Hand Raising A Joey

Normally, if a joey is going to be rejected, the rejection occurs within the first two weeks out-of-pouch (o.o.p.). However, rejection can occur at any time until the joey is completely weaned. Therefore, it is important to be prepared for such an event and to understand the possible causes.

There are many possible reasons that you may have to hand raise, or supplement feed, a joey. The mother may reject the joey due to stress, lack of milk or a birth defect that may or may not be apparent. The mother may die but the joey survives. The mother may get a pouch infection that would be hearmful to the joey.
You may need to supplement feed the joey if the mother is not producing enough milk for the joey on her own.

Not that some people choose to hand raise joeys because they believe itit will make the joey more tame. I do not condone this reason. I believe that the joey should be kept with its parents if at all possible. 

Sometimes, joeys come out of pouch too soon. They will not have very much fur, if any at all. Their ears will still be tucked close to their head. Their eyelids will be almost translucent. A joey that comes o.o.p. too soon will need extra care and attention from you. You will need to ensure that it stays warm enough since it will not be able to retain any body heat on its own yet. One or the other of the parents should be staying with the joey constantly to keep it warm. A premature joey can become hypothermic even if left alone for only 5-10 minutes.

You will also need to make sure the joey is getting enough to eat. There is a fair chance that you will need to supplement feed a premature joey. This is done by using a combination of Wombaroo Sugar Glider Milk Replacer, Impact Colostrum Supplement and unflavored Pedialyte, as per my Joey Formula. Pedialyte is important for supplement feeding to ensure that the joey will not get dehydrated. Frequency of supplement feeding can vary, but generally 3-4 times per day at regular intervals is adequate.

As with anything else regarding sugar gliders, there are many methods and techniques for hand raising a joey. Most of the information in this article is based upon my own personal experience. It is my hope that by sharing this information with you, your joey will be able to survive in the event of rejection. Keep in mind though, sometimes no matter what you do, you simply can not save the joey. Please try not to blame yourself if this happens. It is nature's way.

Hand-Raise or Supplement Feed?

Symptoms of Rejection

Many people want a set list of Symptoms of Rejection. Unfortunately, although there are some more common signs of rejection, there is not a definitive list that will absolutely spell it out for you. If your instinct is telling you that the joey may be going through rejection and you don't see the symptom on this list, then follow your instinct and at least start supplement feeding the joey as described below. It's better to err on the side of caution than to find the cannibalized remains of a joey.

Symptoms of Rejection include, but are not limited to:

*To check for dehydration, gently lift the skin over the shoulder blades, creating a "tent" of skin. Once released, the tent should immediately start to go back into place. If it stays tented or goes down very slowly, the joey is dehydrated. You will need to immediately start hand feeding the joey unflavored Pedialyte for the first 24 hours. (Flavored Pedialyte contains sucralose, which should not be given to gliders.)

Hand Raising vs. Supplement Feeding - Which Should You Do?

You may want to try supplement feeding the joey if the mother is still taking care of the joey but the joey is crying a lot and/or trying to crawl out of the nest. Try to simply supplement feed the joey two to three times a day. Make sure that you feed the joey at about the same time every day with a few hours between feedings.

If the joey has been injured at all, such as bite marks or sores on the face or back, then you need to completely pull the joey and hand raise it. If you don't, the mother is likely to kill and cannibalize the joey in frustration.

If you have found the joey on the floor of the cage, or totally outside of the nest, or the parents have left the joey in one nest and gone to another, you should first try to reunite them. To do this, place the joey on the father's back. He should immediately carry the joey back to the nest and stay with it. He should start to clean and care for the joey once back in the nest. If he "drops" the joey off and ignores it, the joey has been rejected and you will probably need to hand raise the joey for at least a little while. Warm the joey up, feed it, then continue to keep it warm. Repeat feeding it after an hour. At this point, you can try to put the joey back in with the parents, but if the parents continue to abandon the joey, then you will need to hand raise the joey. When you try putting the joey back in with the parents, it is very important that you stay close by in case they abandon the joey again. You can not risk allowing the joey to get too cold or dehydrated. Most rejected joeys that die do so from dehydration* (see note above).

