How can such a small creature be so feisty? Sugar gliders are usually very docile once bonded to their owners; however, if you own sugar gliders, you may experience a bite on the odd occasion.
To understand why your sugar glider may be biting you, it is essential to understand their natural behavior. First, as a small prey species, sugar gliders often bite due to stress or as a defense mechanism when feeling threatened. The second most common reason sugar gliders bite is territorial aggression.
This article aims to explain why sugar gliders may bite, the risks of a sugar glider bite, and what you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting bitten.
Sugar gliders, although one of the most petite pets, being some 100g in weight, can actually be quite aggressive. Their natural demeanor, or behavior in the wild, so to speak, is surprisingly noted to be relatively aggressive (Booth, 2003).
Their incredibly petite build and cute appearance may be misleading. While they probably can not inflict serious injury on you or another person, their lower incisors (front teeth) are remarkably long and sharp. As a result, they can mimic a very painful needle stab or tweezer pinch.
Why Do Sugar Gliders Bite?
As stated above, you need to have a good understanding of your sugar glider’s needs and natural behavior. There are things embedded in those genetics that you have to respect, and you can only do that if you understand their instinctive behavior. There are some great books on basic care do’s hand don’ts for a sugar glider; it would be ideal for you to read up on the do’s and don’ts of owning these unique pets.
The following articles may be helpful in this regard:
- How Many Sugar Gliders Should I Get? Social Structure and Husbandry Tips For Sugar Glider Owners
- How Can I Tell If My Sugar Glider Is Happy?
- How To Calm A Stressed Sugar Glider: Signs, Causes, And Helpful Tips
- Sugar Glider Cannibalism: Will Sugar Gliders Eat Each Other?
If it is a new addition to your home, you may need to be patient and perhaps consider spending some non-contact time with it first while it adjusts to its new environment. Consider simply sitting to one side in its enclosure or in a dim, quiet space such as a tent and just letting it check you out a few times before you attempt to hold it.
Non-contact time in close proximity with your sugar glider is also a great idea if you are having an issue with your sugar glider, which has been your pet for a time and seems to be having a bit of a mood swing phase. Go back to basics to earn its trust. Tent time is a great way to build trust and bond with your sugar glider.
Like any other animal, a sugar glider will defend itself if it feels it is in danger from another animal or human. Try not to bring in too many new people when you are in the bonding phase with your pet and if it is not a new pet, consider if you may have brought someone in that your sugar glider does not like and therefore now associates you with them too. In both cases, it is important to start from the beginning with non-contact bonding time.
What you consider biting may just be normal behavior. Around puberty, your sugar glider may attempt to groom you, and this can include the odd little bite. You can let it know that this is not okay by saying no and gently putting pressure with your finger between its shoulder blades. It has been noted that they respond to negative and positive verbal tones (Gibbons, 2006).
Remember that sugar gliders are nocturnal, and therefore if you want to catch your sugar glider at a slightly more docile time, spend time with it in the mornings (Dyer and Cervasio, 2008). The more it becomes accustomed to your presence when it is relaxed, the less likely it is to bite you when you attempt to handle it.
Sugar gliders require a relatively large space compared to their minute size. It has been suggested that about 8m2 is a suitable enclosure size for up to 6 sugar gliders, and on that note, groups are recommended or, at the very least, pairs since they are social animals (Cheek, 2017). Perhaps it is time to get your sugar glider a friend?
In short, you need to evaluate whether all the basic needs of your sugar glider are being met, and hopefully, you may identify what is causing a behavioral problem or change. Address its needs and be patient; it will surely warm up to you (again).
What Are The Complications Of A Sugar Glider Bite?
Sugar gliders obviously do not brush their teeth, and so, just as with your average cat or dog, their mouths are full of nasty bacteria. As said, those lower incisors can serve as a pretty sharp hypodermic needle, and an injection of dirt and foreign little micro-organisms under your skin has the potential to fester into a concerning infection.
Sugar gliders are known to carry zoonoses, i.e., diseases that can be transmitted to humans from animals. Some examples of zoonotic bacteria that were isolated from sugar gliders in Italy during a study are Citrobacter spp., Enterobacter spp., Klebsiella pneumoniae as well as Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Varriale et al., 2019).
The most likely place people get bitten is their fingers when handling or trying to play with their sugar gliders. Signs to look out for which may indicate infection include –
- Inability to move the finger
A case of a man bitten by a domestic sugar glider on his finger was diagnosed with flexor tenosynovitis, which is inflammation of the flexor tendon which operates the finger. Surgery was needed in this case to clean the tendon properly, and the bacteria were cultured and identified as Pasteurella multocida and Staphylococcus aureus, which are both normal bacteria found on our skin but which can cause major issues if they gain access to deep tissues (Dominick Siconolfi, 2021). Other complications include cellulitis (inflammation of the subcutaneous tissue) of osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone).
What Should I Do If Bitten By My Sugar Glider?
As you can see above, it is important to immediately clean the wound if you are bitten by a sugar glider. Irrigate the wound with fresh water or a homemade saline solution which you can find a recipe for at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323842#instructions. It is recommended that you then seek medical attention as you may need antibiotics.
How Should I Hold My Sugar Glider To Avoid Being Bitten?
It is understandable that sometimes you will need to hold your sugar glider even against its will for things such as treatment or to check if it has hurt itself, for example. In such cases, the following may be considered to avoid getting bitten.
Methods Of Restraints
- Grasping the tail and cupping the sugar glider in your hand (Dyer and Cervasio, 2008)
- Hold the head between your thumb & middle finger while placing your index finger on top of the head while cradling the body in the palm (Cheek, 2017)
Obviously, it is not advisable to restrain your Sugar Glider for longer than is necessary as you will stress it out, and the negative experience will not be forgotten, making it more difficult to regain its trust. All the more reason to be patient and spend the time domesticating your sugar glider and allowing it to become accustomed to your touch so that it will come to your hand willingly.
- BOOTH, R. 2003. Sugar Gliders. Seminars in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine, 12, 228-231.
- CHEEK, B. B. A. R. 2017. Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician, Blackwell Publishing.
- DOMINICK SICONOLFI, J. E., ALAN LUCERNA, RUSSELL MORDECAI 2021. Flexor Tenosynovitis After Bite by Sugar Glider In: ROWAN UNIVERSITY, S. C. R. D. (ed.).
- DYER, S. M. & CERVASIO, E. L. 2008. An Overview of Restraint and Blood Collection Techniques in Exotic Pet Practice. The veterinary clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice, 11, 423.
- GIBBONS, A. 2006. Sugar Gliders Handling.
- VARRIALE, L., RUSSO, T., PACE, A., MEDIATORE, S., BORRELLI, L., SANTANIELLO, A., MENNA, L., FIORETTI, A. & DIPINETO, L. 2019. Microbiological survey of sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) kept as pets in Italy. Letters in applied microbiology, 69, 399-402.