Symptoms of a Sick Glider

The information in this article is a compilation from many GC members' input to a thread titled "Body Language of a Sick Glider". All pictures are used with the original photographers' permission and are intended for educational purposes only. Deep appreciation is given to Jen Bailey, Jen Garrison , Chris Hamann, Teresa Haas, Peggy Brewer and Judie Hausmann for their contributions to this page.

Jen Bailey's Gimli just a few hours before passing on to the Rainbow Bridge

Unfortunately, when a glider becomes ill, they will hide their illness from us until they are extremely ill and close to death. Sugar gliders still have "wild instincts". In the wild, a sick glider will be eliminated by the rest of the colony so that it doesn't attract predators to the colony. Therefore, a sick glider will not exhibit symptoms until they are no longer able to hide them. Because of this natural inclination to hide their illness, it is imperative that we, their human companions, familiarize ourselves with minute details that will clue us in to their true state of health. As stated by Jen (Xfilefan) "The better you know your glider in ALL their moods, attitudes, and at all times of day (i.e., what is normal for playtime, just waking up time, middle of the day, etc.) the more of a chance you will have to know when something 'just isn't quite right' so that you can seek veterinary attention." The information in this article is a compilation of symptoms listed by multiple GC members over time and is not meant to be a "complete" listing.

If your glider is exhibiting ANY abnormal behaviors,

even if you don't find it listed here,

take your glider to a veterinarian immediately!

It could mean the difference between life and death.

Thanks to Jen Bailey for this listing of symptoms to be on the alert for:

  • violent or prolonged shaking or shivering
  • dragging limbs, especially back legs or hindquarters
  • any visible wound
  • discharge from eyes or nose, especially in combination with sneezing that sounds "moist" or "wet" (unlike the normal grooming sneezes)
  • pawing at the head or face (unlike typical grooming motions)
  • any swelling, protrusion or lump
  • lack of movement or very slow movement
  • up during the daytime - an ill glider will usually just "sit" there or move around slowly without really "doing" anything in particular
  • any sudden jerkiness or seizure-like activity; including loss of control of limbs or coordination, trying to walk and wobbling or falling over
  • an abnormal amount of spastic, non-stop activity where the glider seems stressed or scared but doesn't stop
  • sudden frantic, uncoordinated urge to climb, whether they actually can or not. This is a fear response that the glider can not control and is often indicative of a critical condition. This climbing needs to be gently prevented since a glider in this condition can easily injure themselves or fall.
  • flattened ears, eyes that lack "luster" and an overall appearance of not looking well (as Gimli looks in the above photo)
  • lack of elimination, urine or feces
  • sudden change in color or consistency of urine or feces. Very clear or very yellow urine is not normal if it lasts any length of time.
  • prolonged change of nose color (very pale, dark red or blue/purple). Any coloration change that lasts more than an hour is not normal.
  • any injury, including: cuts, serious falls, limb or tail caught or "hung up" on or in something, burns, chemical exposure
  • falling into water, especially toilets. Even if the glider doesn't drown, brief exposure to water can lead to bacterial infection or pneumonia.
  • suspected ingestion of any foreign object (non-food item)

Thanks to Judie Hausman for this listing of symptoms to be on the alert for:

*It is important to remember to pick up on subtle signs of illness... What are subtle signs at the beginning?

  • appearance of not grooming: fur takes on a look of clumping together; there is a loss of luster and hair may be thinned
  • abnormal sleep pattern: glider is up during the daytime
  • refuses to eat or eats only fruits and vegetables and no protein and may refuse to drink water or any other liquid
  • sudden change in weight: appears to be suddenly too thin or sudden weight gain
  • sleeping too much: refuses to get out of bed; animal looks depressed with the ears down and drooping
  • change in color of nose, feet and ears: no longer a nice pink (which is a sign of a healthy glider)
  • head tilt
  • vomiting
  • wet on the throat, neck and tummy

Remember, vet care is needed ASAP when the behavior or look of your glider has changes. Most illnesses are treatable, but left untreated, something simple can become life threatening once it becomes systemic.

