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what every veterinarian needs to know about sugar gliders

EXOTIC

DVM
volume 11
issue 3

A PRACTICAL RESOURCE FOR CLINICIANS

Cover photo: Susan Orosz, PhD, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian), Dipl ECZM (Avian)

Observations from the Field

7 A Case of Feline Infectious Peritonitis-like Disease in a Juvenile Ferret in Norway - Paula B. Brynildsen, DVM and Olivia Kershaw, DVM

Case Reports

10 Umbilical Hernias in Rabbits - William G. V. Lewis, BVSc, CertZooMed, MRCVS

Clinician’s Notebook

13 Proventricular Intussusception in an Indian Peafowl -David Perpiñán, LV, MSc; Jamie N. Henningson, DVM and Douglas L. Armstrong, DVM

17 Pulmonary Carcinoma in a Captive Fennec Fox - Jennifer N. Niemuth, DVM; Seth N. Ghantous, DVM, Dipl ACVIM and Scott M. Averill, MS, DVM, Dipl ACVS

Small Mammals As I See Them

26 Neurologic Damage to the Spinal Cord of a Rabbit, Repair of Aural Hematoma in a Rabbit, Guinea Pig Intubation, Chinchilla Dental Health, Small Mammal Suture Material - Vittorio Capello, DVM, Dipl ECZM (Small Mammal)

Ferrets As I See Them

29 The Collapsing Ferret - Cathy Johnson-Delaney, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian)

Exotic Animal Care

32 Sugar Gliders - David M. Brust, DVM

Departments

EXOTIC ANIMAL CARE


David M. Brust,DVM Sugarland Pet Hospital Sugar Land, Texas drdave@asgv.org

David Brust received his DVM degree from Texas A&M University in 1984 and has been a practicing exotic animal veterinarian since that time. He is a past president of the West Houston Veterinary Medical Association and host of the radio talk show, “Ask the Vet.” He is the current president of the Association of Sugar Glider Veterinarians,™ www.asgv.org. Dr. Brust is the author of “Sugar Gliders: A Complete Veterinary Care Guide,” and has filmed over 30 educational documentaries for the public regarding proper sugar glider care and husbandry.

All photos courtesy of ASGV™ and www.asgv.org.

WHAT EVERY VETERINARIAN NEEDS TO KNOW ABOUT

Sugar Gliders

Table 1. Vital Statistics
Physiological
Life span 12-15 years
Head/body length 13-19 cm (5.0-7.5 in)
Weight Male
Female
85-142 g (3-5 oz)
Heart rate 200-300 beats/minute
Respiratory rate 16-40 breaths/minute
Food consumption 15-20% BWt
Base metabolic rate 2.54 W/kg
Avg. basalmetabolism 46.2 kJ/d (130 g animal)
Avg. active
metabolism
84-126 kJ/d
Cloacal temperature 89.6°F (32°C)
Rectal temperature 97.3°F +/- 0.7°F (36.3°C)
Thermoneutral zone 75-88°F (24-31°C)
Reproductive
Breeding cycle Year round in captivity
Estrous cycle Polyestrous - 29 days
Gestation 5-17 days, after migration, fetus will remain in pouch 50-75 days.
Litters per year 1-2
Incidence of multiple births Twins 80% of the time; triplets are documented
Weaning 35-60 days out of pouch

Sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps), also known as sugar bears, are small marsupials similar in appearance to small flying squirrels that are native to Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea. They were first brought to the United States in 1993 and have rapidly grown in popularity as companion pets. Most domestic sugar gliders in U.S. are the smaller New Guinean subspecies. Although they are legal companion pets in 46 of the contiguous states (with the exception of California and Pennsylvania), breeding and sales are strictly regulated by the USDA.

Suitability as Pets

Young sugar gliders are best human-socialized between 8 and 12 weeks out of the pouch. The bonding process may take several weeks to complete. Human socializing for taming and handling may be difficult in sexually mature adults who were not socialized as youngsters. Sugar gliders are colony animals, therefore it is strongly recommended

One of the most distinguishing features about sugar gliders is that they have 4 hands. Each hand has four fingers and an opposable thumb.

Males have 2 scent glands—a diamond-shaped “bald spot” on the forehead and a smaller sternal spot in the center of the chest.

A sugar glider’s nails may become sharp. Nails may be filed but not clipped; it may reduce the animal’s ability to firmly grasp its surroundings, allowing it to fall.

