Medical Issues & Information
Please note, we have an awesome presentation and video on common health and behavioral problems you will see in your gliders, entitled Monsters & Mayhem, from the 2021 Ohio Glider Gathering. You can find it here.
COMMON HEALTH PROBLEMS IN GLIDERS
Symptoms: Symptoms of lethargy or hypothermia include a glider who is slow to respond, slow moving, lying on the bottom of cage or in another unusual place, cold to the touch, unable to eat or open eyes, or just general abnormal behavior.
Immediate Treatment: Get the glider to a vet as soon as possible. Time is of the essence in this situation. Aside from getting the glider to a vet as soon as you possibly can, the most important thing to remember is to keep the glider warm and hydrated. Warm means against your skin or some other source of heat that is warm (not hot). For hydration, you can use a syringe or dropper to get the glider to drink if they will not drink on their own. Liquids to try include Pedialyte, honey water, gatorade, juice, applesauce or virtually any clear liquid that the glider will drink. Keeping the glider warm and hydrated will give your glider the best chance of survival.
Known causes: There are many known and unknown causes of lethargy and hypothermia. Known causes include the glider getting too cold from low temperatures or being wet, bacterial infections, dehydration, and injury.
Long term care: It can be very difficult to determine the cause of lethargy. A vet visit is the best way to help your glider in this situation.
Other information and Notes: Having an emergency vet who treats gliders already lined up can really save time and heartache in this situation. The vet will know how to administer subcutaneous fluids if necessary, and also will be able to keep the glider warm. While some gliders may recover from this on their own and seem to perk up, lethargic gliders are at high risk for death and will generally need timely intervention.
- Feed a balanced diet. Find out more about appropriate diets here:
- Allow your glider to get some exercise even when in the cage. Do this by investing in a wheel! You can find our recommendations here:
- Allow your glider enough out of cage play time! Running around and climbing in a new place is a great way for your glider to exercise its body and its mind. Many people allow their glider to do this in a tent set up inside the house, or in the bathroom with supervision (and with the toilet lids down!). Gliders need out of cage play time.
Symptoms: Symptoms of a dental abscess generally include puffing up of the chin, or of the cheek near the eye or below the eye. Other symptoms may include having trouble chewing or lack of eating, but generally swelling of the cheek is the telltale sign.
Immediate Treatment: A vet visit is required to treat dental abscesses. Treatment for these usually involves antibiotics and extraction of the problem tooth (normally, a back tooth), if there is one. Sometimes the abscess will need draining. An abscess is a relatively easy thing to treat, but can become serious if not treated in a timely manner. Some abscesses require surgical intervention. If your glider has a dental abscess, get into the vet as soon as you can. While an emergency vet is not necessary, waiting many days is too long.
Known Causes: Dental abscesses are common in gliders. They can be caused by a variety of issues, but one of the most common and easily treatable causes of a dental abscess is a bad tooth. Other causes include injury, genetics, or a small piece of food getting stuck.
Long Term Care: Most dental abscesses heal after appropriate treatment and do not recur.
Other Information and Notes: Once in a while, gliders will have recurring dental abscesses for no apparent reason. They may require long term mediation or diet changes, and numerous teeth being pulled.
Symptoms: Symptoms of tooth decay include, but are not limited to dental abscesses, poor grooming all over the body, especially on the belly, wet or oily looking fur, tilting head back while eating, swelling of the lower or upper jaw area, difficulty eating, excessive head shaking while eating, and gliders being underweight because of inability to eat.
Immediate treatment: Generalized tooth decay is a difficult issue to treat. Usually, all affected teeth must be extracted by a veterinarian and antibiotics must be prescribed for the mouth to begin healing. Extracting the large front teeth should be avoided if possible, because extracting these can severely weaken an already weakened jaw (if the teeth are decaying, the jaw may be deteriorating as well). If you notice the above symptoms in your glider, have your vet examine your glider’s teeth. Pain management can also be helpful.
Known Causes: Because so little is known about how to properly feed gliders a balanced diet, and also because gliders prefer sweet foods, gliders are prone to tooth decay. Most severe tooth decay is diet-related. Gliders have tiny teeth. Making sure your glider is getting enough calcium is critical in preventing tooth decay and also to keeping bones strong. Also, consider the diet you are feeding and how much sugar it contains. Many owners have noticed increased incidence of tooth decay when they feed diets that are very high in sugar or honey for prolonged periods.
