Many rodents have very sharp teeth that continue to grow throughout their life. The degu is no exception to this. They have very large, sharp teeth, and you or your children might be afraid of a degu bite. But do degu bite and does it hurt?
Degus are friendly animals that generally won’t resort to biting unless they feel threatened and have no way out. A degu might give you a little “grooming” nip but this doesn’t hurt or break the skin. It’s only in rare cases that a degu will bite hard and such a bite might hurt and cause an injury.
Degus are friendly and social animals. Although they can be aggressive towards other degus, they will rarely fight. They will make noises and bark to warn others. In rare cases, degus will fight each other and bite, mostly to show dominance and establish a hierarchy.
But it’s entirely possible for any pet with teeth, including the degu, to bite for several reasons. It’s really important to know why a degu might bite and learn the warning signs.
The Degu Bite
Why does a degu bite?
Degus are prey animals that have little real defense mechanisms against their predators. In the wild, they will often just run away from a confrontation and hide in their burrow. But your degu doesn’t have a lot of room to hide and run away in a caged environment. It’s not entirely surprising that a degu bites when you suddenly grab him – even if your intentions are not bad.
There might be a lot of different psychological reasons why your degu bites you, but the most common reasons are really straightforward:
- scared: if you reach for your degu from above the degus’ instinct takes over and thinks it’s a predator bird trying to catch them. Your degu doesn’t have another way to escape except by squirming and trying to get loose, or by trying to bite.
- stress: a stressed degu doesn’t feel well and won’t like to be handled. If you notice signs of stress don’t try to pick up your degu. Just let it calm down and try again at a later moment when your degu is calm and stress-free.
- unfamiliar environment: this one is usually associated with a scared and/or stressed degu. When you bring your degu home it will need some time to adjust to its new environment. Wait a couple of days and get your degu used to you and its environment, before trying to handle it.
The chance that you get bitten by a newly bought degu is higher than the chance that you get bitten by a degu that’s being in the family for years. This is entirely normal because they have to adjust to the new environment, which may cause stress. They’ll also need to adjust to you as a new person and might be scared.
If you bond with your degu and take the time to get to know your degu, the chance of you getting bitten will be minimal!
Accidental bites when breaking up a degu fight
Degus sometimes fight for dominance and to establish a hierarchy. During these fights, it can get really serious. When you try to break up this fight, it’s possible that you get (accidentally) bitten by your degu(s). In such cases, the bites can be deep and bleed.
Grooming and curiosity bites
There are also other kinds of bites that aren’t caused by stress or fright. The “grooming” bite is used to show affection and doesn’t hurt. Another kind of bite that might hurt is the bite when your degu smells something good on your finger. A degu is a curious animal and might bite your finger in such a case. So always wash your hands before handling a degu.
How to read the warning signs?
A degu bite rarely comes all of a sudden. Even when a degu is aggressive there will be some form of a warning sign. Degus have a wide variety of sounds they make and they use special sounds or noises to signal that they want to be left alone or feel endangered.
If you want to prevent a bite you’ll need to learn the warning signs. When you know to interpret these signs you can know what your degu is feeling and when it’s best to leave your degu alone.
The following sounds can be considered as warning signs:
- alarm calls: a loud squeak usually comes before a bite. This is not always the case but when it happens, consider it – together with other behavioral changes – as a warning.
- growling and snarling: a growling or snarling noise is seldom heard but is used by degus to threaten other degus, you or potential predators. This is also an indication to leave your degu alone because it can be a sign of an impendent bite.
- teeth chattering: teeth chattering is usually an indication that your degu is frightened.
You can also notice the following body language as a potential warning sign:
- frightened: a frightened or scared degu will try to find an escape route. In a caged environment, such an escape route is not available so they will find a corner so they can see the danger coming. If possible, they will run back to their nest box or another hiding place.
- raised hairs: the hairs of a degu are flat against its body but when a degu is preparing to attack another animal the hairs might be raised, this is called pilo-erection. the raised hairs make the degu seem a bit larger than it is. It’s mostly a defensive mechanism that you have to be aware of.