How to Warm Up a Cold Joey

Symptoms of Rejection

Keep in mind that a joey that is too cold will not have the energy to drink. In order to warm the joey up, place a fleece blanket in the microwave for a few seconds until it is warm (but not hot) to the touch. Wrap the joey in the fleece blanket and hold it close to your heart - tucking the wrapped joey inside your shirt if at all possible. Check the joey after about five minutes to see if it is warm yet. You may need to reheat the fleece blanket periodically. Once the joey is warm, you can try to feed it. You will know the joey is warm enough when it feels warm to the touch.

If you are hand raising the joey, you will need to keep it in an incubator when you are unable to hold it so that it can maintain its body heat. I recommend keeping the joey on your person as much as possible, only using the incubator when you need to sleep or bathe. Do NOT sleep with the joey on your person. In your exhaustion, you may accidentally roll over onto the joey and suffocate it.

A Note About Premature Joeys

Upon occasion, a situation will arise where the mother dies with premature joeys in pouch. Sadly, it is very difficult to detach the premature joeys from the teats, but sometimes it can be done without mutilating the mother in the process. When this rare occurrence happens, you can attempt to hand raise the joeys. However, keep in mind that it is very rare for premature joeys to survive. Please don't beat yourself up if they don't make it. Remind yourself that you did try and that their chances were very slim to begin with.

Now, having said that, exactly what can you do to try to help these tiny, pink joeys to survive?

1) The premature joeys have no fur whatsoever so they can not regulate their body heat at all. That means that you have to keep them on your body, tucked into your shirt 24/7. Wrap them in a warm piece of t-shirt cotton*, tuck them into a small pouch and place them close to your heart. If you need to sleep, you will need to do so sitting up in a chair so that you don’t accidentally roll over on them. Another option is to allow the father to take care of them for everything except feedings, if he is willing. However, you will need to make sure that you give him a few hours each night for free time so he can exercise and eat.

 *Lynda Staker, a  renowned marsupial wildlife rehabilitator in Australia, advises NOT to use fleece on a joey that does not have fur yet. The reason is that fleece will wick the oils away from the joey’s skin. She recommends using t-shirt cotton instead for the layer directly against the joey.
2) Premature joeys, when still with the mother, are constantly nursing. This is almost impossible for humans to do. However, you can give them a few drops of Joey Formula every 20-30 minutes to retain their constant supply of food. You will need to make the Joey Formula with NO baby cereal in it at all. Preferably, you would make the Joey Formula using Wombaroo Sugar Glider Milk Replacer. In a pinch, you can use puppy formula though – I recommend the Esbilac brand. (Do not use kitten formula – it is too high in lactose!) Please do NOT use Baby BML for a premature joey. It is best to use the feeding syringe/tip combination when feeding premature joeys to get the drops of formula small enough so the chance of aspiration is lessened.
If you are able to get the joeys to survive, you will be able to start using an incubator for your joeys once they start to grow fur on their backs and their ear flaps pop away from their head. Count that as their official “out of pouch” date.
You will need to weigh your joeys individually each day. It will be necessary to use a jeweler’s scale which will weigh in small enough increments of no more than 0.01 gram increments, so that you can actually track daily changes in weight with accuracy. Any weight loss at all is indicative of a problem and you should immediately get your joey(s) to a veterinarian for treatment.

Hand-Feeding Your Newborn Joey

Newly Out-of-Pouch (o.o.p.) until Two Weeks o.o.p.

At this tender young age, your joey’s appetite will be seemingly constant but not very large. Make sure the joey is warm before you start to try feeding it, or it won’t eat. The joey will need to be fed every hour around the clock until it is about 2 weeks o.o.p. It will probably cry when it is hungry. The cry sounds like “Nyitch-nyitch-nyitch” normally being a three-syllable vocalization. This is not to be confused with crabbing. Joeys very rarely crab.