Long term care: Gliders with severe tooth decay have a long road to recovery, and some do not recover. However, don’t give up! There are things you can do to help your glider recover. Get them on a better diet. The diet you are feeding may need to be altered. Also, regular dental checkups will help.
Other information and notes: Another thing to note about tooth decay is that while it happens to individual gliders, there is at least some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the disease is communicable between gliders who share an enclosure. Often an owner will experience an entire colony with tooth and mouth problems, while other colonies in that home do not seem to experience the same issues.
Symptoms: Symptoms of injuries include necrotic tissue, bleeding, exposed bone, overgrooming, chewing on body parts, or other obvious breaks.
Immediate treatment: Depending on the severity of the injury, a vet visit is likely necessary. While some minor injuries can heal on their own, pain management at a minimum, is always a good idea to help prevent the glider from chewing on the injury, or on another part of its body, causing even more damage.
Known causes: the most common causes of these injuries include unsafe items in the cages or fighting between gliders over food, territory, or dominance. Often, gliders become injured by getting tangled in unsafe cage item such as twine, rope, exposed thread, knit items, or an unsafe sleeping pouch (read more about safety of cage items here:). Causes of fights include food aggression (read more about that here:) or dominance (read more about dominance issues here:). Intact males housed together are very likely to fight and cause injury or death.
Long term care: Make sure that all items in the cage are safe. If the glider requires amputation, they can adapt and usually be just fine with three feet or without a tail, or with many missing fingers. Getting all males neutered will help with dominance and fighting.
Other information and notes: Often, laser therapy can be an effective way of helping injuries to heal more quickly, especially on areas like hands and tails, where there is not much tissue or blood flow so healing is very slow. During healing, it is important that the glider and wound are monitored to ensure that the glider is not mutilating the affected area and making the injury worse or inhibiting healing. Sometimes an e-collar or e-jacket can be helpful. You can find more information about those here: ().
Symptoms: Wet or matted looking fur, yellowing fur, generally dirty appearance.
Immediate treatment: Poor grooming is often a sign of tooth decay, please see above. A vet visit is needed to determine why the glider is not grooming appropriately. Healthy gliders should groom themselves appropriately. A glider who is poorly groomed should also get a fecal exam, and the veterinarian should look for intestinal parasites including giardia and trichomonads. The glider in the photo had giardia, and his grooming improved immensely with treatment of the parasitic infection.
Known causes: Aside from infection in the mouth being spread to the rest of the body through the saliva and grooming process, other causes of poor grooming include loneliness, depression, stress, poor diet, parasites, filthy environment, sickness, or a foreign substance stuck onto the fur that the glider is unable to groom off. If the glider has gotten in to something sticky or waxy, you will need to give the glider a bath.
Long Term Care: Treating the root of the problem is the only way to get the glider to groom appropriately. Gliders are colony animals and need friends of their own species. Also, getting a thorough exam will help eliminate other issues such as parasites or dental infections.
Other Information and Notes: Poor grooming is a symptom of some other issue. Usually, with a few tweaks or treatments, it can be corrected.
Symptoms: A hole, patch of missing fur, or patch of missing skin, or other injury on the back or side of the neck or shoulders is the most common symptom of a mating or dominance wound.
Immediate treatment: A timely vet visit will be necessary in this situation. The vet may clean the wound or stitch it depending on the severity. If possible, stitching should be avoided. Separation from cage mates is necessary until the wound has healed and the fur is growing back. Antibiotic cream or other vet-prescribed cream can be useful in preventing infection. Antibiotics and pain management may also be advisable.
Known causes: These types of wounds are caused when gliders injure each other. One glider will bite the back of the neck of the other glider during mating or to show dominance. Usually, this does not result in injury, but sometimes this can result in severe injury.
Long term care: Getting all males neutered is one of the best ways to prevent
mating and dominance wounds. Having more than one food station in the cage will also help. Although it is unlikely, in some instances, the gliders may need to be permanently separated. These injuries are difficult to prevent while keeping the colony intact. Sometimes they are recurring and sometimes they only occur once and never occur again.
Other Information and Notes: These wounds are often slow to heal, and gliders must be separated for the entire healing process to allow for proper healing and prevent other gliders from exacerbating the injury.
Symptoms: Symptoms of self mutilation include injuries or missing skin on tails, hands, feet, abdomens, or virtually anywhere else on the body. It is particularly common after surgeries where there are stitches or glue used, or if there are nerve problems.
