Can Degus Swim? (Swimming Instinct & Dangers of Swimming)

A lot of pets like water and can swim. They also need a bath from time to time to get rid of dirt in their fur. When you buy a degu, you’re probably not thinking about its swimming capabilities or if they need to get a bath. But can degus swim?

Degus have a limited ability to swim to safety in small bodies of water. However, degus should never be placed in water. Degus don’t like swimming and don’t need water baths. If your degus get wet, they can get health issues. If you force a degu to swim, it can also drown.

Wild degus live in an arid environment and don’t naturally swim. But, like many other animals, they have an instinct that allows them to swim when their life depends on it. There is no reason for your degus to swim and you shouldn’t create a situation where they would need to swim.

Degus don’t require any water to keep their fur clean. Instead, they use sand baths, just like gerbils and chinchillas. Only in the most exceptional cases, can water be used to clean your degu. Even then you shouldn’t put them in a water bath.

Swimming Capabilities of Degus

Degus live in a dry environment

Degus originate from South America, more specifically central Chile. In the wild, they inhabit a semi-arid environment that mainly contains grasses and herbs and has hard-leaved shrubs and trees (shrubland).[1]

Central Chile has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters.[2] The skies in this region are generally clear, so there is little temperature change from day to day.

Since degus live in a semi-arid environment, they’re not used to contact with small or large bodies of water. As with other rodents living in semi-arid or arid environments, degus have developed ways to conserve water.[3]Ballard, B., & Cheek, R. (2016). Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician (3rd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.

Degus are capable of swimming

Most mammals can swim, from camels to elephants.[4]A. I. Dagg and D. E. Windsor. Swimming in northern terrestrial mammals. Canadian Journal of Zoology50(1): 117-130. Although there hasn’t been extensive research about the swimming capabilities of degus, they are capable of swimming. They use their little paws to doggy paddle in the water.

This doesn’t mean that degus are natural-born swimmers and like being in the water. In the wild, they will rarely encounter large bodies of water. If they get into the water for some reason, they will try to get out of it as soon as possible. They will peddle towards the shores and naturally dry their fur by being out in a dry and hot environment.

What to Do When Your Degu Gets Wet?

Although degus usually don’t get wet, it’s always possible that they get wet. For example, a degu can turn over a water bowl and get wet. There are risks associated with a degu getting wet fur:

  • water removes the natural skin oils of your degu; this makes it more difficult for him to groom himself
  • if your degu is exposed to (cold) water, he may develop acute pneumonia, a disease that can be lethal
  • exposure to water can give stress to your degu; this may lead to your degu biting you
  • exposure to water can lead to hypothermia; this is when a degu loses the ability to regulate its body temperature

As you can see, it’s best not to let your degu go swim and to prevent contact with water. The only exception is, of course, to let your degu drink.

If your degu does get wet, there are some steps you need to take to immediately:

  • use a soft dry towel to remove the excess water
  • ensure the degu cage is warm
  • use a hairdryer (cool setting) to dry the fur
  • keep an eye on your degu for the next week and look for signs of a disease
  • if you notice that your degu sneezes, is not eating,…, seek the help of a vet

How Do Degus Stay Clean?


Degus are, like most rodents, experts in grooming themselves and keeping themselves clean. They use their saliva to clean their entire body and remove dirt and parasites from the body. If you notice that your degu needs extra help getting clean, you don’t need to wash the degu with water.

Dust bath

A better way to “wash” your degu is by using a dust bath. Chinchillas need such a dust bath regularly to keep their fur clean and degus also need a weekly sand bath. Sand is placed in a tiny bowl or container where your degu can get in without a problem. Place the bowl in the degu cage and remove it after the sand bath.

Last resort: a washcloth

There are some extreme and very unusual cases where your degu can’t get itself clean by grooming and the dust bath. If you see no other way, you can use a washcloth. Gently use the washcloth on your degu just like if you were petting him. After you’ve removed the dirt or substance, use a soft dry towel. Then place your degu back in a warm cage.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about degus as pets, please read the following articles:

If you’re interested in getting degus as pets, you should read our beginner’s guide to keeping degus as pets and our degu care guide.


3 Ballard, B., & Cheek, R. (2016). Exotic Animal Medicine for the Veterinary Technician (3rd ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
4 A. I. Dagg and D. E. Windsor. Swimming in northern terrestrial mammals. Canadian Journal of Zoology50(1): 117-130.

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