GliderVet Newsletter  |  Sugar Glider Vet Newsletters 2013

GliderVet #129: Science, Experience & Common Sense, Re-visiting What Not to Feed Sugar Gliders

This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter
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"Pets are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole."
Roger Caras

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the January 2013 edition of the GliderVet News.

We hope your new year is off to a great start and may you glide through 2013 smoothly!

We live in an age of information, where we can easily access data on any topic on earth. One of the greatest challenges is figuring out where to find the most reliable information possible. So we thought we'd kick off the new year by explaining our method of information gathering, as it relates to the health and well being of sugar gliders. Since 2001, we have used our monthly newsletters to share our knowledge on everything related to sugar gliders - from real life experiences, involvement with the scientific community, and last but not least, just good ole common sense!

We are also sharing some great feedback from someone who emailed us regarding last month's article on What Not to Feed Sugar Gliders. While this person has some different opinions from us, he does exactly what we think more people should do, which is to question everything!

And if you haven't visited Arnold's store lately, we've added a new item. We like to offer a little sumptin', sumptin' for humans too, so be sure to check out this totally rad sugar glider magnet!

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.
The SunCoast Philosophy: Science, Experience, Common Sense
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by Lisa

In the initial stages of making my decision to raise sugar gliders, I learned that these animals can live much longer and much easier lives in a captive environment, IF one practices good husbandry.

Our philosophy here at SunCoast is to be, first and foremost, good educators about sugar glider husbandry, since it is the most important aspect to the well being of gliders. Over the years, there are people I have angered by refusing to sell our sugar gliders to them when it was clear they were not willing to follow established husbandry practices.

But in order to do right by the animals, you need to commit a lot of time, have sufficient and appropriate space, and forget about taking days off unless you have reliable people who will care for them to your standards in your absence. After all, we owe it to them to do the very best we can do, all the time!

Education is so primary to our efforts and with so many opinions available in this day and age of the internet, that we have always done our best to put science first. Of course in our early years, we simply didn’t have enough experience to draw on, but as time moves onward, our experience grows and we continue to learn.

I often hear the comment that there is no science out there concerning sugar gliders, and well all I can say to that is I’ve found over 1,000 scientific studies concerning sugar gliders and rarely are they referenced in the sugar glider communities. For example, in our article Classifying Sugar Gliders, we cited a study by RJ Booth that demonstrated sugar gliders prefer insects over manna (sap) even when sap is more plentiful. Gliders are therefore not "sapsuckers" as some describe this term but preferential insectivores, and their diet should reflect this idea. This means the staple food should be based on the nutritional needs of preferential insectivores. Using a staple food created for "sapsuckers" based on honey and non-animal proteins is a poor substitute for the preferential insectivores diet. It probably won't kill them, but over time it's probably not great for them either, resulting in sicklier animals and shorter life spans.

Of course, you are free to believe what you want and feed your glider as you wish. What we do not like to see, however, is people using misinformation like this "gliders are sapsuckers" idea to create and promote diets that may do long-term damage to glider health - especially when the available science directly contradicts this notion.

In the upcoming months and years, I hope this and similar information from scientific studies will be promoted as a resource within the sugar glider community.

When we began way back in 1999, we relied on advice from exotic veterinarians. By the time we launched our website in 2001, we initially worked with one vet, and then later two. Now in 2013, we have access to dozens who are willing to assist us in this cause.

We do not publish information concerning nutrition or husbandry unless we have at least one vet give us the thumbs up, or if it comes from a study published in a scientific journal. There are some topics where information applies to all animals across the board (including people), and when it is regarding a specific subject matter that is universally harmful, we still get a vet to bless our explanation.

For example, I have never read anywhere that aspartame is a nutritional powerhouse for any of us - animals or humans! While it is lower in calories and carbohydrates than sugar, there is no evidence it is a healthy choice chocked full of vitamins and nutrients. In small quantities, it is unlikely to be harmful; but there also are some studies indicating it may have some bad effects.

We occasionally receive mail from people who defend their nutrition choices on evidence “their glider is OK”. The problem with such an approach is that there may be a buildup effect over time, especially with animals as small as sugar gliders. If we make the best choices in what we feed, and how we care for, our animals, it is likely to positively impact their quality of life.

