Sugar gliders are amazing animals that are surprisingly full of personality despite being such small little animals. With them being exotic animals, much care needs to be taken to make sure that you are doing the right amount of research on them so you can give them the best life possible when you are taking them in.
However, no matter how much you may research a topic, nothing will really prepare you to experience owning, bonding, and caring for a sugar glider as doing it for the first time.
One issue that many people come across when caring for sugar gliders is the fact that they have a nasty habit of biting and nipping people. More often than not, this is done out of curiosity, as a way to mutually groom you, or to simply communicate with you than it is used as a threat or as a way to tell you to back off, but that doesn’t stop it from being any less annoying.
While sugar gliders cannot be trained as completely as dogs to cut down on the amount of biting and nipping, there are ways to work with sugar gliders and their biting habits.
First things first; you will need to get a full understanding of why sugar gliders have a tendency to bite. You will need to learn how to differentiate the bite and nip of a sugar glider between playful curiosity, communication, and angry threats so that you know to act accordingly. From there, you will want to practice what training methods that you can to try and minimize the amount of nipping that it does.
Again, while sugar gliders cannot be fully domesticated in this sense (much as how they cannot be litter-trained), you can learn the signs and teach your sugar glider to learn them as well so that the two of you can get along as well as possible.
Why Do Sugar Gliders Bite?
Now that the question has been answered that sugar gliders do bite, and often too much, you will now want to begin to learn why sugar gliders feel the need to bite people. The truth is that there is a handful of reasons why your sugar glider will feel inclined to bite you. These reasons can include curiosity, self-defense, fear, and even rebellion.
The way a sugar glider is raised will have a massive impact on when and why it bites. A hand-raised adult sugar glider, or even a relatively young one that was responsibly cared for, is going to bite a lot less than a sugar glider that was not properly trained.
This is important to consider, both if you are purchasing a hand-raised glider of your own or if you are raising your current glider babies to be hand-raised.
Additionally, sugar gliders that are transitioning between being a child and being an adult will seemingly go through a rebellious phase. Some breeders call this phase the “teenager phase” as well.
No matter how well they were trained and taught not to bite people, sugar gliders in this stage of life will bite everyone and everything for no apparent reason. These bites are often akin to nips, but they can be surprising.
Sugar gliders, similar to cats, will groom you when you have acquired a certain level of trust with them. Unfortunately, you do not have fur that your sugar glider can painlessly chew through to rid it of bugs and sticks, so your skin gets the direct brunt of a grooming bite.
Sugar gliders do not recognize people as being a different species so they are only doing what they know best: grooming the creature they have bonded with. This kind of bite will feel more like its teeth scraping against your skin than a bite and should be taken as a sign that your sugar glider really trusts you.
With the way that sugar gliders feed, they are known as sap suckers. This means that they have to bite items in order to get food out of them, rather than holding them with their hands first and fumbling with them there. This is an innate behavior that you cannot really train out of a sugar glider; rather, it is something that you will need to be aware of when feeding the sugar glider.
What this means is that your sugar glider will likely mistakenly bite at your fingers when you are feeding it by hand. They do not have the best eyesight and they do not mean to bite you when searching for their food during a hand-feeding session.
Remember that they will often bite you to indicate that they want more food as well (after all, since the food came from your hand, perhaps more will come out of it if it bites your hand the same way it would bite its source of food in the wild).
During the beginning process of bonding and getting to know your sugar glider, there’s a good chance that you will get your share of bites. Sugar gliders don’t have many methods of self defense.
Their paws do not really have sharp claws on them so they cannot swipe at you the way a cat would. They do not have a way to deter enemies, such as skunks do. If an enemy of an unfamiliar scent is thrust right in front of their faces, as prey animals, they may feel cornered and have no choice but to attack with their only defense: their teeth.
As your sugar glider gets used to you and your smell, this type of defensive biting will become more and more rare, but it is something that you should come to expect when you are getting used to the sugar glider (and it gets used to you).
Remember not to punish the sugar glider too much for this at first as it is only acting out of fear and punishing that fear will only make matters worse. A sugar glider’s bite isn’t very strong either.
