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When we first started our raising sugar gliders 10 years ago, many
of the websites and chat rooms warned against feeding hard pellet foods
because the risk of lumpy jaw in sugar
gliders. This was never really an issue for us, because we were
to feeding a staple diet based on animal protein, and all the hard
based on vegetable protein, primarily soy, corn,
We field a large number of phone calls and emails on a daily basis about sugar
gliders, and in all this time, I have yet to hear of a confirmed case of lumpy jaw in sugar gliders.
And during all this time, many more foods specifically designed for sugar
gliders have become available and are fed by many glider keepers.
The lumpy jaw claim is based on a premise that the condition results from feeding a hard pellet food.
We have been using a soft pellet food for many years
now, because it was the only glider food available based on animal protein.
But what you probably don't know (unless you participated
in the test) is that we’ve been testing a new hard
pellet food we have had in development for over two years, because some gliders
don't like to eat ZooKeeper's
part of this test, I decided to try and get to the bottom of this lumpy jaw
issue. Since we're well into the results phase of the food test now, I
thought I would share all of this information with you, because there has been no change in the incidents of
gum problems or facial abscesses as a result of feeding this new hard pellet
There are really two separate issues
in the lumpy jaw question:
1. Is the disease known as
lumpy jaw present in sugar gliders?
2. If so, does feeding hard
pellet foods facilitate the development of the disease known as lumpy jaw?
Over the years, I’ve asked several veterinarians to address the lumpy
question on our website.
Several had agreed to do so, but none have come through for a simple
there really isn’t any reliable (scientific) information in the vet
community about sugar gliders having high incidents of lumpy jaw.
I decided to take a different tact on addressing this question,
because I believe
an answer to this is long overdue. I decided that we should do
our own research on what is out there about lumpy jaw and have a couple
of our vets review this information to see if we’ve done a good job on
Before we begin, let me take a moment to explain the concern that
has been proliferated on the internet for many years as it concerns
sugar gliders. The assertion is that if you feed a hard pellet food to
sugar gliders, it will irritate the gums and sugar gliders will develop
a condition called lumpy jaw. Simply put, lumpy jaw signs can be an
abscess type lump or series of lumps that can get quite large, be
painful and induce swelling.
Like I said earlier, there is not much at all coming from a
veterinarian or research perspective on the topic for sugar gliders.
But you can find a whole lot of information about kangaroos and
Holy cow! What do cattle and kangaroos have in common? They
This is not a sugar glider natural behavior.
Our starting point is information gathered from the website
belonging to the Marsupial Society of Australia.
The article is entitled Jaw Disease in Macropods. I start with
this article because there is a lot of information about lumpy jaw in
macropods, which are marsupials. The article is written by I J Hough
B.M.V.S. The important distinction here is that not all
macropods. Sugar gliders are not macropods.
Macropods are vegetarian. They are grazing animals. Just as
macropods are grazing animals so are cattle, which can be at risk for
Sugar gliders are omnivores and not grazing animals. Our
research indicates that the risk for lumpy jaw seems most prevalent
amongst grazing species. The article also
talks about the bacteria isolated out of these infections, with the
being an organism that lives in soil. That's kind of
think. Here's why.
Sugar gliders live in treetops in the wild. They do not typically
eat “from the soil” and in captivity, they most assuredly do not eat
from the soil.
One doctor gave me a quick explanation of how lumpy jaw develops.
Basically, when grazing, animals may pick up a small stick or sharp
object which can injure the gums.
This allows entry of the bacteria and leads to the condition known as
I have seen quite a few cases of facial abscesses in sugar gliders,
but in every single case we had, the veterinarian could clearly
identify a bite wound on the outside of the face, which seems to
clearly indicate that the abscess was a result of the bite.
Breeding gliders can be a bit rough when in the act of mating.
All of our cases except one involved female sugar gliders, strongly
supporting our theory that the injuries are often related to breeding
The sugar glider community has often associated the risk of lumpy
jaw with the feeding of cat food, because
many cat foods are hard. Cat food is readily available and many
people over the years have chosen this as a suitable food for animals
such as sugar gliders, ferrets, and other more unusual pets.
