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Sugar gliders will commonly shake or shiver, and there are various reasons for this behavior. This article looks at different causes for shivering and when shaking or shivering is a cause for concern.
Sugar gliders commonly shiver after waking from a deep sleep, but they may also shiver when fearful or cold. In addition, certain health conditions such as calcium deficiency, fever, or hypoglycemia may also cause a sugar glider to shiver.
1. After Waking Up
Sugar gliders commonly shiver shortly after waking up. This is because a sugar glider’s body temperature will typically drop to conserve energy while sleeping. Therefore, they will shiver to bring their body temperature back to normal after waking.
If you find that your sugar glider shivers when you take them out of their pouch, they were likely just in a deep sleep when you woke them. You can place them somewhere warm, such as a pouch close to your body, to help your sugar glider’s temperature return to normal.
The shivering typically seen after waking usually subsides after a few minutes.
2. When They Are Cold
Sugar Gliders can tolerate temperatures ranging from 60°F – 90°F (15°C – 32°C) but are most comfortable between 80°F – 88°F (27°C – 31°C). A Sugar Glider’s core body temperature is around 97°F (36°C).
Sugar gliders should not be exposed to temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for extended periods. Due to their small body size and large body-surface-to-weight ratio, they quickly lose body heat in cold climates.
You can also observe your sugar glider’s behavior to determine whether they are too cold. For example, if they are lethargic and stay curled up in a ball or cuddled together most of the day, they might be too cold if they are not as active during the night and eat less than usual.
To learn more on how to keep a sugar glider warm during winter, you will find the linked article very helpful.
A Note On Torpor
Sugar gliders may also enter a state of Torpor during their resting time (usually during the day). Torpor is a state of lower metabolism and resultant lowered body temperature to conserve energy. Sugar gliders enter a state of torpor when ambient temperatures are cold or when available food is limited (times of physiological stress).
Torpor can last 2-23 hours at a time but usually lasts 16 hours and occurs during daytime hours (gliders’ normal resting hours). The upper end of the time duration will only occur during extreme environmental circumstances such as cold or rainy conditions where foraging opportunities are limited.
3. When They Are Scared
Sugar gliders will shake or shiver when they are fearful. This is especially common in newly adopted sugar gliders who are still in the process of bonding to their new owners.
Shivering due to fear are also far more common in sugar gliders kept alone. As a general rule, sugar gliders should not be kept by themselves and should at least be kept in pairs. They are incredibly social animals and live in small colonies in the wild. To ensure the emotional well-being of pet sugar gliders, I strongly advise keeping more than one.
Sugar gliders’ senses are super sensitive, and the way they perceive their environment differs a lot from how we humans perceive it. This means that small things that you might not even notice might be seen as a threat by your sugar gliders.
Examples include loud noises, unfamiliar humans, or other pets such as cats and dogs that your sugar glider might perceive as predators.
Remember that it might take months for a new sugar glider to get used to all the things in their environment when they are introduced to a new home.
4. Calcium Deficiency
Pet sugar gliders are very prone to calcium deficiency. This is due to the diets of pet sugar gliders being naturally low in calcium and high in phosphorus.
Calcium and phosphorus are in constant reaction in the body. Therefore, if the amount of phosphorus in the diet is high, it will cause calcium to be leached from bones, causing nutritional osteodystrophy or chronic calcium deficiency.
One of the earliest signs of calcium deficiency in sugar gliders will be weakness or shakiness. In severe cases where advanced bone loss has occurred, a calcium deficiency may present with complete hindquarter paralysis.
Severe cases of calcium deficiency may be diagnosed by looking at the density and overall appearance of your sugar gliders’ bones on an x-ray. If your sugar glider is experiencing weakness due to a calcium deficiency, your vet will be able to give calcium injections that will help in the short term.
All sugar gliders should be supplemented with calcium. You can use a calcium supplement such as Rep-Cal Calcium Supplement or feed gut-loaded crickets. Gut-loaded means that the crickets have been fed a high calcium diet.
It’s not always easy to find gut-loaded crickets, so feeding live crickets Fluker’s High Calcium Cricket Diet before feeding them to your gliders as treats may be an easier option.
