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The main diseases and pathologies in degus

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The Octodon degus is a generally robust rodent, and its main diseases can be avoided with proper nutrition and a suitable habitat. However, this species has some pathologies that are less common in other small pets. That’s why it’s interesting to know how to recognize a sick animal and have the right reflexes when necessary.

Part of the pathologies and health issues of the degus discussed in this article have already been covered in-depth in our health category.

Only a veterinarian familiar with the degus is qualified to make a diagnosis and propose appropriate treatments. Be cautious about self-diagnosing your animals, as it can lead to a worsening of their health.
Illustration by ValoniaArt

Diseases and pathologies of the degus

The Octodon degus is a relatively recent pet animal that emerged from the use of the species in laboratories01. Its status as a wild animal and the relative complexity of its captivity make it a less well-known pet among the public. Likewise, scientific studies on its health problems are less numerous than for other species like rabbits02.However, in recent years, veterinary publications have helped improve our understanding of this species. The octodon is also often used in laboratories to study diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease-like pathologies, contributing to a better understanding of the diseases that can affect the octodon as a pet.

In captivity, the octodon is mainly affected by dental diseases and skin diseases, accounting for 60% and 35% of veterinary consultations, respectively02. Other pathologies affect fewer degus and are sometimes consequences of other health problems03.

DiseaseDegusDegus two years and olderDegus younger than 2 years
N = 300%N = 190%N = 110%
Dental pathologies1806014475,803430,91
Skin pathologies11036,675629,475449,09
Eye diseases5016,673216,841816,36
Gastrointestinal pathologies309,33178,951311,82
Reproductive pathologies289,332010,5387,27
Skeletal pathologies227,33147,3787,27
Ear diseases (otitis)51,6731,5821,82
Renal pathologies41,3342,1100
Epileptic seizures (unknown etiology)20,670021,82
Diagnosis unknown144,6784,2165,45
Healthy animals3812,67168,422220
Octodon degus handled – Linden Tea

Dental diseases

Dental pathologies, such as malocclusion, affect nearly 80% of degus at the age of two02. This is mainly due to poor nutrition04 05, often low in calcium and fiber. Octodon needs to be able to chew for an extended period since their teeth continuously grow. In some cases, genetic malocclusions can be observed, but these are rare. Dental pathologies arise from the fact that some teeth are not worn down enough or grow crookedly06. As a result, the teeth become too long and can injure the animal. Some may even grow above or below the tongue, creating “dental bridges.” In severe cases, the teeth can even pierce the skull of the degu. Trauma, such as a fall, can also be the cause of these pathologies. The incisors of degus can also be affected, especially if they grow excessively and then cause mouth injuries.

⚠️Premolar/Molar Issues in Degus⚠️

CT images of the sagittal plane of the maxillary dental arch reconstructed in a 3D model, medio-lateral view (A), and surface reconstruction (B). Apical elongation and the reserve crown of the fourth premolar erupted into the nasal cavity (A), with a bulging apex in the nasal bone (B). Irregular structure suggesting dysplastic changes in dental structures. Reconstructed images are visualized using the Drishti volume rendering software. (Vladimir Jekl and Tomas Zikmund).


When affected, degus tend to lose weight, have abnormal chewing, and can also develop lung infections07 08. It can also be diagnosed if the degu tends to drool or refuses to eat. The veterinarian can file down overgrown teeth or remove those that are misaligned.

Emergence of premolars and molars during the early days of the degu. (Vladimir Jek)

It is possible to minimize or avoid dental pathologies by choosing an appropriate diet, which includes a minimum of 1% calcium and a calcium-to-phosphorus ratio of at least 1.6:1, ideally 2:1. In addition, the diet should be limited so that degus eat hay, twigs, or leaves to naturally and properly grind down their teeth09.


Excessive growth

When incisors grow excessively, degus have difficulty eating10 and can injure their mouths and lips. Generally, incisor issues are related to dental problems with molars and premolars. Fractures and dysplasias are sometimes also observed. Dysplasias are tissue lesions and are usually associated with mineral deficiencies or repeated trauma, such as chewing on bars. Incisors can be filed down by a veterinarian, who should check for infection, abscess, or elodontoma.

