Degus are herbivores and – in the wild – will feed on grasses, leaves and the occasional seeds. They live in an arid environment and are used to eat high fiber food. In captivity, the degu isn’t very demanding when it comes to their diet. The only thing you really need to watch out for is that you don’t feed them foods with high sugar content.
Does this mean that you can just give your degus any kind of pellet food for rodents? No, not really. Your degus will need more than just pellet food to stay healthy. They’ll need to get the necessary fibers, vitamins, and minerals in their diet. Pellet food is just (a small) part of the degu diet.
In this article, you’ll learn everything about the degu diet. You’ll learn what degus eat in captivity, when and how to feed them, and what foods you’ll have to avoid. At the end of this article, you’ll know how to keep your degus happy and healthy through their diet.
The Degu Diet
A healthy diet is essential for the wellbeing and lifespan of your degus. The main diet of degus consists of hay, pellet food, and fresh vegetables. You can give the occasional treat to your degus but will need to limit this, because most treats are high in fat and sugar content. This can lead to obesity in your degus. Vitamin and mineral supplements are – in general – not needed, but can help prevent diseases.
Hay is sometimes used as a bedding material but is more important as a primary food source for your degus. In fact, about 80 % of your degu’s diet will need to consist of good quality hay. Hay is the most important source of fibers in the degu diet and is essential to maintain the gut function. Your degus will chew hours on the hay and wear their molar teeth this way – which is a good thing.
You’ll need to provide your degus with quality hay, like meadow hay or timothy hay. Make sure that the hay isn’t green, white or pink. Hay that’s green will lead to bloating of your degus while pink and white hay indicates that the hay contains mold. The best hay has a brownish color and has a sweet smell.
Besides meadow and timothy hay, there is also lucerne or alfalfa hay. You can give alfalfa hay to your degus but only occasionally. Don’t give it each day as alfalfa hay is high in protein, energy, vitamins, and minerals. Too much of this hay can lead to serious kidney problems! So, give alfalfa hay with moderation and mix it with meadow or timothy hay.
Your degus won’t survive on hay alone. They need to get some pellet food that contains the right amount of nutrients. A good pellet food for degus contains low amounts of protein (less than 15%), fat (less than 4%) and sugar (less than 5%) and high amounts of fibers (15% or more).
Since degus are becoming popular as a pocket pet, commercial degu pellets were developed to meet the specific needs of degus. Supreme Pet Foods have a special pellet food for degus that contain the right amounts of nutrients and has no added sugars. Versele-Laga also provides a pellet food that’s targeted at chinchillas and degus.
If you don’t have access to special degu pellets you can also give chinchilla pellets or a mixture of chinchilla and guinea pig pellets. These pellets will contain proper amounts of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. In either case, you shouldn’t give a chinchilla or guinea pig mix – which is something different – as these mixes usually contain dried fruit (which has a high sugar content).
Fresh vegetables and herbs
Vegetables and herbs are another important part of the degu diet. They contain essential amino- and fatty acids that are necessary for the diet of herbivores. Not all vegetables may be given each day as vegetables can lead to digestive problems and bloating.
Leafy vegetables (chicory, endive, dandelion leaves, lettuce, celery, radishes) can be given each day. Dried herbs (mint, basil, parsley, coriander) can also be given each day.
Other kinds of vegetables and fresh herbs such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and asparagus should only be given once or twice a week.
Treats for degus
Everybody loves to get some treats from time to time and degus are no exception to this. But degus, just like a lot of other pet rodents, are given too much treats way too often. Since degus are prone to diabetes it’s important to limit the number of treats you give and try to give healthy treats.
The most common treats for degus include sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole nuts, and peanuts. Seeds and nuts are rich in fat and protein. Too much fat and protein in the diet of your degu will eventually lead to kidney and liver damage. This is why you should limit giving these kinds of treats to once or twice a week.
If you want to give healthier treats you still have a wide range of treats to give:
- dry crispbreads: crispbreads like crackers are packed with fiber and are hard enough to wear your degu’s teeth.
