What Is Dehydration in Sugar Gliders?
Dehydration refers to the loss of water in the body. Dehydration is common in sugar gliders due to their unique dietary requirements and misconceptions about feeding sugar gliders only pelleted foods. It’s important that any signs related to dehydration are not ignored as a sugar glider can completely dehydrate and die in under 12 hours.
If you suspect your sugar glider is suffering from dehydration, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms of Dehydration in Sugar Gliders
Sugar gliders are normally active and energetic pets with the ability to climb and grasp objects with all four feet. A healthy sugar glider will have bright eyes, a moist nose, and pink gums. Their coat should be smooth, and their skin should have good elasticity. If any of the following signs are noticed contact your veterinarian immediately:
Dry nose and mouth
Dull or sunken eyes
Lack of energy
Inability to grasp or climb
Causes of Dehydration in Sugar gliders
Habitat temperature: Sugar gliders can tolerate temperatures from 60–90 degrees F, but thrive when their habitat is maintained between 80–88 degrees. Temperatures that are too cold or too hot will cause a sugar glider to become inactive and less likely to eat or drink.
Improper Diet: Inadequate nutrition can lead to dehydration if your sugar glider develops diarrhea or does not take in enough fluids daily. Roughly half of your sugar glider's diet should be comprised of plant sugars—preferably in the form of sap, nectar, or artificial nectar products that are available. The other half of the diet should include a variety of insects dusted with calcium powder, commercial pelleted food, and a small amount of fresh fruits, nuts, or vegetables.
Insufficient Water Source: Sugar gliders drink lots of water! It’s recommended to have at least two water sources in a sugar glider's habitat. Hanging water bottles are ideal, however they need to be checked and cleaned daily. The ball at the tip of the water bottle often gets dirty or stuck, which prevents the flow of water when your sugar glider tries to drink. Check these tips often to ensure your sugar glider is able to drink easily.
Medical Conditions: Gastrointestinal abnormalities such as vomiting or diarrhea can quickly dehydrate a sugar glider. Normal stool has a consistency similar to toothpaste, but if it is wet or runny seek veterinary care right away.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Dehydration in Sugar Gliders
The veterinarian will start with a physical exam, noting the condition of the eyes, mouth, nose, and fur quality. A simple skin tent test can be performed to assess hydration by gently pinching the skin between the shoulder blades, then releasing it. If the skin “tent” stays up and doesn't go back to normal within 1–2 seconds this means your sugar glider is dehydrated.
Further diagnostic tests can be done if needed which will require your sugar glider to be sedated to minimize stress. An X-ray may show pneumonia in the lungs or masses in the body which are causing dehydration. Various blood tests such as a packed cell volume (PCV), a complete blood count (CBC) or a blood chemistry profile may also be recommended. The blood tests will help the veterinarian determine how dehydrated the sugar glider is, and if any internal organs have been affected.
Treatment of Dehydration in Sugar Gliders
Until your sugar glider can be seen a veterinarian, it is recommended to offer a glucose mixture at home. This is easily made by diluting one part regular honey (NOT raw or unfiltered) in 10 parts water. Mix ½ teaspoon honey with 5 teaspoons of water. If honey is not available, Gatorade® or unflavored Pedialyte® can be used as well. Always discuss with your veterinarian if how much to give your sugar glider based on their specific needs.
Once a veterinarian has completed the exam and diagnostics, an electrolyte fluid replacement can be administered by injection to help re-hydrate your sugar glider. Additional medications such as antibiotics, anti-diarrhea medicine, or a dewormer may be prescribed as well. Some medications can be administered by the veterinarian via injection, but you will likely take home oral medication to administer to your sugar glider for a specific amount of time. Any underlying causes of dehydration in your sugar glider should also be addressed and treated by your veterinarian.
Recovery and Management of Dehydration in Sugar Gliders
A dehydrated sugar glider may have a long road to recovery. Recovery time varies greatly from one case to another, but there are steps you can take at home to help your sugar glider recover from a dehydrated state faster.
Provide at least two sources of fresh and clean water daily, either in a shallow bowl or a water bottle. Keep the enclosure, nest box, and food dishes clean. Remove any fresh foods if not eaten in 2–3 hours so these don't grow bacteria that can make sugar gliders sick. Remember that sugar gliders are nocturnal, so it is also important to keep them on a consistent day/night cycle.
When a sugar glider isn't eating on his own due to dehydration, supplemental feeding becomes necessary. There are commercially available diets and supplements that can be hand fed with either a needle-less syringe or an eye dropper. Commercially made re-hydration foods and supplements may be offered as well. Another option is to prepare a Bourbon's Modified Leadbeater's diet at home which, when prepared correctly, serves as a suitable dietary supplement.
Early treatment is key to a speedy and complete recovery. Sugar gliders that experience prolonged dehydration have a higher risk of developing urinary problems such as infection, crystals, or stones in the bladder. Kidney damage and liver disease are also possible. These are lifelong conditions that may need to be medically managed for the rest of your sugar glider’s life.
Dehydration in Sugar Gliders FAQs
How do you rehydrate a sugar glider?
At home, you can offer a diluted honey mixture, Gatorade®, or unflavored Pedialyte® until you can bring your sugar glider to a veterinarian. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your sugar glider is dehydrated. The vet can also administer electrolyte replacement fluids by injection.
Can you give Pedialyte® to sugar gliders?
Unflavored Pedialyte® can be given to a potentially dehydrated sugar glider but should not be used as part of the daily diet.
How often do sugar gliders drink water?
Since sugar gliders are nocturnal, they do most of their eating and drinking at night. However, fresh water should always be available.
Can I give my sugar glider Gatorade®?
Many sugar gliders like citrus flavored Gatorade®, which is helpful to use as a first aid measure at home if you suspect your sugar glider is dehydrated. Gatorade®, however, should not be a regular part of your sugar glider's diet.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Brent Randall Photography
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