Weighing your degus regularly
It is important to weigh your degus once a week or once every 2 weeks, it should be no longer than this as you may not be able to identify any sudden changes/weight fluctuations. Doing this helps you to get an idea about what is normal for your degus and then you can compare this year on year. Their weight will fluctuate depending upon season and it is not unusual to see degus gain significant weight in the Winter time. However, some actually lose weight due to being very sensitive to their hormones. Like us, they are all different and depend on you to be observant. Please note that if your degu loses more than 10 grams in 1 or 2 days, this could indicate that there may be a health problem.
To simply weigh your degu take a clean plastic bowl and place it onto some digital scales. Place a favourite treat inside of the bowl and then turn the scales on so that the scales are set to 0. Put your degu inside and record their weight.
Degu First Aid
We always like to be prepared and keep what we consider essentials in the event of a degu falling ill or being injured. Here is a list of what we consider necessary, to cover all eventualities.
Snuggle Safe Heatpad
These are essential and really are life savers for keeping degus warm when they are ill, degus lose heat very quickly when their system is under stress because of illness and they find it hard to regulate their body temperature. They are safe as they are heated up in a microwave, maintain heat for up to 10 hours in our experience and have no leads or wires that can be chewed. An Ideal room temperature in general for degus are between 18 and 20C.
Please regularly inspect the heat pad for signs of wear and chewing. If it is damaged then replace immediately.
You can buy heat pads here.
How to make Saline solution
This can be made at home and used when you need to clean an injury. This is appropriate for injuries on the body but must NOT be used in the eyes, nose, mouth or inside anus/genitals. Sterilise an appropriate pot or jar by washing in hot soapy water and then rinsing round with boiling water and letting it air dry.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of common table salt to 8 ounces of water in the sterilised container.
Suck the solution up using a sterile unopened 1ml syringe
Apply to the wound area to keep the area clean and sterilised. This is harmless if licked off and is just as effective as other wound cleansers that contain chemicals.
The solution can be kept in the fridge and used again for up to 3 days before you need to discard it.
This is very versatile and can be used in minor wounds and to help wound healing. Very safe for all animals and humans alike and has remarkable healing qualities. This can be ingested safely if licked as it is often recommended for putting into water to purify it. Better to buy and put into a small sterile spray bottle for ease of administering.
You can buy colloidal silver here.
These are invaluable when having to give medication and for flushing wounds.
You can buy 1ml syringes here.
These are useful for when you have to syringe feed in times of illness as the food is easier to get into and feed from this larger syringe.
You can buy 2.5ml syringes here.
Oxbow Critical Care
We always keep a couple of packets of this in for when they are lacking appetite due to illness. It keeps the gut functioning and helps prevent stasis (immobility of the gut) if the gut stops working in a degu this can be fatal, so it is always important in times of illness to make sure that this high fibre support feed is offered to keep things moving. The fine grind is easier to get into a syringe and ours seem to prefer it to the course grind. However, the Oxbow Critical Care for Herbivores (Green packet) is actually more beneficial for gut function.
Critical Care should be stored in the freezer once open as this keeps it at optimum freshness.
You can buy Fine Grind Critical Care here.
You can buy Critical Care for Herbivores here.
This is very good at rehydrating a degu that may be dehydrated. Dehydration again can be fatal and usually one of the first things an ill degu will do is stop drinking. We recommend carrot and sweet potato flavoured Ella's Kitchen baby food. Please do not buy any baby food containing fruit or meat. This gives fluid and energy and although it has sweet potato and carrot in it, in the short term that you will need to use it, this will not do any harm. Most degus really enjoy this once they get used to the taste.
You can buy a good quality baby food here and in most supermarkets.
Cotton buds (Q tips)
These are good for gently bathing wounds, removing foreign objects from the mouth or eyes. They have a number of uses and are a good staple to keep in.
You can buy cotton buds here and in pharmacy stores.
Branded type eye washes that are suitable for humans can also be used safely in degu eyes if they have a foreign object in the eye such as hay or debris build up. You can use a syringe or buy the dropper version to administer safely. Using Supermarket own brands are often cheaper and have exactly the same ingredients as the branded versions. If you suspect that your degu has an eye infection or other ailment please take it to a vet. These eye washes are good for minor conditions but will not deal successfully with infections or eye conditions where antibiotic drops may be needed.
