The Ultimate Sugar Glider Diet Guide: Feeding And Supplementation For Healthy Gliders

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Contrary to their name, sugar gliders should not be fed a diet consisting of mostly fruit and other sweet things but rather a diet consisting mainly of insects with added plant material.

While it might be true that sugar gliders are omnivores in that, they eat both plant and animal/insect material, a more accurate description of their diet will be insectivores, as the largest part of their diet consists of insects or protein (40-50%). Wild sugar gliders will mostly eat plant material when insects are not available.

A study observing wild sugar gliders in Australia for over a year (Smith, 1982) found that the gliders ate mostly insects during the warmer months and ate mostly plant exudates, sap, and nectar during the colder months. The researchers found that the gliders will preferentially eat insects if available but will resort to plant exudates when insects are less abundantly available. The gliders were never observed to eat fruit and only ate nectar during the winter months.

What Must I Feed My Sugar Glider?

Sugar gliders are wholly dependent on their owners to meet all of their needs. It is nearly impossible to imitate the wild sugar glider diet, but there are at least a few things we can do that will closely imitate the diet of their wild counterparts.

Apart from feasting on bugs at every available opportunity, sugar gliders eat manna in the wild. Manna is a crusty sugar left from where sap leaked from a break in a tree trunk or branch. Gliders also consume honeydew, which is a sugar-like substance produced by sap-feeding insects.

Honey and fresh fruits are considered good substitutes for sap, manna, and honeydew that wild sugar gliders eat. However, it is important to note that these sweet treats formed a smaller part of their diet.

Below, we will discuss what to look for in a sugar glider feed and a few homemade options. I also list a few healthy treats and supplements to give.

Store-Bought Feed

Be wary of diets where starchy ingredients such as oat, wheat or cornmeal, or flour are listed as the first ingredient. Ingredients are listed by weight in descending order, and if the first ingredient is not a protein source, the diet is likely to be too low in protein to meet a sugar glider’s requirements.

Insectivore Feeds such as Exotic Nutrition Premium Insectivore feed is a much better option than most sugar and carbohydrate-laden diets. This diet is a good option to leave in the cage in addition to a staple evening meal.

Vitakraft Vita Smart Sugar Glider Food may serve as a good dietary base, but when looking at the ingredients and nutritional analysis, I would not consider this a high protein feed and advise supplementing with protein-rich snacks such as boiled egg, chicken, and mealworms.

Home-Made Sugar Glider Feed

Leadbeaters’ Mixture

Leadbeater’s Solution is a popular homemade feed that was originally developed by Taronga Zoo for Leadbeater’s possums and has been widely published in veterinary textbooks. Leadbeater’s possums have very similar nutritional requirements to sugar gliders.

The ingredients are mixed together and frozen in ice cubes. It is recommended to feed approximately 2 teaspoons of thawed solution per sugar glider per day in addition to other feedstuff.

Modified Leadbeater’s* As recommended by an exotics veterinarian who regularly works with sugar gliders.

Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Measure approximately 10 ml into ice cube trays and freeze. Thaw and chop into smaller pieces before feeding and feed approximately 5 ml per glider per day.

The Leadbeater’s mixture should ideally not be given as the sole diet component but is best given in addition to an insectivore feed as well as some fresh whole food daily.

Fresh Whole Food

Add at least 2-3 teaspoons of fruits and vegetables and one teaspoon of protein in addition to the Leadbeater’s mixture (see sample meal plan below). You can adjust the amounts according to your sugar glider’s appetite.

Vegetables

  • Carrots
  • Sweet potato
  • Green beans
  • Greens such as spinach

Fruit

  • Apple
  • Melons
  • Citrus
  • Kiwi
  • Berries
  • Banana

Protein

  • Boiled Chicken
  • Plain Yogurt
  • Hard-Boiled Egg
  • Meal Worms
  • Crickets
  • Roach Nymphs

The Best Way To Offer Water To Sugar Gliders

Sugar gliders should have access to clean drinking water all day. Avoid using municipal tap water as this can be high in chloride (depending on where you live). Rather use filtered or prepared water.

