Thursday, August 2, 2012

My First Year with my Sugar Glider Babies

I'm the proud mother of two sugar gliders, Lilo and Stitch.  Not that I'm not even more proud of my own children, but bringing home my gliders proved to be quite an undertaking.  This is because, unlike child-rearing which has clear cut dos and don'ts that have been defined by years of knowledge passed down, sugar gliders are still a fairly new exotic pet in this country with varying schools of thought on their diet and care.  Here were these little creatures who, fully grown, would fit in the palm of my hand and would depend on me for the next fourteen to sixteen years.  Quite honestly, I was scared to death of misstepping and not providing them with all that they needed.

Last year, around this time I was frantically going over checklists, reading over articles and forums again and again, and hanging and re-hanging their cage set in different positions trying to determine which cage design fit best.  I spent weeks sketching designs for cage pieces, and weeks more sewing until my fingers were calloused.  I read review after review because I wanted them to have the right cage, the perfect wheel and everything else to make their new home a sanctuary.  It all culminated on one day in August last year with my pacing the Albany International Airport waiting for my babies to be flown in from their breeder.

In the past year, I've sewn many cage sets and bonding pouches in many colors and themes to fit different occasions and holidays.  I've tried a huge variety of fruits and veggies, snacks and treats.  I've pouched them up and taken them with me everywhere from parks & nature preserves, grocery stores, department stores, malls, movie theaters, drive ins, schools, restaurants and museums.

I've learned a lot in this past year.  I've learned that my gliders are true foodies.  They love to eat and eat and eat.  They both have their favorites.  Lilo loves her corn, pine nuts and sunflower kernels and gets mad when you try to restrict how much she can have.  Stitchy loves his meats - chicken, turkey, eggs, even the occasional browned ground beef.  They both love their papaya and melons and love foods that are like a puzzle they can open like sugar snap peas.  They crave variety, though.  Other than their usual staples of mixed vegetables and apples, I need to rotate their fruits and veggies often.  The first night, they'll gobble.  The second night, they pick through.  By the third night, even their favorites tend to go untouched.  Keeping up the balance of calcium to phosphorus isn't as hard as I originally fretted about.  After a while, picking out higher calcium foods to balance the lower ones becomes second nature.  And strangely, though many sites recommend making large batches of hpw and freezing them, serving small frozen portions each night - my babies prefer their hpw fresh each night, and slightly warm.  They prefer their fruits and veggies fresh and cut up into small pieces, as well.  No frozen or pureed meals in this house thank you!  Despite the fact that everyone claims sugar gliders love their mealies, mine won't touch them, alive or freeze dried.  They bark at them until they're gone.  They know whenever we're eating and peek to see if we'll share, knowing especially they get a little extra whenever I have smoothies or yogurt and always get excited when they get special treats for holidays and special occasions.

Even though I hadn't intended for my gliders to be bra babies, I've learned that they naturally like to crawl in and hang out in clothing.  They love to hang out in shirts, pockets, up pant legs, down bras - anything they can get into.

I've also realized that I wear a disproportionately large amount of black.

I've discovered that my gliders can be huge hams, knowing that running in their wheel, doing cute poses, or giving us kisses automatically pulls us right in.

I've also learned that they're huge prima donnas.  If they don't get their way or feel even the smallest bit slighted, they'll purposely ignore the offender and lavish attention upon others so that there's no question who has displeased them.

My babies are also very playful, loving to climb and explore.  They don't care about whether their cage set matches - that's purely human aesthetics.  They just want a variety of things to climb on, go through and sleep in - and they prefer it rotated every few weeks to keep things fresh and new.  They also love Legos.

I've also learned that it doesn't matter how many times I tell them not to go on my back because I can't reach them - they rode on their parents' backs as babies and they *will* go on mine.. again and again..

There is no potty training gliders - they will pee and poop wherever they wish, whenever they wish, with no regard for what I'm wearing or where I may have to go.  While they are naturally nocturnal, I have little say in when they choose to be up or sleep - I'm the one who has to adapt.