⚠️Incisor Problems in Degus⚠️

Incisor problems in degus (Vladimir Jekl). (A) Elongation and depigmentation of enamel on clinical crowns. (B) Severe malocclusion and deviation of the right mandibular incisor after traumatic injury. (C) Iatrogenic right lateral deviation of the mandibular incisor and overall coronal elongation after trimming clinical crowns with pliers. (D) Displacement and malocclusion of incisors secondary to maxillary melanoma.


Whitening / Enamel Issues

If the natural color of the teeth is orange-yellow in degus, whitening of the incisors, turning entirely white, is a sign of potential dietary imbalance11.

Malocclusions of premolars and molars

Malocclusions and pathologies of molars and premolars are very common in degus and are associated with poor nutrition and a lack of natural wear during chewing04 05. Teeth can grow abnormally, either crooked, underneath, or through the mouth, even to the point of perforating the skull. Dental bridges can also form under or over the tongue.

⚠️Eye Problems Related to Dental Malocclusions⚠️

Mazu, a degu with teeth growing through its skull and touching the eyeball, which cannot be operated on.


These problems are often silent at first but remain very painful for degus during chewing06 and can lead to elodontoma, rhinitis, and other cranial and ocular pathologies. Cavities and enamel deformations are also noted in degus. Filing or removal of teeth affected by dental pathologies is essential, as well as the implementation of an appropriate diet.


Elodontomas are common oral tumors in degus12, often linked to malocclusions or other dental pathologies. These tumors are proliferations of dental tissues and can alter the structure of the mouth by shifting dental crowns. Moreover, when elodontomas affect incisors or premolars, they can obstruct the nasal passage and lead to respiratory problems. Tumor removal is the only way to treat an odontoma, but it is a complex surgical procedure that cannot be considered for all animals. Depending on the tumor’s position and size, euthanasia remains the most suitable solution to prevent significant suffering for the degu.

⚠️Radiograph of a Malocclusion⚠️

Radiograph of a degu’s skull with dental malocclusion – Photo by Isabelle Wornham


Dental trauma

Dental traumas are often noticeable in incisors, which can be chipped, split, or missing. Generally, this occurs as a result of trauma, such as a fall or severe dental imbalance that weakened the teeth. Stereotypies like continuous bar-biting can also cause dental fractures. It is sometimes necessary to file the opposing tooth to allow normal regrowth of the broken tooth13.

Dental disease and malocclusion in Octodon degus

Digestive Pathologies in Degus

Degus can be affected by several digestive pathologies14, with the most well-known being bloat. Digestive pathologies account for approximately 10% of veterinary consultations and are often linked to poor nutrition09, stress, obesity, or dental problems12. To ensure ideal digestion in degus, their diet must be balanced and contain an adequate amount of fiber.

Octodon degus nourri avec une friandise – Photo par JoBa Photography

Gastrointestinal Stasis

Gastrointestinal stasis is a decrease or halt in digestion, sometimes with an accumulation of material in the stomach that is not being emptied. This condition can affect degus, especially after a change in diet, a lack of fiber, or dental problems. Stasis can lead to bacterial overgrowth, colic, and gas accumulation in the stomach.

When affected, degus may show signs of constipation, have an abnormally swollen or “hard” abdomen, refuse to eat, and generally become less active. Since stasis can lead to other issues, degus are at risk, and it is important to immediately consult a veterinarian to attempt to restart the digestive process03 14.

Degus may need to be syringe-fed to provide them with food and hydration using a suitable product like Critical Care.

Intestinal Dysbiosis

Intestinal dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut flora, leading to the proliferation of enterobacteria (E. coli, Clostridioides difficile). This can result in diarrhea, enteritis, or even enterotoxemia, which can cause sudden deaths.

A thorough examination of the feces and the degu’s digestive system will allow the veterinarian to implement appropriate treatment.

Hepatic Lipidosis

Hepatic lipidosis is the mobilization of stored fats by the liver, especially in cases of prolonged food deprivation. When the liver is “overloaded,” it can stop functioning and cease filtering toxic substances for the body. Obese degus are more susceptible to this condition, as their livers have already accumulated fats.

Degus become lethargic and refuse to eat. Forced feeding must be initiated promptly to meet the degu’s nutritional needs. A veterinarian should be consulted as soon as possible, as this is a highly dangerous pathology.

