Stress in Sugar Gliders
Special thanks to GC's Tina for her permission to use this article
I currently own one sugar glider and I was looking around for thoughts, feelings and the general consensus on keeping one glider and what stresses it can cause.
I was milling through the boards just now, and I realised that a lot of advice is given 'to watch for signs of stress' in various situations, such as separating a glider out from the colony, weaning off joeys, keeping a lone glider and veterinary treatment, and a whole range of other things! The thing is, I really haven't seen anything to say just what those signs of stress ( and indeed, other stressors ) are, so after I've done a little research and written a few notes on a CD case with a sharpie marker, I thought I'd write up my findings on causes, symptoms and prevention of stress in sugar gliders.
The first thing you have to remember is that all animals suffer from stress and it is in very much the same way as we, as people, suffer from stress. Just think what causes us stress, and you'll probably find that the same situation will distress your glider. Okay, so they might not have to sit throught he school curriculum and exams, but they do go through situations such as moving, new 'roomates', death of a sibling or other 'family' member. Different 'stresses' will affect different gliders in varying degrees. As with people, all gliders have different personalities wether it be nervous and crabby or laid back enough to fall asleep in your hand! So, to understand stress in your glider it is important that you first understand your glider and of course, stress itself.
So, first off it makes sense to find the causes of stress, and why it they do in fact cause it..
Let's start off with the first thing that happens to a glider when they come to you.
Moving Even though sugar gliders don't have to worry about packing up their bedding and clothes, and then unpacking and organising everything in their own space, they do worry. They have to move into a new, big scary space. Gliders are so small and the world is so big. They have to become accustomed to their space, the new scents, the new sights and the new habitat they've been dropped into. It's likely that they will spend the first few hours running around like something crazed and scentmarking their new home in the same way that dogs do when they're in a new location. Moving home may be the greatest stressor for a glider, especially if you consider the additional stress of A New Owner and Leaving the colony. Some gliders will take to their new homes and owners right away, with no signs of stress or fear. However, most will show some signs of fear and discomfort when they are first brought home.
Travel This one goes without saying. Wether you're collecting your glider or having them shipped, they'll often have to deal with new sights and scents, as well has the uncomfortble heat of the car and that constant vibration that will likely keep them from settling properly for most of the journey if they're not used to travelling in the car.
The New Owner Having a new owner is often accompanied by the stresses of moving and travel. A new owner is an entirely new experience. Consider the fact that this strange new creature looks different, has a different scent and general personality. Remember that sweet little glider you went to see? Well, they had the comfort of their familiar, bonded owners, their colony or cage mates and they were in their 'safe place' where they could simply flee to something they knew. Now they're in a new environment with nothing familiar, and they're scared! In this situation, a glider is likely to act out of fear with agressive behavior. Don't be disheartened! They're just afraid.
Losing a cage mate This is another self explanatory stressor. Gliders, as we know, become very attached to both their owners and their colony. They're social animals with a social network as big as our own. If their cage mate has died, moved home or even been separated into another cage, it is still considered 'losing' their roomate. Suggies eat, play and sleep together, and when a roomy becomes ill or sick it is a traumatizing experience. Suddenly, they have nobody to spent their time with and cuddle with in a little call of warm love. They become lost and confused, and may rely on you for cuddles more than ever. On the flip side...
Gaining a roomate can also be stressful for your furbaby. Though they will likely grow up to the new glider, at first they're going to be thinking "Who does he/she think she is, storming into my home like this?!". If it's two males being introduced to each other, they may fight, and they may be constantly running around scent marking over each others.. scent marks. You should always introduce your gliders gradually.
Weaning a joey The general consensus is that joeys can be weaned from the mother at eith weeks or older. It is my personal opinion that too many people are too eager to pull the babies early and hand feed. This is unnessacary to wean a glider early for sake of glider/human relationships. Anyway.. A glider losing her babies is going to be a stressful event for her, and suddenly the joeys have lost their warm cuddly food source! For more information about weaning your joey, I suggest browsing the GliderCentral forums, and the outside site links, too.