Females do not have either of these characteristics.

While the patagium is similar in appearance to that of a flying squirrel, sugar gliders exhibit muscular control over it and can steer themselves to their target.

Males have a bifurcated penis with a preputial covering; the scrotum is anterior to the cloaca.

they should be housed in groups of two or more whenever possible. If housed alone, owners must be advised to spend a minimum of 2 hours per day interacting with the animal to provide necessary companionship and prevent malaise. Sugar gliders may self-mutilate if not given enough social stimulation.

Behavior

Although nocturnal by nature, sugar gliders are able to adjust to any schedule that allows maximum interaction with their owners. They enjoy playing outside their enclosure; however, careful supervision is strongly recommended to prevent encounters with common household hazards, such as floor or halogen lamps, metal venetian blinds and houseplants.

When properly trained, they may exhibit behavior similar to many dogs, e.g., expressing affection, recognizing

their name, coming on command. With training, they will ride around in the owner's pocket for hours without restraint.

Common vocalizations include “crabbing” (when frightened), barking (lonely or playing), purring/chirping (contentment) and sneezing/hissing (grooming or playing).

Aggression is rare in well-acclimated animals and is typically limited to young joeys or unsocialized adults. When threatened, a sugar glider will stand on its back legs and charge at the threat, feigning strikes and making loud sounds similar to a locust.

Physiological Characteristics

  • Each of the 4 hands possesses sharp, scimitar-like claws and opposable thumbs.
  • Teeth do not continually grow like rodents and should not be routinely trimmed unless presenting serious issues.
  • Sugar gliders exhibit exceptional muscular control over the gliding membrane (patagium), allowing the animal to glide up to 50 m.
  • The semi-prehensile tail is primarily used for steering when gliding.

Sexing

Males have a large pendulous scrotum and a bifurcated penis. Prominent scent glands are visible on the forehead and chest. Females exhibit a ventral pouch (marsupium) with 4 internal teats.

Growth of Joey

A study of the offspring from 30 breeding pairs was conducted to observe and record the developmental weight and characteristics of young sugar gliders over the first 8 weeks out of the pouch. The study concluded that certain developmental markers were more reliable than size and weight in estimating the age of joeys (Table 1).

EXOTIC ANIMAL CARE

Female sugar gliders have a prominent, midabdominal pouch (marsupium) where they carry their young.

Females have four teats.

Female sugar gliders have 2 uteri and 2 elongated lateral vaginae that open into a single cul-de-sac divided by a septum.

WEEK 1
-18 g body weight; no fur, eyes closed

WEEK 2
12-22 g body weight; very fine fur, eyes closed

WEEK 3
18-35 g body weight; fur-becoming more prominent; tail starting to fluff out; animal becoming weaned

WEEK 8
23-75 g body weight; self-sufficient; very active at night

Normal internal organ placement.

Dietary Recommendations

Free-ranging sugar gliders’ diet consists primarily of pollens, arthropods and plant and insect exudates; however, their diets can vary greatly by season, location and climate conditions. Attempts to replicate this type of diet for domesticated animals may be impractical in non-clinical settings. Sugar gliders should not be

presented with a wide selection of high-sugar, high-fat items as they will almost always eat these foods to the exclusion of other more nutritious foods. Inappropriate feeding practices and inadequate homemade diets are believed to be a substantial contributing factor to many illnesses seen by practitioners and reduces the animal’s life span

Although some homemade diets

may be adequately designed, they are rarely practical for the average owner because it is often more difficult for them to secure necessary ingredients and maintain precise feeding ratios.

Fresh portions should be fed in the evening. Preservatives, pesticides and excessive fat should be avoided in the diet. Acceptable treats include small portions of fruit (e.g., melons, peaches, mangos, blueberries, papaya), yogurt

Selected Sugar Glider Diets

The following feeding programs are published in Johnson-Delaney C: Exotic Companion Medicine Handbook for Veterinarians. Zoological Education Network, 2000.

Owners electing to use any of the following diets should be advised to mix the ingredients precisely as outlined in order to maintain nutritional consistency and efficacy.

SUGAR GLIDER DIET 1

(Recommended by author, see www.asgv.org for additional information)

The ideal daily diet for a domesticated sugar glider should equal approximately 15-20% of its body weight and consist of the following 4 components:

  • Nutritionally-balanced kibble* (approx. 75% of daily intake). This equates to 1-2 oz per animal and should be available free choice in the enclosure at all times.
  • Sliced fresh fruits and vegetables (approx 25% of daily intake). This equates to approximately one-eighth of an apple per animal and should be placed in the enclosure at night and removed each morning. Items should not be diced or chopped to maintain moisture content.
  • A calcium-based multivitamin* should be sprinkled over fresh fruits or vegetables 3-4 times per week.

