Cat food, canned or bagged, it not sugar glider food. Baby food by itself, is not sugar glider food. Even bagged pellets with a picture of a sugar glider on it, is not good sugar glider food. Why are these so popular? Well there's at least 2 reasons. One, they're easy. Open a bag or can, pour in a dish, and you're all done. Hey, more time to do something else, right? Two, because glider mills who want to push their sales convince people that glider care is easy, including their dietary needs.
I won't mention names, but these are the groups that come to the mall, or have booths at the yearly home and garden shows. They whip out these adorable little creatures and wow the crowd with a spiel about how easy and wonderful sugar gliders are. LIES! I tell you. All lies.
Not the wonderful part, but the easy part sure is. Sugar gliders are wonderful, but they are not easy. In fact, I try to disuade people from rushing over to hand the sales man $500 for an itty bitty cage, a mill-bred glider that's probably too young to be away from it's parents and has hidden health issues, and a bag of pellet food meant to last you a couple of months. These are the poor babies that end up being given away multiple times because the owner can't handle them, or surrendered at a shelter and left to live their life (up to 15 years!) without the love and bonding they need to thrive. Before purchasing any pet, you should do your homework. For sugar gliders, it should be mandatory. I could get into a whole other discussion on glider emotional needs but we'll save that for another blog.
There are several proven staple diets for sugar gliders: BML, Leadbeaters, HPW (original and instant), etc. Each has it's own good and bad points. I personally don't want to have to order stuff online if I don't have to. I tend to procrastinate and it's certainly easier to run to the store to get last minute food necessities as opposed to having to order something when you need it RIGHT NOW! I'm usually not very prepared ahead of time in that sense. However, a good diet is only good if your glider eats it. If they don't, then you'll have to find something they will, even if it means getting better prepared and ordering ahead of time.
For me, I like Judie's Modfied Leadbeaters, which can be found on her website My Little Gremlins. Why? Because it's easy to make, inexpensive, and provides excellent nutrition for your gliders. It also has a high calcium content so trying to find the right mix of fruits and veggies every night that provides the recommended 2:1 ratio of Calcium to Phosphorus isn't as difficult.
What's a Calcium to Phosphorus ratio and why is it important for sugar gliders? Sugar gliders can develop conditions like Hind Leg Paralysis and Head Tilt if they don't get enough calcium in their diet. Both of these conditions are fatal if not caught and treated early. Prevention is the key. While some people think that by sprinkling a little vitamin and/or calcium powder on their gliders' food will prevent this, they're are overlooking the obvious issues with this technique. Without an exact measurement of what you are giving them, you may be over or under dosing them. Unless they clean their plate of every morsel, they may simply be eating around the food with the powder because they don't like the taste, resulting in under dosing. When it comes down to it, this is just not safe or good practice in regards to making sure your babies are getting the nutrients they need.
Each fruit and vegetable has a specific Ca:P ratio. By combining certain ones together with your staple, you can make sure you're gliders are getting what they need, while staying close to the recommended 2:1 ratio. Bet the people who told you to throw an 1/8th of an apple in their cage every night didn't tell you about this did they! *snort* Yes, I'm being snarky.
There are a several charts and spreadsheets available that list the Ca:P ratio for fruits and veggies. I would suggest find some and begin looking them over. One word of caution, some veggies tote a really high Ca:P ratio, meaning they look like they provide a ton of calcium. These are usually greens, like kale and spinach. While they are healthy and do provide a lot of good nutrients, they also have a high oxalate content, meaning almost all of the calcium they contain is bound by the oxalate and not absorbed, making the Ca:P ratio pretty useless in regards to figuring them in your 2:1. While they won't provide the calcium you might be looking for, they do provide some good vitamins and such and should not be overlooked or eliminated all together. Feed them occasionally for the other good stuff they provide. I'll do a more thorough blog on Ca:P ratios and Oxalate content in foods at a later date.
A wonderful lady named Candy has made a great website called Glider Kids, which is all about glider care which includes instructions on how to calculate the Ca:P ratio in your diet. She's even got a nifty Ca:P calculator.
You can find some great information on diets and other glider topics at Gliderpedia.
So here it is, the diet I use:
Judie’s Modified Leadbeaters
• ½ Cup Honey
• 1 Egg (scrambled or hardboiled, shell removed)
• ¼ cup Apple juice, or juice blend (apple-grape, etc.)
Blend well, then proceed to the next ingredients:
• 4 oz bottle of PREMIXED Gerber Juice with Yogurt (mixed fruit)
*This comes in a 4 pack. If you cannot find this, you can substitute 2oz of plain yogurt and 2 oz of mixed juice.
• ½ tsp of Rep-Cal HERPTIVITE Vitamin Supplement
*White container with blue label. DO NOT SUBSTITUTE
Blend until smooth, then proceed to next ingredients:
• 2 tsp. Rep-Cal Calcium Supplement, non-phosphorus with Vitamin D3
*White container with pink label.
• (2) 2 ½ jars of Chicken baby food (chicken with chicken gravy or chicken with chicken broth is fine)
• ¼ cup Wheat Germ REFRIDGERATE AFTER OPENING
• ½ cup dry baby cereal (mixed or oatmeal)
Now blend for 5 minutes until ULTRA smooth, then pour into ice cube trays and FREEZE. As soon as cubes are solid, transfer to bowl with lid to keep them from getting freezer burned.
- I’ve only been able to find the baby Gerber Yogurt Juice at Meijers. It’s in the baby food section.
- Don't forget to refrigerate your wheat germ after opening, it spoils if left on the counter.
- Each glider should ultimately eat a cube each, but mine still share one. In addition to this staple food, you must give them 1 tbs of fruit and 1 tbs vegetables, each, every night so if you have 2 gliders, that’s 2 tbs of fruit and 2 tbs veggies, total.
- Get a bag of the mixed veggies (corn, greenbeans, peas, carrots) and keep frozen. I buy mine at Sam's club. It's a huge bag with 6 smaller bags inside.
- The main fruit selections with this diet are: apples, grapes, blueberries, red cherries, and melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, water melon).
Please note: There's been some controversy about if you can feed other fruits and veggies on this diet. Many people will tell you no, you can only pick from the fruit and veggies listed, which is pretty limited. I went to the source and asked the diet's creator herself, Judie. She told me "Yes" you can feed other fruits and veggies. I would advise looking at the amount of Ca:P in the recommended fruits and veggies with this diet, and selecting others that are similar if you want to give your babies a variety.
- You can keep most of your fruits and veggies frozen so they don’t spoil. I cut them up and put them in small Ziploc baggies, then I put it all in one big Ziploc to keep it organized.
- Cut things up into small, glider-hand-sized pieces. They are more likely to eat them rather than if you leave things in big chunks.
This just scratches the surface of sugar glider dietary needs. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you do your own research. Owning a glider is big responsibility, part of which is providing proper nutrition. We've opted to remove them from their natural environment and make them pets so it's our duty to ensure they can live happy and healthy under our care.