Sonde d'oxymètre de pouls œsophagien utilisée dans la bouche d'un cobaye anesthésié
Esophageal Pulse Oximeter Probe Used in the Mouth of an Anesthetized Guinea Pig


Bloat is the accumulation of gas in the stomach of degus. This accumulation can be related to poor nutrition, such as an excess of protein03 14. Proteins can make the stomach contents stickier, and with humidity and certain foods, particularly legumes, this can create foam. This foam traps air bubbles from the digestion process and may not be expelled or is expelled with difficulty, leading to abdominal swelling that can be life-threatening. Bloat can also occur due to slowed digestion, allowing the accumulation of bacteria and stomach fermentation. Dental malocclusions can also favor bloat when mouth breathing occurs02.

Degus show signs of abdominal pain by excessively “rubbing” their belly. They may eat less and become less active. It is crucial to ensure they eat and drink properly, using a medicated food if necessary, and to consult a veterinarian.

Other Digestive Problems

Degus can develop other digestive issues, often related to poor nutrition, respiratory problems, or dental pathologies.

Digestive disorders and bloating in common degus

Cataract & Diabetes

It is often said that degus are “naturally diabetic,” but this is not entirely true15. While they are particularly sensitive to sugar, this is due to their very low insulin activity compared to other mammals16 and they tend to develop cataracts very rapidly, which may not necessarily be linked to diabetes. With controlled nutrition, it is possible to prevent or limit the progression of these conditions in degus.


Cataract is a very common condition in degus17.It manifests as “whitening” of the eye, appearing as a spot that can eventually cover the entire eye. Degus may lose visual acuity and even go blind. However, this doesn’t significantly impact their quality of life in captivity; it is important to adjust the cage and avoid frequent rearrangement of objects.

If cataracts are a symptom of diabetes in degus, they can develop even without being diabetic. Their high sensitivity to sugar makes inappropriate nutrition a common cause of cataracts. It is often found in 13% of veterinary consultations02 especially in older degus who are more vulnerable to this condition.

O. degus avec une légère cataracte - Photo par Adrien Chaud
O. degus with a slight cataract – Photo by Adrien Chaud


Degus can also develop hyperinsulinemia, which means having a high level of insulin (the hormone that regulates sugar) in the blood. To compensate for their low insulin activity, degus increase their insulin concentration and slow down its degradation when fed a high-carbohydrate diet. If degus are fed a diet high in carbohydrates, hyperinsulinemia can develop rapidly. Hyperinsulinemia often leads to the formation of cataracts and, if the pancreas is damaged, it can even result in diabetes. The symptoms of hyperinsulinemia are often not very visible but can lead to reduced activity, weight gain, and cataracts.


Hyperglycemia can affect degus due to poor nutrition, especially if their diet consists of simple sugars. Hyperglycemia is generally episodic but can easily be confused with diabetes. If the pancreas is not damaged, it is often sufficient to change the degu’s diet to resolve hyperglycemia. However, if it persists, insulin therapy can be considered by a veterinarian.

The symptoms of hyperglycemia are similar to those of diabetes, including reduced activity, dizziness, difficulty moving, intense thirst, frequent urination, and the development of cataracts.

Vieil Octodon degus atteint de cataracte


Diabetes mellitus is a condition that can be found in degus due to their lower insulin activity compared to other mammals18. If degus are fed an inappropriate diet, it can trigger diabetes. When degus have diabetes, it means they can no longer secrete insulin normally and cannot regulate blood sugar correctly. Consequently, blood sugar levels become abnormally high, leading to significant health problems, including cataracts, hepatic steatosis (excess fat in the liver), and hormone regulation disruptions.

Symptoms in degus are diverse and may include obesity, weight loss, anorexia, cataracts, dehydration, increased urination, excessive thirst, and gastrointestinal dysbiosis. To diagnose diabetes in degus, a veterinarian needs to perform a blood test that shows persistent hyperglycemia, hypercholesterolemia, and glycosuria. Treatment involves administering insulin and adjusting the diet. However, it is important not to confuse hyperglycemia or hyperinsulinemia with diabetes, which represents only 4% of veterinary consultations.

Diabetes & Cataract in degus

Skin Issues & Dermatological Problems

Skin problems are common in degus and can have various causes, such as excessive grooming, injuries, or parasites03.