Immediate treatment: Self-mutilation is usually a symptom of a larger problem. The wound must be treated and the glider must be kept from chewing on the affected area or any other body part. This can be done with an e-collar (for purchase here) or an e-jacket (for purchase here). You can also make a homemade e-collar in a pinch.
Known causes: There are many things that can cause gliders to self mutilate. Existing wounds are likely to be chewed and made worse by gliders. Neuter or surgical sites are especially prone to gliders mutilating that area, especially if stitches or glue are used. Stitches or glue should be avoided if at all possible! Some gliders will also self-mutilate as a sign of loneliness or depression. Environmental factors such as poor husbandry practices also create stressful situations for gliders, often leading to self-mutilation.
Long term care: Most cases of self mutilation can be managed by pain mediation, antibiotics, and keeping the glider from mutilating themselves until the injury or surgery site heals. Getting the glider a glider friend can also help with self mutilation. However, some gliders persistently self-mutilate for unknown reasons.
Other information and notes: Self-mutilation is a difficult problem. Please send us a message if you need help dealing with this issue. We may be able to give further advice, depending on your glider’s specific issues.
Symptoms: Symptoms of mild seizures can include freezing, twitching, foaming at the mouth, jerking, choking-like sounds, lethargy, or other signs. Gliders having severe seizures will generally have very sudden, jerky movements, sometimes spreading out their arms and legs and then retracting them, and sometimes arching their backs.
Immediate treatment: Seizures are very serious. If a glider is having severe, repeated seizures in a very short period of time, the prognosis is not good for that glider, and an immediate vet visit is imperative if the glider is to be afforded any chance of survival. If your glider is having seizures, keep the glider warm and hydrated, and get them to a veterinarian.
Known causes: Generally, gliders who are about to pass away have a few seizures before they die. If your glider is otherwise in good health, seizures can be stress-induced, related to change in environment, a traumatic event, or other unknown causes. Additionally, severe dehydration can cause seizures.
Long term care: Gliders who have stress-related seizures can sometimes live a relatively happy and normal life. Owners should try to reduce or eliminate the seizure-inducing stressor as much as possible, if this can be ascertained.
Symptoms: Diarrhea is the most common symptom of intestinal parasitic infection such as giardiasis or trichomonads. Other symptoms include poor grooming, overgrooming of certain areas, weight loss, dehydration, and lethargy. Often, intestinal parasites can be asymptomatic in otherwise healthy gliders, and symptoms may only show when there is a secondary problem, or when the parasitic infection becomes severe.
Immediate treatment: If your glider is experiencing the above symptoms, and they are severe, action must be taken to treat the dehydration or other symptoms immediately, and concurrently with the treatment for the parasitic infection. A fecal exam is needed to confirm parasitic infection. Generally these are quick and inexpensive. If your glider is not experiencing the above symptoms, or if the symptoms are extremely mild, a fecal exam is necessary, but the situation is not emergent, and can wait until the following day or an appointment can be made.
Known causes: Intestinal parasites are generally spread through feces and can be transmitted through vegetables, fruit, water, contact with other gliders who are infected, feces of other animals. Intestinal parasites are extremely contagious.
Long term care: Most parasitic infections can be easily treated if treatment is timely. Treatment involves oral medication, and follow up fecal exams must be conducted to ensure that the glider is clear of the parasite. Annual or semi-annual fecal exams are always a good idea, because often parasitic infections are asymptomatic until they become severe. Regular fecal exams for healthy gliders will help identify parasitic infections early so that they can be treated.
Other information and notes: One important item to note is that if one glider in a colony tests positive for intestinal parasites, all gliders in that colony can be presumed to be infected, and should be treated. Often, if one glider in a household tests positive for parasitic infection, all gliders in that household will test positive and need to be treated. This can be quite an undertaking, but it is not impossible.
Symptoms: Bacterial infections can cause a wide array of symptoms in gliders. Poorly groomed, dirty, or oily looking fur, oozing wounds, foul smell, red and hot tissue, and other symptoms can be signs of a bacterial infection.
Immediate Treatment: A vet visit is necessary to treat a any infection. If initial antibiotics are not effective, or if the infection is severe, a culture and sensitivity should be performed to ascertain which medication will work best for the specific bacteria that is infecting the glider.
Known Causes: Causes of bacterial infection can be rotting teeth, wounds, skin problems, or other unknown causes.
Long Term Care: While many bacterial infections do not recur, some do, such as infections of the face or mouth. Especially with mouth infections, thorough treatment and ongoing monitoring are necessary. See tooth decay/mouth infection for more information.
