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What you need to know about sugar gliders before you get an exotic pet

We’re not gonna lie, sugar gliders might be the cutest small pet that you can ever lay your hands on. And while it can be tricky to find one, he’ll make it worth your while with his curious personality, attachment to your family, and fondness for pockets. Like any exotic pet, gliders require expert care plus some dedicated research to choose the right breeder or pet store. But with the right prep, your new mammal will fit in perfectly and bond with the whole family.

Sugar glider clings to her owners thumb

What are sugar gliders?

Unlike most little pets, sugar gliders aren’t rodents but marsupials. This gives you a few distinct advantages as they behave differently from hamsters, guinea pigs, or gerbils. For starters, these are highly social creatures and they will bond with every member of the family and even other pets in the house. Because gliders don’t smell like the animals your cats and dogs like to chase — rats, gophers, and bunnies, to name a few — many bigger pets can get along with your new friend. You’ll need to introduce them carefully, but they can form lifelong attachments to each other.

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Many owners recommend getting a pair or small family, so they can keep each other company, especially at night when they like to play (and you like to sleep). Also, some people with allergies find they coexist just fine with this mini marsupial, unlike with other pets that might trigger sneezes. Best of all, sugar gliders live up to 15 years! You’ll have your furry friend for a long time.

Sugar glider rides chihuahua

How do they act?

Because your new best bud will bond with everyone in the household, you’ll need to spend a lot of time handling and playing with him. The good news is he will love just sleeping the day away in your pocket or bag — really anywhere he can feel like he’s close to you.

Remember, these little buggers from Down Under are nocturnal, which means they’re loud energetic at night. You’ll probably want to maintain their enclosure outside of any bedrooms. Since they also need room to move, it’s best to give them a large space. Select an area of the house equipped for a big cage. Be careful if you’re keeping a few males together as they can become territorial, and you don’t want them fighting or marking their territory (ew).

Who can own a glider?

Many places in the United States require a permit and some even prohibit keeping them as pets. You’ll need to carefully look into all laws and restrictions — even your homeowner’s association or similar association might have rules about these unusual animals. On the state level, Alaska, California, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania have all banned sugar gliders (and some other exotic pets).

When picking out your new fuzzball, you must diligently research breeders, too. First, make sure they’re licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but that’s just the beginning. Look at where the gliders were kept as babies and make sure the parents and littles look healthy. Never take a young one away from his mom under 12 weeks. If you want to go the extra mile, find a homeless animal nearby to adopt. Since they live for over a decade, you can take in an older animal and still have a long time together. If you’re extra mindful of bonding, your glider will adapt in no time.

Sugar glider eats a cherry in a blanket
Henry Lai/

How do you take care of one?

Sugar glider care is complex, and you should consider whether you’re up to the task before bringing him home. Research local vets to see if there’s someone in your area who can help you look after your animal. However, marsupials don’t catch the same diseases as a cat or dog and should require fewer checkups if everything’s going well.

Because the sugar glider likes to sleep during the day, his biggest feeding time happens in the evening. They love to snack on fruit, but protein needs to be the staple of their diet. Specially designed food from the pet store will nourish them well, though you can try feeding them bugs, too, which they heartily enjoy.

As the name suggests, these critters can jump from branch to branch in the wild or from branch to your hand in captivity. Set up their cage with many perches to keep them entertained. They also need to stay warm since their ancestors came from tropical forests. Include a heating source in the cage, especially if they sleep there at night when temperatures drop.

While not right for everyone, a sugar glider might perfectly complete your family. Many owners find carrying them around becomes second nature, and lots of these pets travel really well because of it. If you research thoroughly and train them carefully, you’ll have a friend constantly by your side.

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