Native to Australia, sugar gliders (Petaurus breviceps) are now "pocket pet" favorites. While they are far too delicate and sensitive for small children -- who can easily harm them by holding them too tightly -- they can make good pets for older children who know how to handle them. However, sugar gliders require a great deal of specialized care. An adult must assume overall responsibility for the pet, not an older child or teenager.
Sometimes mistaken for flying squirrels, sugar gliders are a completely different species. Their body length is generally less than that of their tails, with the body ranging between 5 to 7 inches long and the tail about 6 to 9 inches. These little creatures have a patagium, or gliding membrane, extending from the fifth toe on the front paws to their ankles. At maturity, sugar gliders weigh between 3 and 6 ounces, with females smaller than males. They reach sexual maturity between the ages of 8 and 14 months, with females able to reproduce earlier than males. In captivity, they can live up to 14 years.
Feeding Sugar Gliders
It's easy to kill a sugar glider with improper feeding, which is why an adult must supervise the animal's care. In the wild, sugar gliders feed on sap from native Australian trees, spiders and insects. In captivity, sugar gliders must eat the daily equivalent of 15 to 20 percent of their body weight. Besides commercial food designed for this pet, they must consume insects, nectar, certain fresh fruits and vegetables and a calcium supplement. Avoid feeding corn, spinach, lettuce, pears, carrots, raspberries, strawberries, collards or blackberries. Feeding the sugar glider is a delicate balance, because while the little animal must eat a lot, he can easily become overweight. For that reason, the Michigan State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital website doesn't recommend the sugar glider as a pet for kids or teens.
It takes time to bond with a sugar glider. Even older kids might not have the patience for the amount of effort required. Once the bonding process gets started, sugar gliders need at least an hour or two of attention daily. Sugar gliders are nocturnal, so they're most active when kids are getting ready for bed. They are also likely to scratch and bite if mishandled. They eliminate whenever and wherever they feel the urge, so owners must get used to being peed and pooped on.
Not Always Legal
Before bringing home a sugar glider, make sure it's legal for you to keep one as a pet in your state. Alaska, California and Hawaii are among the states that don't allow these exotic animals. Some cities, including New York City and St. Paul, Minn., prohibit sugar gliders. Other states might require a permit in order to keep a sugar glider. Don't risk your pet's health by keeping a sugar glider illegally. Veterinarians practicing in a state or city that bans sugar gliders cannot treat them in cases of illness or injury.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.