Keeping Your Degus Healthy

Regular health checks to keep your degus looking trim!

Here you'll find some top tips for keeping your degus healthy and in good condition. Below you'll also find some important facts you should be aware of when considering the health of a degu.


1. Weigh your degus regularly- Keeping a weight record for each of your degus is one of the best ways to check their health. Often, the first sign of illness is a change in your degus behaviour, followed by weight loss. Weigh your degus every month and compare the reading to that of the previous month. Remember, a healthy, adult degu should weigh in the region of 220-250 g.

2. Monitor drinking habits- It's a great idea to keep track of how much water your degus are drinking, as over-consumption can be a sign of diabetes, and under-consumption can cause problems such as constipation. Each day when you change the water in the water bottle, note down how much has been consumed (most bottles come with measurements printed on the outside). At the end of the month, add up the water consumed. On average, this should be around 1,000 ml per month for 2-3 healthy adult degus. Remember that degus drink more in hot weather, so this might go up slightly during the summer.

3. Let your degus have a dustbath every day- Dust bathing keeps your degus fur in top condition and also satisfies an important behavioural need.

4. Give each degu evening primrose oil- Another way to promote shiny coats and healthy skin is to give your degus a supplement of a few drops of evening primrose oil every month in their feed. You can also apply it directly to the skin to help degus with dry skin problems.

5. Keep an eye on your degus' behaviour- As mentioned, the first sign that there might be something wrong with a degu is that they do not appear to be their 'usual self'.

6. Check your degus' eyes- The eyes should be fully open, shiny and free from discharge or odour. They should appear dark, without any white or red spots- this can be a sign of cataracts or retinal problems.

7. Check your degus' feet- Looking at the underside of your degus' feet on a regular basis will help you to spot the early signs of bumblefoot such as sores or open wounds. You can then act to stop it getting worse by treating their feet and modifying the cage as necessary.

>DEGU FIT-CLUB: What to do if your degu is overweight<

Ideas by Melissa and other Degutopia members

If your degu weighs over 250 g (and isn't pregnant!), they will benefit from the ideas here to help them lose some weight and get them back into a healthy weight range. Remember to weigh your degus weekly while they're in the fit club so you can keep an eye on their progress.

1. Chuck out the treats! Degu treats such as peanuts and seeds should be the first to go, as they're often high in fats and protein. Treats like this aren't essential to your degus health, if you need to use treats for weighing or training purposes switch to shredded wheat or rolled oats instead.

2. Check or change the hard feed portion of the diet. Hard feed contains all the essential vitamins and minerals that your degus can't make themselves or extract from hay, but often hard feed also contains a lot of protein or fats and oils. Always check the ingredients list for things like sunflower seeds, and check the nutrition breakdown for the fat and protein content. Ideally, fat content should be no higher than 3-4 % and protein less than 15 %. Where possible go for a low fat feed such as Beaphar XtraVital Degu or Supreme Gerty Guinea Pig.

3. Measure out the hard feed. It is recommended to give your degus around 10 g each per adult degu per day, so be strict with how you measure this out. To save you weighing the feed out, you can use something like a 25 ml shot glass to measure out the right portion every day. You can reduce the portion slightly for overweight degus, but do so gradually and weigh your degu regularly while you do so. It is often only necessary to reduce the feed to 8 g to get good results with extra exercise.

4. Separate bowls for each degu's feed. This might sound like a minor issue, but actually a dominant degu can bully the subordinate at meal times and hog the feed bowl to their self. Over time, this can cause the dominant to get more than their fair share every day. Giving your degus their own feed dishes and feeding them at opposite ends of the cage can help ensure every degu gets the right quantity each day.

5. Hay. The single most important part of your degus' diet. Try switching to a different brand or using herbal hay to encourage your degus to eat more hay and less feed.

6. Exercise. It goes without saying that more exercise will help your degus lose weight and keep in shape. A running wheel is an essential inside the cage, but vary their chances for activity and give them plenty of free time outside the cage to get a good workout! The stairs of your house are an excellent area for a degu cardiovascular workout. You can also hide bits of their daily hard feed ration around the cage to get them active and working a bit harder for their dinner :).

7. Training combined with exercise will also help encourage your degus to get active and involved during play sessions. A top tip is to try training your degus to jump through a hoop- this not only stimulates their mind but gives them some great exercise that they might not normally do. Plus you have something really cool to show your friends!


Degus can become diabetic very easily1 , 36. You need to restrict the sources of sugar in your degu's diet. To find out more about diabetes, visit the ILLNESS section and the HEALTH FAQ.

Degus can develop islet amyloidosis1 , 36. This means that the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas (the cells that produce the hormones insulin and glucagon which regulate blood sugar levels) can be prone to accumulate starch-like matter that reduces their productivity.