Abscesses & Wounds

Skin issues, such as abscesses and wounds, are common in degus02, that are typically linked to fights between individuals, with injuries commonly occurring around the ears, head, and tail. It is essential to thoroughly disinfect the wound and promptly consult a veterinarian if it is substantial to prevent the development of abscesses. Antibiotic treatment may be considered, along with abscess cleaning and drainage if necessary.

Excessive Grooming

Excessive grooming is a common behavior in this species. It can be self-grooming or directed towards one or more companions. This behavior is typically associated with intense stress or pain. Identifying the underlying cause is crucial to stopping or reducing this behavior19.Common reasons include social isolation, a lack of opportunities for foraging/occupation, a dysfunctional social group, an inadequate cage, or dental issues.

In cases of excessive self-grooming, degus may focus particularly on their front paws. When this behavior is directed at a conspecific, areas with hair loss can be observed around the eyes, on the dorsal spine, flanks, and lower back.

Toilettage excessif d'un Octodon degus sur un congénère
Excessive grooming on a conspecific03

Dermatophytosis / Ringworm

Mycological (fungal) conditions are relatively rare in degus. Additionally, it is important to note that the most common ringworm in degus (Trichophyton mentagrophytes) is not fluorescent under a Wood’s lamp and is potentially transmissible to humans. Typically observed symptoms include hair loss and thickening of the skin. The head is the most affected area, but degus can also be affected in other areas.


Bacterial or ectoparasitic dermatitis is relatively rare in degus20. However, degus can become infected with certain mites, such as Demodex or Ornithonyssus bacot, which can also infect humans. The resulting lesions are varied and may include redness, itching, flaking, swelling, oozing, crusts/blisters, and skin thickening.


acarien octodon
Mites on a degus (Octodon degus)

Pododermatitis is an infection resulting from repeated skin irritation on the paw pads. It can be associated with abscesses and inflammation, leading to significant lameness. Pododermatitis can be caused by hygiene issues as well as a lack of physical activity and obesity.


Degus can be affected by various parasites, such as fleas, ticks, or mites, which cause skin bites or hair loss. It is important to treat both the degus and their environment to eliminate these parasites, which can persist in tissues or hay.

Tail Loss/Scalping

Degus’ tails can “self-amputate,” similar to lizards, although they do not regrow. This frequently occurs when individuals fight or when a degus is handled or grabbed by the tail (which should not be done). The bone may become visible, and the area tends to become infected. It is essential to have the wound amputated and cleaned by a veterinarian.

Alopecia and fur loss in degus

L'apport d'oxygène est un outil thérapeutique important chez les animaux hypoxémiques. La méthode d'apport d'oxygène par flux peut fournir jusqu'à 55 % d'enrichissement en oxygène de l'air ambiant.
The delivery of oxygen is an important therapeutic tool in hypoxemic animals. The oxygen delivery method by flow can provide up to 55% oxygen enrichment from ambient air.

Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory diseases are observed in degus and are frequently associated with dental problems07 08. Infectious diseases remain rare, but rhinitis is common in cases of malocclusion. When a respiratory issue is observed in degus, it is important to diagnose it through cranial and thoracic imaging. The treatment then depends on the cause of the respiratory problem and the severity of the condition.

Respiratory diseases in degus

Reproductive Organ Pathologies

Some disorders can affect the reproductive organs of the degu, although these conditions are generally rare. The most common is penile prolapse in males.


Penile prolapse and paraphimosis are conditions that prevent the retraction of the penis into its sheath and can occur in male degus. These problems are observed in case of injury or trauma, excessive mating, the formation of a fur ring, or dirt accumulation around the penis. If the penis is not returned to its normal position, an ulcer can develop, as well as inflammation or even necrosis. The latter can lead to a blockage of the urethra and urinary tract disorders. Therefore, it is important to consult a veterinarian promptly if the organ does not return to its normal position. Amputation may be considered if the veterinarian is unable to retract the degu’s penis21.

⚠️Degu Paraphimosis (Prolapse)⚠️
prolapsus octodon prolapsus octodon



Female degus may experience some genital issues, such as dystocia (complications during childbirth), genital hematomas, pyometra (accumulation of pus in the uterus), or vaginal tumors01.

