A degu diet shouldn’t consist solely of pellets or seed mix. These cute pets also need roughage (fibers) in their diet and a well-known source of fibers is hay. But can degus eat fresh grass, or should grass be avoided as a food source?
Although grass is healthy and necessary for most degus, you’ll need to take some precautions to prevent your degus from getting sick. However, considering these precautions, grass’s benefits will keep your degus healthy and happy.
Do Wild Degus Eat Grass?
Wild degus are herbivores that feed on leaves, bark, and seeds of shrubs. They will eat green grasses when they’re available. Wild degus also choose food that increases the moisture in their diet; grasses are perfect for this.See for example https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Octodon_degus/#food_habits and https://lafeber.com/vet/basic-information-for-degus/ Just like some other rodents, degus are known to graze on grasses in their natural habitat, which is shrubland and grassland in Chile.https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/degu
So, in their natural habitat degus eat grass but what are the benefits and possible dangers of feeding grass to your pet degus?
Benefits of Eating Grass
Degus are strict herbivores, meaning they only consume plant matter. Their diet consists of vegetables, herbs, and also grasses. Grasses and hay should be the largest percentage of a degu’s diet.https://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/pets/rodents/degus/diet Degus get several benefits from eating grass.
High fiber content
Degus need enough fibers in their diet. Hay and grass are excellent sources of fibers. In the table below, you can find the percentages of fiber in different grass species that can be found in pet stores or online. You can also find the percentages for common garden grass species.See for these and other grasses: https://www.feedipedia.org
|Grass species||Fiber percentage|
Calcium is a mineral that is essential for most animals. The mineral is necessary for several bodily functions and to build strong bones and teeth. Since degus’ teeth never stop growing, it’s very important that your degus get enough calcium in their diet. However, you also don’t want to feed too much calcium because this can also be harmful.
Most grasses contain a lot of calcium and have a good calcium to phosphorus ratio. Grass adds a little calcium to your degu’s diet. However, most degus will get enough calcium from their pellets and other vegetables you provide.
|Grass species||Ca:P ratio|
A lack of chewing material can also cause the teeth not to wear out properly, which can cause malocclusions. When your degus have dental issues, they will have it more difficult to eat. It might even be impossible for them to eat properly.Meredith, A., & Redrobe, S. (2002). BSAVA manual of exotic pets (No. Ed. 4). British Small Animal Veterinary Association.
Grass and grass hay is an excellent and cheap chewing material. Degus will need to chew thoroughly on the grass to be able to eat it. This will keep your degus busy for hours and help keep their teeth in perfect condition.
Precautions When Feeding Grass
Pesticides and toxic chemicals (fertilizers)
A lot of gardens and backyards are treated with pesticides or fertilizers. These products contain many toxic chemicals and are hazardous for your degus. So if you let your degus graze in your backyard, ensure that you don’t use pesticides or fertilizers in the vicinity of the run.
Urine and feces of other animals
Grass not grown indoors can contain urine or feces of animals such as dogs or cats. Urine and feces can be hazardous for your degus. While it can be easy to check for feces, urine isn’t always easily detected in the grass.
To reduce the risk that your degus eat grass that contains (traces) of urine or feces from animals, you should only feed grass from your backyard and never let them feed on grass from a sidewalk, park, or forest.
If you’ve got a dog or cat yourself and let them out in your backyard, you should ensure that you don’t let your degus graze in the area where they urinated or pooped.
Insects and parasite eggs
Grass from outside (garden, park, or backyard) can contain insects and parasite eggs. You’ll have to deal with this hazard when letting your degus graze in your backyard. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to eliminate this risk 100%, but there are ways to reduce the chance that your degus will get sick from eating grass with parasite eggs.
When you let your degus graze in your backyard or give grass that originates from it, you should regularly visit a vet to check for parasites. Your vet can also deworm your degus. Deworming will remove any nasty parasites that your degu might ingest.