For feeding, you can use a 1.0 cc syringe with a feeding tip attached -or- a 2 oz. PetAg baby bottle, with the tip of the nipple trimmed off slightly -or- a 0.5 cc syringe. Make sure the Joey Formula is lukewarm. When you place a drop of the formula on the inside of your wrist, you should feel no temperature at all.

It is very important to gradually wean the joey over to whichever replacement formula you decide to use for your joey in order to prevent bloating. To do this, simply follow the plan outlined here:

     Day 1: 25% replacement formula, 75% Pedialyte

     Day 2: 50% replacement formula, 50% Pedialyte

     Day 3: 75% replacement formula, 25% Pedialyte

     Day 4: 100% replacement formula

Loosely wrap the joey in a small fleece blanket leaving just the head and arms exposed. Then, gently holding the joey in one hand, squeeze just a small drop of formula onto the joey’s lips. Do not place the feeding tip into the joey’s mouth. Your joey should lap the formula off of its lips, continue to gently place one drop at a time onto its lips until the joey is full. 

Note that your joey may not know how to lap up the formula at first. If you place a drop on the joey’s lips and it does not lick it off right away, then gently rub the end of the joey’s nose with your fingertip until it licks the drop of formula off of its lips. You may need to repeat this a few times until it learns to do it on its own. Also note that the joey may only eat a few drops for the first couple of feedings. If that is the case, then try to feed it every 20-30 minutes at first until it does drink until full. (Remember to feed plain, unflavored Pedialyte during the first 24 hours after rejection.)

If the joey is even slightly dehydrated, you should start with 100% Pedialyte for the first 24 hours of feedings. This will help the joey to become rehydrated. Please note that it is important to use unflavored Pedialyte since the flavored varieties have sucralose added to them. 

You can tell if the joey is full by looking at its tummy. Holding the joey up, you should be able to see a white area on its lower left abdomen. When the area is about the size of a dime, your joey will be full. It should take about .3 to .5 cc’s (or ml) at this age to fill your joey up.

After Feeding Your Joey

After feeding your joey, you will need to stimulate it to defecate & urinate. This is done by moistening a Q-tip and gently rubbing it over the joey's cloaca. It is not unusual for your joey to hiss while you stimulate it. Don't worry if it does. Note that a joey's urine is usually clear, so you will not "see" it on the Q-tip. The feces is normally a brownish-orange color and will be fairly soft until the joey is about five weeks old. Keep in mind that if the joey was dehydrated when you first found it, it may not defecate for the first 24 hours - that is normal and should not be of concern; however, if the joey does not defecate for more than 24 hours, there may be an abdominal blockage and immediate veterinary care is necessary. Once your joey is about 3-4 weeks oop, it will start to go potty on its own and may surprise you during feedings.

You will also need to gently wipe the joey's face with a Cottonelle wipe to clean any excess formula from its mouth, chin and nose. You may need to clean the joey's hands and chest, as well.

Bloating: Prevention and Treatment

Many thanks to GC's Crescent for this information gleaned from the vets at Cornell University while hand-raising her rejected joey, Sky.

To prevent bloating:

When joeys (or any baby animal) are interrupted from their mother’s milk, introducing them to replacement formulas can present problems, especially if there is a complete and sudden change. Also, if one replacement formula is switched for another, that can present problems. These problems can be bloating, diarrhea or other intestinal distress.

When the babies are fed supplemental feedings, there is less likely to be a problem with introducing another formula. Or, if the babies are fed supplementally over a few days and gradually switched to an alternate food source, there is less likely to be a problem. If the joey is completely changing from mother’s milk to replacement formula, ideally the change should be made over 4 days.

Day 1: 25% replacement formula, 75% Pedialyte

Day 2: 50% replacement formula, 50% Pedialyte

Day 3: 75% replacement formula, 25% Pedialyte

Day 4: 100% replacement formula

Dealing with bloating:

Your joey can die from bloating and digestive distress. Bloating is serious. Bloating can be treated with “Little Tummies” simethicone for infants. Mix 1 drop (.05 cc) per 1.0 cc feeding. Continue until bloating significantly reduces.