While science has ALWAYS been our primary resource for our educational efforts, we have amassed a significant amount of personal experience over the years. We can best corroborate new learnings, ideas and understandings through the combination of our veterinarians, nutritional resources and our own years of observation.

The final stage of our education process is our appeal to your common sense! Please understand that with each passing year, more and more people are becoming familiar with sugar gliders and jumping on a very fun bandwagon. Anyone can call themselves an animal breeder, but if you are told something that tweaks your common sense, then do further research and utilize the science and the experience of reputable breeders to help you figure out the fact from the fiction.

Even veterinarians can be wrong about husbandry and diet. Some vets recommend a very small "starter cage” for joeys, yet we know from long-term experience using such a small cage is not a good idea. In fact, small cages cause stress down the road when the cage is changed or the glider keeper waits too long to move the sugar gliders into an appropriate size habitat.

We've also heard of a vet showing people how to jam a thumb into a sugar glider’s mouth to discourage biting. Sugar gliders do not respond well to negative reinforcement; this technique is mostly ineffective and in our opinion crosses the line into animal cruelty.

So if you find something that defies your common sense, or crosses your personal boundaries on what constitutes animal cruelty, please do not use the source as a point of reference any more!
Re-visiting What Not to Feed Sugar Gliders
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by Lisa

Last month, we talked about what not to feed sugar gliders. The following email was received from a customer, in response to that article. This exchange is a good example of the philosophy and ideas discussed above in action.

TA: Dear Lisa, Thanks for your wonderful newsletters. Must say I miss Arnolds contribution!

Lisa: Arnold participates now and then ... so stay tuned. He still has things left to say. Our correspondents have been asking such serious questions lately (and good ones I might add). Arnold prefers the fun stuff and we're not ready to stop having fun yet!

TA: I want to respond to the "what to feed and not to feed" issue. I am of a different opinion to what is suggested in your newsletter. You know, we keep these gorgeous little animals in captivity. This means that they do not get the natural diet they would get if they were able to live naturally in the wild in the top of the trees.

Lisa: So true. Yes, we do want to try and keep the balance of carbs, proteins and fats within a range so that their little bodies can thrive and prosper.

TA: I also work with monkeys in rehabilitation and captivity. And from experience, I know that they will eat whatever it is that their bodies need. They instinctively know which plants have different medicinal purposes and which are most needed. There are many academics who will tell you what NOT to feed the monkeys, but we are convinced that they will not eat anything they don't want.

Lisa: I discourage folks from extrapolating knowledge of one species to another. Monkeys have a very high level brain function ... and if what you say is true, then perhaps a higher level brain function than people, or we would stay away from sugar, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, etc ... yet we still go for it.

One thing I know for sure. Sugar gliders LOVE corn, yet the calcium:phosphorus ratios are quite upside down; and too much corn will deplete their calcium, which not only affects bones, but organ function as well. We do know for a fact sugar gliders will eat things that are harmful to them and will not regulate their own portions because too much will have an ill effect on health.

Maybe sugar gliders are smarter than monkeys. Maybe sugar gliders are as smart (or smarter than) people. People often eat things in excess that are not health supportive. I love the idea of such intelligence in nature, but I for one am not ready to trust my sugar gliders to make good decisions for themselves. Arnold dove right into a can of corn I had opened one night for dinner, and was quite put out when I did not let him have his way to eat as many of the niblets as his heart desired!

TA: I think it is the same with SG. I feed mine all the things in the list that we should not be feeding (except for alcohol, chocolate, onions and garlic). I don't give them sweets or unnatural treats but they do get an abundance of meal worms, crickets, flying ants, fruit and vegetables including grapes and avocado, which they love.

Lisa: Not all grapes are problematic ... but just a little of the wrong kind can be deadly. And on the avocado, this is one of those foods that could have a build up effect over time. It's unlikely a single serving now and then will harm them, but no one really knows how much is too much. It is the potential of the buildup that concerns us, and the tendency of many people is to overdo it with their sugar gliders. Excess is just as harmful as lack.

Sugar gliders hide illness well. When they look sick, they are usually exceedingly ill and often will pass within 24-48 hours. We do not see gradual changes that may indicate poor diet and they go from looking healthy, active and playful to dead within days. It is why we stress the importance of choosing the healthiest foods ALWAYS, because no one really knows the effects of the buildup from potentially hazard foods. Moderation, moderation, moderation ... I hear that word all the time from the vets and my own personal doctor as well!