  • *Special consideration: Kibble and multivitamin products should be designed specifically for sugar gliders and formulated to work in tandem with each other. Mixing products made for other animals is generally not recommended.

SUGAR GLIDER DIET 2**

  • 50% Leadbeater’s Mixture
  • 50% insectivore/carnivore diet

Leadbeater’s Mixture:

  • 150 ml warm water
  • 150 ml honey
  • 1 shelled hard-boiled egg
  • 25 g high protein baby cereal
  • 1 tsp vitamin/mineral supplement

Mix warm water and honey. In separate container, blend egg until homogenized; gradually add honey/water, then vitamin powder, then baby cereal, blending after each addition until smooth. Refrigerate.

**Based on research and consultation with Australian zookeepers, veterinarians, and naturalists

SUGAR GLIDER DIET 3

(one daily portion)
  • Include equal amounts of: chopped apple, grapes or mango, carrot, sweet potato, hard-cooked egg yolk, zoo formula insectivore or exotic feline diet, plus 1 Tbsp volume of pet industry-raised insects
  • Pet industry-raised insects that have been fed a commercial cricket diet or enriched feed
  • Or, owner can dust all insects, fruits and moist foods with a complete vitamin/ mineral powder
  • Insects include mealworms, crickets, waxworms, moths
  • 1 Tbsp insects (2 small mealworms or 4 small and 2 large or 2 waxworms)
  • Nectars formulated for lories/lorikeets can be given as a fruit-portion substitute or as a treat
  • Foods should be “chopped together” to decrease the ability of the glider to pick out only the favorite parts

SUGAR GLIDER DIET 4*

(feeds 1 sugar glider)
  • 1 tsp-sized piece each, chopped: apple, carrot, sweet potato, banana
  • 1 tsp leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 hard-cooked egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp good quality zoo feline diet
  • 1 dozen mealworms

* Chicago Zoological Park adapted from AAZK Animal Diet Notebook

SUGAR GLIDER DIET 5**

(feeds 2 sugar gliders)
  • 3 g apple
  • 3 g banana/corn
  • 1.5 g dog kibble
  • 1 tsp fly pupae
  • 3 g grapes/kiwi fruit
  • 2 tsp Leadbeater’s mixture (see previous Diet 2)
  • 4 g orange with skin
  • 2 g pear
  • 2 g cantaloupe/melon/papaya
  • 3 g sweet potato
  • On Wednesdays: feed day-old chick; when available, large insects (mealworms)

**Taronga Zoo, Sydney Australia

and applesauce. Owners should be cautioned against feeding fatty, nutrient-deficient insects as treats because sugar gliders will often hold out and refuse to eat anything else once they become accustomed to insects. Treats should be no more than 5% of daily intake. Filtered spring or drinking water (not unfiltered tap water) should be available at all times.

Housing Recommendations

The recommended enclosure size for 1 or 2 adult animals over 5 months of age is: 36 inches (91 cm) wide by 24 inches (61 cm) deep by 40 inches (102 cm) high. Large aviary cages are the most practical option for adult sugar gliders. Additional height is the primary consideration.

The ideal enclosure size for 1-2

babies or juveniles younger than 5 months out of the pouch is: 18-20 inches (46-51 cm) wide and deep and 24-30 inches (61-76 cm) high.

PVC-coated wire is preferred over epoxy, paint, powder-coated or galvanized wire due to potential health and safety hazards. Rectangular openings should be no larger than ½" x 1" (1.25-2.5 cm). Enclosures consist

EXOTIC ANIMAL CARE

Due to an instinctual fear of falling, sugar gliders will become significantly less active when they cannot firmly grasp their surroundings.

A smaller, “starter” cage is more conducive to the well-being of joeys under 5 months out of pouch. The ideal cage size for 1-2 joeys is 18-20 inches (46-51 cm) deep x 24-30 inches (61-76 cm) high.

A nesting cloth, loosely draped over a heat rock is recommended rather than traditional nesting boxes or hanging pouches, as a sleeping area, especially for young joeys. This combination reduces stress on the glider and promotes the bonding process with owners.

