Do Degus Smell? (6 Tips to Prevent Bad Smells)

One of the concerns that most people have when getting a pet is that the pet might have a bad smell or that their house will smell bad after a while. For a lot of pets, this can indeed be a concern. But do degus smell or even stink? Are degus smelly pets?

Degus aren’t smelly pets. They produce little urine and feces, which often causes smells. Degus do use urine to scent mark their territory, but this doesn’t cause a bad smell. Bad smells are usually caused by a lack of cleaning of the cage. When your degu does smell bad, get it examined by a vet.

Although degus – generally – aren’t smelly, you have to clean the cage and its interior regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause nasty smells. The accumulated feces, urine, and scent marking on the interior can cause a smelly cage if you don’t clean it enough. The smell then comes from the cage and not from the degu itself.

Some diseases can cause your degu to smell. If you notice a smell that comes from your degu itself, you should go to a vet as soon as possible to get your degu examined.

Why Aren’t Degus Smelly?

Degus live in arid regions and don’t need to drink much water. Wild degus can even survive several days without drinking water.[1]Cortes, A., Zuleta, C. and Rosenmann, M. (1988) ‘Comparative water economy of sympatric rodents in a Chilean semi-arid habitat.’ Comparative Biochemistry and … Continue reading Pet degus do require water at all times. A pair of healthy, adult degus will drink approximately 1000 ml per month.[2]

Because degus don’t drink much, they produce little urine and feces. Degus are also known to eat their feces. According to research, degus will eat approximately 38% of their feces.[3]Kenagy, G. J., Veloso, C., & Bozinovic, F. (1999). Daily rhythms of food intake and feces reingestion in the degu, an herbivorous Chilean rodent: optimizing digestion through … Continue reading This also limits the number of feces you’ll find in your cage.

Although the urine and feces can have a slight smell, it’s usually not the urine and feces that cause the smell. However, when you leave the urine and feces in for a long time, bacteria break it down and cause bad smells.

From my own experience, I can tell that the smell of urine and feces from degus is barely noticeable when you stick to a regular cleaning routine.

What Can Cause a Degu To Smell?

The smell you might notice in a degu cage can come from the cage (and its interior) or the degu itself. The smells that come from the cage (and interior) can be caused by:

  • scent marking: degus have scent glands but mostly use urine to mark their territory.
  • too much urine and feces (buildup of bacteria): although degus only produce a little bit of urine and feces it can become too much. This happens when you don’t clean the cage regularly. The urine is broken down by bacteria into ammonia and this produces a specific smell.
  • highly concentrated urine (caused by dehydration): highly concentrated urine causes a stronger ammonia smell.
  • stale or rotten food: fresh vegetables can go bad very fast and give a bad smell in the cage. Seed mixes and pellet food can also go stale and give a musky smell after a while.

If your degus themselves are smelly, it can be caused by:

  • stress or fright: stress and fright can cause your degus to have a stronger smell. Stress can for example be caused by overcrowding.
  • bad hygiene: it’s possible that your degu isn’t properly bathing in its sandbath. Make sure that a sandbath is always available. This will also help limit urination on the bedding as most degus use sandbaths as a toilet area.
  • health issues: bad-smelling degus are often associated with health issues.

How to Prevent and Stop Bad Smells of Degus?

Although bad smells are more an exception than a rule, bad smells can happen. The following good practices will prevent this from happening and can remedy bad smells:

  • proper ventilation of the degu cage
  • deep layer of absorbing substrate (bedding)
  • healthy and nutritional diet
  • regular cleaning of the cage
  • bathing your degus (sand bath)
  • regular medical examination by a vet

Well-ventilated degu cage

A lack of ventilation can cause the smells in the cage to accumulate. Therefore, fresh air is essential for your degus and to clean the air in the cage.

If you have a glass vivarium, you should have a ventilation cover on top and ventilate the cage daily. If you have a wire cage, the cage usually will enough natural ventilation to provide fresh air.

Deep layer of absorbing substrate

Choose an absorbing and odor-controlling substrate like a paper-based substrate to control the smell of the urine and feces. Studies have shown that paper-based bedding is two times more absorbent than wood shavings.

Although degus aren’t smelly, a good substrate is necessary to absorb smells, aside from being essential to build tunnels and stay stress-free.

Healthy and nutritional diet

A healthy degu diet that contains all nutrients will help keep your degus healthy. Provide enough water so your degu doesn’t dehydrate, but also make sure that you don’t give too much food (like vegetables) that is high in water content because this can lead to diarrhea.

Cleaning of the cage

Spot-clean daily and remove uneaten food from the cage. Sift the sand in the sandbath daily. A thorough cleaning of the degu cage can be done once or twice a month to be sure that the cage stays clean.

Some degu owners will also advise refreshing small parts of the bedding each week, but this might not be necessary if you spot-clean the cage and if your degus use the sandbath as a toilet area.

Don’t overdo cleaning, as this can sometimes cause your degus to scent mark the cage and the interior even more.

Bathing your degus

Degus don’t need water baths but they do need to have a sandbath available. This sandbath is used by degus to keep their fur clean, healthy, and smell-free. Such sandbaths are also good for decreasing the risk of facial dermatitis.

Justyna Frańczak, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Spot-cleaning your degu with a little water might be necessary in some specific situations.

Medical examinations

If you notice a bad smell coming from your degu or its urine, your degu may have health issues. Look for other signs of illness such as diarrhea or a loss of appetite. Don’t hesitate to consult a vet if you’re sure that the smell doesn’t come from the cage, bedding, or interior.

Recommended Products to Prevent Smells in a Degu Cage

If you want to keep the degu cage as smell-free as possible, I would recommend the following products:

Don’t use perfumes on your degus or on their cage. Degus have very sensitive noses and can get irritations from the perfumes. Besides that, perfumes can stress your degus as it masks their own smell (which is essential to recognize other group members).

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.


1 Cortes, A., Zuleta, C. and Rosenmann, M. (1988) ‘Comparative water economy of sympatric rodents in a Chilean semi-arid habitat.’ Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology91 (4): 711-4.
3 Kenagy, G. J., Veloso, C., & Bozinovic, F. (1999). Daily rhythms of food intake and feces reingestion in the degu, an herbivorous Chilean rodent: optimizing digestion through coprophagy. Physiological and biochemical zoology: PBZ72(1), 78–86.

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