Sugar gliders are an increasingly popular exotic pet due to their irresistible cuteness and playful nature. However, as exotic pets, sugar gliders have complex care requirements. The foundation of keeping happy and healthy sugar gliders is to try and provide an environment that will mimic sugar gliders’ natural habitat and behavior- this is not always an easy task in a suburban home with young kids.
If you are considering getting a sugar glider as a pet for a young child, this article will explain why sugar gliders are not the best choice as a first-time pet and how you, as a parent, can best help a child take care of sugar gliders.
Why a young child should not have a sugar glider as a pet
Sugar gliders have complex dietary, husbandry, and medical needs that must be carefully managed throughout their 12-year lifespan. Middle-school children and younger should be supervised by a knowledgeable adult when caring for sugar gliders.
1. Sugar Gliders Can Live Up To 12 Years In Captivity
Many changes happen in the first 20 years of a human’s life. For example, we go from wearing nappies and being unable to sit upright to leaving our parent’s homes and choosing career paths and life partners. In contrast, a pet sugar glider will go from leaving its mom’s pouch to eating, sleeping, drinking, and playing daily until its last day.
Sugar gliders will not necessarily fit into every season of life kids transition through within the span of 15 years. It is all too common for adult Sugar Gliders to be offered up for adoption (usually for no or at a minimal cost) due to their current owner being unable to care for them any longer.
More often than not, rehoming creates a situation where sugar gliders end up in the homes of people who are not always adequately informed on how to care for these complex and unique creatures. In addition, a sudden change in environment and routine is highly stressful for a small exotic pet that has evolved to live in a colony in a tree for all its life.
If you plan on getting a sugar glider for your kid, it is essential to remember that you may have to take over the care of the sugar glider when your child moves through different stages of life where a sugar glider might not be able to go along.
2. Sugar Gliders Have Very Specific Nutritional Requirements And Are Prone To Nutritional Deficiencies
As pet owners, we are responsible for ensuring that our pets’ nutritional needs are met. Therefore, we should aim to provide our Sugar Gliders with a diet that will mimic the diet of their wild counterparts as closely as possible.
Sugar gliders eat insects and tree sap in the wild, with the occasional addition of fruits or plant material.
Pet Vet Tip: If you would like to read more about the diet and supplementation for Sugar Gliders, as well as a few sample meal plans, check out the article on Sugar Glider Nutrition!
Despite the name, Sugar Gliders do not do well on a high-sugar diet. In fact, they are prone to obesity. Obesity in pets can be just as bad as underfeeding pets as both extremes of the scale have detrimental health consequences.
Young children often overestimate the amount of food that small pets eat and should be supervised when feeding exotic pets with specific nutritional requirements. In addition, it should be made clear that sugar gliders can not eat the same treats humans eat, as this could cause them to become sick.
Sugar gliders are prone to nutritional imbalances, particularly calcium deficiency or incorrect calcium to phosphorus ratio. Nutritional imbalances in calcium and phosphorus can lead to Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism, which may cause hind limb lameness, stunted growth, and brittle bones that may fracture easily.
The bottom line is that sugar gliders should be supplemented with calcium and vitamin D – but not too much. For more information on the topic, please check out the article on calcium deficiency in Sugar Gliders.
3. Sugar Gliders Have Complex Social Structure
Sugar gliders are highly social animals and form strong and cohesive groups called colonies. Colonies usually comprise up to twelve adult individuals with one to three males. They live together in trees and are socially dependent on one another, syncing their sleep and wake patterns.
The social structure is hierarchical – formed by both males and females; however, there is usually only one dominant male that bears the responsibility of patrolling the territory and scent-marking the territory. The dominant male is usually more aggressive in order to protect his colony and its resources.
For these reasons, sugar gliders should be kept in groups of two or more. Often, the bond with a human is not enough to meet the social needs of a sugar glider.
Pet Vet Tips: Have a look at the article on how many sugar gliders you should get for more tips on how to care for a sugar glider.
4. Sugar Gliders Are Prone To Stress
As a small prey species, sugar gliders are prone to stress. Signs of stress include hiding, biting, reduced appetite, and stereotypical behavior. You can help calm a sugar glider by providing them with a safe, quiet, and dark space with food and water.
Sugar gliders have many predators, and they eat primarily insects and some plant material. They love to forage, climb and glide and are active at night. If any of these natural behaviors are not appropriately met by a sugar glider owner, it will cause stress.
Pet Vet Tip: For more tips on how to calm a stressed sugar glider, have a look at this article!
5. Sugar Gliders Are Messy
The bedding material of the enclosure must be changed daily, and the entire enclosure must be cleaned regularly as sugar gliders frequently urine mark on the side of their cages and defecate while moving around their cage.
In addition, sugar gliders maintain their social structures by scent-marking. They mark members of their colonies, their mates, and themselves and, therefore, also their owners.