Solid-construction (not wire mesh) exercise wheels provide a good source of environmental enrichment and exercise for sugar gliders.

The least stressful method of sedation is achieved by using a large face mask as an induction chamber while 5% isoflurane is inhaled.

Once induced, 1-3% isoflurane is delivered for maintenance using either a small face mask or 1 mm Cook endotracheal tube.

A sugar glider can be safely restrained by placing the thumb under the jaw and the index finger on top of the head.

Normal radiographs, dorsoventral and lateral views

anesthetized longer than 5-10 minutes. Fluid therapy is required to maintain homeostasis.

Veterinary Visits

The initial consultation and annual examination should include:

  • Careful analysis of all aspects of the diet and husbandry (directly related to most clinical presentations)
  • Physical examination
  • Stool flotation/smear for abnormal protozoa/parasite levels (a fecal sample is usually obtained by simply picking up or restraining the animal)
  • Dental examination
  • Other diagnostics
    - CBC/chemistry tests
    - Radiographs to assess bone density
  • Males should be neutered whenever possible to avoid anti-social behaviors and self-mutilation.

Blood Collection

Only small volumes of blood may safely be drawn, up to a maximum of 1% of the animal’s body weight in grams. A 1-mL tuberculin (or 0.5-mL insulin) syringe, with a 25- to 29- gauge needle, is recommended for most diagnostic sampling, depending on the site selected.

The cranial vena cava may be accessed at the thoracic inlet by directing the needle caudally at 30° off midline toward the contralateral hind limb. To avoid inadvertent cardiac puncture, insert the needle halfway of its length as the vessel is superficial in location. (View instructional collection videos at www.asgv.org.) With practice, blood collection at this site is usually the most successful regardless of the animal’s size or condition.

The medial tibial artery is highly mobile and easiest to access just distal to the stifle using a 29-gauge needle. As much as 0.5 ml blood may be

EXOTIC ANIMAL CARE

Table 2. Hematologic Reference Ranges for Domestic Sugar Gliders
Parameter Reference range Sample size
Basophills 29.50-62.75 x 103/μL 8
Eosinophills 92.02-281.18 x 103/μL 10
HCT 51.29-54.49% 62
HGB 15.83-16.86 g/dL 53
Lymphocytes 3693.98-7157.15 x 103/μL 62
MCH 18.79-19.39 pg 53
MCHC 30.63-30.99 g/dL 53
MCV 60.17-68.05 fL 54
Monocytes 112.55-170.69 x 103/μL 45
Neutrophills 1461.03-2204.57 x 103/μL 61
Platelets 292.18-400.32 x 103/μL 53
RBC 8.31-8.83 x 106/μL 53
WBC 5.49-9.31 x 103/μL 62
Table 3. Biochemistry Reference Ranges for Domestic Sugar Gliders
Parameter Reference range Sample size
Albumin 3.12-4.64 g/dL 99
Alk phos 89.37-115.04 IU/L 75
ALT 96.76-136.60 IU/L 81
Amylase 2117.18-3350.82 IU/L 8
AST 54.42-99.79 IU/L 38
BUN 15.07-18.07 mg/dL 100
Calcium 8.53-8.85 mg/dL 97
Chloride 105.97-108.64 mEq/L 94
Cholesterol 111.70-123.99 mg/dL 78
CPK 1080.78-1636.71 IU/L 47
Creatinine 0.47-0.59 mg/dL 100
Globulin 2.9-3.1 g/dL 92
Glucose** 152.70-171.89 mg/dL 85
Magnesium 1.63-2.14 mEq/L 13
Phosphorus 4.35-6.12 mg/dL 62
Potassium 4.60-5.53 mEq/L 93
Sodium 138.76-143.06 mEq/L 92
Total bilirubin 0.12-0.70 mg/dL 72
Total protein 6.74-7.01 g/dL 92

EXOTIC ANIMAL CARE

sugar gliders to humans. It is believed that some genotypes of Giardia may be host-adapted and endemic to marsupials and under normal circumstances do not appear to cause clinical signs.

Web Resources

Updated veterinary-oriented

resources, including an online veterinary care guide, procedural videos and extensive client education materials are available at the Association of Sugar Glider Veterinarians™ website, www.asgv.org. Due to an educational grant, first-year memberships are free for a limited time.

RESOURCES
A client education brochure on sugar gliders is available from Zoological Education Network - 800-946-4782 www.exoticdvm.com