Sugar Gliders are small marsupials that have shared genetics with the Koala Bear and the Kangaroo, and they originate from Australian and Indonesian rainforests. These cute marsupials are named “sugar gliders” in reference to the fact that they A: have a gliding membrane stretching from their ankles to their wrists (similar to a flying squirrel) and B: they have a very sweet tooth and love to eat anything with a natural sweetness to it, like fresh fruit and vegetables.
Sugar gliders are exotic pets and like exotic food, but the important thing to know when it comes to feeding your sugar glider is that, much like a healthy human diet, you shouldn’t confuse what sugar gliders like from what is good for them. A sugar glider’s diet should be well balanced, nutritional, and above all – simple. Leading veterinarian Dr. David Brust recommends that the sugar glider diet should consist of 75 percent pellets, 20 percent fresh fruit and veg, and 5 percent treats.
Because wild sugar gliders feed on things like eucalyptus gum, nectar, lizards, and bird eggs, it can be challenging to replicate this kind of diet in captivity. Conflicting information across the net about the correct diet for sugar gliders has only added to the confusion for owners. So, with the help of expert tips from exotic animal vets, we hope we can end the confusion and controversy around the right and wrong foods for your sugar glider. Here’s a look at what and what not to feed them, their benefits, and feeding routine.
What Food Should Sugar Gliders Eat?
Sugar gliders prefer fruit and vegetables that have a sweet taste, so small, carefully controlled portions of fresh, un-canned fruit and veg will make up a balanced diet for them. These include:
In addition to sweet fruits and veg, your sugar glider should also have enough protein foods in their diet to make up around a third of their daily intake.
Most of their daily protein needs can be met with a portion of high quality nutrition-rich pellets (feed them approx 1/4 to a 1/3 of a cup/2-3 oz a day of a high quality pellet brand such as Nutri Max Sugar Glider Diet or Exotic Nutrition’s Premium Diet).
You shouldn’t feed them a sole diet of pellets for their protein intake though, so keep things varied for your sugar glider by offering them foods such as:
- Small pieces of cooked lean meat/poultry (plain,unseasoned)
- Plain yogurt
- Hard-boiled eggs
The most important takeaway here is that sugar gliders can have sugar, but it’s important that you stick to foods with naturally occurring sugars like honey and the above-mentioned fruits and sweet vegetables. Raw sugar, candy or sugar substitutes of any kind should be avoided completely (more on what foods to avoid later).
You also need to take care to limit their sugar intake with careful portion control of their fruit and veg.
A 1/8 of an apple (or 1 segment/slice), for example, will be an appropriate daily portion for a sugar glider, or the equivalent weight to this if you are feeding them a portion of carrot or peas (i.e. 1 tablespoon of fruit or veg per day).
What Vegetables are Good for Sugar Gliders?
The following vegetables are great to include in your sugar glider’s diet. Just note that the veg should always be washed thoroughly before being placed in their cage to prevent sugar gliders from being exposed to any pesticides or other toxic chemicals. For this reason, it can sometimes be best to buy organic veg for your sugar glider.
- Carrots (in small amounts)
- Brussel sprouts
- Spinach (in small amounts)
- Lettuce (in small amounts)
- Sweet potato
We’ll discuss foods that are not recommended for sugar gliders later on, but for now, it’s important to note that while carrots, spinach, and lettuce are perfectly fine, safe foods for your sugar glider, it is suggested that you should be a little sparing with these particular veggies as they have very low nutritional value for sugar gliders, so feeding them these in excess will mean they are lacking in their key nutrients.
Fruits and Their Benefits for Sugar Gliders
The sweet tooth of sugar gliders definitely directs them towards the sweeter end of the fruit spectrum, but among the fruits they love – apples, pears, mangoes, grapes, pears, melons, etc – sugar gliders get many of the same benefits that humans receive from a diet rich in fruit. Firstly, sugar gliders have much more variety and interest in their diet than most domesticated pets!
A more important benefit though is the fact that this varied and exotic bunch of fruit in their diet is packed with nutrients and vitamins to help them stay regular and fighting fit (did you know that, with the help of a healthy, balanced diet, most pet sugar gliders can live to be around 12 to 14 years old?). This wide variety of fruit also increases their water intake to help them stay sufficiently hydrated alongside their water bottle.
What are Good Treats for Sugar Gliders?
Treats should only make up around 5 percent of a sugar glider’s diet, so try to be quite sparing with them. (One every few days is probably more appropriate than a daily treat). Sugar gliders love insects, so crickets, earthworms, and mealworms all make great treats and are a great source of protein (but also high in fat!).
A small portion of chopped fruit like pear or figs is a great treat option too, as are raw, unsalted nuts – another favorite food of sugar gliders, but like insects, they have a high fat content, so only give them out sparingly. Pet stores online and local to you will also have a range of preservative-free treats that are most appropriate for sugar gliders.
