GliderVet Newsletter  |  Sugar Glider Vet Newsletters 2014

GliderVet #141: How do we stop all the controversy surrounding diet?

This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the March 2014 edition of the GliderVet News.

This month’s newsletter is going to be more “new-sy” than educational, but as you read on, you will see that this news will help further education for everyone. We have a guest contributor this month and I will introduce you to Shelly Sterk, who is the driving force behind a new US based captive glider nutritional study.

I will also give you an update on happenings here at SunCoast.

WHATSUP with SunCoast?
By Lisa

Last month we announced the launch of our new website. It has not been without its challenges and because of many of YOU, who told us of problems you were experiencing, we’ve managed to work out most of the bugs. You see, when you have a new website, it has to work across all platforms such as computers, laptops, tablets, cell phone, playstations (yup, we have people visit our site from playstations) and it has to work on all operating systems. If you experience any problems going forward, please call me or email me with the URL page you were on, what type of device you use and what the problem is. We truly want to get back to that place where everyone, everywhere can access the website and our rich information database without problems.

It seems that there are technical issues abounding. I’ve noticed that both Paypal and Amazon had website issues over the last month and obviously SunCoast does not have nearly the resources of these ginormous organizations. I was also having issues with my new smart phone, and I shared with our facebook group that my smart phone seems to have a rather low IQ. One of our Facebook contributors told me that I need to carry that phone in my pocket, pet it throughout the day, talk nicely and calmly to it and in time, we will bond. Hey, I’m willing to try anything if it helps me bond better with this new technology, so your suggestions and comments are more than welcome.

This new website will be so much better as we continue to develop its capabilities in full glory! One thing we’ve already added, and will be expanding is a “try it before you buy it” program. When you make a purchase, you will be able to choose a free sample gift of certain food and treat items. So if you’ve always wanted to try something but don’t want to invest in a full bag, you can! Eventually we will have all food and treats up on our Free Gift opportunity. You won’t see this until you go through checkout, but it’s there now!

One thing you’ve never seen us do before is to have sales. There is a good reason for this. We have always done our best to offer the best prices on the highest quality items with the best shipping costs. I think companies that can always send out sale coupons are charging too much to start with. How many Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons do you get every month? I get a ton of them and I could wallpaper a bathroom with all of those coupons. Wouldn’t it just be nice if they offered great pricing all the time?
Now having said that, I have put a few select items on sale this month? Why? Because these items were highly rated by our independent SunCoast testers group that I told you about last month. We have 80 independent community members who are actually testing our new products with their sugar gliders.

I promised I would share test results as we go along, and the number one item was not at all what I expected it to be! I asked our tester group to look at one existing product we offer, because I personally think it to be awesome and innovative, but yet we don’t sell many of them and that is our S-T-R-E-T-C-H-Y rope toy.


Not everyone in the group received every item, but I want to summarize what happened with this item. Ten rope toys were sent out, and those who did not get the rope toy got a piece of the material that it is made from, and it was the rope toy material that was the number one hit in our tester group. It was a completely hysterically funny situation that the group did everything they could to try and destroy the material. Those who got the rope itself tested it to its limits! One lady even had her squirrel try to chew through it and another family tried chewing it themselves, and there were not even teeth marks left.

So I asked the group why they thought that this great item does not sell well, and they told me that they thought it could be chewed, which no one (animal nor human) has been able to do yet and others thought the braided design might be a trap hazard for sugar gliders. But once people had the actual ropes and saw how it was made, they found unanimously that it does not seem in any way to be something that a sugar glider could get caught in.

I find this a really nifty item because it’s not just a bouncy rope, but it is super strong and for those of you with solid roof cages or want to suspend toys in new creative ways, this rope toy is way strong enough to support the weight of multiple toys. Did I mention it is chew proof? It can also be used as a forager. I am awaiting a shipment of feathers, as I plan to stick feathers in the braids as a new form of stimulation for my gang, but you could use barrel of monkies, treats, straws, anything only limited by our own limited imaginations. Lastly, it is super easy to clean, totally waterproof and does not absorb stinky pee pee smell.
So this item is ON SALE this month! We really want you to try it because Arnold thinks you will love it!


Introduction to Diet Study
By Lisa
It is so obvious to many of us that the biggest controversy surrounding sugar glider husbandry is about diet and nutrition. So many opinions persist, in spite of existing science. There are actually a lot of studies published on sugar gliders, but few studies that have been published on captive sugar glider nutritional needs. There has been US based captive nutrition studies done in the past, and SunCoast actually participated in the first study done by renowned animal nutritionist Dr. Ellen Dierenfeld. SunCoast did not have a large part in the study, but we did lend 9 same age juvenile males to the study as we profoundly believed then and still do that there are many studies that would be of great benefit to our community, if they could only get funded. In addition to lending them our boys, we did financially contribute as well.

