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The pair vs. single controversy

Sugar gliders are colony animals. In the wild, they live in colonies with 10-15 other sugar gliders. Each sugar glider plays a role that contributes to the colony’s safety and survival. One sugar glider may sleep lightly or remain awake to be the colony’s lookout. The lookout will alert others to danger by barking. In captivity, this role may rotate or the lookout may sleep later in the day. Another sugar glider may be the protector of the colony and go on defense if danger arises. Protective gliders in captivity may appear pouch protective or be the aggressor in a pair before bonding takes place.

After you understand how a sugar glider colony works, it is easier to see why you need more than one. In addition to the normal stress of rehoming from the breeder to its new owner, now the joey must adjust to life without a colony. A newly single joey may feel a threat to its safety and survival and will attempt to play multiple roles usually performed by a colony. As a result, the joey will not sleep as well and may become uncharacteristically aggressive or possibly lethargic. This can have a significantly negative impact on the bonding process. Additionally, an over-abundance of stress increases the risk of severe depression, bacterial enteritis (stress related), over-grooming, and/or self-mutilation (in rare cases). Obesity can also become a concern as single sugar gliders are less active and are prone to overeating due to boredom.

Starting in 2005, I started to collect data to determine if bonding with one sugar glider was more beneficial than getting two at once. Customers that bought one sugar glider to start the bonding process were considered single glider homes. These owners planned to add a second sugar glider within 60-90 days of the first sugar glider coming home. I compared these cases to customers that got two sugar gliders at the same time. I used a basic personality rating chart to rate the joeys’ personality in my care, and then had the customer give their personality rating number approximately every week as the joey goes through the bonding process. In 2/3 of the cases of single gliders, the joeys’ personality ratings dropped 2-3 points on a 5 point scale and they struggled to bond with their new owners within the first 60 days they were in the home. Contrarily, when the sugar gliders went home in pairs, 3/4 of the cases dropped 1-2 personality points within the same time frame and were showing positive signs of bonding within 2 weeks of being in the new owners’ homes. Additionally, when compared to those sugar gliders that went home in pairs, the cases of single sugar gliders going home had almost triple the vet visits within the first week that reported soft stools and/or diarrhoea (a sign of stress in sugar gliders).

Based on the results, sugar gliders bond faster and overcome the stress of changing homes better if they go home in pairs as compared to getting one and then adding a second later.

Last Updated: 7/10/18