- dried herbs: dried herbs can not only be part of your degu’s daily diet but it can also be given as a treat. Dried herb mixes that contain dandelion, parsley, … will be readily eaten by your degus.
Vitamins and mineral supplements
Degus are able to develop their own vitamin c and don’t necessarily need it in their diet. However, vitamin c (also called ascorbic acid) is important in the prevention of heart disease, cancers, and cataracts in your degus. Vitamin supplements will give your degus the extra push in the prevention of these diseases.
Vitamin supplements are available in different forms such as powder. Some pellet food also contains vitamin supplements but if your pellet food don’t you can give supplement your degus naturally with vitamin c by giving them broccoli, red peppers, rosehips or parsley.
Foods that are rich in sugar and carbohydrates
If there’s anything you should know about the degu diet, it’s that you should avoid giving foods that are high in sugars or carbohydrates (which are turned into sugar). Degus are prone to diabetes and a diabetic degu doesn’t have a long life. The following sugar-rich foods should not be given:
- fruit: most fruit has a high sugar content that will lead to a rise in blood sugar levels of your degus. Since degus are prone to diabetes it’s best to avoid any food that has high sugar content, and fruits are a good example. Some people suggest that giving degus fruit as a treat won’t cause a lot of problems but I wouldn’t recommend this.
- breakfast cereals: breakfast cereals are made for humans and even from a human perspective they contain too much sugar. Don’t give any breakfast cereals to your degus as this will definitely hurt your degu’s health.
- resins and molasses: pellet food and rodent mix sometimes contain resins and molasses. Resins and molasses are rich in sugar and should not be given to degus. Check your pellet food and make sure that it doesn’t contain them.
- bread: although bread isn’t high in sugar it does contain a lot of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are converted into sugar by your degus and are for this reason to be avoided.
Other harmful foods
To give you a full view of foods (besides sugar-rich foods) that you should never give to your degus, here’s a list of other harmful foods:
- food that contains caffeine/theobromine: caffeine is part of our own lifestyle and can be found in a lot of products, most of which are drinks. Chocolate also contains a compound called theobromine which is related to caffeine. Caffeine and theobromine are dangerous for small and large pets. Don’t give any foods or drinks that contain these compounds as it will lead to poisoning very fast.
- food that contains artificial coloring: most artificial coloring won’t cause a lot of problems for your degus. However, some research says that the compounds that are used for artificial coloring can cause kidney problems and other diseases. Since the artificial colors are only used to pleasure the degu owner and don’t have any other use, it’s best to avoid such foods.
- vegetables that are rich in sugar and starch: vegetables like carrots, peas, pumpkins, and tomatoes are rich in sugar and starch and are a danger to the health of your degus.
- garlic, onion, chives, and leeks: garlic and other foods from the Allium family are, depending on the amount, toxic for small pets. Ingesting these foods will lead to poisoning. The poisoning can take some time and it’s best, if your degu accidentally ingested one of these foods, you should immediately seek the help of a vet.
Degus in the wild live in a quite arid environment and can go for extended periods without water. But in captivity, it’s advised to give your degus access to fresh water at all times. A single degu will drink about 500 ml per month depending on the temperature and exercise levels.
You have two options to give water to your degus: a water bottle or a water dish.
I would recommend that you use a water bottle and attach it to the outside of the cage. This way your degus can’t chew on the bottle and it doesn’t take away flooring area of the cage. Plastic water bottles are appropriate and easy to clean but are less hygienic than glass water bottles.
Water dishes are also available online and in stores but are not a good way to give your degus water. The dishes can be tipped over if they’re not heavy enough and eventually the dish will be filled with substrate, feces, and urine. From a hygienic viewpoint, water dishes are not a good option. This is why I would recommend a water bottle over a dish at any time.
Degu Feeding Schedule
Degus are crepuscular creatures in nature and will forage and feed in the morning and evening. To mimic this natural feeding schedule it’s recommended to feed your degus each day in the morning and/or evening. There are a lot of sources that advise you to give access to food ad libitum, which means at all times, but this isn’t a good idea. The only exception is hay which should be available to your degus freely.