Because gliders prefer the dark, it's not always easy getting a good picture of them - most of the time I catch them out in better lighting, it is usually in transit from one darker area to another.  Trying to snap pictures of moving targets usually ends up with blurry tush shots or the ever popular dead stare that seems to scream "Really?!  Another picture?!"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Have Yourself a Merry Suggie Christmas...

Having grown up in a house where there were full-sized Christmas trees in the livingroom and kitchen, 4 ft. trees in each bedroom, as well as the bay window in the dining room, and decorated pine trees outside, I've always been surrounded by holiday decorations in excess.  While admittedly I've never been a very religious person, I've always loved the feel of the whole holiday season.  The warmth of the lights and the hot cocoa or mulled cider, the smell of freshly baked cookies or clove-covered oranges hung by ribbons, snowball fights and snow angels outside while the Christmas lights reflect off the snow, carols playing in the background while people joyfully sing along all set the stage for the season.  I've always loved the reds and greens and decorations all around.

With Christmas around the corner, I wanted to make my babies a holiday cage set that was whimsical and festive, yet practical.  I've been thoroughly bitten by the Christmas bug for years, so there was no way to do anything on a small scale.  Having a hammock or two, some vines and a pouch in Christmas colors or prints just wouldn't cut it for me.  In the past, my children have joked about my decorations looking like "Christmas threw up" and have jokingly played games where the first one to find part of the tree under all the ornaments won.  Do I go overboard with holidays?  Of course - but that is just me.  If you're going to make a statement, you might as well go all out and scream it from the hilltops.  I love the holidays and subtle is not a word often used with me.

Instead of the traditional sparse cage set up most sugar glider owners go with for their babies, I wanted to make their cage into a holiday scene.  Christmas would be up all around them and I hated the idea of them not being able to partake in it themselves.  With the wires, lights, sharp hooks, glass ornaments and all the other jazz holiday decorations are made of all around, there was no way they could really enjoy the Christmas decorations I had around except from afar. That just would not do.  They needed their own Christmas tree and decorations.

I started out with a stack of fleece, some plastic canvas for shaping, some ribbon and bows and other odds and ends.   I got 2 yards of dark green, 1 yard of both white and red, a quarter yard of three different Christmas prints for accents, and some random colored fleece scraps from previous cage sets.  Then I began sketching and planning, trying to imagine all that I would love to have in their little Christmas room.  My cage design seemed so elaborate that I began wondering if I bit off more than I could chew.  Lille by little, I began sewing.

My first piece was a decorated Christmas tree that was a double layered modified pyramid pouch.  By the time it was done, the Christmas bug was back buzzing in my ear, inspiring me not to give up and to embrace my vision and create, create, create.  Next, I made a fleece present with a cubby in back for them to sit in, and a snowman shelf seat for them to climb on.

Piece by piece, the cage set was coming together.  Somehow, it didn't seem so overwhelming anymore.  I made a 3 and a half foot Christmas tree with 4 tiers of twisted fleece strips.  There was a variety of pouches for sleeping in, from the Christmas tree to a wreath to a stocking.  There were ornaments for the tree with foraging pockets for hiding treats and overstuffed fleece presents they could go inside and play.  Around their stealth wheel, I made a fireplace and mantle, complete with garland and bows.  Under their tree was a variety of presents.  For days, I sewed.  When everything was made and hung up, it was like Christmas morning had arrived inside their cage.

The top and bottom of their cage:

Here's the tree top and one of the foraging ornaments (and the side of the mistletoe ball swing):

The wreath pouch:

Here's the fleece fireplace with the wheel in the center:

Here's the fireplace mantle hammock:

Here's the stocking pouch on the side of the tree:

Here's another pic of the bottom of the cage with the big green cube present (with my babies peeking out) and santa bucket with fleece scraps and craft pompoms:

Here's another pic of the green gift cube (with Stitchy peeking out):

Here's their food dish with the xmas present border around it:

Here's a pic of the present with the back cubby:

I honestly couldn't be happier with how their cage set came out.  This will be their first Christmas.  Is it a little bit overly festive and flashy, but of course.  Maybe Christmas did throw up ll over their cage.  But this is not only their first Christmas, but our first Christmas together, as well.  Might as well go all out and celebrate in style.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is a Sugar Glider?