Other Foods Appropriate for Pet Sugar Gliders
Sugar gliders are known to be quite picky eaters, so it’s always good to be prepared with other foods to offer them to get a sense of what they enjoy.
As strange as it sounds, some owners have suggested dry cat and dog food – this can be similar in taste and texture to the recommended pellets in a sugar glider’s diet and offer a lot of the same nutrients and protein they need. If you decide to use dried dog and cat food to feed your sugar glider though, we’d recommend using it sparingly and asking your local vet about the appropriate amounts to feed them based on their age, weight, etc.
In addition to feeding your sugar glider a mix of the recommended fruit and vegetables, pellets and treats, many owners swear by a formula known as the ‘Leadbeaters Mix’ that has been specially designed for sugar gliders, and it is one that has been widely advised by exotic animal experts, including veterinarian and author on the subject of exotic animals Dr. Cathy Johnson-Delaney.
Dr.Johnson-Delaney developed this formula by studying the natural diet of sugar gliders in the wild and has worked with Australian zookeepers and fellow vets to produce the Leadbeaters Mix.
The Recipe for the Leadbeaters Mix is as Follows:
- 150 ml warm water
- 150 ml honey
- 1 boiled egg (shelled)
- 25 g of a high protein baby cereal
- 1 tsp of a vitamin or mineral supplement
Mix the warm water and honey, Blend the egg, then gradually add in the water and honey mixture. Next blend in the chosen vitamin or supplement powder until the mixture is smooth, and finally, add the baby cereal until smooth. You can then keep this mix refrigerated and serve 1 tablespoon of this mix daily to your sugar glider in the evening, alongside its daily portion of fruit/veg and pellets.
There’s no getting around it – a sugar glider’s diet can be notoriously difficult to mimic in captivity, but if you’re prepared to make a little effort with their feeding, then there’s no reason why you won’t be able to keep a healthy and happy sugar glider as a pet.
Most Toxic Foods for Sugar Gliders
Sugar gliders will eat almost anything sweet that is put in front of them, but many of the sweet stuff we crave is toxic to sugar gliders – so be sure that they steer well clear of these toxic foods and drinks:
- Any sweets
- Canned fruit
- Unnatural sweeteners
- Sugar substitutes
- Any beverage containing caffeine (teas, coffees, sodas etc)
- Fruit pits and seeds (apple seeds especially as they contain trace amounts of Cyanide)
Non-Toxic, But Not Recommended, Foods Sugar Gliders Should Avoid
There are many foods out there that may seem appropriate for your sugar glider, but because they offer no real nutritional value or risk making them ill due to contamination, they are best avoided. So the following lists the foods that sugar gliders are not recommended to have:
- Raw meat or eggs
- Unwashed fruit or veg
- Flavored yogurt (in excess)
- Bird seed
- Lima beans
- Collard greens
Also as we’ve mentioned earlier, the following treats can be harmful to your sugar glider when consumed in large amounts (due to high fat or natural sugar content, being low in nutritional value or being too low in calcium) – excess fruit, mealworm and other insects, nuts, corn, pork, and seeds.
As well as making sure they avoid or limit the above foods, it’s also important to be aware of the dangers that an unbalanced diet can have on your sugar glider’s health.
Sugar gliders are prone to metabolic bone disease as a result of having an improper ratio of calcium and phosphorous foods (meats and poultry etc) in their diet. If their diet is higher in phosphorous than calcium, this calcium imbalance can result in the nutrient being leached from their bones and other tissue to redress the balance – making your sugar glider susceptible to fractures and many other health complications.
For this reason, owners are normally encouraged to add calcium supplements to their pet sugar glider’s diet to ensure they will always have the right balance of calcium and phosphorous.
Veterinarians at the Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital recommend a calcium based multivitamin by brands like Glide-A-Mins or VitaMax – sprinkled lightly over their fruit and veg portions every other day or mixed in with apple sauce or organic yogurt and hand-fed to them.
How Many Times Do You Feed a Sugar Glider a Day?
You should ideally feed your sugar glider once a day in the afternoon or early evening – they sleep a lot during the day, so feeding time should usually be right after they wake up.
Try to make sure that their daily meal is made up of 1 part vitamins (fruit/veg), 1 part protein (either in pellet or food form), and 1 part calcium (this can consist of calcium rich-fruits like papaya, berries or plain yogurt). Also, make sure they have fresh bottled water in their cage and change this out daily.
How Long Can Sugar Gliders Go Without Food?
If they have water, sugar gliders could live without food for around 3 days, but this is cruel and shouldn’t be tested. Sugar gliders need to be fed fresh food daily, so we wouldn’t advise leaving them longer than 24 hours without food.