Degu insulin (the hormone that lowers blood sugar levels) and the C-terminal region of glucagon (the hormone that raises blood glucose levels) is very different from other, non-caviomorph mammals1 , 122. This suggests there is/was some form of evolutionary pressure on blood glucose hormones in caviomorphs1. It has been shown that the Hystricognaths as an order have a highly divergent insulin structure24b (including a phenylalanine deletion at position B24 and insertion of two amino acids at the carboxy-terminal end of chain A122), and may not be able to store it in the usual way122. In fact, degu insulin is only 1-10 % active in controlling blood sugar levels compared to other mammals24b. This suggests that degus are either unable to regulate their blood glucose levels, or have an alternative mechanism for doing so24b. This is entirely possible, as the glucagon molecule, which is absent in degus24b, has many amino acid substitutions that can affect physiology. Similarly, the degu insulin molecule also has amino acid substitutions122. Alternatively, it has been suggested degus compensate for the poor effect of insulin by increasing the concentration of insulin in the blood24b, or that degu insulin degrades more slowly (has a longer active period) than in other mammals24b, or that there are more and different insulin binding receptors24b. In effect, this means that degus CAN tolerate low levels of sugar but in a different way/at a different rate to other mammals. It is hypothesised that the diabetic predisposition of degus is a combination of genetic problems and an alternate regulation pathway. More information on the role of sugar in the degu can be found here.


Degus can become stressed often without noticeable symptoms, like many animals. Humans simply have to learn how to 'read' a degu's behaviour (which will come as you get to know your degu). Signs of stress include distress call and escape behaviour18, whereby the degu will emit a loud 'squeak' repeatedly and/or try and run/climb/jump to a 'hiding' place.

Cortisol is the principal plasma glucocorticosteroid in the degu37. Cortisol is secreted into the degu's bloodstream when they are stressed, and for this reason stress levels are commonly measured by determining cortisol:blood concentrations. Research has shown that lactating degus have plasma cortisol levels of over 1000 ng ml-137, well above the standard levels. This implies that lactation and childrearing is very stressful for female degus, so it is essential they are not further stressed during this time. Once lactation is over, cortisol levels decrease greatly37.

Stress and cortisol can actually inhibit testosterone production in male degus37, which affects male fertility.


Degus can develop cataracts secondary to diabetes mellitus onset36. This is often a major indicator that your degu is diabetic. For more information on cataracts, visit the ILLNESS section.

The reason for this is that degus have a higher aldose reductase activity in the retina of the eye than other animals like gerbils and rats36. Aldose reductase catalyses the conversion of glucose to sorbitol36, a chemical that causes opacity in the lens (cataracts). Diabetic degus can develop cataracts in four weeks36. Degus can also congenitally develop (inherit) cataracts50. This is caused by a genetic defect whereby meridional rows (associated with opacity) in the lens are disorganised50. Offspring of parents with this defect will develop cataracts as this lens disorganisation is heritable50 -this is another important reason not to breed from degus with cataracts.

Note that a degu with a cataract present in one eye only ('unilateral' cataract) is likely to have inherited the condition, i.e. is not diabetic. Diabetes-induced cataracts are typically bilateral (present in both eyes) due to the way the high blood glucose levels affect sorbitol build up in the eyes' lens.

However, research has found that a six-month course of Pfizer's sorbinil (an aldose reductase inhibitor) can prevent cataract formation in the diabetic degu36. Once cataracts have begun to form, continuous oral administration of Quercitrin effectively delays cataract formation49, similarly by inhibiting aldose reductase. It has also been found that antioxidants such as pyruvate can help to delay cataract formation111. Giving a diabetic degu foods high in natural sources of antioxidants can therefore help slow cataract formation.


Degus have a high tolerance for pain. Research has shown that degus are more resistant to pain than rats (P<0.001)41. For this reason, degus may not show pain if they have hurt themselves, for example they may not show symptoms if they break a limb until the damage/injury has become more severe. Don't just assume that because your degu is not showing signs of injury after an accident that they are unhurt. Also, it could imply that if a degu is showing signs of pain, such as limping, their injuries could be more severe than it would outwardly appear.

It has also been shown that degus are resistant to morphine, methadone and the pressor effects of noradrenaline117. Pain management of degus may thus need to be modified accordingly. Related points of interest include that degus may possess an atypical alcohol dehydrogenase117, are atrially 40 times more sensitive to negative chronotropic effects of methadone than rats117, and may have a catecholamine/endorphine co-secretion from the adrenal gland117.

Degus require 2 % Isoflurane with 1.5 litres per minute of nitrous oxide and oxygen to provide surgical anaesthesia11.

Fur Shedding

Degus shed their fur seasonally. This isn't a health problem as such, but it's important to be aware of this; a shedding degu is perfectly normal. Degus usually shed (molt) once a year, around March-July in the UK. There can be a secondary shed in the autumn71, but this is usually less marked. Molting is a natural process whereby the winter fur falls out in order to make room for the shorter, finer summer coat. In the wild, this would also give degus the opportunity to remove any dirt and helps to minimise parasite infestation.

Molting is triggered by the increase in day length (and hence daylight hours) which inhibits the release of the hormone melatonin from the pineal gland72. The reduction of the blood circulation of melatonin causes a series of changes that results in the shedding process72. Melatonin levels then remain low until day length begins to shorten and the winter coat starts to grow through.

It should be pointed out that your degus will never become bald, although their fur can appear patchy over areas of short growth. More details on this can be found in the illness section. Shedding degus develop characteristic 'stripes' over their body, where the grey undercoat of the longer winter hair shows through at the boundary of the shorter summer coat.