Can Degus Swim and Do They Like Water?

A lot of pets like water and are able to 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. Nevertheless, it’s important to know a bit more about the relationship between your degu and the water.

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 taking a swim or a water bath and giving one can lead to health issues or drowning.

So degus don’t really like water and can even drown when you let them swim. Keeping your degus clean usually doesn’t require water or a big effort from you. 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.

In this article, you’ll learn everything there is to know about the swimming capabilities of degus, why they don’t like and don’t need a water bath and what the risks are when you do put them in water. Last but not least you’ll learn how degus keep themselves clean without water.

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 mostly contains grasses and herbs and has hard-leaved shrubs and trees (shrubland). 

Central Chile has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cold wet winters. The skies in this region are generally clear so there is little temperature change from day-to-day. In the summer, the temperature can rise higher than 40 degrees Celsius. In the winter, the region can get as cold as 0 degrees Celsius.

Just as with other rodents that live in a semi-arid or arid environment, degus have developed ways to conserve water. Since degus live in a semi-arid environment, they’re not really used to contact with small or large bodies of water.

Degus are capable of swimming

Most mammals are capable of swimming from camels to elephants. 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 do 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 will naturally dry their fur by being out in the dry and hot environment.

Risks When You Get Your Degu Wet

If your degu does get wet there are some risks that could prove to be fatal. Here are some risks that are possible when you let your degu swim or bath him with water:

  • 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 hamster loses the ability to regulate their body temperature

What to Do When Your Degu Gets Wet?

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

Keeping Your Degus Clean


Degus are, just as 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 some extra help in 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 dust bath. Chinchilla 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 when the dust bath is done.

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 that there is 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.

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