Sugar gliders are also very messy eaters! They often carry food around in their enclosure and drop some of it while eating. So don’t be surprised to find pieces of food and poop on the floor around the outside of the cage. Keeping a sugar glider also means spending a lot of time cleaning in and around the cage.
6. Sugar Gliders Are Nocturnal
While kids like to play during daylight hours, Sugar Gliders like to play during the night. In contrast to other nocturnal pet species such as Fancy Rats, sugar gliders do not adapt their daily routine or circadian rhythm to suit their owners.
Sugar gliders are known to be rather noisy at night and will often jump and play in their enclosures during children’s bedtime hours. Sugar Gliders will often become increasingly vocal and restless when a female is in heat, especially at night. If the Sugar Gliders’ enclosure is kept in a kid’s bedroom, this might disturb their sleep.
The best time to feed and play with sugar gliders is early morning or late afternoon. But unfortunately, this often does not suit the routine of a young kid who goes to school in the morning and goes to bed early in the evening.
7. Sugar Gliders Are Sensitive To Cold Temperatures
Sugar Gliders originate in tropical and cool-temperate forests where temperatures rarely go below freezing and ambient day and night temperatures do not fluctuate widely. Therefore, sugar gliders should not be exposed to temperatures below 50°F (10°C) for extended periods.
Due to their small body size and sizeable body-surface-to-weight ratio, they quickly lose body heat in cold climates. As a result, during cold stress, they will enter a state of slowed metabolism and lowered core body temperature called torpor.
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). This can sometimes be challenging to achieve, especially if you live in a colder climate area.
To read more on the effects of cold temperature on sugar gliders and what you can do to help keep them warm in winter, check out the article on the ideal temperature for Sugar Gliders.
8. Sugar Gliders Sometimes Die Without Any Apparent Signs Of Illness
Sugar gliders are very good at hiding symptoms of illness until it is nearly too late, and they are already on death’s door. Again this is because sugar gliders are a small prey species, and showing any signs of illness will make them an easy target for predators.
It is not uncommon for sugar gliders to die unexpectedly and without any apparent signs of illness. For this reason, it is imperative to know an exotics vet in your area that you can take your sugar glider to at the first sign of illness.
9. Sugar Gliders Can Be Tricky To Handle And Need A Glider-Proof Environment
Sugar gliders require a gentle, calm handler who has taken the time to bond closely with them. When they feel threatened, a sugar glider may bite, and these bites can be quite severe and may need medical attention. In addition, the claws of a sugar glider are sharp and may lead to injury if your sugar glider lands on unprotected skin.
Careful supervision beyond a child’s capability is necessary when allowing a Sugar Glider to play outside their cage, as this species frequently experiences trauma due to inadequately glider-proofed surroundings. Additionally, sugar gliders may also ingest household toxins if left unsupervised around the house due to their inquisitive nature.
From What Age Can Children Accept Responsibility For A Sugar Glider?
The exact age at which a child will reach an appropriate level of responsibility will vary from child to child; however, the absolute youngest age is 13. A sugar glider is not a pet a child can get bored of and pass on to another family member. They require dedicated care from an individual who has a close bond with them. Ensure that you have a conversation with your child explaining the long-term commitment required from them.
Consider your child’s personality and whether they’ll be able to provide the gentle, calm handling that a glider needs and whether they will be able to put in the time and effort to train and bond with their Glider.
What Small Exotic Pets Will Make Good Pets For Young Children?
When considering which small exotic pet to get for your young child, look for pets that will be easy for them to handle and not skittish about noise and fast movement. While you may still have to be the pet’s primary caregiver, your child will be able to take over more responsibilities with these pets compared to sugar gliders.
Guinea pigs are easy to handle, rarely bite, and unlike other rodents, are more likely to be active during the day. In addition, these animals are energetic and enjoy human company.
While this animal is quite hardy, careful attention must be placed on the diet as the incorrect diet may lead to gastrointestinal disorders.
Guinea pigs have a lifespan of 5-7 years, so this might be a better option if you’re looking for a more medium-term commitment.
Rats may be a good option for your child as they are intelligent, easily trained, rarely bite, and are not skittish. However, rats are highly social creatures and should be kept in pairs or small groups.
Rats have an average lifespan of 1.5 – 3 years and might be a good option if you’re looking for a shorter commitment.
Parakeets or Budgies
Parakeets are lower-maintenance pets and excellent pets to teach children gentle handling and basic training skills.
The birds are easy to feed and have their enclosures cleaned, and your child can carry out these responsibilities with minimal supervision.
Sugar gliders are incredibly high-maintenance pets with complex needs and a long life span. More appropriate exotic pets for young children would be guinea pigs, rats, or parakeets.
Careful consideration must be taken before getting a sugar glider for your kid. As a parent, you will have to carry most of the responsibility of caring for the sugar gliders.
This adorable and fascinating exotic pet requires much more time, money, space, and effort than most people realize. However, if you are willing to put in the time and effort, keeping sugar gliders can be incredibly rewarding and worth every cent and minute spent caring for these unique and loveable little creatures.
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