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GliderVet # 120:  Dear Arnold, Our Experience with Sugar Glider Self Mutilation

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GliderVet Newsletter
Your resource for safety first, expert
advice on our sugar glider friends!
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This Month in the GliderVet Newsletter
==========================

Greetings Glider Groupies, Glider Newbies and Glider Wanna-bes! Welcome to the April 2012 edition of the GliderVet News!

This month, everyone's favorite marsupial kicks off by answering some Dear Arnold questions, so be sure to read on to see what advice our great wise one has to offer this month (with a little bit of help from Lisa)!  Secondly, we are addressing the less fun topic of sugar glider mutilation.  While rare in occurrence, it is an issue where education is critical for all sugar glider owners.  And while the issue is a very real concern, there is a lot of hype and hysteria on the subject, so we'll discuss how preventative maintenance can help avoid, or manage, this unpleasant situation.

Before glidin' in, Arnold has requested that we mention his new favorite hangout has been added to his li'l store.  Click here to see what he so cleverly calls a "CubbyHole Nest".  We think he made a good choice with this one and the name is quite apropos!

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
===================
by Arnold

Dear Arnold,

We will be taking Bram and Sprite for a yearly checkup after reading your latest newsletter. We love those:) Our guys have been sparring a lot and we are not sure why - no changes here, they have an excellent diet and we let them out to play frequently...so we will have them checked in case something is wrong - they are losing some head fur still and it may be the dry weather or fighting or something else - We aren't sure what to do if they continue sparring with each other - Bram bit the end of Sprite's tail off recently - it seems ok and he is eating/drinking and running around like normal. Any idea how we can keep them in a happier state together without separating them? 
They have been excellent together since we got them about three years ago until they started sparring a lot about 6 months ago off and on and now it's nightly.....

Thanks very much
Ian
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Dear Ian,

Wowza, sure sounds like Bram's more sprightly than Sprite! Itz kinda weird for us gliders to start sparrin' after we've been living together for a long time. My mum sayz she's heard of it happening, but itz very rare.

Now, some say I have a one track mind (read: F-O-O-D), but do yathinks it may possibly be over food? Perhaps try setting up two separate feed stations cuz some of us suggies can become food hogs. And, well, if ya gots 2 food hoggies, it could contributin' to the behaviors.

Sprightly yers,
Arnold
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Hi Arnold - Ian again.

Well, you were right on target, Spritely is our "food hog" and that was the problem! We waited a year to be sure that the problem was solved and it is. Even after the 2nd day of putting two food stations in, we noticed about a 90% decrease in tail biting and other aggressive behavior. Now it's nil. Thanks so much for your help. We have two happy fuzz muffins again:)

Ian
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Hiya Ian,

So glad dat worked! Sometimes, it really IS all about the food!!!

Hungrily yers, 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. I don't exactly when he was born but based on when we got him, I would say he was about seven and a half.

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. I wanted to look into the possibility of adding another pair of neutered male babies and eventually have four in the group. Thimble and Truffle have just been a joy and I was also thinking that with a small group of four, the chances of anyone being left alone without a cage mate would be so much smaller. I was wondering what you thought about that. On another subject, I want to thank you for all of the information on the SunCoast website. I have turned time and again to the newsletters as a source of information and have found them to be so helpful. Take care!

Lisa C
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Dear Lisa C,

Wow, thanks for all the kind words. As most peeps know, I'm not a real quiet fella, but I'm truly speechless! So here's a response from my very own Lisa Tree...

Love Arnie
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Dear Lisa C,

There's not much I can add to your email as you've said it all so well. When we recommend that sugar gliders should never be kept as solo pets and that people should have at least two, this does not mean that we think that two is the ideal number to keep in a captive colony. Just like when we make minimal cage size recommendations, we don't think minimal and optimal are one and the same. So I thank you very much for your email. I generally keep my colonies in threesomes or foursomes, just so there is always an intact colony even after the passing of one of its members. And for those of us who are committed to having suggies in our lives forever, if you can afford to keep them in groups of more than two, we encourage you to do so.

I feel that a lot of people in the sugar glider community have come to a similar conclusion as I see the number of brand new glider homes asking such questions and coming to their own feelings about starting off with three sugar gliders.  We do caution you to not overload a standard habitat with too many sugar gliders, as the space they live in does need to increase commensurate to the number of inhabitants.

All the best from Lisa & Arnold

 


Our Experience with Sugar Glider Self Mutilation
===================
by Lisa

I recently received the question below from a customer that prompted me to write an article on this subject; and as we have not discussed self mutilation a lot in the past, this seems like a good time to do so.

"Dear SunCoast, I am taking my two male sugar gliders to the vet to be neutered. I was feeling really good about this decision until I 
started reading about post neutering self mutilation. I understand preparing for it but many of the articles said to expect it! So now I'm really worried. I don't want anything bad to happen to my gliders and I don't want to be ignorant to the dangers I might have ahead of me. I would just like to know what to most likely expect. I'm hoping 
this means an elevated level of concern opposed to 'code red, the end of the world is coming prepare for sheer terror. Thanks for your time and help, Kathy"

I've had only two incidents of severe self mutilation in 13 years of raising sugar gliders. When self mutilation becomes severe and chronic, it tends to become a set behavior pattern.