Luckily, sugar gliders do not drink a lot as they get most of their water in by eating such a large amount of food compared to their body weight.

What Feed Should I Avoid Feeding My Sugar Glider?

A High Carbohydrate, High Sugar Diet

A diet high in carbohydrates and simple sugars will lead to obesity in sugar gliders over time. If we revisit the diet of wild sugar gliders again for a moment, we find that they rarely ever eat fruit and will only consume nectar during the colder months of the year when the availability of insects and bugs is low.

The seasonal diet higher in tree nectar helps wild sugar gliders gain extra body fat to serve as an energy reserve when they cannot forage.

Sometimes, when the temperature drops very low or when food is scarce, sugar gliders will enter a state of slowed metabolism and lower body heat called torpor. If you would like to read more on how sugar gliders cope with the cold and how to keep your glider comfortable in winter, have a look at this article.

Yogurt drop treats such as Exotic Nutrition Critter Selects Yogu Drops should not form a part of a daily nutritious diet. Despite what the packaging wants you to believe, yogurt drop treats are simply empty calories and do not have much nutritional value. Treats like these are best reserved for specific purposes such as bonding.

Food With Added Sugar and Preservatives

Foods with added sugar or preservatives such as canned fruit should be avoided. Rather feed fresh fruit or frozen and thawed fruit if in a pinch.

Unwashed Fruit and Vegetables

Always wash fruit and veg before feeding them to your sugar gliders. Wax coatings and pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables may be harmful to sugar gliders.

Foods High In Oxalates

Small exotic pets are prone to develop urinary stones in their bladders and kidneys when fed a diet high in oxalates. Oxalates will bond with calcium in the urine to form stones.

To avoid this, it is best to limit the food that is high in both calcium and oxalates, such as dandelion greens, mustard spinach, swiss chard, beets, pears, and figs.

Foods Toxic To Sugar Gliders:

  • Chocolate: especially dark chocolate. This can be deadly to sugar gliders.
  • Apple seeds: contains cyanide. There is no study to confirm that apple seeds are lethal to sugar gliders, but it is better to err on the side of caution.
  • Caffeine: can be lethal to sugar gliders
  • Onion: causes abnormalities of red blood cells
  • Garlic: similar to onions, causes abnormalities in red blood cells
  • Grapes and raisins: this has not been scientifically proven yet, but a well-established sugar glider rescue has found that some mysterious deaths correlated with grape and raisin consumption. Grapes and raisins have a peculiar type of toxicity in dogs where it seems to have no effect on some dogs and be deadly to other dogs. I would rather err on the side of caution and not feed grapes and raisins to my gliders.
  • Bugs or insects from outside may have been exposed to insecticides that could be harmful to your sugar glider.
  • Artificial sweeteners: do not feed any type of artificial sweetener to your sugar glider.

If you are unsure whether a food is safe, rather avoid feeding it to your glider.

What Supplements Must I Give My Sugar Glider?

Calcium

Sugar Gliders are prone to low calcium levels, leading to low bone density. Low calcium can cause hindquarter weakness, lameness, and dental disease in the long run. Sugar gliders should therefore be supplemented with calcium.

The amount of calcium and phosphorus in the body is in constant reaction. High phosphorus will cause calcium to be leached from the bone. This causes the bones to become soft and brittle, making them prone to fractures.

The ideal dietary calcium to phosphorus ratio is1-2:1 calcium to phosphorus. This can be hard to predict unless you exclusively feed a formulated diet.

Many protein-rich foods are naturally high in phosphorus. To counter-balance this, it is best to supplement with calcium. We use Rep-Cal Calcium Supplement with Vitamin D3 in the Leadbeater’s mixture.

Insects are naturally low in calcium, but feeding insects such as crickets fed a high calcium diet before feeding them to your gliders (gut-loaded insects) as treats have been shown to be a very effective way to supplement calcium.