- tail wagging: degus normally hold their tails high when they run but they will wag their tails when they are alert. This can be a sign that the degu feels threatened.
Does a degu bite hurt?
You’ve taken all precautions and made sure that there are no warning signs that your degu is frightened or stressed. But suddenly your degu takes a bite anyway. If you’re already bitten you will know the degree of pain it causes. But if you’re lucky enough of not getting bitten, you might want to know what kind of pain you need to be expecting.
Pain is a subjective feeling and some people have a low pain threshold while others have a high threshold. It’s difficult to say if the bite will hurt in your individual case. A lot will also depend on the kind of bite.
You have to make a distinction between a loving “grooming” bite and a real bite. A frightened stressed or endangered degu can bite hard and break the skin. A “grooming” bite is a way of showing affection and acceptance and rarely hurts. When your degu does take a real bite it might hurt and might even bleed (heavily).
Tips and Tricks to Prevent Biting
You can prevent a degu from biting you by making sure that it’s happy and stressfree. The following tips and tricks can help you to prevent a degu bite:
- wash your hands before handling: degus are sensitive to smells and might get stressed when you still got the smell of another pet on your hands. They can also take a nip in your hands when they smell like something good, for example, their favorite food. So, always wash your hands before you handle your degu to wash away these kinds of foreign smells.
- don’t reach the degu from above: degus are prey animals that are the prey to predator birds. If you approach the degu from above your degus’ instinct takes over and in defense, it might bite.
- make sure that your degu is aware of your presence: make sure that the degu notices your presence and knows you’re going to come in the cage with your hand. Avoid any sudden movements as this can frighten your degu.
- let the degu make the first move: degus are curious animals. When they’re comfortable with you they will come over and sniff your hand. When you and your degu are fine with each other you can even try to pet it.
- don’t reach for your degu while it’s in a hideaway: if your degu is hiding in its house or hideaway it usually doesn’t have any other escape route. Don’t put your hand in the hideaway as this might frighten the degu even more and cause it to bite.
- use leather gloves when you’re afraid of bites: some people recommend using thick leather gloves when first handling a new degu. This can be a way to prevent injuries but a degu can also see the gloves as a toy to bite in. They also provide a false sense of security: degus can easily bite through them when they really want to bite.
What to Do When You Get Bitten by Your Degu?
When you get bitten you’ll need to make sure that your degu knows that this behavior is not ok. Don’t become angry towards your degu because this won’t help. The best thing to do is to stay calm and not remove your hand until the degu stops biting. Make a whistling or squeaking sound to let your degu know that it’s hurting you. You don’t want to be waving your hand around with a degu on it!
A degu bite can transfer bacteria into the wound. You should treat a degu bite the same way you would treat a bite from another animal. This means that you should:
- clean the wound: wash your wound with running warm water to remove bacteria, dirt, hair or other foreign materials.
- use antibacterial wash: apply an antibacterial ointment or wash with antibacterial soap
- getting a bandage: apply a bandage to the wound to keep it clean
- get a tetanus shot: animal bites can cause tetanus infections. So if you didn’t get a tetanus immunization you need to get medical advice and possibly a tetanus shot.
If the wound is deep and very painful, it might not heal properly and you’ll need to seek advice from a medical professional. Severe wounds may need stitches and further antibiotic treatment.
Are degu bites dangerous?
Degus are friendly pets but they don’t like to be handled that much. When a degu bites it might hurt and when they take a real bite at you it’s possible that the skin breaks and the wound bleeds. Most wounds will heal naturally but when bacteria can get into the wound you’ll need to seek the advice of a medical professional.
Do degus carry diseases?
Degus, like other rodents, can carry diseases that are transmittable to humans. The most common diseases are Leptospirosis, Salmonellosis, LCMV, and ringworm. Take care of your degus and visit a vet each year to make sure that you and your degus stay healthy and disease-free.
Is a degu a good pet?
Degus can make excellent pets. They are friendly and sociable creatures that are easy to care for. However, they do have a longer lifespan than most rodents so you’ll need to be prepared to take care of your degus for at least five years. Degus will rarely bite (hard) and can be handled if given enough time to bond.