Diet A change in diet can cause stress in the sense that your glider simply may not like it, and thusly won't eat it. Changing to a new diet too quickly can cause illness and digestive problems, and an insufficient diet will cause your glider to become sick, lose weight and in extreme cases can lead to a deceased glider. Visit GC's Diet Page for more information on diets and nutrition.
Loneliness/boredom This seems to be the stressor I read most about. Gliders, being the social beings that they are, need cuddles, company and attention either from their owner or their colony/cagemate. If you slip a human into solitary confinement, then they get stressed. In the same respect, suggies get lonely, and they get bored if they have nothing/nobody to play with. It's always a good idea to keep your glider entertained with new toys and accessories.
Illness/Vet visits/Unclean Conditions These three go hand-in-hand and are fairly self explanitory. Keep your glider clean to avoid the other two. Not only are they stressed, but they are also unhealthy.
Symptoms of Stress
Grumpyness, Crabbyness, Unusual agression This is the first stress symptom you are likely to encounter when you first buy your glider. Crabbing, a 'fighting stance', lunging, biting and hissing are all common when a glider is first moved to a new home, and thusly you are advised to allow them some space to get used to their new environment. The sweetest glider can become agressive once they're moved to a new home for the first few days. Don't be disheartened, though. See GCs 'Bonding Links' for more help with your new glider. A sick glider may become agressive if they cannot focus or their eyesight is bad, or your glider may just be over-tired from their night before. An agressive glider is often acting out of fear rather than just all out meaness.
Barking or Crying This is a common sign of stress, often when a glider is left alone and especially if they've come from a large colony, parents or siblings. If your glider is barking or crying they do need your attention, the noise itself is generally considered a plea for attention from other gliders, or simple communication. Even if your glider is not bonded they will benifit from simply talking through the cage.
Coprophagia 'Coprophagia' is a term for 'eating fecal matter'. A glider on a poor diet may do this, and it's uncertain wether it is stress caused by an inadquate diet, or the poor diet itself that causes a glider to do it. Watch closely for this, as feces contains bacteria that may be harmful to your furmonsters.
Hypophagia 'Not eating' - If your new glider doesn't eat, or eats very little on their first couple of days, don't be too worried because it's generally 'normal'. If, however, they don't eat for more than three days, take them to the vet. If your glider randomly stops eating it is likely caused by stress or illness. If they don't eat for 2/3 nights or more, take them to your vet and make sure they are drinking.
Hyperphagia 'Hyperphagia' means 'to eat in excess'. Over eating is often related to lonelyness and boredom as well as diet. If a glider has nothing to do, then they are more likely to simply spend their time eating. If their diet is poor or they are already suffering from illness, they may be eating excessivly to get the nutrients they need.
Pacing/Repeatative Actions A glider repeating the same thing over and over, or running backwards and forwards on the same wall of their cage constantly can be a sign of stress, but it can also just be your gliders personal weirdness. Know your glider, and if they're acting out of sorts in this manner you should consider it as a stress symptom.
Self mutilation/Overgrooming This is one of the more easily noticed stress symptoms. It can be first noted by patches of sparse (thin) fur, often around the ears, head and tail. When a glider is self-mutilating it can be for any of the above reasons, and you should fit them with an e-collar and have the wound checked by a ver if it has been allowed to go that far.
Lethargy/Inactivity A stressed glider may become withdrawn and lethargic. This is often caused by lonelyness, but poor diet and illness can also be the culprit. An extremely lethargic glider should be seen by your vet.
Preventing stress when moving is fairly difficult conidering no matter what you do, you're moving them to a new home. The best way to prevent stress in these situations is to go for bonding visits before you bring your baby home, and bring a familiar pouch and toys from their old home.
It is strongly recommended by a lot of owners to have two or more gliders so that they do not become stressed and lonely, and keeping the diet that they have always been on rather than changing it is also advised. There really isn't much I can put in this section that hasn't been covered in the above sections. Try and keep these stress factors to a bare minimum and keep them to as few as possible at any one time.
The best advice I can give is Know Your Glider.
Disclaimer: All information in this post is from my own research and knowledge. I do not claim to be a glider 'expert', but I have spent the past six months in daily research in the best way to care for my babies. I am happpy to be corrected and informed of anything I've missed. Happy Gliding!