The purpose of this blog is to share general information and is written to the author's best knowledge. It is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. For health concerns, please seek proper veterinary care.
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Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are chocolate and peanut butter, made even better by combining the two. Wouldn’t it be great if life could work like that? Well, who says it can’t where pets are concerned?
Cats are as classic as it gets petwise, while for pet owners, sugar gliders are something new and exciting. Cat people are a force unto themselves, dedicated to their four-legged feline friends like few others, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have room in their pet-loving heart for a newcomer.
In short, cats and sugar gliders should have you singing “Sugar Sugar” at such a sweet combo, right?
Well, not so fast. While sugar gliders and cats are cute individually, you need to make sure that they’ll get along together, and that isn’t as easy a determination to make.
On the one hand, sugar gliders are highly social creatures used to living in colonies, so they’ll definitely want companionship. On the other hand, sugar gliders are naturally skittish in the wild where there are many predators, and your cats’ long teeth and rodent-catching nature doesn’t help with that.
Rather than chocolate/peanut buttery perfection of a Reese’s Cup, sugar gliders and cats are more like Felix and Oscar from The Odd Couple – an odd pairing of opposites, but not an impossible one, if you have a good match and know what you’re doing.
The Importance of Personality and Common “Scents”
First and foremost, you need to make sure that you have cats that are sugar glider-friendly. Different cats have different personalities, and an overactive or aggressive cat will have your sugar glider running for its life. Even if your cat doesn’t get them, the stress may be unbearable.
You naturally don’t want your poor sugar glider to be terrified for its life. Instead of feeling like it’s “living with the enemy,” your sugar glider needs to feel your cat is its friend. We’ll go over bonding ideas below, but first, you need to make sure you have a cat that’s docile and easy-going enough to not chase the sugar glider or be set off by its scent.
That last part can be especially difficult given how keen a cat’s sense of smell is. As with any new pet introduction into a home that already has a cat that’s established themselves there, you’ll need to keep your sugar glider in another room and introduce it gradually to the cat with treats to form positive associations.
At the same time, you’ll also want to either mask the sugar glider’s scent or keep it shut away and totally separated so the sugar glider’s scent doesn’t provoke the cat’s natural instincts.
That said, your sugar glider’s scent is actually more complicated than just whether it smells like dinner to your cat or not. There, you might be in the clear, since usually sugar gliders don’t smell like food to cats.
On the other hand, when sugar gliders are young, they can sometimes have trouble controlling their bladder, which can mean they may spray their urine around with reckless abandon, foul scent and all.
Sugar gliders can also develop a bad smell by eating a diet that doesn’t agree with its natural nutritional needs. We’ll talk about sugar glider diets a bit more below, but for now, this raises the question of how to manage their waste so your cat doesn’t wrinkle its nose at its presence – or lash out at this strange-smelling thing.
On the positive side, you can train a sugar glider to use a litter box. On the other hand, if you own a cat you probably know how particular they can be about their litter box’s scent, so you can imagine they won’t be thrilled about sharing it with someone else, let alone another creature with their own strange smells.
One of the first steps to sugar glider-cat harmony, therefore, is making sure they have separate litter boxes and their scents overlap as little as possible so as to mitigate territorial behavior.
Life in and Out of the Cage
One of the easiest ways to mitigate interaction between sugar gliders and cats is keeping them separated by the former living in cages away from the latter. This is normal, since most sugar gliders kept as pets tend to be kept and most active in their cages.
If that sounds like a lonely, solitary life, remember that sugar gliders are used to living in large colonies at least several sugar gliders strong. For that reason, if you are able both financially and logistically, you may want to consider buying a larger cage and keeping several sugar gliders so they have company of their own kind.
Of course, that will also mean more waste and odor from them and more money needed from you, so this is only an option for those who already feel confident keeping sugar gliders.
You may want to strike a middle ground at first, starting with a couple of sugar gliders so they’re not totally alone and then adding to the community if and when you want.
But the practical effect of building a caged community for your sugar gliders is to make sure they have enough socialization that they are more controllable in the short bursts of time outside their cage. This can go a long way to making sure they do not run around disrupting your cat while also offering them plenty of shelter from your feline friend.
Above all, you should never keep sugar gliders and cats in the same caged or enclosed area, for obvious reasons. In the cases where you let your sugar gliders out, they should remain supervised by you and have a clear path back to you, their cage, or both so in case they feel threatened by the cat (or the cat does indeed start to get bad ideas), the sugar glider has an easy manner of escape.