Wet or frozen grass
Degus should never eat wet or frozen grass. If degus eat wet or frozen grass, they will likely get health issues (especially when they consume large amounts). Therefore, always ensure that the degu run is placed on dry grass or that the grass you give is dry.
Toxic weeds and plants
Degus don’t know the difference between safe and toxic plants. So when you let them in a run, you should ensure they aren’t in the vicinity of poisonous weeds or plants. This article contains a complete list of toxic weeds and plants.
Grass that is mown will begin to ferment within a few hours. When ingested, the grass will continue to ferment. As a result, most – if not all – animals will get sick.
Degus have a sensitive digestive system, and grass that has started to ferment can cause digestive problems (disrupting the balance of bacteria in the intestines). For this reason, you should never give lawn or grass clippings.
Moldy grass can be a severe health hazard for your degus. Mold is a fungus and it produces mycotoxins. These mycotoxins can cause respiratory or other health problems. Therefore, you should check that the grass you provide to your degus is mold-free.
Suitable Grasses for Degus
According to the website Lawn Love the most common grasses in gardens in the United States are fescues, bluegrass, ryegrass, bermuda grass, St. Augustine, and zoysia.https://lawnlove.com/types-of-grass The most common grasses in European gardens are fescues, ryegrass, and meadow grass.https://gardens.theownerbuildernetwork.co/2021/05/13/what-lawn-grasses-do-people-grow-around-the-world/ All these grasses are safe and suitable for degus to eat.
Timothy grass, orchard grass, and wheatgrass are generally considered the best grass species for guinea pigs.See for example https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-should-i-feed-my-guinea-pigs/ and https://animals.mom.com/type-hay-should-give-guinea-pigs-10661.html They are also the best grass types for degus. Wheatgrass, also known as cat grass, can be bought in stores and online. Timothy grass and orchard grass are sold in their dried form as hay and are also one of the most common hays you can buy in stores.
How much grass can degus eat?
Degus can eat as much grass as they like (ad libitum). So, you can give your degus as much grass as they can eat. However, when you first feed grass to your degus, you should only feed a small amount and increase the amount gradually.
What kind of grass can degus eat?
Degus can both eat fresh grass and dried grass (hay). Different species of grass can be given to degus. The most popular grasses for degus are Timothy grass, Orchard grass, and Wheatgrass. Wheatgrass, for example, contains a high amount of vitamin C and many vitamins and minerals.
How many times can degus eat grass?
Degus can eat grass the entire day and each day of the week. So there is no limit to how many times you can give grass to degus. The same goes for hay, which is dried grass.
How to give grass to degus?
You can give grass to degus by giving hand-plucked grass blades, grass grown indoors, or by letting your degus graze in a run in your backyard or garden.
If you’ve got a backyard, the cheapest and easiest option will be to buy a run and let your degus graze from the fresh grass. If you don’t have a backyard, you can still feed grass. You can buy Wheatgrass online or in pet stores or grow your grass indoors on a growth medium.
Can degus eat grass instead of hay?
Degus can eat grass instead of hay, although you might want to add hay to their diet for a bit of variation. If you cannot provide enough grass, hay will fulfill the needs of your degus.
Can degus eat too much grass?
A degu can eat as much grass as it wants. However, it’s possible that your degu is sensitive to grass and gets diarrhea from eating too much grass. If you notice this, you should limit the amount of grass you feed and replace it with hay.
Want to Learn More?
If you’re interested in learning more about degus as pets, please read the following articles:
|↑1||See for example https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Octodon_degus/#food_habits and https://lafeber.com/vet/basic-information-for-degus/|
|↑4||See for these and other grasses: https://www.feedipedia.org|
|↑5||See for these and other grasses: https://www.feedipedia.org|
|↑6||Meredith, A., & Redrobe, S. (2002). BSAVA manual of exotic pets (No. Ed. 4). British Small Animal Veterinary Association.|
|↑9||See for example https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-should-i-feed-my-guinea-pigs/ and https://animals.mom.com/type-hay-should-give-guinea-pigs-10661.html|