You can find an entire feeding schedule for your degus below.
- fresh hay: give your degus meadow hay or timothy hay each day and remove the hay from the day before. If you don’t remove the old hay it can get moldy. For convenience, place the hay in a hay rack or a ceramic bowl.
- pellet food: give a total of 10 grams of pellet food per degu each day. You can give all of it in the morning or evening or choose to divide it between the morning and evening. Place the pellet food in a ceramic bowl and make sure that each degu has it’s own bowl.
- fresh leafy vegetables and dried herbs: slice the vegetables to thumb-sized pieces and give only a few pieces in a ceramic bowl. Remove the remaining pieces the next day.
Once or twice a week
- lucerne/alfalfa hay: alfalfa hay is high in protein and can lead to kidney problems if given too often. Mix it with other quality hay and only give it once or twice a week.
- other vegetables
- fresh herbs and grass
- fresh fruits
- resins and molasses
- vegetables that are rich in sugar and starch
- garlic, onion, chives, and leeks
Common Degu Dietary Questions
Can degus eat rabbit food?
Most rabbit foods contain a compound called coccidiostat. Coccidiostat prevents parasitic coccidian in rabbits but this chemical is toxic for degus. Besides, rabbit food doesn’t contain the necessary minerals and vitamins for your degus. So, don’t give rabbit food to your degus.
Can degus eat hamster food?
Hamster food usually is filled with seeds that are rich in proteins. High amounts of protein are dangerous for degus since they can cause kidney problems. Avoid giving hamster food since it will probably make your degus sick.
Can degus eat gerbil food?
Gerbil food usually is also filled with seeds that are rich in proteins. High amounts of protein are dangerous for degus since they can cause kidney problems. Avoid giving hamster food since it will probably make your degus sick.
Can degus eat cucumber?
Cucumbers are fruit and are high in sugar content. They contain 1.7 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You should avoid giving food that’s high in sugar to your degus as this might lead to diabetes. If you only feed small pieces of cucumber once per month the risk of diabetes will be minimal. If your degus already have diabetes you shouldn’t give cucumber to them.
Can degus eat carrots?
Carrots are vegetables that are high in sugar content. They contain 4.7 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You should avoid giving food that’s high in sugar to your degus as this might lead to diabetes. If you only feed small pieces of carrots once per month the risk of diabetes will be minimal. If your degus already have diabetes you shouldn’t give carrots to them.
Can degus eat watermelon?
Watermelons are fruit that is high in sugar content. They contain 6.2 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You should avoid giving food that’s high in sugar to your degus as this might lead to diabetes. If you only feed small pieces of watermelon once per month the risk of diabetes will be minimal. If your degus already have diabetes you shouldn’t give watermelon to them.
Can degus eat bananas?
Bananas are fruit that is high in sugar content. They contain 12.2 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You should avoid giving food that’s high in sugar to your degus as this might lead to diabetes. If you only feed small pieces of bananas once per month the risk of diabetes will be minimal. If your degus already have diabetes you shouldn’t give bananas to them.
Can degus eat apples?
Apples are fruit that is high in sugar content. They contain 10.4 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You should avoid giving food that’s high in sugar to your degus as this might lead to diabetes. If you only feed small pieces of apples once per month the risk of diabetes will be minimal. If your degus already have diabetes you shouldn’t give apples to them.
Can degus eat lettuce?
Lettuce is a vegetable that is low in sugar content. It contains 1.2 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You can safely give this leafy vegetable each day.
Can degus eat spinach?
Spinach is a vegetable that is low in sugar content. It contains 0.4 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You can safely give this vegetable. Still, vegetables can lead to bloating and digestive problems. Limit feeding spinach to once or twice a week.
Can degus eat celery?
Celery is a vegetable that is low in sugar content. It contains 1.3 gr. of sugar per 100 gr. You can safely give this leafy vegetable each day.