Introductions run the gamut from ‘best friends on first sniff’ to ‘better off re-pairing’. No prior experiences will help predict how well any two gliders will get along, as this is completely personality dependent and situation specific. Sometimes a jerk needs another jerk to put them in line, other times they need a cuddler to teach them how to love.
The basic method for glider introductions relies on pouch swapping between their two nearby cages for several days, and then attempting face to face introductions in a neutral area until they get along reasonably well and can be integrated together in a cage. If this strategy fails more than three times in a row, there are more advanced tricks to try, like pouch-in-pouch sleeping and introduction pouches.
I find it is very worthwhile to just attempt a face to face meeting before going through any of the introduction routine. About half the time they just get along on first sniff and it is effortless. When this works out, you get to skip some alone time and a lot of stress, so it’s worth checking. An individual glider’s personality seems to be uninformative for how well this will go. I’ve had unlikely ones that worked out on first sniff and likely ones that devolved into a brawl. I don’t guess, I just check. I’ve had some real shockers over the years. Regardless of how it goes, this gives me a lot of insight on how to proceed with the pair.
Face to Face Meeting
Use a neutral territory for their first face to face encounter. Some commonly used areas are a clean pop-up tent, the bathtub, a clean and unclaimed cage, a walk in closet, etc.
Have a glove on one hand for breaking up fights. I use a thick mechanics’ glove.
Have treats on hand. Beware using worms or fish sticks as they will often trigger glider frenzy mode, and you’re aiming for calm and tranquil vibes. (See previous rant on frenzy mode for more details)
Have feathers nearby to use as a distraction if necessary. Use this trick sparingly as feathers provoke frenzy mode, but they can also distract a chaser or lure a glider down from a panic perch.
Have a second person to help. Gliders love to get on your back between your shoulder blades where you cannot see or reach them. If you’re alone, press your back against the wall if possible.
Bring out your more bonded glider and give them a treat on your forearm. Bring out the other glider and give them a treat on your other hand, or friends arm. Slowly move the two gliders near each other until one glider can unobtrusively sniff the other glider. At this point there may be a violent reaction, or they may ignore each other. There is a wide spectrum of possibilities.
Let them grab, rub, climb-on, pull tails, nip, nibble, crab, snit, chase, and steal food. This is nerve-wracking but keep yourself calm. If they ball up into a fight and fall to the floor squealing, then use your gloved hand to break them apart and end the session.
Use good judgement on how much stress each glider can tolerate during an introduction. There is nothing to gain by forming fear associations to new scents. If one of the gliders is panicking or being chased too much, then it’s probably better to keep the sessions short.
Put cages near each other, but at least a tail’s width apart for safety. I like to cover both with the same cage cover to mingle their scents together. They should be able to see each other. I like to line up their food plates so they are within inches of each other while eating. I often offer treats to them so they are near each other while eating treats. Anything to encourage them to have happy thoughts while in the other’s presence is a good idea.
Remove all but one sleeping spot from each cage. Each night when they are playing, swap those stinky pouches between the cages so they sleep in the stink of the other glider. Don’t switch the gliders between cages, this is stressful to them and mostly ineffective.
Here is the underlying science behind pouch swapping. Research on sugar gliders have shown that is it required for the gliders to sleep in the strong, fresh scent of a new glider for several days in a row to habituate to their individual scent and form a new colony association. This research specifically states that just sharing a cage isn’t adequate, the gliders must share a sleeping spot to habituate. This creates a colony association and coats their fur in the new, combined colony scent.
This research also discusses the difference in reaction to foreign glider scent compared to colony glider scent. Gliders will sniff foreign glider scent for a long time, up to a full minute the first few times they encounter it. Once a glider has habituated to the scent of a new glider, they will only sniff for a few seconds. If you are concerned that aggression will occur during a pair’s face to face encounter, you can check to see if they are habituated to each other’s scent by timing how long they sniff at a fresh pee spot. Under 10 seconds of sniffing is a good omen, over 30 seconds is a bad omen.
3 x 3 Rule of Thumb
My usual routine is to do 3 days of pouch swapping then a face to face meeting, and repeat that three times before I try more advanced methods. If nine days of pouch swapping isn’t enough to habituate them, I try to get them to sleep in a nest together for several days. In order to let them sleep together without harming each other, I use an introduction pouch or the pouch-in-pouch method.
An introduction pouch has two mesh pouches inside a large canvas bag. This lets the gliders see and smell each other, but not bite or pull tails. It is a safe way to let the gliders sleep directly next to each other for several supervised hours. I believe this is the best option, as it lets them see each other and share warmth while sleeping. These are pricey bags for something that you intend to use only once, but a very worthwhile investment for breeders or people who intend to collect a large colony.
Pouch in Pouch Bonding
You can achieve a similar effect to an introduction bag by putting a double-layered, zipped bonding pouch inside a large colony pouch. Beware that they can bite through fleece, making this a risky strategy if the gliders are being aggressive. If they are relatively calm and supervised, this is an excellent way to share warmth and scent while sleeping that is reasonably safe.
Additional Tips, Tricks, and Troubleshooting
You can use a Q-tip to transfer scent and urine from one glider to another. Rub the Q-tip on the head-spot, chest gland, and cloaca, then rub it all over the other gliders’ fur.
Scent masking them both with vanilla extract is a common trick I’ve heard but haven’t used myself.
One of the most experienced glider rescuers I know just tosses them in a cage together and lets them figure out their hierarchy. My anxiety won’t let me do that, but I get a lot of courage from thinking about it, and I try to give the gliders more freedom to be jerks to each other if necessary.
Have Vetericyn or QuickDerm on hand in case of scratches or injuries. Clean the cage thoroughly and monitor any broken skin closely for signs of infection (swelling, heat, discharge, odor, color change). They will need oral antibiotics from a vet if it gets infected.
If introducing one glider to multiple other gliders, start with the pairing that is most likely to succeed and let those two scents mingle together for a night or two before adding in others.
Young joeys introduce easier than adults because they do not yet make or recognize some of the colony scent markers.
Stay calm. Alcohol, Xanax, chill music, whatever it takes to get your mood in order. Gliders absolutely can read your emotions, and they will key off of them. If even their big, strong human is scared of the new glider, they must be incredibly terrifying!
A strict 30 day quarantine that begins and ends with a vet visit to check for internal parasites may prevent the spread of some contagious diseases and parasites.