You can learn more about how to feed your sugar glider a diet that resembles their wild diet as closely as possible by clicking here.
Sugar gliders are typically very good at hiding symptoms of illness. Unfortunately, we sometimes only notice signs of illness when they are already on death’s door. This is why sugar glider owners need to pay careful attention to any abnormal behavior or symptoms in their sugar gliders.
Similar to what you might have experienced when suffering from a fever, a sugar glider may shiver when they are feverish.
Fever is a sign that your sugar glider’s body is fighting a significant infection, and veterinary care should be sought immediately. A sugar glider’s core body temperature is 97°F (36°C), and their cloacal temperature (temperature measured by inserting a narrow tipped thermometer into the cloaca) is 90 °F (32 °C). Any deviation from this warrants urgent veterinary attention.
Fever will usually go along with other symptoms such as lethargy or being uninterested in food and symptoms related to the cause of the fever, for example, diarrhea or pain when urinating in the case of a gastrointestinal infection and bladder infections, respectively.
When a sugar glider has not been eating well for a while, they are prone to having dangerously low blood sugar. This is called hypoglycemia. In some cases, moderately hypoglycemic sugar gliders appear shakey. In severe cases, they will be collapsed.
If your sugar glider is not eating well or stops eating, you need to take them to the vet as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the cause of inappetence as quickly as possible. In the meantime, you can try to offer them some honey, either on your finger if they can lick it, or diluted mixed into some water, giving a few drops at a time with a syringe into the mouth.
Common reasons sugar gliders stop eating include dental diseases, infections of all kinds, pain, and cancer.
A hypoglycaemic sugar glider will be very lethargic and cold to the touch. Hypoglycemia can be life-threatening if severe and may result in seizures, coma, and death.
Seizures have many different causes, and I won’t go into the details of the causes of seizures in sugar gliders but will list a few features that might help you distinguish between a seizure and shivering or shaking.
A seizure can be distinguished from the shivering by the following:
- During a grand mal seizure, there is a loss of consciousness. Therefore, they will typically be recumbent and unable to react when touched.
- Typically, more vigorous tremors will be seen with seizures than will be seen with shivering or shaking that is associated with weakness.
- Seizures typically last less than a minute.
- After recovering from a seizure, they may seem lethargic for some time, after which they may appear as if nothing has happened.
If you ever think your sugar glider might be experiencing a seizure, place them somewhere soft and padded to prevent them from injuring themselves and away from bright lights and loud noises.
If the seizure lasts more than 30 seconds or they experience more than one seizure within a few days, take your sugar glider to the vet immediately. If the seizure happened once and was of short duration, schedule an appointment with your vet to investigate possible causes.
Weakness is always secondary to something else. This could be due to some of the aforementioned points, such as hypoglycemia, low calcium, or illness.
If your glider is suddenly too weak to do things that they are usually able to do, it always warrants an urgent vet visit.
When Should I Be Worried?
You should take your sugar glider to the vet in the following scenarios:
- The shaking or shivering lasts more than 12 hours
- The shaking or trembling is getting progressively worse
- Your sugar glider is lethargic and uninterested in food
- You think that they might be having a seizure lasting more than 30 seconds or have repeated seizures.
- They are weak and unable to jump or climb
- Banks, R., 2013. Exotic small mammal care and husbandry. Hoboken: John Wiley, pp.81 – 92. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/book/10.1002/9781119265405
- Dawson, Terence & May, Elizabeth. (1984). Daily variation in brain and body temperatures of the sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps): Some insights into the control of thermoregulation.
- Fleming, M., 1980. Thermoregulation and Torpor in the Sugar Glider, Petaurus Breviceps (Marsupialia:Petauridae). Australian Journal of Zoology, 28(4), p.521.
- Johnson-Delaney, C., 2014. Captive Marsupial Nutrition. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 17(3), pp.415-447.
- Meredith, A. and Redrobe, S., 2002. BSAVA manual of exotic pets. 4th ed. Quedgeley: British Small Animal Veterinary Association, pp. 102 – 106 25. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240493099_The_BSAVA_Manual_of_Exotic_Pets_4th_edn