Dealing with little weight gain on Baby BML:

Many people have had good success with Baby BML. However, some joeys will not properly gain weight on baby BML, even though they are eating the proper amount. It is impossible to say all the reasons a joey will not gain weight. We do know that sometimes a joey may not gain weight because its system is not mature enough to completely digest the baby BML.

How can you tell if your joey is having this problem? If you are using Baby BML and your joey is not gaining weight, your vet can check a stool sample to see if there is undigested food in the stool. Undigested food indicates that food is passing through the joey?s system and not being properly digested or converted to energy for growth. If this is the case, you should switch to Joey Formula which is easier to digest. The switch should be made gradually over 4 days using the process outlined above. An immediate switch from one formula to another can cause bloating and other digestive problems.

Dealing with chronic diarrhea, loss of weight and increasing weakness:

If you have a joey that does not gain weight or begins to lose weight over several days and then develops diarrhea, your joey is at significant risk. He may be at the end of his energy reserves. If he does not have a quick source of energy, he can die quickly. This treatment can help: Add .05 cc canola oil for a 1.0 cc feeding. Do this until weight gain begins to be established.

Hand-Feeding Your Joey: 2 - 4 wks. o.o.p.

Once the joey is between two and four weeks out-of-pouch, the technique for hand-feeding it is almost identical to that for feeding a newly o.o.p. joey, except that the joey should now eat between 0.5 to 1.0 cc's per feeding and should only need to be fed every two hours or so around the clock. Also, at this age, your joey may start to urinate while drinking; therefore, place a folded facial tissue against the joey's cloaca while feeding it to absorb any urine.

Hand-Feeding Your Joey: 4 - 6 wks. o.o.p.

By this time, your joey should be eating 1.0 to 2.0 cc's (or ml's) of formula at a time and should only need to be fed every 3 to 4 hours around the clock. Your joey should be urinating on its own by now. You can introduce your joey to drinking from a shallow dish at this point. Put one or two tsp. of formula into a shallow dish. Place the dish on top of some paper toweling to absorb any spills and urine. If your joey does not immediately start to lap up the formula, try gently dipping the tip of its mouth down into the formula. It should lick the formula off its lips and then figure out how to drink from the dish on its own. This method of feeding can be very messy. Your joey will step in and walk through the dish. It will also shake its head periodically, flinging formula everywhere. This is normal. Be ready with some Cottonelle wipes to clean your joey up after it is done eating.

Hand-Feeding Your Joey: 6 - 8 wks. o.o.p.

When your joey is six to eight weeks out-of-pouch, it will now be in the final stage before being weaned. It should be defecating on its own by now and should have almost all of its fur. Its tail should be starting to become fluffy and look more like an adult sugar glider's tail.

At this time, you can take the joey out of the incubator and put it into a small cage. If there is a removable wire grid in the bottom of the cage, remove it. Line the bottom of the cage with multiple layers of fleece and put your joey's stuffed animal inside the cage for it to cuddle and play with. You may want to place a human heating pad (set on low) under the cage. First wrap the heating pad in multiple layers of towelling (3 or 4 layers) to prevent the cage from getting too hot. Then set the cage on top of the heating pad/towels. Your joey will wander around the cage during the night.

Your joey is now ready to be introduced to other foods. Purchase a variety of fruit and vegetable baby foods. Mix equal parts formula with baby food. Offer two different flavors plus plain formula each night. Your joey will be able to pick and choose which foods it wants each night. Refrigerate any unused portions of baby food for use a few nights later. You will probably throw out more than half of each jar of baby food since it should not be kept for longer than a week in the refrigerator. For this reason, only buy the smallest jar possible. You should place the food into the cage each evening so that your joey can eat at will throughout the night. Take out the leftovers each morning. Your joey should no longer need to be fed during the daytime. Slowly start introducing solid foods to your joey a bit at a time.

Most joeys at this age are groomly themselves adequately, but some still can make quite a mess during this weaning process. Gently wipe the joey with a Cottonelle Fresh Wipe if needed. The joey should be able to comb its own fur afterwards.

