Hand Rearing Degu Pups

How to bring up degu pups by hand

You should never try and hand rear a pup unless you have no other choice. Even with your best efforts, you can never replace the care of a mother degu. However, it is sometimes necessary to intervene. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some tips on hand rearing a pup in order to increases its chances of survival. It should be pointed out that if a pup needs hand rearing, the odds of survival are already greatly stacked against it.


To give orphaned pups the best chance of survival you must give them the three most important things they require, which are heat, food and hygiene care. This is also the order of importance, so your primary task will be to provide warmth for the pup. Ideally, this will be in the form of an incubator, set to degu body temperature (37 degrees C). It is essential that you maintain this temperature as pups cannot regulate their own body temperature in the first weeks of life (up until around 8 days old52), and even a few degrees change in temperature will cause the pup to use a lot of energy just to obtain thermeostasis. If you don't have an incubator to hand, place the pup's nest on top of a hot water bottle, or microwaveable heat pad, wrapped in a towel. You will need to re-heat the bottle/pad regularly to maintain heat. Once the pup is warm, feeding must begin. Pups require suckling on their mother's milk every two hours from birth up to the start of weaning. Obviously degu milk is best, but if this is not available from a lactating female, you can make a substitute using kitten or puppy formula. We highly recommend Beaphar's "Sherleys Lactol" for degu pups as we have had great success with this product, and it is commonly available in pet shops and online in the UK and US. Another recommended product (thanks, Barbara) is Esbilac powder. Mix the formula powder in a ratio of 1:5 (powder:water) with tap water that has been boiled first to sterilise, then allowed to cool. Once mixed, this must be warmed again to body temperature (no hotter) prior to feeding. The milk must then be transferred directly into the pup's mouth using a teat pipette such as an eye dropper (available from chemists), or a feeding bottle with a small teat. Reportedly pups will take between 5-7% of their bodyweight in formula each feed. Please be aware that milk that is not from a degu will not contain the mammary hormone which triggers a suckling response in the pup105. It may therefore be hard to get a newborn to suckle directly from the pipette. It will also lack the antibodies needed to stimulate the pup's development131. It must be stated again that the pup will require feeding every two hours, throughout 24 hours (even through the night). It is easy to see where dedication is required. After every meal, you must help the pup to maintain its bladder function by gently rubbing its anogenital region with a cotton bud in order to stimulate urination. Urine and fecal matter must be removed from the nest regularly.

As the pup requires feeding so regularly, its important to begin the weaning process as soon as possible, earlier than normal. Ideally, weaning should therefore begin at the start of the second week, but this will vary depending on the willingness of the pup to take solid feed. Once the pup is two weeks old, offer rolled (porridge) oats regularly; weaning can begin once the pup begins to eat these, but not before as a lack of interest in eating solids indicates the pup's digestive enzymes are not yet able to digest this sort of food. As previously stated, the prognosis of the pup is poor, but following these steps as soon as possible will give your pup every possible chance. To begin weaning, you will need to gradually increase the time between each of the pup's milk feeds, but make sure that they are eating solid food instead (oats and/or hard feed). You will need to weigh the pup daily to monitor their growth and check they are getting enough energy during weaning.

It has been shown that pups can rely on their own thermoregulatory ability at room temperature when they are in the weight range of 24-24 g52. This weight is suggested to be a key threshold in the pup's development. It is therefore more important than normal to weigh your hand reared pup daily to asses their progress.

Note that it may also be beneficial to supplement pups in very large litters (over eight pups per lactating female) with hand feeds, in order to ensure they are each getting enough nutrition. Remember that female degus only have eight teats, so in large litters keep an extra eye on the smallest pup and prioritise hand feeds to them.

>Some Points to Note...<

1. A degu that is deprived of a mother in the first weeks of life is likely to have abnormal brain development13 , 110 , 149. To try and prevent this, you should avoid stressing the pup and if possible allow it to hear its mothers voice and/or supply it with something that smells like its mother. This is because its mothers voice is a powerful emotional signal that can modulate the development of the brain13 , 31. It is also speculated that a degu reared without its mother will be more stressed as it will be deprived the soothing effect31 of its mothers vocalisations.

2. Maternal separation or loss is a strongly negative emotional experience for the pup18. A hand reared pup will also be deprived of positive emotional experiences such as forming emotional attachments18, which can affect its development in later life and even lead to 'hospitalisation syndrome' (see the breeding guide).

3. Parentally deprived pups can undergo specific separation-induced behaviour changes which can still be observed in the adult degu31 , 110.

4. Pups reared on milk other than that of a new mother degu will be more prone to infections and poor immunity. This is because the pups will not be receiving colostrum, a component of their mother's milk that boosts the pup's immune system131 until their own is fully developed.