With a sea of conflicting information available on this subject, it is no wonder that some people fear complete Armageddon to follow after having an intact male neutered.  Yet most of the time, there are no problems.  As a matter of fact, I've never had a case of gliders going into mutilation from neutering and we've had a lot of males neutered over the years.  Most of our males are neutered as young babies, and I do sense this lessens the risk of self mutilation.

Perhaps a better mindset is to be alert that the unexpected can occur, while understanding that the risk of self mutilation is quite low.  In the rare circumstances when self mutilation does happen, it can be rather challenging to correct and prevent further harm.  So we recommend a proactive approach to help prevent self mutilation from ever occurring in the first place, where possible.

When it comes to neutering, there are different techniques a vet can employ.  A lot of people will refer to these techniques as "pom on" or "pom off". Basically what this means is that the vet can remove the testicles only and leave the scrotal sac, or the vet can perform a complete castration.

It does not seem that one method is better than the other, as I've discussed this topic with several vets over the years and the technique employed is usually a "vet preference" issue.

Most vets will use a scalpel to perform the surgery, and the vets I personally know use this method. However, I've gotten feedback from a number of people who found vets that use a laser technique. Most vets do not have laser equipment in the clinic. I'm going to base this next statement simply on a feel from feedback I've been given by others who've found vets that use laser, and the feedback is very good.

There are also different ways a vet can seal the surgical site. For example, the area can be glued, it can be sutured and sutures can be either internal or external. External sutures seem to pose the highest risk leading toward self mutilative activities. If you think about it, the little animal knows there is a foreign "thing" present where his own thing used to be and it is his nature to try and remove it.  As he does, the area becomes irritated which causes him to pay even more attention to the area, causing more irritation. So you can see how the vicious circle of self mutilation can begin.

Self mutilation as a result of neutering is not a high risk, yet it can occur.  I highly suggest that you find a vet who has performed a number of these surgeries with success. Do not be shy to ask the vet in advance if they've had issues with self mutilation after neuterings.  I have a personal opinion about this and I think some vets are just 
more gentle than others.  Vets with big man hands are not generally able to do the small, detail work of neutering such a small animals without causing more trauma to the area than perhaps a smaller handed, or vet with a naturally lighter touch.

Self mutilation, generally has a root cause that begins the cycle.  That root cause could be a medical issue, and something as simple as a urinary tract infection.  The root cause could also be an injury issue where a trauma was inflicted and the animal starts over tending the area, again leading to that vicious circle.

It is very important that if you see behavior change and you notice that your sugar glider (male or female) is grooming more than normal, this can be a key indication that something is wrong. Self mutilation usually begins with what appears to be over grooming.

As I said earlier, I have experienced two situations of sugar gliders that went into severe self mutilative behavior and in both cases, I made that most horrible of all decisions anyone could ask me to make, and followed the vet's advice to euthanize. One case started with an injury. The sugar gliders got a tail injury and we will never know for sure how it happened. We kept a close eye on her, treating her with both oral and topical antibiotics. The injury was a little closer to the body than "mid tail". One night, she chewed her tail off all the way to the base of the body and was starting to chew on her own backend. 

The second case involved an intact male who got what seemed to be a mild infection of the scent gland on his chest and again, overnight, he had chewed a hole in his own chest. 

So while these situations are not something that happen often, when they do, it is a very challenging and disturbing event.  If you catch things early and get to the root cause of the issue, in most cases the over-grooming activity will cease, as the sugar glider heals and never get into the full blown vicious cycle of self mutilation.

I know a lot of people have been able to fashion "e-collars" to thwart over grooming and milder cases of self mutilation. An e-collar is a cone-shaped elizabethan collar commonly used on dogs to prevent them from reaching the post-surgery incision area. I personally have opted not to use an e-collar. I tried it once, and the stress it put on the sugar glider exceeded the stress of the original problem; and I think staying very tuned into your animal is important.  Obviously, some sugar gliders will tolerate an e-collar and I'm all for exhausting all possibilities in order to save them. Just stay tuned in to your sugar glider and don't allow the "cure" to trigger more stress, which may ultimately cause more damage to the sugar glider than the original problem.

It seems that some people tend to expect the worst to happen, and in our experience, the chances of that worst thing happening are slim. We caution you to be vigilant, but not to the point of being hyper-reactive. Trust your gut to tell you if the steps you are taking are helping or whether they are deepening the already existing stress.

Sugar gliders usually don't just start over-grooming, or self mutilating, without a reason. Single gliders can sometimes start over grooming because they are not getting the touch and contact of other gliders as nature intended them to live. Over-grooming due to loneliness may lead to self mutilation because it can lead to skin irritation.  Irritation leads to more attention to the area.  And more attention leads to more irritation. 

Simple things one can do to lessen the risk of self mutilation is to find a vet experienced in neutering with a flawless, or near flawless, track record. I say “near flawless” because I know some excellent vets who have had a single case of self mutilation after neutering. This is more likely with older gliders than young. Sometimes things just happen, in spite of our best efforts. We cannot protect them 100% of the time from disease or injury. All we can do is the best we can do and with a watchful eye, much of this can be avoided by taking action when you see the signs of over grooming in the early stages. If you see this, take them to a vet and get an exam done. This is one of those situations that you don't want to try to find answers in a book or on the internet. The quicker you can act and be attentive to the behavior change, the better. So many things can trigger this awful behavior and to discover the root cause, you must see a veterinarian.


'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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GliderVet Newsletter
Your resource for safety first, expert
advice on our sugar glider friends!
>=<---- >=<---- >=<---- >=<----

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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