Since I  first started talking about getting my sugar gliders, I've been bombarded with questions.  What are those things?  Squirrels?  Rodents?  Where did you hear about them?  What do they eat?  Do they really need such a huge cage? Are they friendly?  Do they bite?  Do you really take them everywhere with you?  Did it just bark?!  Do you really let them ride around in your shirt?!  I've answered these questions, and many more, so often that I've considered typing them all out and just cutting and pasting the answers to save some time.  Especially with so much misinformation out there on the web and from mall kiosks and swap meets from unscrupulous mill breeders who are more concerned with making a dollar than the welfare of these animals, I felt it was important to get accurate information out there.

How did I first hear about sugar gliders?  Quite honestly, it all began with my wanting a puppy.  I didn't want a pet I would have to go out in the snow and walk in the middle of the night.  I considered various options.  I wanted something lovable that I could nurture and spoil.  Cats were usually too independent.  Hamsters and gerbils had such short lifespans.  You can't snuggle a fish.  Someone mentioned these exotic pets called sugar gliders they saw on a news show recently.  And so my research began.

So what exactly *is* a sugar glider?  Sugar gliders are small marsupials (meaning the females have a pouch to carry their young like a kangaroo) native to Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea and Indonesia.  Fully grown, their head and body typically is 5-6 inches in length, with their tails adding another 5-6 inches.  On average, an adult sugar glider will weigh around 4-6 ounces.   In the wild, sugar gliders are nocturnal colony animals who live in the tree tops, gliding up to 50 feet from tree to tree.  They are sap suckers and insectivores, eating native plants and the nectar from them along with a variety of insects and the occassional egg snatched from nests. In the wild, they are typically gray colored with white stomachs, with black markings on their face, legs, and tail, as well as a black stripe along their back.  While many gliders kept as pets resemble those in the wild (commonly called standard grays), due to careful breeding practices in captivity, the coloring of pet gliders varies emensely, to include black beauties, leucistic, cremeno, white tip, white face, lion face and many other variations.  Sugar gliders have opposable fingers and thumbs that make them amazing climbers and have musk spots for marking on both their chests and the top of their heads.  Though in the wild sugar gliders normally live 4-6 years, in captivity they live on average 10-15 years.  When handled regularly and with love, sugar gliders will form strong bonds with their owners, not only coming to them and responding with affection like licking kisses, but will lovingly nuzzle into their owners, even riding on their clothing and in their pockets as a way of staying close to them.

How young can sugar gliders be adopted?  Sugar glider joeys are live born after being inside their mother only 16 days.  They then are helped up into their mother's pouch where they continue to grow while attached to a nipple for around 70 days.  The mother will then detach her babies and they are considered out of pouch.  They will still nurse from their mother periodically while they are introduced solid foods and learn skills vital to survival on their own.  Most reputable breeders will not separate joeys from their parents earlier than 8 weeks out of pouch (oop).  My joeys, Lilo and Stitch, came home with me the weekend after they hit their 8 week oop milestone.

