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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When it comes to owning sugar gliders, there’s likely a few facts that you have already heard. Chances are that you have heard that sugar gliders need to have a companion, or that they can die from loneliness.
Maybe you have heard other requirements about their care, such as needing many sugar gliders or needing gliders of a certain gender in the enclosure. All of these myths and tidbits that you have heard do have some truth to them.
They are all rooted in the reality that sugar gliders are animals that will naturally belong in a colony. This means that sugar gliders are social animals and need to have companions with them throughout their days, as they can definitely become depressed if they are alone, and depression can lead to death.
There is also some merit to considering the gender of the sugar gliders when you adopt them, as males tend to be the ones to protect territory or mates, whereas the females tend to be a bit tamer.
With this being said, there’s also a good chance that you have heard that sugar gliders can kill each other if they are not housed properly. This can be a troubling thing to hear, as you may not know if you need to house sugar gliders separately or if this means that they cannot adapt to new companions, but you also know that sugar gliders need a companion of some sort.
Before you adopt a sugar glider, you need to make sure that you have a firm understanding of their behavior and how they interact with others.
Doing this will help you understand what could lead a sugar glider to kill another sugar glider, and what you need to do to prevent this from happening.
Sugar Gliders and Socialization
Sugar gliders are incredibly social animals. There is a common misconception about sugar gliders, and that they are capable of dying from loneliness if they do not have a companion.
This myth is rooted in the reality that sugar gliders, if they are accustomed to being with a mate or having someone with them, can develop a deep depression if they are then subjected to being alone.
The glider doesn’t even have to be alone all day, just the majority of the night while you are sleeping and it is at its most active. This kind of depression, if not treated, can kill a glider within a month’s time.
Because of this, it is almost always recommended that you house a sugar glider with at least one other glider. The only exception to this rule is a sugar glider that has lost a mate, but is hostile to any other sugar glider you bring to it. These cases are usually handled separately and involve taking extra time out of your night to help your sugar glider feel cared for.
Outside of these rarities, you always need to house your sugar gliders with a companion or two. There are things that can go wrong though. Perhaps you adopted a rescue glider and you want to introduce it to a companion, or you had two gliders at first but the other met an untimely demise.
There are a number of situations that can leave you with a lone sugar glider that is going to need a companion, so where do you go from here?
The next step in this process is going to be introducing the sugar glider to a new friend, but this can be a troublesome procedure. Sugar gliders are notably territorial, and if they are not introduced the right way with their new friend, they will absolutely view this new glider as an “invader” of its private space, killing it.
As prey animals, sugar gliders are not inherently violent creatures and they do not often resort to deadly violence, but if they feel that they are pushed into defending their territory, they will not hesitate to kill.
This places all the more importance on you to learn how to introduce two sugar gliders to each other. While this process may take a fair bit of time, it will be well-worth it when your two gliders can coexist peacefully.
Introducing One Sugar Glider to the Next
Without the proper introductory phase, you cannot bring a new sugar glider into the territory of your current glider without it becoming hostile. The only case where you do not need the introductory phase is when both sugar gliders are under five months of age.
At this point, they are young enough that they will not have developed the need to defend their territory with such vigor and they can be introduced by simply adding one to the enclosure. Keep in mind to watch them during the evening though, so as to make sure all goes well.
The introductory process consists of three main parts. First, you will want to acclimate each glider to the other’s scent. From there, you will want to introduce the gliders to each other, tail-first, on a neutral ground. If they take this step well, you can begin face-to-face introductions, but only after they take the previous step well.
For the first step, you will bring them to neutral ground. This means you will have them outside of the enclosure, typically on a table or another surface you can easily monitor them at. You should take each glider’s blanket and rub it on the other glider so that you can mix their two scents. This is shown to help dramatically during the introduction process.
The second step involves allowing the gliders to sniff each other’s tails. You need to take care not to introduce them face-to-face at this stage yet, only presenting the tail of one glider for the other to sniff. A good sign for this stage is if the glider sniffing the tail has little interest in it or does not make an attempt to grab or bite it, though some sniffing may occur.
If that stage goes well, you can then allow the gliders to see each other by letting go of both pouches and opening them up slightly so that they may look at each other. Normal behavior in this stage includes crabbing and some screaming, as the gliders are communicating to each other as they would in the wild.
At this stage, you need to separate any physical altercations that are not some heavy sniffing, especially if one of the gliders tries to curl up into a ball. If there is a physical altercation, stop for the day and resume from the first step the next day once they have both had a chance to calm down.
The Death of a Sugar Glider
Making sure that you follow through with these steps ensures that there is a high chance that your gliders will learn to get along with each other, without becoming territorial and maiming the other. Territorial disputes are the main reason why gliders will kill each other.
Another way that you can reduce this is to get any and all male gliders you have neutered, as this reduces aggression. Female sugar gliders cannot be spayed, due to the mechanism of their pouches.
Another reason for sugar gliders attacking each other outside of territorial disputes include sickness. You may also come across a deceased sugar glider in the morning and may come to the conclusion that it was attacked because its body was damaged, but one thing you need to keep in mind is that sugar gliders will consume and hide the bodies of their colony out of instinct.
This instinct is rooted in making sure there isn’t evidence for a predator to track down the colony with, as horrendous as it may be to see in the morning. If you did not see the sugar gliders fighting, this means there may be a chance the deceased sugar glider passed naturally and the companions in the cage were only acting on instinct to dispose of the corpse.
Always remember that, in the grand scheme of things, sugar gliders are still very close to their wild selves and are not domesticated very much at all. This means that, rather than just putting a display of aggression on, they will hurt and kill other gliders that are causing offense to it. This is a factor you need to consider when planning to own one as a pet.