Other symptoms to watch for include, but are not limited to:

  • changes in respiration (such as excessively fast or labored, similar to if they have been running)
  • very cold body temperature even when in a warm environment (glider will actually feel cold to the touch)
  • "popping" sound while breathing. Some gliders will make this sound while sleeping, but a popping sound with every breath while awake could be indicative of a respiratory problem like pneumonia.
  • curled feet/toes (like nails are too long or as if glider has arthritis)
  • dehydration (skin between shoulder blades "tents" and does not flex back down immediately)
  • excessively thirsty
  • swollen jaw
  • biting with back teeth instead of front teeth (actual biting, not just chewing)
  • when trying to bite, can the glider hold the food or does it drop?
  • hissing when trying to defecate or urinate
  • slight hissing combined with a slight crabbing sound
  • painful urination
  • "leaking" of urine in small amounts (not associated with actual urinating or scent-marking)
  • discolored and/or rank-smelling urine
  • change in relationship with cagemates (i.e., cagemates suddenly start to attack glider when they always got along in the past)
  • change in glider's temperament (i.e., sudden aggression towards you or cagemates)

The following symptoms are illustrated for educational purposes.

  • drooping eyes and ears (My Pika is shown here while ill with Hind Leg Paralysis.)

  • jaundice (yellowing of skin) (PixTrix' Deirdre is shown here with severe jaundice.)

  • prolapsed bladder (bubble outside of cloaca) (gidgetmom's Happy is shown here with a prolapsed bladder caused by a severe UTI.)

  • swollen cheek and/or eye (My Cricky is pictured here with an abscess caused by severe sinus infection.)

  • eye discharge causing eyelid to be matted fully or partially closed
  • development of a fistula (drainage wound) (My Cricky is shown here with both symptoms. Note that he was already in treatment for the aforementioned abscess when these symptoms occured.)

  • any wound or raw-looking area (My Mareki is shown here with a puncture wound on her patagium.)

  • opened suture site (My DaisyMae is shown here after pulling the stitches out after incurring a mating wound.)


  • unusually angled joints (At left, my Pika is shown with her hind leg unusually angled at a 90 degree angle. At right, her left knee is at a natural angle. *Please note that Pika's eyes look "odd" due to blindness.)

  • disjointed tail (with or without bruising and/or swelling present) (My Pika is shown - this is one of many symptoms incurred, in her case, due to Hind Leg Paralysis.)


  • swollen finger and/or toe (My Pika is shown here with digits swollen due to Hind Leg Paralysis.)

  • baldness caused by overgrooming (My Gizmo is pictured here shortly after he came to live with me.)

  • baldness caused by poor diet (Dancing's Reepicheep is pictured here shortly after going to live with her.)

  • Pouch is red, swollen and/or inverted (Daphne's Roxie is shown with a severe pouch infection exhibiting all 3 symptoms - photo courtesy of Glidrz5)

Hygiene & Diet

GC's mimijo (Joy) recently rescued a pair of gliders from a home in which they were subjected to poor diet & lousy hygiene. To read their complete story, please check out A Health & Hygiene Success Story! on Glider Central...

This first picture is of Sport on his first day with mimijo...

Symptoms of his poor health included:

  • Thin, patchy fur
  • Yellowed fur in areas that should have been white
  • Underweight
  • Scraggly tail
  • Overgrooming on head

Just three weeks later, after being switched to Bourbon's Modified Leadbeater's Mix (BML) with proper housing that included a larger, sanitary cage with toys for stimulation, Sport now looks like this:

It is stories like this that underscore the importance of proper care for your gliders...

If you feel your glider is sick, please seek immediate veterinary assistance. The information on this page and in the correlating articles is for general educational purposes and is not intended to replace proper vet care. Please do not try to self-diagnose or self-treat your glider.