Octodon degus de robe bleue non agouti – Photographies par

Complications during childbirth can be related to several causes: very large offspring (especially when the litter is small), stress during delivery, a change in diet, a diet that is too rich in carbohydrates, obesity in the mother, or the absence of postpartum contractions (uterine atony). Abnormalities in childbirth can be observed when the female undergoes significant labor without successfully delivering the offspring22 or when contractions last for 20 minutes per offspring23. Clinical signs include apathy, anorexia, tachypnea, abdominal distension, continuous efforts, and bloody vulvar discharge. A veterinarian should be contacted urgently, as this complication can be potentially life-threatening.

Reproductive pathology in the common degus

Cancer & Tumor

Like most animals, Octodon degus can develop cancers or tumors, although these conditions are relatively rare24 25, even though they may be related to dental problems. Odontomas are often observed in cases of malocclusion and can lead to cancer, emphasizing the importance of feeding your degu appropriately.

⚠️Cancerous Mass in Degus⚠️
Cancer et tumeur chez l'octodon degus A: Fibrosarcoma, B: Chordoma


Several types of cancers are found in degus26 27 :

  • Lung cancer: Octodon degus can develop a cancer similar to “smoker’s cancer,” such as bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, which was diagnosed in an adult male in a zoo.
  • Kidney cancer: Renal and hepatic metastases have been found in the same individual; however, it appears that cancer in degus rarely spreads or does so very slowly.
  • Lymphoma cancer: A few cases of cancerous masses related to lymphoma cancer (histiocytic lymphoma) have been found. In one degu, this condition caused death because one of the lymph nodes compressed the trachea.
  • Liver cancer: Two degus developed liver cancer, specifically hepatocellular carcinoma. Unfortunately, it seems that this cancer metastasizes, as tumors affected the gallbladder, heart, and lungs. One of these degus also developed cholangiocarcinoma, a cancer of the bile duct cells.
  • Oral cancer (elodontoma/odontoma): It can result from issues related to non-neoplastic lesions created by dental malocclusions12.
  • Tail cancer: Tail cancer, or chordomas, is observed in degus. The tumor often appears as a mass on the tail and can be mistaken for an abscess.

Cancers and tumours in Octodon degus

Renal Disease

Octodon degus can be affected by several renal diseases, including nephrosis, pyelonephritis (infection), glomerulonephritis, renal polycystic disease, and renal neoplasms20. Symptoms vary widely and may include anorexia, weight loss, and a hunched posture.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Degus may experience musculoskeletal disorders, with the most common ones being fractures, arthritis/spondylosis. Cases of bacterial arthritis, osteosarcoma (cancers), and fibrosarcoma (cancer) have also been observed.


Conditions like arthritis should be promptly treated to prevent rapid degeneration of the disease and significant loss of mobility in degus28.

Octodon degus suffering from arthritis – Video on


Fractures are often related to falls or mishandling and can be treated in octodons. Bones regenerate very quickly, in about ten days, but they remain fragile and thin, which complicates surgical procedures in the case of more severe fractures.

How to treat the arthritis in the common degu

Alzheimer’s like Disease

Elderly octodons can develop amyloid deposits in blood vessels and brain tissues that are similar to those observed in humans with Alzheimer’s disease29. They can also, like humans, show cognitive deficits, anxiety, and similar circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, there is no therapeutic solution to date.


Heatstroke can be very serious in degus, which do not tolerate heat well, unlike cooler temperatures. Degus can die within hours if they are not rehydrated and cooled down.30.

How to avoid heat stroke in degus?


Older degus can suffer from cardiovascular accidents, leading to a loss of mobility or uncontrolled behaviors, sometimes resembling epileptic seizures. It is important to visit a veterinarian as quickly as possible in such cases.

Octodon degus


Degus can experience some other issues, such as ear infections or torticollis, which may be related to dental malocclusions. Finally, in the wild, degus can asymptomatically contract the Trypanosoma cruzi bacterium, responsible for Chagas disease.

Degus can also have internal parasites, often when they eat fresh food. If degus are allowed outdoors or fed with foraged food, it’s advisable to discuss this with a veterinarian and consider regular deworming treatment.

Epilepsy has also been observed in some individuals but remains a very rare condition.


The degus is a relatively disease-resistant animal that can live a long and healthy life. However, its diet and lifestyle play a significant role in preventing the most common health problems, such as dental and dermatological issues. Therefore, it is essential to provide an environment suitable for the species to maintain good health throughout its life. This includes providing appropriate nutrition, including fiber and calcium, a sufficiently spacious cage, a stable social group, and adequate physical and mental activities.


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