You can buy eye wash here.
Very good for stopping any type of minor wound bleeding. Apply with a cotton bud.
You can buy styptic powder here.
MALES: Both sexes have what is called a cone. It is the little bit of skin that sticks out around the genital area. In males there is a LARGER GAP between the cone and the anus, the hole directly underneath the tail. In pups this isn't so easy to identify but usually by the age of around 6/8 weeks the difference becomes obvious.
We have to be observant to ensure that they live as good a quality life as possible
This should be brown/black in colour and long with a brush of fur on the end. In some countries degus are called brush tailed rats for this reason. The exceptions are degus who have suffered de-gloving, where the outer skin peels away from the tail bone because they have either been picked up by their tails, got the tail caught in something in their environment or have been involved in a disagreement with another degu - NEVER PICK A DEGU UP BY ITS TAIL, THIS WILL CAUSE THE TAIL SKIN TO COME OFF/DE-GLOVE AS A DEFENCE MECHANISM. THEY DO THIS IN THE WILD TO ESCAPE PREDATORS.
Acquired dental disease and the implications.
Common signs are weight loss, dribbling, excessive salivation, small faeces or no faeces. discharge from eyes and nose. Overgrown incisors (front teeth) all of this leads to weight loss and gastrointestinal stasis.
Gastrointestinal stasis; degus, being hind gut fermenters need to continuously eat to keep their gut moving, if food isn't able to be chewed efficiently due to dental problems then this can result in diarrhoea, or conversely, if the gut slows down or stops because lack of or enough food, the outcome can be fatal.
Premolars and molar teeth work together in grinding food and the incisors are used for cutting/ripping of fibrous foods, all teeth grow continuously. The lower cheek teeth are arched shaped and face towards the tongue and overgrowth can trap the tongue causing pain. The upper cheek teeth point outwards, the shape of the teeth are optimised for grinding thin fibrous food that they eat in the wild. Most of their wild diet is high in silicates which are present in some grasses, causing efficient tooth wear, as the teeth are continually growing this doesn’t present a problem, in fact, quite the opposite as it is a form of tooth maintenance. You must remember that in the wild degus spend a good proportion of their life eating low quality grasses that are high in silicates. The continual grinding motion prevents overgrown teeth.
As mentioned in the diet section, a certain proportion of dental illness is genetic but by far, an inappropriate diet is responsible. Most “pellet” diets do not encourage constant chewing and wearing down of their continually growing molar teeth and dental disease is often the result. Pellet diets often lead to dental spurs (sharp uneven points) due to the lack of variety which results in boredom. There is no encouragement for them to eat as you are offering the same food every day and by nature they are foraging animals who like variety.
If degus are not being given a diet where they can chew continuously on fibrous foods then the teeth grow longer as they are not wearing them down.
The cheek teeth often grow backwards as a result of the roots deviating and growing in the wrong direction , eventually finding their way into the skull/brain.
They grow into the nasal sinuses often causing eye and respiratory infection
Lower teeth grow into the jawbone causing large bony nodules and often you will see abscess formation. The mouth is gradually forced open and the front teeth get longer as they do not meet any more, resulting in the degu if left long enough without attention, being unable to eat.
Prevention is so much better than cure. Feeding a correct diet is vital in preventing acquired dental disease. All of the above conditions can only be managed, never cured.
There are still a huge amount of unwanted degus in animal shelters and rescue centres all across the UK and the world. These degus are very often the result of unwanted litters that are frequently inbred. PLEASE THINK VERY CAREFULLY BEFORE DELIBERATELY BREEDING DEGUS. It is much better to give a home to unwanted degus than to breed or buy pups from a pet shop or irresponsible breeder. It often ends in heartache and the vet bills can be very high when your degus start to suffer with all kinds of health problems as a result of their breeding.
We recommend that you give every one of your degus a weekly health check. It is far better to find a health problem sooner rather than later. Degus, being prey animals, can often hide health problems until it is too late to treat. You need to know what is "normal" for your degu as this is often the only way you will be alerted to a health issue that needs dealing with.
