Degus are delightful little pets and are pretty new to the scene having only been introduced in the nineteen eighties but since then, they have become incredibly popular. When degus were first discovered it was thought they were part of the squirrel family but today we know they belong to the Octodontidac group of animals together with around nine other species. They originate from South America where they live in many different environments from coastal regions right up to the mountainous areas of Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile where they live in groups of up to ten animals.
Degus do suffer from several diseases most of which need to be treated as emergencies simply because of their size which means they just don't have the necessary energy reserves to fight off diseases. This is why it's essential to get them to the vet as soon as you notice something is not quite or if they have loose droppings, anorexia, lethargy or if they have suddenly lost a lot of weight.
One of the more common diseases is diabetes associated cataracts. You may notice that your pet's pupils are a milky grey colour to begin with when the cataracts start developing but as time goes by your pet will become totally blind. However, you need to bear in mind that other conditions may also show similar symptoms namely cloudy eyes and this includes injuries they may have suffered to their eyes. A vet would be able to rule out any other condition by carrying out a full examination of your pet before recommending a treatment.
If your pet has to walk on wire surfaces most of the time, they can develop an extremely painful condition known as bumblefoot. Their feet could become sore, red and inflamed. Once the condition sets in, it can take a very long time for their little feet to heal. A quick visit to the vet is essential so your pet can be prescribed a course of antibiotics.
In order to prevent the condition from developing in the first place, you should ensure the base of the cage does not have wire mesh on it and this applies to play wheels too. However, if they have already developed bumblefoot, you will have to show a lot of patience making sure your pet is as comfortable as possible on their feet until they heal.
These lovely little creatures are also prone to suffer from mouth infections and dental issues. It is really important to keep their water bottles as clean as possible to reduce the risk of bacteria building up on it. To make sure their teeth stay in good condition, you need to feed your pet good quality forage as this will help them wear their teeth down correctly. If you notice your pet is losing condition and weight, the chances are they have a dental problem. Typically, degus much like chinchillas, will have spurs growing on their molars which can cause them a great deal of pain if not dealt with. As such they will stop eating and lose condition very quickly simply because they are such small creatures.
It's a good idea to check your pet's teeth on a regular basis which if all is well should be a nice orange colour. However, if you find their teeth are white or a light yellow in colour, this could be an indication they are suffering from some sort of deficiency or a disease. If your pet loses their front teeth, this is a very bad sign that things are not as they should be. The problem is that all too often when a dental issue occurs, due to the fact a degu mouth is so small, it can be too hard to treat the problem and therefore it is kinder to put them to sleep rather than see them suffer and this is especially true if an abscess has formed.
As degus get older, they are prone to suffer from strokes which means they typically lose the use of a certain part of their bodies. You may find that your older pet has trouble getting up and you would have to keep them nice and warm before taking them to the vet which you should do as a matter of urgency. Sometimes a degu will recover if the stroke is a minor one and as long as they can still move around and are able to feed themselves they can usually cope. However, if they are not able to do this, then it is often kinder to put them to sleep.
Very often if a degu is suffering from a respiratory problem their breathing will be quite noisy and they become lethargic. You may even notice a discharge coming from their noses. It's really important to take your pet to the vet as soon as you can because all too often a respiratory issue is a symptom of a serious underlying health condition namely a tumour or some sort of organ failure. The vet would examine your pet and may prescribe a course of antibiotics which may see an improvement in their condition so it is always worth trying to treat your pet.
Degus will chew at their tails and unfortunately no one really knows why they suddenly start doing this although it is thought it could be due to boredom, stress or the lack of the correct amount of fibre in their diet. To keep a degu happy, you need to make sure they have lots of toys in their environment as well as lots of good quality hay to eat.
The behaviour could also be due to nerve damage caused as a direct result of diabetes, a condition these lovely little creatures are predisposed to suffering from. The nerve damage means that they have no feeling in their extremities namely their tails, feet etc.
A degu's tail can get quite dry which means you need to regularly moisturise it using a pet-friendly product specifically formulated for use on degus. You may also need to supplement their feed with some millet or linseed which are both rich in essential oils being careful not to feed too much as they are extremely high in fat and therefore should not be fed in large amounts on a regular basis.
Degus have become very popular pets because they are such delightful little animals to have around. As long as they are kept in a nice clean environment and feed good quality forage and food, you reduce the chances of them suffering from certain health issues. However, it's really important to check over your pets on a regular basis because if a health problem is caught early enough the chances of a degu making a speedy recovery are that much greater.