This can also cut down on the degree to which sugar gliders provoke cats by spreading their scent over theirs and, just as frustratingly for felines, eating their food. However, your sugar glider shouldn’t be eating too much cat food anyway.
While it won’t hurt them, eating cat food will definitely provoke your cat, and only provokes a small sliver of the nutrients they need anyway.
A key component for allowing sugar gliders and cats living harmoniously with each other is ensuring that each has their own isolated food source that the other cannot access.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Small insects
- Small birds’ eggs
A healthy sugar glider diet, when kept as a pet, includes:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Prepackaged insects (for example, mealworms, crickets)
- Dried cat food
- Scrambled eggs
- Monkey biscuits
- Food pellets
- Fruit-flavored pablum
As you can see, while sugar gliders have a varied diet, some of those foods are far more easily available than others. What’s more, sugar gliders can be picky, so you may have to experiment with different foods in different combinations before finding a winner. You also need to make sure to feed them the foods in the right ratios so as to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Ideally, sugar gliders’ diets should consist of about 25% sources of protein, 25% fruits and vegetables, and food pellets, which serve as a stand-in for and should contain some nectar.
An ideal daily sugar glider menu should consist of at least one source of protein, one fruit or vegetable, additional vitamin and calcium supplements, and a “staple food” such as food pellets that can serve as the bulk of their diet.
This latter food should also be easily accessible to them in case they choose to have a nighttime snack. That means keeping some in a feeder in their cage so they can access it any time they want, which is another reason why pellets are superior for this purpose than fruits and vegetables, which can rot.
On the one hand, such a particular diet and picky pet can be difficult to maintain. On the other hand, the differences between a sugar glider’s diet and how fine-tuned it needs to be should demonstrate why you need to keep it separate from your cat’s food, and why they may turn up their nose at much of it anyway. It isn’t as if most cats care to chow down on mealworms or monkey biscuits.
Keep their food sources separate, and keep your sugar glider well-fed, and a huge obstacle to properly integrating it into your home with your cat will be overcome.
Bonding Your Cat and Sugar Glider
Once you have solved the personality, scent, living quarters, and dietary considerations, you should finally be ready to start thinking about how you can bond and socialize your sugar glider and cat.
Remember, throughout this process you should make sure that the two are closely supervised by you, and that the sugar glider has its own cage where it can go if it starts to feel stressed by the cat.
First and foremost, you need to make sure the sugar glider is acclimated to its new surroundings before introducing it to your cat. We’ve already touched on how a cat may react negatively to a sugar glider and its strange scent if it isn’t properly soothed and given treats ahead of time. It is just as important to make sure that your sugar glider isn’t overly stressed.
Imagine being taken to a brand-new place and one of the first things you see there is a huge creature with sharp teeth that’s many times bigger than you. Needless to say, you might be more than a little stressed out, too.
For that reason, you should wait at least a few days until the sugar glider is showing signs of being at home in their new surroundings to introduce it to your cat.
Make sure the sugar glider is bonded to you first. It must trust you before it’ll trust any of your “friends,” felines included. Socialize a lot with your sugar glider those first few days. Sugar gliders are nocturnal, so bonding with them in the middle of the day isn’t a good idea.
Instead, you and, eventually, your cat should bond with it in the morning or afternoon, right before or after the nocturnal hours during which your sugar glider is bound to be most active and playful.
Nighttime is also obviously an option, but since your cat may be tired and your sugar glider will be most hyper at this time, this is better for after their first meetings when they’re more used to each other.
When it comes time for your sugar glider and cat’s first introduction to one another, the first and most important step to take is to let them smell each other without touching. Both sugar gliders and cats experience the world in large part through their sense of smell, which is hugely important for determining their sense of comfort and territoriality, as described above.
You are the one whom both of your pets trust, so you obviously need to be there to keep them both calm and intervene if necessary. Have treats ready to mollify both of them.
As with any great relationship, your cat and sugar glider need to be going at the same speed. If one party’s more intent on a relationship than the other, and takes things faster than them, it can be a major put off. The same holds true for sugar glider-cat relationships, so you need to make sure one isn’t more eager than the other or pestering them.
Once you have built up enough trust between the two, you can grow it even further by playing games with the two of them.
Finally, it’s important to remember that too much of a good thing can go bad fast. While you want to give your sugar glider and cat plenty of time to bond, you also want to make sure that you aren’t over-socializing them to the point they start to get on each other’s nerves or invade one another’s privacy.
Both cats and sugar gliders can be absolutely sweet as pets, and as long as you take the proper steps and take things slow, they can make for a great pet pairing.