Other Information and Notes: As with infections in humans, infections in gliders can become deadly if left untreated.
Symptoms: Ick is a disease almost exclusively seen in joeys. The main symptom is extremely poorly groomed fur that often appears matted, brownish, or clumpy.
Immediate Treatment: A skin cytology and culture and sensitivity are highly recommended to ascertain the ideal treatment plan. Antibiotics and anti-fungal medications are often prescribed, and the issue resolves.
Known Causes: Currently, we do not know what causes this infection in joeys. Generally, it is found to be a staph infection but a culture and sensitivity test is needed to determine which medications will be effective.
Long Term Care: With appropriate and thorough treatment, Ick will resolve and it will not recur. While waiting for a veterinary appointment, keep the joey warm and hydrated. If joeys with this type of skin infection do not receive quick and effective treatment, they will likely die.
Symptoms: A finger, toe, foot, hand, tail, or penis that is shriveled and black is a sign that the tissue has become necrotic (died).
Immediate Treatment: A vet visit is advisable when dealing with necrotic tissue. Depending on the severity, there are generally two options for treatment. If the necroses is not too severe (only affecting a small portion of a finger or the very tip of the tail), often, the best treatment is pain management with veterinarian oversight, and then to allow the necrotic tissue to fall off by itself. If the necroses is more severe, a veterinarian may need to surgically amputate the tissue to prevent the necroses from spreading or the surrounding tissue from becoming infected. If a wound has already healed or mostly healed, the preferred method of treatment is generally pain management, because gliders tend to chew on open wounds. Re-opening the wound for surgery gives the glider another open wound to chew on, which may exacerbate the problem and lead to further injury, necessitating further amputations.
Known Causes: Causes of necrotic tissue include self mutilation, injury, entanglement in unsafe cage items (strings, rope, twine, exposed thread, etc.), or other injury.
Long Term Care: Most gliders can recover and live a normal life with missing fingers, toes, tail, etc. It is more difficult for gliders who have lost more than one extremity.
Symptoms: Overgrooming usually refers to missing patches of fur on the glider, which the glider has pulled or groomed out themselves. This can range from mild (such as a bit of missing fur over the eyes) or severe (such as large bald patches on the back of the head and neck).
Immediate Treatment: Overgrooming is almost always a sign of another problem, especially if it is moderate or severe. Once the underlying issue is addressed, the overgrooming will likely resolve.
Known Causes: There are several underlying causes of overgrooming, but certain types of overgrooming indicate certain likely problems. Overgrooming on at the base of the tail or back of the legs often indicates parasitic infection. Overgrooming on the sides of the head or back of the neck most often indicates loneliness. Overgrooming of tail can indicate stress from a poor diet, boredom, pain, or other situations. Overgrooming can also be present when the gliders are not being well cared for, or when they are bored or lonely. Often, when they get into a better environment, the fur will grow back.
Long Term Care: The underlying cause of the overgrooming must be addressed, and the glider must be monitored. When the underlying issue is not addressed, overgrooming is likely to turn into self-mutilation. Overgrooming is often a precursor to self-mutilation.
Other Information and Notes: Often, slight overgrooming is benign, and can be just a personality trait. However, any overgrooming that is not very slight should not be ignored, as it is very likely an indicator of another problem.
Symptoms: Symptoms of HLP include dragging of back legs, frequent falling, and general weakness of the back portion of the glider.
Immediate Treatment: Immediate treatment for HLP or calcium deficiency generally includes oral calcium glubionate, prescribed by a veterinarian. If the paralysis is severe and the glider has a hard time moving around, until they show improvement, the glider should be temporarily kept in a smaller environment where climbing is not feasible, so that they cannot fall and break their already weak bones.
Known Causes: True hind leg paralysis is caused by lack of calcium in the diet, unless the paralysis is caused by a traumatic injury.
Long Term Care: With time and a proper diet, many gliders can recover from hind leg paralysis, although their bones will likely never be as strong as if they had a proper diet for their entire lives.
Other Information and Notes: Many issues in gliders are misdiagnosed as hind leg paralysis. The reality is that while this disease used to be prevalent in gliders, with improvements in diet, this disease is not that common anymore. There are other issues that can present as difficulty walking, dragging of back legs, or general weakness. A diagnosis of hind leg paralysis and treatment for such often does not fix the underlying issues from which the glider suffers. If calcium does not improve your gliders’ condition, and they have been diagnosed with hind leg paralysis, it is likely that they have been misdiagnosed or that some of their issues have been missed, and you should get a second opinion from a veterinarian with a lot of glider experience.