Sugar gliders are natural colony animals, living in groups of around 15-30 on average in the wild, so it's never reccommended for anyone to own just one.  Because they are colony animals, they require frequent socialization, not only with their owners, but their own kind as well.  Solo gliders are frequently known to suffer from depression, which can cause them to stop grooming themselves, eat less to the point where they become underweight and suffer health issues, and in extreme cases, even self-mutilate.  Having even a pair of gliders provides them with a companion to play and snuggle with and will ultimately help as they bond with you, as well.  It is recommended, however, for new owners to get males neutered instead of attempting to breed joeys to further increase their glider colony size.  This is due, in part, to concerns over lineage.  Tracking lineage not only helps owners of rare colored gliders preserve bloodlines and maintain the rare colored lines, but is also important with common colored gliders to assure that bloodlines aren't too closely bred, causing inbreeding and genetic problems.  Neutering male gliders in any glider colony with females is also important because many new owners are ill-equipped to deal with pregnancy issues such as the possibilities of calcium deficiency and joey rejection.  Even if the colony only consists of males, neutering is reccommended due to aggression issues between unneutered males, as well as the fact that unneutered males tend to spray more and have a stronger odor.

What do sugar gliders eat?  Obviously, sugar glider owners everywhere are not pulling a Robinson Crusoe and living in the tree tops to keep their pets in their natural habitat.  Exotic vets and nutritionists have done a lot of research on the dietary needs of sugar gliders, and many approved diets and varieties thereof, such as the high protein wombaroo (hpw), Bourbon's Modified Leadbeater's (bml), and LGRS Suggie Soup have been developed over the last decade.  Gliders in the wild eat a lot of vegetation, sap and a variety of protein sources, so these diets attempt to reproduce the nutrition needed while maintaining the types of foods they would naturally eat.  Unlike rodents, whose teeth continually grow and who benefit from eating hard pellets, pellet diets are widely believed to be unhealthy for sugar gliders, whose teeth are more delicate and are made more for stripping vegetation than for crunching hard pellets.  Until an approved diet is chosen, it is often reccommended that owners offer cooked, unseasoned chicken or eggs (boiled or scrambled) as a protein source, with insects such as mealworms sparingly as treats due to their high fat content.

Sugar glider diets, regardless of which approved diet is chosen, typically consist of 50% protein source, 25% fruits and 25% vegetables, all while maintaining a 2:1 calcium:phosphorus ratio.  Even with the most simplistic diet, doing the math to keep their fruit and vegetable ratios balanced is enough to make most people's heads spin.  The accepted rule of thumb for adult non-pregnant sugar gliders is usually 1 tablespoon protein, 1 tablespoon fruits and 1 tablespoon vegetables per glider per day.  Personally, I feed my gliders an hpw variation, with chicken or eggs occassionally on the side.  I usually choose 3-4 fruits and 3-4 vegetables per night, often including foods like papaya and bok choy that are high in calcium to help maintain my ratios.  Though most of a sugar glider's fluids are acquired through their food, it's always important to offer a fresh water source, as well, whether in a bottle or bowl.

Do sugar gliders really need those huge cages?  Keep in mind that in the wild, sugar gliders live in the treetops and glide from tree to tree.  While owners cannot offer unlimited wide open spaces, the common belief is that a glider cage should be a minimum of around 3 ft. x 2 ft. x 2ft. for a pair of gliders, so that they have room to climb, jump and practice gliding.  The bar spacing should be half an inch wide maximum, so that they cannot squeeze through the bars.  It is also important what the cage is made of and coated with because, with all their climbing, residue from some metals and from cheaper coatings that flake can get on them and make them sick.  It is also important to note that sugar gliders are warm-blooded creatures and do not need heating rocks or heating pads as an amphibian or reptile might.  Adding them to the cage could not only cause injuries such as burns from the items themselves and electrocution if they chew the wires, but dehydration as well.