You can buy a high calcium cricket diet such as Fluker’s High Calcium Cricket Diet and feed that to live crickets before offering them as treats to your sugar gliders.

If you would like to learn more about calcium deficiency and how it is treated, please have a look at this article.

Protein

Sugar gliders breed during the warmer months when insects are more abundant. A diet higher in protein has been shown to improve fertility and reproduction in female gliders.

You do not have to give protein as a supplement but rather feed extra boiled chicken or boiled eggs as treats in order to supplement protein in breeding animals during spring and summer.

Vitamins and Minerals

I included this heading as it is a question vets commonly get when it comes to sugar glider feeding.

My opinion is that most pet supplements’ potency can be rather questionable. Pet products do not go through the same testing that human products do. I do not recommend spending your money on vitamin and mineral supplements.

Rather feed a varied diet including insectivore feed, fruits, vegetables, and sources of protein. The only supplement you truly need to add to your glider’s diet is calcium (calcium is a mineral that is stable in supplement form, in contrast to vitamins that will oxidize and lose potency when stored).

How Much Should I Feed My Sugar Glider?

Wild Sugar gliders will eat roughly 15-20% of their body weight in food each day (if you compare this to the roughly 2% of humans, sugar gliders have monster appetites!). However, pet sugar gliders do not need to forage or hide from predators, so they hardly expend as much energy as their wild counterparts.

Pet Sugar Gliders should be fed 10-15% of their body weight in food each day. This is roughly 15-30 ml of food each day (depending on the water content of the

Pet Rats
Pet Rats
food).

The best way to determine whether you are feeding your sugar glider enough is by weighing them on a kitchen scale at least once biweekly to check for upward or downward trends in weight and then adjust the amount of food given accordingly.

It is good to weigh your sugar glider at least every two weeks. Bodyweight is an important vital sign, and unintended changes can indicate health conditions.

Weighing will also help you to pick up on weight gain early on and adjust the diet accordingly to prevent obesity. Obesity is one of the most common health conditions of sugar gliders. For more information on how to help your overweight sugar glider, have a look at this article.

When And How Often Should I Feed My Sugar Glider?

It is best to feed your sugar glider at dusk. As nocturnals, this correlates to their natural feeding time. If you find that your glider is still hungry in the morning or they seem to finish their food early during the evening, you can provide another small meal or snack early morning.

Adult sugar gliders do not need to have access to food all day long. This will prevent food spoilage and obesity.

It is best to place food bowls higher up in the enclosure as they prefer dining with a view. This will also prevent food spoilage from droppings that fall into the food bowls.

Sugar Gliders can be rather messy when eating. Some sugar glider owners have found that using a shoebox to build a ‘dining room’ helps keep things clean.

How Often And What Treats Should I Give To My Sugar Glider?

Treats are food given in addition to their base diet. Treats should not make up more than 5% of their total diet.

The 5% treat rule applies to sugary or fatty treats such as yogurt drops or whole nuts.

The following are healthy treat options that can be included in their base diet (see example diet below):

  • Good high protein treats for gliders include boiled chicken, cooked egg, and bugs such as mealworms or crickets.
  • Fruits in small amounts are okay. Make sure to thoroughly wash fruits and veg before feeding them to your gliders to ensure that all pesticides have been washed off.
  • Gliders can eat yogurt in small amounts. They are somewhat lactose intolerant, but small amounts of yogurt are acceptable. Yogurt can, however, be a valuable source of calcium.
  • Mealworms: Feed a maximum of 7 medium mealworms or 5 large mealworms per week

Variety Is Key

Sugar gliders are known to be picky eaters. To avoid this, it is best to feed them a variety of different food and treats from a young age. Resist the urge to only feed them their favorite treats as this will lead to unintentional weight gain.

Similar to humans, gliders love sugary and fatty foods and will often pick these out if offered a variety. You can try to finely chop and mix foods to prevent them from picking out their favorites.

How Do I Know That My Sugar Glider Is Eating Healthfully?