Once you are fully bonded with your sugar glider, it should only very rarely bite you in a defensive fashion as it should have no reason to see you as an enemy anymore. At this point, if you do receive a defensive bite from your sugar glider, you should consider what actions you took to make it feel threatened enough to bite someone it has bonded with, as bonds between a sugar glider and its person are extremely deep.
Bonding with the Sugar Glider
Speaking of bonding, this is going to be the number-one way that you decrease the amount of biting your sugar glider feels the need to do. In a sense, bonding with the sugar glider can be considered “training” it to trust you so that it will not feel the need to bite you defensively anymore.
It may still nip at you through trying to groom you, playing with you, going through its rebellious phase, and so on, but the hard defensive bites will be cut down drastically when you are able to bond with the glider.
So, how does bonding with the sugar glider work? For the most part, it is pretty simple. When you first bring the sugar glider home, you will want to do as you would with any brand-new pet and let it have a pet-safe room to explore at its own pace.
Depending on your home situation, you may not want to let it roam the whole house freely (especially if you have other animals) quite yet, but make sure that you have at least one room that is pet-proofed for it to explore.
Next, you will simply want to let the sugar glider explore at its own pace. These are small prey animals and in their scope of the world, their whole environment has changed into something new and unfamiliar.
They will need time to adjust to their new home before they can even begin to comprehend adjusting to the new, strange being that shares their space.
Give the sugar glider between two and three days to let it explore at its own pace. On the second or third day, you can begin adding your own presence to the environment to help it begin getting used to you as well, but you will want to take this slowly and carefully as well.
You can begin by offering treats (freeze-dried fruits and vegetables) in your hand. Let the glider come to you, even if it is just to lick. Keep in mind that it may not do this for the first weeks, so do not be discouraged if it is not interested on the second day.
When offering the treats, you need to use a soft and quiet voice so as not to scare the glider. Never move to pick it up at this stage of introduction and do not make any sudden movements when it is interested in you. This is a delicate process, as you are an animal of an enormous size compared to the glider.
In the glider’s habitat, you can begin adding things that smell of you into it so that it can get used to your scent. This could be a jacket, a blanket, or anything that would smell of you. You can place it in the cage where the glider would commonly sleep so that it can smell you and learn that you do not carry a smell that should imply danger.
As you continue to bond with the glider and get used to it (and it gets used to you), you will want to start simply sitting in the same room as it. This should be the glider-proofed room and you should take care to properly proof it so there is no danger of anything going wrong.
In this stage, you shouldn’t try to make any movements to pet or hold the glider. Instead, use the bonding pouch (which should be provided by any reputable breeder) and encourage it with treats near the opening of the pouch.
Let it explore at its own pace and also try to keep a schedule to this. For one hour every day, at roughly the same hour of night, spend some time in the same room so it can learn that your presence is not a threat to it either.
Through this, it will begin to learn that both your scent and your existence are not things that it should be fearful of or scared of, though at this stage sudden movements may still terrify it.
When you reach the second week of bonding, you should start to wear the bonding pouch on your lap. This will help it get used to being near you, feeling the movement of your person, and overall continuing to get used to such a different creature to bond to.
You can make use of treats during this as well to further ensure that it will bond to you and associate you with positive experiences. Always remember to let it have a chance out of the bag and in its cage, though.
Inevitably, your glider will bite you out of self-defense. It isn’t easy to gauge when it switches from not trusting you, to being in the middle of bonding with you, to being fully bonded.
When it bites you as a form of self-defense, never pull away from it as this will inadvertently teach them that being aggressive got what it wanted, which was for you to “retreat.” Instead, keep your finger in the same position until the sugar glider releases the finger and then slowly move it away so that it doesn’t feel as if it “won” the confrontation.
If your glider is in its rebellious phase, you can try to distract it with treats. Even if you have managed to bond well, the rebellious phase will dash that all away for a time before it grows out of it.
When it looks as if it is thinking of biting you, offer it a treat instead. They will not see this so much as a reward as much as it will be a distraction as long as you give them a treat before they bite you.
If it has already bitten you, then you should blow gently on the back of its head as sugar gliders don’t like how this feels but it is also not intrinsically harmful.
I have a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house. Growing up, I had pet dogs, cats, deer, sugar gliders, chinchillas, a bird, chickens, fish, and a goat.