TA: I also change the plants and flowers in their room every two or three days and I put honey on the petals. They like licking off the honey and tearing the petals from the flower.

OK, I do go a little overboard trying to give them the best life I can, which includes NOT caging them, but letting them take over the whole spare bedroom, and two to three nights a week I take them into a very large outdoor enclosure where they can glide and climb all night.

Lisa: What an interesting enrichment practice! I love your creativity. You obviously care deeply and with the extended exercise area you provide, your sugar gliders will burn a lot more calories than sugar gliders who are housed in cages, which is how most are kept. We try to appeal to the masses in this publication and it's fun and encouraging to know about people like you who have created such a stimulating environment.

TA: How do you get to the stage where they return to you? I only have two sugar gliders but they sleep all day and nothing disturbs them unless I pick them up. I can call and use the vacuum cleaner or the treats but they do not budge. They sleep in the hoody of a jacket inside the cupboard.

Lisa: How long have you had them? I find sugar gliders that get whole rooms tend not to connect as well to their humans. We had a customer years ago who after several years of glider stewardship, moved to a new home with an extra room. She gave the extra room to the sugar gliders. The sugar gliders, who were very connected to her, became much more independent. We surmise that they were so stimulated by the wonderfully rich environment that she created for them that they became less interested in her. She chose to stick with the rich environment because she really enjoyed watching them have so much fun in the space she created.

TA: However, I think THEY have me trained pretty well. In the middle of the night at around 03:00, she (Zoe) will sit by the door and "bark" until she hears me moving. The moment I open the door to their room, they are up my leg and hang around me for about an hour. I normally fall asleep in their room during this time whilst they play and check up on me every 10 minutes or so. BUT they do not come to me if I call them although they will eat from my hand, groom me, stick their nose in my ear etc. etc.

Lisa: LOL ... you understand the trick then. Let them train you!

TA: Something very cute which they do, is stretch out on the top of my hand when they sleep in their pouch on top of my stomach when I lie on the couch.

Lisa, how many SG do you keep and where do you keep them? Do you interact with them every day and to what degree?

Lisa: We have about 200 sugar gliders and I, along with three others, interact with them every day. The babies get held out of the cage daily and everyone gets at least some petting and some treats on a daily basis. We want them to stay connected with us humans. It makes it more fun for everyone.

A distinct advantage of having this many gliders is I get to witness behavior, feeding, and health issues across a large population of animals, rather than just a select few. My opinions are therefore based on the "average glider", reflecting what people in general are most likely to experience with their sugar gliders. I have no doubt that specific gliders in specific environments act differently!

For example, nearly all our gliders get up and eat during the day, and especially the young, the old, and pregnant gliders. But they have been raised knowing food is available during the day. I often hear people saying they don't offer a staple food because "my gliders don't eat during the day". But ask yourself, if food has never been available during the day, why would they get up to eat? These gliders have essentially been trained there's no food available during the day, so they don't look for it. I'd guess this means they are super hungry when they get their "daily dinner" and will eat just about anything, meaning the likelihood of eating a nutritionally balanced diet is lower.

It sounds like you are very mindful of keeping a rich environment for them and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts on foods. I tend to take a more conservative, lower risk approach to what I feed my gang. I keep coming back to the thought that there are too many things that they enjoy which do not pose any health risks, and I simply choose to make all of my selections from those food groups.

The thing with gliders, like many exotic animals, is the ability to mask illness. By the time illness shows any outward signs, it can often be too late to make the corrections to return them to vital health. I tend to favor an approach of prevention to the extreme of avoiding anything that is potentially risky.

Yet, I can respect the opinions of those who take a moderation approach and will limit access to the riskier food choices. The people I'm really trying my best to appeal to with these diet concerns are the "free for all people" - those people who just love to see their sugar gliders enjoy food to the extreme of giving them anything they prefer in any quantities they will eat it. I am convinced this approach, over time, will not bode well for the longevity of the sugar gliders.

My approach is similar to not giving your child all the candy they want, or letting them jump out a window, just because they want to. "They like it" is not enough justification in my mind relative to the risk.

TA: Waiting in anticipation for the next Newsletter! Kind regards, TA
'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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