As long as you try to imitate their natural diet as closely as possible, you are on the right track. Monitor their weight at least every other week. Their coats should be soft and shiny, they should be full of energy, and their droppings should be well-formed.

Considerations When Changing The Diet

Changes in diet should always be done slowly and over a period of at least 2 weeks. If you think that the glider may be suffering from nutritional deficiencies or if the starting diet is of very poor quality, it is best to consult your veterinarian on the best way to implement a healthier diet.

Sugar Glider Diet Example

In order to ensure that your sugar gliders have variety in their diet, it is best to have a 3 or 4-day rotating ‘menu.’ This will reduce the risk of your gliders becoming picky eaters and prevent nutritional deficiencies from developing.

The quantities in the sample diet below are per sugar glider. Adjustments should be made for your sugar glider’s size and activity level.

Main meals are fed early evening, and snacks may be given in the morning. Change the water daily.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

  • 5 ml Leadbeater’s mixture
  • 2.5 ml boiled chicken
  • 5 ml chopped melon
  • 2.5 ml chopped banana

Experiment with what your sugar gliders enjoy and adjust amounts so that nearly no food remains in the morning (if there are only a few scraps left in the bowl in the morning, they probably had enough to eat). If they still seem hungry in the morning, offer a snack and increase amounts and monitor their body weight to ensure that you are feeding enough.

Sugar Glider Feeding Myths

Do Sugar Gliders Need To Eat Fruit And Sugar?

A sugar glider’s diet should consist of mainly insects and protein (50-75%), fresh fruits, and vegetables. Overfeeding fruit and sugar will lead to obesity. Wild sugar gliders rarely eat fruit, and pet sugar gliders are given fruit as this is an easily accessible and nutrient-rich component to replace the tree sap and nectar wild sugar gliders eat.

A study observing wild sugar gliders in Australia for over a year (Smith, 1982) found that the gliders ate mostly insects during the warmer months and ate mostly plant exudates, sap, and nectar during the colder months. The researchers found that the gliders will preferentially eat insects if available but will resort to plant exudates when insects are less abundantly available. The gliders were never observed to eat fruit and only ate nectar during the winter months.

Should My Sugar Gliders Have Access To Food All Day?

Adult pet sugar gliders do not need to have access to food all day as this may lead to overeating and food wastage. Juvenile sugar gliders need to have access to an insectivore feed between meals.

A sugar glider’s main meal should be fed in the evening, when they are most active, with an occasional snack given in the mornings. Wild sugar gliders will usually not forage for food during the day.

Feeding An Insectivore Diet Will Make My Sugar Glider Stink

Feeding a diet high in insects and protein may cause faint body odor in some sugar gliders. Feeding a species-appropriate diet is more important for the health of your glider than having them be odorless.

Many people on the internet claim that feeding their diet will eliminate sugar glider odor. These diets are often very high in simple sugars and lack adequate protein.

Frankly, if the scent of sugar gliders bothers you, it is best not to own sugar gliders than to feed them a diet that is not species-appropriate.

Sugar Gliders Can Eat Dog And Cat Food

Sugar gliders can eat dry dog and cat kibble, but this should not be the main component of your sugar glider’s diet.

Rather, cat kibble may be used as a substitute if no other appropriate food is available or an occasional treat if your glider enjoys it. Cat food is more similar to a sugar glider’s nutritional requirements than dog food.

Conclusion

As sugar glider owners, it is our responsibility to provide our gliders with a diet as close to their wild diet as possible.

Important dietary health concerns for sugar gliders include obesity and calcium deficiency. By feeding a species-appropriate, varied diet and by supplementing with calcium, we can help our sugar gliders live happily and healthfully for as long as possible.

Resources

Dr. Annerien de Villiers

Dr. Annerien de Villiers graduated as a veterinarian from the University of Pretoria in 2018. She has since worked full-time in clinical practice tending to all kinds of companion animals in general practice. Serving the human-animal bond with care and compassion and making accurate information accessible to pet owners is at the heart of her driving force as a veterinarian.

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