These studies do not need to raise huge amounts of cash. If everyone who gets this newsletter contributed 25 cents, the study would be funded, but we know that will not happen. But I will ask, for the sake of the gliders, that you contribute at least $1.00, because I know from past experience that few of you will really respond to this request. I think we lose our right to complain about things if we’re not willing to do anything about it!

I am now going to share a personal opinion that I know is going to be unpopular with some of you, and I hope that you respect this as my opinion based upon my own copious amounts of research on a science level and within a significant group of people who actively participate with us on our SunCoast Sugar Glider Facebook page. I’ve asked questions in many ways about diet and here is what I surmise.

The most popular diet out there right now is HPW. I am having a really difficult time understanding why it is so popular and if anyone wants to educate me further, I am completely receptive to that. Here are my findings. Most gliders on HPW are overweight. HPW has a high honey content, which of course would make the diet very appealing for sugar gliders to eat, but that does not make it healthy. Sugar gliders do not eat honey in the wild and I personally think this is contributing to a high rate of obesity. The concept of HPW diet is that sugar gliders are sapsuckers, so the premise upon which the diet was created is incorrect. I prefer to classify sugar gliders as preferential insectivores. The lead on the sugar glider study that we are discussing this month classifies sugar gliders as gummivores. I really needed clarification on this term before I offered my support to this important community cause. I “assumed”, and we all know what assumption is about, that
gummivore meant that sugar gliders eat tree gum as a primary source of nutrition in the wild. I have no problem admitting when I am wrong. I looked it up, and I encourage you guys to look up things as well, outside of the sugar glider community. Look up sapsucker on google for instance and IF you find sugar gliders referenced, it will be by those companies promoting particular products.

Here is a definition of gummivore:
Gummivores are a hybrid class of omnivores that defines a group of animals whose diet consists primarily of the gums and saps of trees AND bugs for protein. (Merrit, J.) The animals in this group are classified as arboreal,

So you can see this definition is similar, but not exactly the same as preferential insectivore. Sugar gliders may indeed eat more gum than bugs in the wild, but I have read through tons of very boring technical papers on the habits of wild sugar gliders, and here is what I have discovered. Sugar gliders do most of their breeding when bugs are abundant. Bugs are quite seasonal, as we can all personally observe if we live in certain parts of the world where bugs are a big deal. Those of us who live in the South are very familiar with “love bug” season and it really makes a mess of your car. BUT, it doesn’t last long, just a couple of weeks really. When it’s not bug season, sugar gliders need to eat something to stay alive, right? And from all that I’ve read, reproduction is substantially reduced when bug supply goes down. I think it just makes common sense to see that their bodies require the protein in order to reproduce which IS the genetic imperative of al
l species and Mother Nature nudges that along by providing correct nutrition at certain times of the year to support reproduction.

Another misconception that I’ve noted over the years is that many confuse the concept of tree gum, sap, syrup, honey (which doesn’t even come from trees) as sort of all the same. Sugar gliders primarily occupy the acacia forests and I’ve personally tasted acacia gum. As a matter of fact, acacia gum is included in many manufactured foods that we eat. I encourage you to Google it and see for yourself. Acacia gum does not have much taste at all and it is in no way similar to thick sap. Even sap is not the same as syrup. And none of the above are in anyway related to honey, even though honey and maple syrup may look similar and both are wonderfully sweet and awesome on pancakes, these are not suitable foods for sugar gliders.

Lastly, while I am an advocate for trying to maintain a dietary balance for our captive gliders versus their wild brethren, captive sugar gliders do not need anywhere the caloric intake of their free range relatives. Captive sugar gliders do not spend energy on fighting the elements, dealing with food shortages, having to hunt and forage for foods, elude predators. These activities take a lot of energy, energy that captive sugar gliders do not ever expend.

I truly hope this explanation of my viewpoints of glider nutritional needs and my thoughts on HPW have not been a huge turnoff to you. If I thought HPW was a good idea, I could have easily enough come up with my own similar formula for sale, and I have not gone down that road because I am not convinced it is a correct road.

We all need more information on captive sugar glider diets, myself included! I still believe that the majority of sugar glider keepers don’t have it right quite yet. We’ve certainly made progress over the years, but even dogs which have been humanity’s best friend for eons are still being studied and researched so we can keep our best friends living longer and healthier lives.

I implore you to use your common sense. There is a lot of convoluted logic out in cyperspace that is repeated over and over again and often it’s simply clever marketing disguised to sell you product. We recently got new recycle bins from our city, and I call mine Marvin. People ask why I call it Marvin? Well its simple, the bin is green and we all “know” that martians are green, and it’s been reported over and over again that martians are named Marvin … hence my recycle bin is Marvin! If something sounds looney tunes to you, or even a bit off, go outside of the sugar glider community and do some simple research. You might be surprised at what you discover.

