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Sugar Glider Eye Abscess

September 16, 2012

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soft, sassy healthy sugar glider

Healthy Sugar Glider

Excuse Me, What is a Sugar Glider?

Sugar gliders can make troublesome pets. Marsupials native to Australian and New Guinea, they get their name from their ability to glide, almost fly, granted by their patagium (pah-ta-jee-um). Sugar gliders have a membrane of skin between their fifth finger and their first toe (along the sides of their body on each side.) They are private, sensitive little creatures and very sensitive to moves, new people, and changes in their social relationships. (They can die when placed in a new home, away from people they know.)

Small wounds become a big deal in no time

They also tear and scratch easily and impractically, can eat the skin away from any tear or scratch in an effort to attend to the wound. The first sugar glider Doc Truli met came to the pet emergency room because she cut her back leg on her cage. By the time the family drove to the pet e.r., she had eaten all the skin off of her leg! Doc Truli could not believe her eyes; the little glider’s muscles were just right there – out in the open. The glider went to a specialist for surgery and had to have her leg amputated to save her life. All because of a little cut from a wire sticking out in the side of her cage.

Eye Abscess is a Common Glider Health Problem

Dehydrated, thin sugar glider clings to mom's shirt

The right eye abscess of a dehydrated, thin sugar glider

A very common injury sugar gliders sustain is a corneal scratch. A scratch on their eye surface quickly turns into a corneal ulcer, or worse, an abscessed eye. The eye may quickly form a trapped infection and cause our glider to become septic. The infection in the eye can make the entire body infected. These gliders are very, very sick. They become dehydrated, they loose weight and their little spine and ribs start to become extra easy to feel.

This little girl in the pictures was Petunia. Petunia came to Doc Truli after her mom tried to clean and treat the eye at home. Once the eye abscessed, it is unlikely to heal unless the infection is completely surgically removed. In Petunia’s case, this would mean general anesthesia and eye removal surgery.

How to Decide Whether to Have Surgery on a Sugar Glider

1) Does your sugar glider have any other choices for treatment? If yes, try it!

2) Could your little glider die without surgery? If yes, probably should risk the surgery.

3) Is your glider very weak and surgery is extra risky? If yes (usually yes because they hide their symptoms so well), then see #1 and #2 and then just accept the risk because you do not have a simple, no risk choice!

Petunia’s mom could not face the decision for surgery. She knew sugar glider eye abscesses almost never get better without

This sugar glider's spine is bony and easy to feel because she is sick from an infected eyeball

The prominent spine is easy to see in this picture.

surgery, she also knew Petunia was very systemically ill. She decided to try oral medication and eye drops and felt surgery would be a death sentence for Petunia. Doc Truli felt not performing surgery was a death sentence.

Exotic Pet Surgery Inherently Risky

Exotic pets are always riskier surgical candidates than cats or dogs. Science knows much less about them and most veterinarians have much more experience with cats and dogs. But if your little one needs surgery, try not to be too frightened or overwhelmed by the decision to authorize surgery. You might be surprised at a good result!

P.S. Petunia passed away two weeks later after a week of not wanting to eat. Sorry for the unhappy ending to a VirtuaVet story. Doc Truli hopes this story will save a glider’s life if they get an eye abscess and their parents need help deciding whether to do surgery or not. Please consider surgery!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 2, 2017 11:30 am

    I had one with an eye abscess and could not find a vet to treat the sugar glider. So I just used an eye antibiotic I had for my cats. The infection went away but she is blind in that eye. The previous owner did not feed her correctly either. It was tough trying to find a vet for exotic pet like this.

    • October 10, 2017 9:08 am

      Good point about finding vets that can help you with so-called exotic pets. That is research best done before getting the pet (if you can.) I would recommend anything other than a cat or a dog, check vet and even harder to find, an emergency vet that will see your pet.

      As a side note: I noticed over the years that the vets call these animals “exotic,” but the owners did not even imagine that vets wouldn’t see their pet. Especially birds, hamsters, rabbit, mini pig. It often comes as a shock to the pet parent when no vet will see their pet and it seems unfair. If you can, always research who will be your regular vet and your emergency vet (if not the same vet.) Also- more and more vets know acupuncture, You may also want to research if you have a veterinarian trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine to help you care for your little one.

  2. March 8, 2013 8:56 am

    I had a sugar glider named Nubby die this week from multiple issues, including an eye abscess. His started as an infection in a wound in his back, then the eye abscessed and I had to have it removed. Less than a week later, the scent gland on top of his head swelled and a few days after that, I found him in the floor unable to move. Less than an hour later, he started having seizures. I rushed him to a Vet hospital only to discover he had a mass (possibly another abscess) forming at the corner of his right jaw, just under where the eye had been. Due to so many problems going at once, a lack of funds to afford all the diagnostics ($700-$900), and the fact that he’d already been through two surgeries and was in pain, I had him put to sleep. He’s the 6th glider I’ve lost, but the first that I’ve had for more than a year. His brother and nephew miss him, as do I.

    • March 9, 2013 8:04 pm

      Dear Chris,
      I’m sorry your little one passed away. I’m sure many people can sympathize with the position you were in, trying to do the best for him.
      -Doc Truli

    • Katie permalink
      April 26, 2013 7:27 am

      I have and own sugar gliders 3 yrs now. They are a lot of work. We take them out of their cage at least once a week. They are feed fresh fruits like red seedless grapes, melon, strawberries, you just see what they like. We give them romaine lettuce every day, along with their regular sugar glider pellets we put in dried fruit and premium daily bird food. Ask your vet. You must be doing something wrong. Our sugar gliders have mates as well, they are very social creatures and do not live alone. They can die from loneliness! I know this seems like a lot but if you really want to have this animal try these steps I hope all works out. Our sugar mom has two healthy babies that are just coming out of the pouch! Good luck!

      • April 26, 2013 10:23 pm

        Just like human children, you cannot feed them what they want. Otherwise, our children in America would eat only chicken nuggets and French fries with an occasional hamburger or hot dog and lots of white flour and sugar. Oh wait! That does describe 50% of America’s children. So why wouldn’t we feed out pets like we feed our children, according to their childish whims?

        Seriously, we have imperfect knowledge of how to house and keep most species, including ourselves. We do the best we can according to tradition, research, and trial and error. We know that sugar gliders will eat fruit until they become diabetic, so it should be limited to a few small pieces daily, preferably through some work like searching through special feeding toys or clean tree logs with crevices for them to explore.

        Keep researching and adapting as you go in life. It’s the whole point!

      • April 27, 2013 3:06 am

        Actually, I’m kind of an unofficial rescue and currently have 20 gliders in 5 separate groups because they don’t all get along. I’ve kept gliders since 2007 and did quite a bit of research on them before getting one. The few cages I do keep are large cages (18″ x 35″ x 54″). Mine are fed Hormel Naturals lunch meats because they do not contain Nitrates or Nitrites, cheese, yougurt, raw oatmeal, a variety of nuts, grapes, and another fruit that might range from melon balls to whole apples or kiwis. Occassionally, they also get grape tomatoes, baby carrots or broccoli stems. Nubby died because a wound became infected and the antibiotics the vet prescribed did not work on this infection and it spread into other systems.

  3. maddie permalink
    January 15, 2013 5:16 pm

    cool you have a sugar glider
    I never thought they were kept as pets too

    • January 16, 2013 9:57 am

      Dear Maddie, in most US states, sugar gliders can be kept as pets. I just saw another glider named “Pocket” who hurt his toes. Pretty soon, I’ll post a story about “Pocket” the sugar glider (once I have my pictures transferred to the computer!)
      -Doc Truli


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