Bumblefoot - (Pododermatitis)
This is a very painful condition affecting the feet that is nearly always caused by bare wire mesh floors or mesh running wheels in their enclosure. It causes swelling and ulceration of the foot pads. Once the feet become sore and cracked, bacterial infection enters and antibiotics are needed. In extreme cases the foot or feet have to be amputated. Please cover all mesh floors in enclosures with wood or other non toxic solid materials.
How to identify a degu in pain (possible symptoms)
A degu in pain often sits very still and hunched up with their fur standing out as if they are cold. In some cases there will be rapid breathing and if they do move, it may be quite slow. They may chatter their teeth (bruxism) and their flanks will be pulled in, so the degu will look thinner around the middle. Their ears may be positioned to the side and will not be erect, and their eyes may be dull, half or fully closed. They also tend to stay in dark corners of their enclosure and be reluctant to come forward.
Apart from when sleeping, degus are naturally active and inquisitive creatures. Older degus naturally slow down with advancing years. Although these "old timers" still enjoy periods of activity, consideration needs to be given to their age. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether an older degu that you have just adopted is ill or not, therefore making it even more important to get to know them.
Sadly, too many times we hear of people who obtain what they think are two boys or two girls and in actual fact, they have a boy and a girl that results in an unwanted pregnancy. To make matters even worse, very often these degus are related, I.E. Brother and Sister, so the pups are inbred. In many rodents inbreeding isn't such a huge problem and the offspring are not seriously genetically disadvantaged. In degus this is not recommended or acceptable. The offspring from two related degus often go on to suffer numerous health problems throughout their lives, if they survive at all. Of course it’s better to prevent this happening which is why sexing your degus correctly before allowing them to live together is vitally important.
Should be a pale pink, clean colour with no discharge coming from the ear. On the inside of the ear it is perfectly normal to have a dark brown, shiny wax substance. A degu who is scratching constantly at one or both ears or is tilting their head to one side needs to see a vet as soon as possible as this usually indicates infection. Ear infections are notoriously difficult to treat so the sooner infection is treated, the better the outcome.
Degus have a high intolerance to dietary sugar and are unable to metabolise high amounts of it. In the 1950's they were exported from Chile for diabetic research. Feeding high sugar foods such as fruit, some vegetables, carbohydrates and some commercial pellets that often have molasses added are all unsuitable. Increased thirst and urination, rapid weight gain and then weight loss, alongside cataract formation are all signs that your degu may have developed diabetes. Feeding a natural diet will almost certainly prevent diabetes.
FEMALES: In the female the gap between the cone and the anus is MUCH CLOSER. Sometimes there is virtually no gap at all.
If you have any further questions please ask on the Degu Health & Behaviour group on Facebook. Please click here
These items are advisory only. We like to be prepared for any eventuality as in our experience, whenever a degu falls ill or is injured, it is usually either late at night, a bank holiday or weekend. If your degu becomes ill, please seek veterinary attention as your first priority. IT COULD SAVE YOUR DEGUS LIFE AND PREVENT UNNECESSARY SUFFERING.
We have used a retailer as an example in the links here purely because it stocks all items we mention. These items are of course available, from other outlets.
The eyes are usually a dark brown colour with a black pupil. Eyes should be bright, alert and clear with no cloudiness or discharge. The eye lids, upper and lower should be dark brown/black in appearance with no deviation from the natural eye shape and smooth in formation.
If you notice any discharge/wetness around the fur of the eye then this could be an infection such as conjunctivitis but please always take your degu to a vet because this could also be an indication of more serious problems with teeth roots growing into the optic area.
Front teeth, incisors upper and lower should be a mid to dark orange colour. The upper and lower jaws should be in line/symmetry with each other. There should be no saliva or wetness around the mouth as this could indicate that there is pain when eating. It is also a good idea to sniff around the mouth as sometimes, where there is infection, you can smell a sour odour. A healthy degu mouth should not have any odour or wetness.
Some degus develop cataracts as a result of diabetes (please see below) or cataracts that can be genetic. This gives a cloudy opaque appearance to the eye. Please be aware that your degu will have limited sight in the affected eye/s, so due consideration should be given to the enclosure arrangements, making sure that there are no falling opportunities and also when they are out of the enclosure in an open space where they are more vulnerable to falling off and walking into objects.
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