Should You Become A Breeder?
Breeding takes a lot of time. While the female is carrying joeys in her pouch, you will have to make sure that she has plenty of protein and you may need to provide her with a milk supplement to ensure her milk supply will be adequate for her joeys. You will also have to ensure that your breeding gliders’ environment is stress-free. Once the joeys come out of pouch (o.o.p.) you will need to spend time with the joeys multiple times each day so that they become used to humans and to ensure that they are being adequately cared for by their parents. You may have to hand-raise or supplement-feed the joeys if the mother rejects the joeys or doesn’t supply enough milk for them. You will need to spend time advertising the joeys and finding potential buyers. If you plan to have four or more breeding females, you will need to take the time to get a USDA Class A Breeder’s License (contact your local USDA office for more information).
When breeding sugar gliders, you will need to have an excellent veterinarian available that has specific experience with sugar gliders. This sounds like it shouldn’t be hard, but sugar glider experienced veterinarians can be difficult to find. During mating, a male sugar glider will sometimes bite down on the back of the female. Most of the time, this is a light bite and does not do any damage. However, some males become quite aggressive during mating and will bite a hole into the female’s flesh. This wound can quickly become infected, needing immediate veterinary care. Another health hazard of breeding sugar gliders is that the female’s pouch can become infected needing veterinary care. An experienced veterinarian who is already familiar with your sugar gliders will be able to provide treatment to them if the need should arise.
There can be a lot of stress involved when breeding sugar gliders. There is a high risk that at some point, at least one joey will be rejected by its mother. Sometimes, supplement-feeding a joey that has been rejected will be enough to enable the joey to survive. At other times, you may have to entirely hand-raise the joey. At still other times, no matter what you do, you may not be able to keep the joey alive. Having a tiny joey die in your hands is stressful enough, but if not found in time, you may discover that the parents have cannibalized the joey. Any of these experiences is very stressful and can even be traumatic.
Finding buyers who will be lifelong companions for your joeys can be difficult. Many people discover sugar gliders and fall in love with them immediately. However, they don’t always do adequate research before making the decision to buy. A responsible breeder will make sure that any potential buyer has done enough research on sugar gliders and that he or she is fully aware of the commitment of owning sugar gliders, knowing about healthy diets, environment, care, bonding, etc. Meeting with and talking to potential buyers can be very time consuming but it is an important component of a good breeding program.
Another factor to consider about whether or not to become a breeder is money. Breeding sugar gliders is not likely to be a “cash cow”. In fact, it can be quite expensive. You will need to be financially prepared for extra foods, veterinary bills, housing, accessories, supplies for hand-raising joeys, advertising, licensing fees and breeding stock. Even in a small breeding operation, these expenses can compound quickly and can far outweigh any potential income. It is best to remember the old adage, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” In fact, in the 5 years that I bred gliders, I never did make a profit on them - as can be evidenced by my income tax returns each year.
So, before you make the decision to become a breeder, consider all of these factors in great detail. Do plenty of research about breeding. Then, ask yourself why you want to become a breeder and consider if your reasons for becoming a breeder truly outweigh these factors. If they do, then make sure that you are prepared for any possibility.
Sadly, these dehydrated joeys did not survive...
At about ten weeks after birth, the joey will come out-of-pouch (o.o.p.). For the first day or two, the joey will still be attached to its mother’s nipple. The joey is not officially considered out-of-pouch until it is fully detached. Once released from the nipple, the joey will still spend the majority of its time nursing. If there are multiple joeys, they may not come o.o.p. on the same day. For the first week or two, the joey will still go back into the mother’s pouch a lot of the time until it is too large to fit inside anymore. You may even notice the mother tucking the joey back inside when you approach her.
Sugar glider fathers have a very important role in raising their joeys once they come out-of-pouch (o.o.p.). Since the joey is so small, it can not regulate its own body heat yet. This is one of the reasons why the father’s role is so crucial at this stage. The mother will leave the joey in the nest with the father for short periods of time in the evening when she needs to come out of the nest to eat, play and exercise. The father will be the one taking care of the joey during this time. Even when the mother is in the nest, the father will take care of the joey when it is not nursing by keeping it warm and by cleaning it. Until the joey is about one or two weeks o.o.p. the father will stay with the joey whenever the mother is out of the nest. If the joey wanders out of the nest looking for food, the father will probably be the one to go get the joey and bring it back to the nest.
