Learning to handle your new sugar glider can be a wonderful lesson in connecting with another species. This little marsupial is the newest popular companion pet because of their petite size, delightful energy and agility in jumping and gliding from perch to perch.
Sugar gliders need time, consistency and patience to bond with a human. They are a highly social animal living in small colonies in the wild and need contact to thrive. It is recommended that you spend a minimum of three hours per day with your glider to avoid loneliness. How long it takes your glider to bond depends on many factors, his age, prior experience with humans and your perseverence.
Gliders have a great sense of smell and covering their cage with an oversize T shirt you’ve slept in is a great way to start the bonding process. Keep a piece of fleece next to your body for several hours and put it in your glider’s nesting box or bonding pouch (a small fabric bag that can be worn around the neck). Your smell will begin to become familiar and comforting to him. It’s a good idea to give your glider a few days in his cage to adjust to his new surroundings.
At first, your sugar glider may make a fussing, chittering sound called “crabbing” and lunge when you approach the cage. This is how gliders express fear and it is very real anxiety to them. Any negative reaction on your part only serves to reinforce the notion that you are here to hurt him. Move slowly and avoid eye contact. It can be a good idea to sit near the cage and eat a piece of fruit, like an apple or canteloupe and put a few small pieces about the size of a pea in the cage. Don’t expect your glider to come rushing down and get the fruit immediately, but he will note that good things happen when you are near.
This is a good time to begin spending some time with your hands simply resting in the cage. Dip your finger into a jar of baby food or offer the glider a tasty meal worm. This can be an exercise in patience, but you will know you are making progress when he lands near by and licks a bit of Be sure to close the door of the room and make sure it is safe in case there is a pint sized escapee.
After a few days, you may begin to hold the glider while he is in his pouch. Take the cover shirt off the cage and put it on. Put another button down shirt on over the cover shirt and tuck it in. Take the bonding pouch with the glider in it and gently remove it from the cage. Nestle the bonding pouch between the two shirts. Button a few buttons of the shirt so it makes a pouch for the pouch. Softly speaking and stroking the pouch can help calm your glider.
After you are sure your glider is comfortable resting in your shirt, you can begin touchin him. The glider may bite in the beginning when you try to handle it. A glider bite feels like a pinch, but rarely breaks skin. Resist pulling your finger away when bitten because it will teach him that biting works and you will draw away. If he learns that biting doesn’t work and that nothing bad happens, that unwanted behavior will disappear.
Remember, your glider will be more comfortable if he can hold you rather than you hold him. At only about six ounces, they are very fragile and seem to be aware of this. Gliders generally don’t like to feel confined and allowing him to walk on your open hand and grasp your fingers will help him feel in control. Some people report their gliders favorite thing is to walk from hand to hand as they place one hand in front of the other.
Touch is an important thing to a glider, but they usually want it to be on their terms. Softly stroke your glider as often as he allows. As you learn to handle your glider, he must learn to look to you as the bringer of good things. As he begins to consider you a safe spot he will run to you when frightened. Experienced glider owners consider it the ultimate compliment when their “pocket pet” lands on their head.