Over the long term, this can be problematic because the nutrition
balance of cat
food is not correct for a sugar glider. There are excellent
options for sugar glider specific diets now that didn’t exist a decade
Fifteen years ago, few people, including veterinarians, even knew what
sugar gliders were.
So, based on the research available
to the vet community, combined with the information above, it seems highly
unlikely that sugar gliders suffer from this specific disease called lumpy
jaw. There do not appear to be any documented cases, and the lifestyle of
a sugar glider does not support the assertion - they are not grazing animals.
Then how did this lumpy jaw thing get
started? I'd guess at some point in time, people connected the fact sugar
gliders are marsupials with the fact some marsupials are susceptible to lumpy
jaw. This part of the story was born as folks tried to explain the reason
for gum disease and facial abscesses in sugar gliders.
However, that still leaves us with
the question, do hard pellet foods irritate or damage the gums of sugar
gliders? Well, I have not tested every hard pellet food available, but I
have tested the one we have had in development, and I can tell you this: I know
our hard pellet food doesn't cause any problems for sugar glider gums. And
given how many of these foods are in use by sugar glider owners, you'd think if
there was a gum problem from hard foods out there, somebody would have rolled
out proof of it by now.
That's not to say that you should
feed any hard pellet food, because the nutritional values of many of them
are terrible for sugar gliders. Many of the hard pellet foods developed
for sugar gliders are based on vegetable protein; our work with nutritionists
and vets tells us the best food for animals in one based on animal
protein. But this protein source issue is a husbandry choice, not a
I think a probable answer to how the
"hard pellets cause gum issues in sugar gliders" part of the story got started is this: there were coincidences people did
not understand. Correlation without causation, as the scientists would
In the beginning, many people started
with feeding hard cat food, which resulted in poor
glider health. This
generally poor health condition resulted in normal issues, such as breeding
injuries, becoming life-threatening. When
gum problems surfaced, they were probably a result of nutrition problems,
which then a hard pellet diet could have physically aggravated.
When some pioneers switched to
more healthful diet plans like BML,
Leadbeater's, or later on SunCoast
- which coincidently were soft and include vitamin and mineral supplements - their gliders were much healthier and normal
issues like breeding injury did not blossom into obvious gum problems.
Use soft food, no more gum problems. The story is born.
But the real reason for the gliders
being less sickly was not the texture of the food being soft, but the dramatic
improvement in diet quality, resulting in few gliders at the vet for a
"lumpy jaw" diagnosis.
The question at hand is twofold: Is lumpy jaw a disease commonly
found in sugar gliders? Fact or fiction?
We’re going to call this one fiction. Then, does feeding sugar gliders a
hard pellet diet create gum problems for the animals? Fact or fiction?
I won't call this fiction, but it's not a fact, either. The right answer
probably is "it depends", primarily on what's in the pellets and the
total diet picture. I could certainly see hard pellets aggravating a
gum problem caused by a nutritional deficiency or injury, but that's not
the same as causing it.
Now, a lot of people who feed hard pellet foods will soak them in water or apple juice as they have been told
not to feed hard foods. And this is fine.
But I do have a cautionary note about this practice.
Please use water and not juice as the softening agent. The
pellet part of the diet is a free feed staple
food, left in the cage to supplement the
fresh foods part of a healthy glider diet. This provides around
the clock access to food.
However, juice can get rancid, water will not. The whole purpose
of a staple food is to have access all the time without spoilage.
Rancidity is spoilage. So in the process of trying to avoid a
disease that may not even be a risk factor to sugar gliders,
by using juice you could create a condition that can increase health
risk should an animal consume rancid food.
We invite your thoughts on this article as we are well aware that we
are tackling a topic that
may be controversial.
We always have the best interests of sugar gliders at heart and would
not dare to make such comments if we were not convinced of some
Do you personally know of any confirmed cases of lumpy jaw in sugar
gliders? Contact me with comments: email@example.com
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