal of separation anxiety (which leads to a plethora of potential behavior disorders). According the rules of Mother Nature herself, no sugar glider should live alone.

If the joey is a male, at this time you have the option to have him neutered and then he can live with his family colony forever. If you planned ahead, this is no time to say I can’t afford it. I encourage you to know what that cost may be and take responsible action as it is required.

If the joey is a female, most veterinarians will not spay a female sugar glider unless it is medically necessary, due to a life threatening situation. Spaying female sugar gliders is a very invasive procedure. We’ve only tried it one time since 1999 with a female sugar glider who had a tumerous growth in her abdominal region. Sadly, she did not even make it through the surgery.

So now what? Your choices are to keep her and find her a suitable companion. Her companion does not need to be a mate, it could be another same sex sugar glider or a neutered male. If you get another male, you are now needing to double up your ability to keep buying new cages and/or paying for more potential neuterings. Is your budget prepared for this?

Scenario Two: Your male and female had joeys! YAY! Congrats! How exciting, and no doubt cuter than a bug in a rug. The two joeys are one little boy and one little girl - GULP! Now what? They can’t stay with the parents indefinitely, and they can’t stay with each other indefinitely. So what are your choices? You could house father and son together; and mother and daughter together, assuming the father and mother have not already set new buns in the oven. This would effectively end your breeding adventure (maybe, more on that in a minute). You don’t want to end your breeding adventure? Well OK, then you could get the little male neutered and keep him with his sister, either in your home, or re-homed elsewhere. OR, you could let the little male be with a new and unrelated companion, and the female with a new and unrelated companion. But please, please, please, do your very best to not let anyone ever have to live alone.

Scenario Three: Your male and female had a joey! YAY! Congrats! How exciting, and no doubt cuter than a bug in a rug. The two joeys are the same gender! Yay! Congrats! Now all you have to do is separate them from the parents before they mature and count your blessings that you don’t have a complicated situation that could foster inbreeding.

I will wrap this up with a very interesting sugar glider fact. I strongly discourage you from separating the parents as a means of birth control. These two gliders have formed a bond and to break the bond is extremely distressing. Also, it may not even be effective. Female sugar gliders can store fertilized eggs. Huh? I’ve heard about this and had a chance to see it first hand. We will often house our retired females together, assuming they get along well. I had a female show with joey in pouch nearly six months after being with no males. Yup - she was preggy and had a healthy little joey. And while I had heard this was possible, I was still stunned to see it in person!

Separation will only stress your animals and you could still end up having joeys, and now the mother has to raise the young without the help of her mate. Sugar glider males rock. They could really teach a lot of other species on how to be a good Daddy! They play a vital role in rearing their young and it helps take a lot of the work off of the female. Do not deprive her of this help and additional nurturance for her offsping.

So while raising and breeding sugar gliders is a super cool thing, it is a completely different thing than just having them as pets. Just as we encourage everyone to be responsible in keeping sugar gliders as family members, we will doubly encourage you to be the best breeder you can be and that means going into this with eyes wide open, being prepared to either separate the offspring and/or to re-home them to good homes that will not inbreed them.

While I do raise a lot of sugar gliders, it has always been my tendency to keep my own little colony just as family members, with all males neutered just to enjoy them to their fullest. It is more challenging to have the best pet experience with breeding sugar gliders as the females should not be handled as much, particularly as she gets close to the out of pouch time.

So decide with this simple question: Do you want to have the best pet experience? Do you want to get into breeding and dealing with all the implications? If you answered yes to both questions, then you may want to consider two separate colonies of sugar gliders, as this is what I’ve found to be the best way to have it all!

'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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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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