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Digestive disorders and bloating in common degus

  • Health

The degus is affected by a number of digestive disorders, the best known being meteorism. Digestive disorders account for around 10% of veterinary consultations1 and are often linked to poor diet2, stress, obesity or dental problems. To ensure ideal transit for the degus, its diet must be balanced and contain sufficient fibre.

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Octodon degus fed with a treat – Photo par JoBa Photography

Different digestive pathologies in Octodon degus

Gastrointestinal stasis

Gastrointestinal stasis is a decrease or even a halt in transit, sometimes with an accumulation of matter in the stomach, which is not emptied. This disease can affect octodons, particularly after a change of diet, a lack of fibre3, or a dental pathology4. Stasis can cause bacterial proliferation, colic and gas accumulation in the stomach.

When affected, the degus may show signs of constipation, have an abnormally swollen or ‘hard’ abdomen, refuse to eat and generally become inactive. Since stasis can lead to other problems, the degus is in danger and should be seen immediately by a vet to try to restart transit. The degus should also be fed by syringe, to enable it to eat and drink, with a suitable product such as Critical Care.

Intestinal dysbiosis

Intestinal dysbiosis is an imbalance in the intestinal flora, leading to a proliferation of enterobacteria (E.colis, Clostridioides difficile). This can lead to diarrhea, enteritis and even enterotoxaemia, which can cause sudden death5 3.

A thorough examination of the stools and digestive system of the degus will enable the veterinary surgeon to set up a suitable treatment.

Hepatic lipidosis

Hepatic lipidosis is the mobilisation by the liver of stored fats, particularly when food is stopped. As the liver is then “overloaded”, it can shut down and stop filtering substances that are toxic to the body. Obese degus are more sensitive to this, as the liver has already accumulated fat.

The degus becomes lethargic and refuses to eat. Force-feeding must be introduced quickly to enable the degus to meet its needs. A vet should be consulted as soon as possible, as this is a very dangerous condition.

Sonde d'oxymètre de pouls œsophagien utilisée dans la bouche d'un cobaye anesthésié
Oesophageal pulse oximeter probe used in the mouth of an anaesthetised guinea pig

Bloating

Meteorism is the accumulation of gas in the stomach of the degus. This build-up can be linked to poor nutrition, such as excess protein5 3. This is because proteins can make stomach contents stickier, and with moisture and certain foods, particularly legumes, this can create a foam. This foam traps air bubbles from the gases associated with digestion and may not be expelled, or only with difficulty, creating abdominal swelling that can be fatal. Meteorism can also occur as a result of slowed transit, which allows bacteria to accumulate and the stomach to ferment. Dental malocclusions can also promote meteorism, if the animal breathes through the mouth1.

The degus shows signs of abdominal pain, rubbing itself excessively on the stomach. It may eat less and show less activity. It is essential to ensure that it eats and drinks properly, if necessary using a medicated food, and to consult a vet.

Octodon degus

Causes

The main causes of digestive problems in Octodon degus are linked to poor feeding. Fresh food (i.e. feeding undried plants) is often blamed. However, it is above all the lack of fibre and excess protein that cause digestive problems in the degus1. It is therefore essential to give your pet the right mix, not only to avoid dental problems, but also digestive disease.

Another very common cause is dental malocclusion, which causes air to enter the stomach through mouth breathing. This happens when the degus has excessive tooth growth, which obstructs the nasal passage. This leads to gastric dilatation, which can be the cause of digestive pathologies. It is important to feed your degus correctly, but also to check the condition of its teeth during a veterinary visit.

Parasites can cause intestinal imbalances. If the degus is used to eating fresh food on a regular basis, it should be wormed under veterinary supervision.

Finally, poor physical condition, particularly inactivity or obesity, can aggravate digestive disease in rodents. Octodon degus should be kept at a normal weight of between 180g and 300g.

Symptoms

Octodon degus enceinte

The symptoms of digestive disease are very varied and can go unnoticed. Unfortunately, this can lead to the death of the animal, especially in the case of mouth breathing, as it is often too late to treat the degus correctly.

  • Diarrhea: diarrhea can occur with many health problems, but it’s important to consult a vet quickly if it’s particularly intense or lasts for a long time, even after rebalancing the diet.
  • Constipation: constipation is above all a sign of a lack of balanced diet. However, the cessation of transit can cause constipation in the first place. A veterinarian should be consulted if symptoms persist.
  • Abnormal weight (obesity/anorexia): any excessive weight loss or gain is linked to a health problem. A veterinarian should be consulted as soon as possible.
  • Hard abdomen: the abdomen feels excessively hard to the touch, even painful for the animal.
  • Mouth breathing / Aerophagia: discomfort in the nasal passages, as well as severe pain, may be the cause of mouth breathing.
  • Lack of appetite: the degus may have great difficulty feeding itself, and may remain prostrate near food, or pick it up and drop it.
  • Rubbing (belly): the degus regularly rubs its belly, sometimes stretching. Its posture may be abnormal, showing significant discomfort.
  • Apathy: the degus refuses to move, lacks energy and generally stops activities such as wheeling.
  • Stopped transit / intestinal obstruction: whether global or partial, stopped transit can be linked to digestive problems. It can also be linked to obstruction by a foreign body.

Diagnosis

When the degus is diagnosed, it needs to be treated as quickly as possible, particularly in terms of liquid feeding (Critical Care) to re-establish the necessary fiber balance. A stool examination with culture collection may be considered to establish a diagnosis. The proliferation of parasites or bacteria can then point to a digestive pathology.
The use of imaging techniques such as X-rays or ultrasound can also help to establish a more precise diagnosis, in particular by checking the condition of the degus’ intestines and teeth.

Treatments

Depending on the diagnosis, a number of treatments can be implemented. In the majority of cases, fluid therapy and syringe feeding will be used to feed and hydrate the degus properly.
Various treatments can be considered, such as the use of certain antibiotics (metronidazole) and anti-bloat drugs. In certain cases, particularly occlusion, surgery may be considered.

Octodon degus qui mange du foin

Conclusion

As in the case of dental problems, digestive disease in degus is mainly linked to a balanced diet. A diet rich in fiber, with an adequate protein intake, can prevent most digestive pathologies. What’s more, these can be caused by other pathologies, such as malocclusions or respiratory diseases.
Fiber should make up 25-30% of the diet, and protein between 15% and 18%. In addition, any change in diet should be made over several days, to allow the degus to adapt to its new diet.

The right diet in a healthy environment reduces the risk of disease and contamination between different degus.

Sources

  1. Diseases in pet degus: A retrospective study in 300 animals[][][]
  2. Nutrition and Behavior of Degus (Octodon degus)[]
  3. Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents Clinical Medicine and Surgery by Katherine Quesenberry, Christoph Mans, Connie Orcutt[][][]
  4. Elodontoma in a Degu (Octodon degus)[]
  5. Handbook of exotic pet medicine[][]

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