Feeding and Nutrition

 

What do you feed your gliders?

Per glider, I feed a heaped tablespoon of fruits and veg, which I whizz through a food processor along with any vitamins and calcium powder, this way they have to eat a bit of everything instead of picking out their favorites, it also ensures the vitamins and calcium are distributed throughout the whole mix rather than just on top.

Diet is one of the most controversial topics within the glider world.  The following is based on my experiences as a glider keeper for over a decade; a lot of research, some professional input from vets and a dash of common sense.

I have not come across a captive diet that resembles the wild diet, but I do incorporate some of the items (or a variation of) that a wild glider would consume.  The same basic principles apply for gliders as they would humans; low fat, low sugar and plenty of variety.

The diet of a wild glider mainly consists of the sap from Acacia trees, pollen, nectar and insects.  The majority of the protein comes from pollen with the exception of breeding season when gliders opt for insects.

The captive diet is made up of fruits and vegetables, a protein source, supplements and ‘diet enhancers’.

I use more vegetables than fruit to keep the amount of sugar in the diet down.  Two thirds to three quarters of my mixtures is vegetable.

Many people with 2 or 3 gliders do a large batch of around 30 meals. 1lb of fruit/veg makes 25-30 meals depending on how generous you are with the tablespoon.  If you wish to do this, once the mixture is at the consistency you want, spoon it in to ice cube trays (each one is about a tablespoon) and freeze.  Thaw out a cube per glider for the evening meal.

Always wash your fruit and veg; peel the butternut squash and sweet potato, etc.  If we peel the item to eat then peel it for the gliders.  I don’t bother peeling things like apples, pears, carrots, Sharon fruit, peaches, nectarines, etc.
Chop the fruit and veg up and pop it in the food processor, add water and blend it to a mush, add as much water as you need to keep the mix moving easily.

The reason we blend the food is because each fruit/veg has different vitamins and minerals and gliders tend to pick out their favourite food items.  So by blending the diet, it ensures they receive the benefit of all vitamins and minerals.  I tend to blend it so it is quite smooth but lumpy.

The SGS II diet has increased protein which is ideal for aged gliders or for breeding pairs.  The mother needs extra protein in order to nurse her offspring without losing her own body condition.  Many people use this diet for their non-breeding gliders because it is fantastic!

The directions below are for a 1 pound (450g) mixture of fruit and vegetables.

Soak 1 tablespoon of linseed in 3 – 4 Tablespoons of boiled water, the boiled water softens the linseed shell and releases the oil.   

While the fruit and veg is being blended add:

  • Vitamin supplement – Australian Wombaroo High Protein Supplement (2 teaspoons per pound of fruit/veg).
  • Natural Probiotic yogurt, 1 tablespoon per 1lb of fruit/veg mix.
  • If using boiled eggs as a protein source, remove the shell and add the peeled egg to the mixture (use 1 per 1lb of fruit/veg mix).
  • A quarter of a teaspoon of acacia gum per 1lb of fruit/veg mix.
  • 1 teaspoon of bee pollen per 1lb of fruit/veg mix (Either added to the mix for a daily dose or if you wish to give less often add a pinch to the defrosted evening meal instead)

Calcium is also a very important part of the diet to avoid ‘hind leg paralysis’.  Calcium is only needed 3 – 4 times a week (or every other day).  I use a liquid calcium which is given at a rate of 0.1ml per 100g of bodyweight.  Calcium powder is also available which should be sprinkled very lightly on to the evening meal and stirred in.

There is much speculation regarding what sugar gliders should eat, but there are a few basic rules:

  • Never feed chocolate, anything from the onion family, millet, caffeine, canned fruit, rhubarb, grapes and Avocado should also be avoided due to its high fat content.
  • Ensure clean water is available at all times, use a water bottle not a dish.
  • Always remove any uneaten fruit in the morning, this is a breeding ground for bacteria and will also attract flies and ants.
  • Never feed rodent mixes, peanuts, sunflower seeds, corn or corn products. Gliders are not seed and nut eaters, not only can they be a choke hazard and possibly damage the intestine, but they are prone to aflatoxin contamination which can prove fatal.
  • The entire diet should have a calcium:phosphorus (ca:p) ratio of 2:1

A healthy diet should consist of a protein source, a calcium source, fruits and vegetables, nectar mixes and a vitamin and mineral supplement.

Protein sources can come in the form of chicken, egg, or a good quality dried cat food. Protein sources are known to have poor ratios but most high quality cat foods have at least neutral ratios.

Calcium

Calcium can be gleaned from the diet, but many use a calcium supplement. It’s important not to over supplement the calcium as it can lead to calcification of soft tissue, especially the kidneys, but can also calcify the heart, lungs and blood vessels leading to a decrease in performance and deterioration of these organs.

Calcium is probably one of the most important parts of the diet (as well as vitamin D3). Too little and your glider will suffer from a nasty condition called hind leg paralysis or nutritional osteodystrophy. If caught early enough HLP can be reversed, the first really noticeable symptom you will see is the loss of use of the back end. The glider will show stiffening and less mobility in the early stages, but these can be easily missed. Because of the lack of calcium in the diet, the body will use the calcium stores within the body – the bones! If not treated, HLP can be fatal due to either complications such as pneumonia or the body will just shut down. Veterinary attention is crucial, even if your vet has never seen a glider; he will have seen nutritional osteodystrophy before.

Can I use reptile vitamins?

Reptile vitamins are not recommended for Sugar Gliders, because of the physiological differences and the method in which they metabolise vitamin D. In the wild, reptiles will expose themselves to strong UV light (sunlight) which activates the vitamin D and opens a channel in the gut to absorb the calcium. Captive reptiles do not receive anywhere near the correct amount of UV (a UV bulb provides nothing like the same amount as the sun), so pet companies have produced supplements containing large amounts of vitamin D to compensate.

Sugar Gliders are nocturnal, so they are not exposed to the suns UV rays, they metabolise their vitamin D through the gut without the need for UV. So, by giving your suggies reptile vitamins, you run the risk of overdose because once the amount they actually need has been absorbed, the presence of vit d in the rep supplement causes the channel to remain open. This can lead to an overdose of vitamin D which in itself is toxic in high amounts and it can also lead to hypercalcaemia – an overdose of calcium.

The best supplements to use are designed for mammals, the supplements of choice are Glider Cal & Booster. The diet I feed my suggies isn’t classed as a ‘proven’ diet by the US standards, but to me it is proven. I have used it for over a decade with fantastic results.