Once the joey is fully out-of-pouch and detached from its mother’s nipple, you can determine whether it is a male or female. Both genders will have a cloacal extension that at first glance appears to be a penis. This extension enables the parents to stimulate the joey to defecate and urinate. However, since both genders have this, further observation is necessary for determining gender. Female joeys have a small slit at about the point where you would expect to find a belly button. This slit is the pouch opening. It runs vertically and will only be about three millimeters long. Male joeys have a small scrotal sac that is only about three millimeters in diameter. The scrotal sac is located on the joey’s abdomen just above the cloaca.
Female Joey versus Male Joey Anatomy
Once out of pouch, all extra nesting areas within the cage should be removed so that there is only ONE area for the parents to sleep. This is very important as otherwise, the parents may leave the joeys in one pouch and then go to sleep in another one. Since joeys can not regulate their own body temperature, they can get hypothermia quickly if left alone for too long. In addition, some breeders like to lower the nesting pouch or box within the cage to help prevent traumatic falls. Another option is to put shelf hammocks in the cage, just outside of the nesting area, to give a soft landing spot in case the joey does fall out. Do not put a piece of fleece directly on the bottom of the cage. Joeys may end up being abandoned by their parents under such pieces of fleece where they quickly become too cold and get dehydrated.
It is very important that you keep a close eye on the family to make sure the joey is not being left alone for more than a few minutes (10-15) at a time. If you ever find a young joey that is cold, outside of the nest and/or crying by itself, you should check on the joey to make sure that it is warm and has a full belly. If the joey is cold or its tummy is empty, try placing the joey on the mother IF she is in the nesting pouch. She should immediately start to clean the joey and guide it to her pouch. If she doesn’t, then it is very likely that she is rejecting the joey for some reason. Only close observation will help you to determine if this happening. Intervention may become necessary if the parents do not return to the joey to care for it. If the mother is out of the nesting pouch, then place the joey onto the father's back. He should immediately carry the joey back to the nesting pouch and start caring for it. This is very important because if the mother is out of the nesting pouch, then it is her "free time" and if you place the joey onto her, she may become very frustrated and start to nip at the joey in aggravation.
To socialize the joey and get it used to be handled by humans, you should start holding the joey right away. The easiest time to do this is in the evening when the mother is having her "free time". It is easier to take the joey away from the father when he is joey-sitting. During this time, you should weigh the joey on a jeweler's scale that weighs in increments of 0.01grams. Daily weighing is important to make sure the joey is consistently gaining weight and not losing at all. Here is a basic guideline for how long to hold the joey each day:
Day 1 - 7: 5 minutes, in sight of parents
Day 8 - 14: 7-10 min., in sight of parents
Day 15 - 21: 10-15 min., near parents, not necessarily in sight
Day 22 - 28: 15-20 min.
Day 29 - 35: 20-25 min.
Day 36 - 42: 25-30 min.
Day 43 - 49: 30-45 min.
Day 50 - 56: 45-60 min.
Day 57 - 63: up to 3 hours
Day 64 onward: should be ready to be weaned completely
Once the joey is about 10-14 days o.o.p., it will open its eyes. At this stage, you will notice that it is starting to grow fur on its belly and the fur on the rest of its body is filling in more. By this time, the parents will be leaving the joey alone in the nest for short periods of time. As soon as the joey starts to cry, one of the parents should return to the nest to check on it.
By the time the joey is about five weeks o.o.p., it will start the weaning process. Since the joey will be eating as well, make sure there is enough for all of them. Once the joey starts the weaning process you will begin to notice that its tail will start to get fluffier and it will look more like an adult glider in miniature.
When the joey is about eight to ten weeks o.o.p., it should be ready to be separated from its parents. Some parents seem to be relieved when the joey is separated, others will get visibly distraught with you. Either case is normal and should not cause any undue alarm on your part.