Yes, that *is* my cage, top and bottom, freshly decorated with my first cage set, sans wheel, before my gliders came home.  The cage I chose is 53" high x 31" long x 20.5" deep.  The majority of the cage is decorated in fleece, the fabric of choice of the majority of sugar glider owners because it is both soft and warm, and is unlikely to fray and injure them or get their nails caught.  If sewing your own fleece creations, it is important to use small, tight stitches, hidden whenever possible, to minimize the chance for injury.  Sugar gliders commonly sleep together in a fleece pouch, but enjoy having other creations - hammocks, tunnels, trampolines, swings and vines, to climb and play on and in.  They also enjoy foraging, as they would do for insects naturally in the wild, so the addition of foraging toys will keep them stimulated and happy.  It's important to choose glider-safe wheels that do not have a center bar that they can injure themselves or their tails on as they run and jump and to avoid slits in the track they run on that they can catch their claws in.  It's always best to steer clear of rodent wheels and purchase a safe wheel to avoid costly vet bills from injuries down the road.  Sugar gliders are very playful and curious, enjoying climbing on and playing in toddler playsets and glider-sized ball pits filled with small balls and craft pom-poms.

Do I really carry my sugar gliders everywhere with me?  Yes, I do.  Lilo and Stitch have gone to the grocery store, Wal-Mart, the local malls, even the state museum with me.  But I always bring them in zippered bonding bags so they cannot get out.  Even though sugar gliders can bond well enough with their owners that we are comfortable carrying them around the house on our persons or in our pockets and clothing, it is important to never forget that they are an animal and, as such, are likely to attempt bolting when frightened or startled.  Honestly, when contained in their fleece bonding bags, most people aren't even aware that I'm carrying anything more than a simple bag with me unless I purposely draw attention to myself.

Owners use bonding bags not only for bringing our gliders outside the house, but to help with the bonding process, as well.  Owners will often carry their sugar gliders around during the day while the gliders sleep so that they becomed accustomed to our scent and learn to trust in our prescence.  Because they are marsupials carried as babies in pouches by their mothers, many believe that carrying them in fleece pouches helps develop a similar nurturing bond.  When bringing them outside in their bonding bag, though, it is important to take into consideration the weather so that your gliders do not get too hot or cold. Owners commonly add slices of a moist fruit or vegetable in their pouch while on trips to not only provide food but to avoid dehydration, as well.  Most bonding pouches have a mesh window for ventilation.

Do I really carry my sugar gliders around in my shirt?  Not always, but often enough.  Many sugar gliders seem to equate the area around, and sometimes in, a woman's bra to a pouch.  It is commonly believed that many gliders prefer this spot because of the warmth and closeness, as well as the sound of the heartbeat reminding them of when they were in their mother's pouch.  Sugar gliders that prefer to ride either in or on a woman's bra are commonly called bra babies.  Some women intentionally train their gliders to become bra babies; for others, it happens naturally on it's own.  With my gliders, Stitch saw an opening and he took it.

There's so much information about sugar gliders, that it's almost impossible to cover it all without writing a book.  They can be quite noisy, both crabbing when annoyed or disturbed and barking, similar to a chihuahua, to get your attention, warn of danger and communicate among the colony.  Yes, they can bite - hard enough to draw blood, no less.  Yes, they do need regular vet visits like other animals, though they do not need immunizations like a dog or cat would.  No, they should not be allowed to play with your pets of other species because it only takes a moment for an accident to happen that can never be taken back and some animals, such as cats, have saliva that is toxic to gliders.  There's guidelines for quarantines for new gliders, as well as introducing new gliders to an existing colony.  There's tent time and bathroom time.  Lists of safe plants, safe snacks, fruit and vegetable lists with ca:ph ratios to help with meal planning.  Sugar gliders are not living furniture you can buy and leave in a cage in a corner, only looking in when you desire.  Gliders are very high maintenance pets that are far from inexpensive to own or maintain.  They live on average over a decade, so owning them takes a long term commitment.  Owning sugar gliders has been compared to having toddlers for the next ten to fifteen years.

So why get sugar gliders if they are such a handful?  Quite simply because, once bonded to you, sugar gliders can be the sweetest, most affectionate little creatures you'll ever meet.  I'm greeted every day with kisses and affection and can't helped but be entertained watching what smart and clever little problem solvers they are.  I find it impossible to become stressed out or get worked up and angry when they are snuggled up with me.  Granted, sugar gliders are not for everyone, but now that I have my babies, I can't imagine my life without them.