PLEASE, if you’ve found value in these newsletters over the years, and agree that such studies are a necessity in helping to achieve longer and healthier lives for sugar gliders, open your heart and your wallet. The study has begun and it will continue as long as funding permits. SunCoast Sugar Gliders has NO affiliation with this study, but I did promise you that as a company, we are sincerely committed to our community as a whole! This is a worthy community effort that I hope we can all help to support. We won’t get huge answers any time soon, but we HAVE to start somewhere, right?

How would it make you feel to know that—because of you—sugar gliders will live healthier lives due to nutritionally balanced diets?
By Shelly Sterk

Currently, there is over an estimated 1 million Sugar Gliders kept domestically as pets in the United States. As current trends continue, this number will rapidly multiply. As owners and care givers, it is our responsibility to provide for these marvelous marsupials in the best manner possible.

Captive sugar gliders are fed a range of homemade diets to commercially available diets; most fed in conjunction with fresh vegetables and fruits. The question “What is a good diet?” is posed daily by sugar gliders owners. While many diet combinations appear adequate, the truthful answer is that after almost 20 years of sugar gliders kept as pets, we do not know enough about the underlying nutritional physiology of this species.

But there is something we can do to find out. We can work together to find out what a sugar glider needs!

To determine a sugar gliders’ nutritional needs and how the nutrients are processed in their bodies is paramount in order to provide a nutritionally balanced diet. Let’s take the guess work out of our diets! The current Sugar Glider Nutrition Study is just the beginning steps in learning their nutritional requirements. Then, and only then, will we be able to truly structure diets specifically, and nutritionally complete for our sugar gliders.

Don’t you want to know if what you are feeding is truly good for your sugar gliders?

Please say “Yes!” to the future of sugar gliders by making a contribution today! To make a contribution, please visit

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
- Mother Teresa

You have seen the controversy surrounding how to correctly feed sugar gliders. There isn’t a lot of science behind it. Today, I am asking that you help make a change to begin finding the resolutions to these ongoing debates for the health and well-being of our sugar gliders.

How do we begin? We already have! The Sugar Glider Nutrition Study is already under way. This research is being conducted by Dr. Ellen Dierenfeld, PhD. Dr. Dierenfeld is highly esteemed in her field. She is currently a private consultant with over 20 years of experience in comparative animal nutrition - research and applied. Her professional experience includes a multitude of species on 6 different continents, and has over 200 publications accredited to her name. Some of her work history includes:

• Cornell University
• Wildlife Conservation Society
• Smithsonian Institution
• University of Florida
• University of Missouri
• Purdue University
• Texas A&M University
• Saint Louis Zoo
• and more!

The Sugar Glider Nutrition Study consists of two studies being conducted simultaneously. One is comparing some basal diets (diet trial), and the other is the soluble fermentation ability study.

A diet trial will determine the nutrients supplied by, efficacy of utilization, and overall balance of select common current diets currently used in feeding sugar gliders in the United States. Subsequent to basal diet investigations, soluble fiber fermentation ability in sugar gliders, and its potential impact on gut microbiota and health, will be evaluated. Sugar glider’s gastrointestinal tract anatomy suggests that they have a large capacity to harbor beneficial microbial populations, and their feeding ecology is heavily dependent on ingestion of plant gums to meet energy needs.

The goal of these studies is to better understand the range of nutrients that appear to meet the (as yet unknown) nutritional requirements of this species during their maintenance stage of life. This baseline knowledge provides the foundation for understanding nutrition during other physiologic stages (growth, reproduction, geriatrics). The results of this study will help us in improving our captive diets for the overall health of our sugar gliders. This study isn’t going to answer all of our diet related questions, but it will provide us more information that we currently know today!

This diet study is estimated at a cost of approximately $15,000.00. Almost half of the funds will be expended for detailed laboratory analyses, with the remainder supporting the diet ingredients, animal care, data collection, sample preparation, summary and report generation. A preliminary report of the findings to date will be presented via a pre-recorded presentation at the OSGA, Columbus, Ohio on April 26, 2014. ( The final results will later be published in animal nutrition and/or veterinary journals. The entire study is anticipated to take approximately 6 to 8 months.

To date, we have raised over $3,300.00 of the $15,000.00 needed. Can we count on you to help? The sugar glider community is known for their love, passion and especially for coming together to get things accomplished. Donate today! We ask you to support this effort at whatever level is most appropriate and affordable for you.

When courage, genius, and generosity hold hands, all things are possible.

‘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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