Feeding Reference Guide:

Age of JoeyAmount to FeedFrequency
Newly oop - 2 weeks oop0.3 - 0.5 cc'sEvery 1-2 hours
2 wks oop - 4 wks oop0.5 - 1.0 cc'sEvery 2-3 hours
4 wks oop - 6 wks oop1.0 - 2.0 cc'sEvery 3-4 hours
6 wks oop - 8 wks oop2.0 - 4.0 cc's**
**At this age, your joey should be starting to eat on its own, see information above for further instructions on weaning a joey of this age.

What Do You Need?

Whether hand-raising or supplement-feeding a joey, there are many items you will need. It is best to purchase these items before a situation arises and keep them together in a handy location so you are not scrambling for them in a panic. There are several kits available from The Pampered Glider. Or, if you’d prefer, you can purchase the items individually on your own as listed below.

For feeding, you will need one of the following:


For making an incubator, you will need:

OR one of the following plastic containers:

PLUS the following thermometer:

PLUS all of the following items:

Additional items you will need:

Optional items you may want:

How to Make the Incubator

There are two types of incubators that you can easily make for your joey, a simple glass tank-style incubator or a simple plastic tank or bucket-style incubator. Whichever style you choose, you should assemble it in advance of needing it so that you can start to use it immediately when necessary. Either style works quite well. It is simply a matter of personal preference as to which style you choose.

1)  For the glass tank-style incubator, attach the small Heat Wave Reptile Heat Pad (follow instructions included in its package) to the bottom, underside (outside) of the aquarium at one end. This will keep the incubator between 85 & 90 degrees Fahrenheit*.

       *note: The average temperature of the glass tank-style incubator is 5 degrees lower than the avg. temp. of the bucket-style or plastic-tank incubator. This is because the glass retains the heat more and therefore needs to be at a lower average temperature to prevent injury to the joey.

For the bucket-style or plastic-tank incubator, drill about 2 dozen holes into the lid of the Rubbermaid storage container -or- use a 6″x8″, or larger, Critter Keeper with lid. Then, lay the two large, thick bath towels flat together, place the human heating pad in the center of them, folding both ends of the towel in over top of the heating pad so that there are two layers of towel underneath the heating pad and four layers on top of it. Place the Rubbermaid container or Critter Keeper on top of the layered toweling.

2)  Using the misting spray bottle, spray one washcloth with water, then lay it on the bottom of the tank at the end where the heating pad is located. This will keep the incubator humid so your joey does not get dry, flaky skin. The washcloth will need to be freshly sprayed with water every 4 – 6 hours. The humidity level of the incubator should be kept between 30 – 35%.

3)  Lay two or three large fleece blankets along the bottom of the tank over the top of the damp washcloth. This will insulate your joey from getting burned by the heater.

4) Place the thermometer on top of the fleece blankets at the level your joey will be sleeping. This will enable you to monitor the temperature of the incubator to ensure that it does not get over 95 degrees Fahrenheit*. 

         *note: For the glass-tank style incubator, the temperature range should be between 85 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit (see note above for more details). For the bucket-style or plastic tank incubator, the temperature range should be between 90 – 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

5)  Place the small stuffed animal in one corner of the incubator for snuggly warmth and companionship for your joey.

6)  Place a small fleece blanket into each of remaining three corners of incubator.

7) Test the function of the incubator before it is needed to make sure that it heats correctly (see note above) and does not get too humid (over 35%). If too humid, the moisture will gather on the sides and top of the incubator. 

When the incubator is needed:

1) Plug in the heating pad. For the bucket-style incubator, set the heating pad on “low” (note that if the heating pad has an “automatic shut-off” feature, you will need to turn it back on every 2 hours while the joey is inside the incubator).

2) Mist a washcloth with water using a spray bottle and lay it in the bottom of incubator, at one end, underneath the fleeces blankets. Note that the washcloth will need to be remoistened every 4-6 hours to maintain the humidity within the incubator. 

3)  Place the joey inside the incubator, wrapped in a small fleece blanket or in a joey pouch, towards the center of the tank.

4)  Cover the tank with the lid.

5)  You may need to lay a hand towel over a portion of the top of the lid to prevent drafts from getting into the incubator.