Symptoms: Paralysis due to injury can affect any part of a glider’s body. Paralysis due to injury can suddenly render a glider incapable of moving there back legs, back legs and front legs, other body part.
Immediate Treatment: A vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory other medication to treat some types of paralysis. However, if the injury is severe, palliative care may be the best option.
Known Causes: Gliders can become injured by falling, getting closed in cage doors, unsafe wheels, fighting, or a variety of other traumas.
Long Term Care: Depending on the severity of the paralysis, some gliders can live with it. However, with more severe paralysis, a glider’s quality of life will be severely diminished and long term care may not be the best solution.
For some types of blindness, timely treatment can reverse the issue.
Symptoms: Symptoms of urinary tract infection include hissing while urinating (hissing while pooping is normal, hissing while peeing indicates UTI), strong smelling urine, and sometimes unwillingness to eat or drink. If you notice that your gliders suddenly have a strong ammonia-like odor, it is likely that one of your gliders has a UTI.
Immediate Treatment: A vet visit is needed. The vet should prescribe antibiotics if urinary tract infection is suspected. After just a few days on antibiotics, symptoms should begin to improve, or a different antibiotic should be used.
Known Causes: Some gliders are just prone to UTIs for unknown reasons. Other causes of UTIs can include unsafe/rusty cages, and filthy environments.
Long Term Care: Gliders should be monitored/observed, generally when they first wake up in the evening, to watch for signs of UTI.
Other Information and Notes: UTIs are easily treated, but can become dangerous to gliders without treatment. Timely treatment is imperative.
Symptoms: Redness and tenderness, lack of fur in affected area.
Immediate Treatment: A vet visit will be necessary to deal with the burn, and treatment will depend on the specific type and location of the burn. At a bare minimum, pain medications should be prescribed. Often, a vet will prescribe a cream for topical application.
Known Causes: Sugar gliders can get burns from a variety of sources. Some of the most common types of burns include gliders being unsupervised in the kitchen, jumping onto a hot surface unexpectedly, or getting into something hot such as a wax warmer. Other types of burns are chemical in nature, and are caused when a glider comes into contact with caustic chemicals. Occasionally, an accident at the vet’s office can burn a glider, such as the laser interacting with the oxygen during a procedure (pictured). This is relatively uncommon.
Long Term Care: With proper care, gliders can make a full recovery, even if severely burned.
Other Information and Notes: Burns often cause swelling of the affected area. This is why burns on the face are particularly problematic for sugar gliders. Their faces are very small, and inflammation of tissues near their mouth and nose can lead to infections and difficulty breathing.
Symptoms: Sugar gliders have a forked penis, and sometimes it is visible. This is normal. However, if it stays visible and out for a long period of time (many hours or days), it can become dry and the tissue can become necrotic. The tissue will turn dark, almost black.
Immediate Treatment: The first thing to do if you notice that your glider’s penis is out, but looks otherwise normal, is to wait and do nothing. Wait until you see that it has been out for several hours. Often, owners try to intervene and then end up causing a problem when there wasn’t one to begin with. If, after several hours, the penis has not retracted, you can start by putting some vaseline or surgical/personal lubricant on it to keep it moist and keep the tissue from drying out and becoming necrotic. If this does not help, a vet visit will be necessary. The vet will likely have to either surgically retract the penis or amputate.
Known Causes: Sometimes this issue arises out of the blue for seemingly no reason. However, sometimes, it is merely a symptom of another issue. Please see the notes below.
Long Term Care: If this continuously happens, amputation may be necessary. Gliders generally do fine with amputation.
Other Information and Notes: Often when this issue arises, the gliders will self mutilate, and make the problem worse. It should also be noted that any self mutilation can be a symptom of another issue. For example, the glider in the photos below had a break at the base of his tail. As a result, he started to mutilate his penis, and it became necrotic, and had to be amputated. It was only after the amputation that the owner realized that the necrotic penis was a symptom of another issue, namely, pain from the break at the base of his tail.
- Female gliders are not spayed. They have two uteri, and a pouch, and spaying them is extremely dangerous and should not be done.
- Here are some questions to ask your vet prior to a neuter:
- What kind of neuter is it? Usually there are 3 choices, laser (ideal), radio (good), or scalpel (not great but ok).
- Do you use glue or stitches? If they say yes to either, ask them not to. If they won’t NOT use them, find another vet and repeat this process until you find a better one.