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How to avoid heat stroke in degus?

With the arrival of summer, which has been coming for a few years now, periods of strong heat waves have settled in the world. Unfortunately, the impact of human activities has created a phenomenon of climate change that is currently reflected in the rise of high heat1 in a large part of the world. These are difficult to live for all living beings, whether they are humans, degus or even simple bacteria! In its natural state, the Octodon degus lives mostly in its burrow, where temperatures remain stable around 24°C (75°F). It only goes outside when the dry season temperatures are lower. In general, the degus does not tolerate high temperatures and can develop “heat stroke”, sometimes fatal.

Please note that this article was translated with the help of DeepL. If you notice any mistakes, please send us an email at octodons.lesite@gmail.com! Thank you for your help!

Octodon degus qui se dore au soleil

Fighting the heat

There are several ways to fight the heat. These apply in general and for all the inhabitants of the house (the degus are not the only ones to be hot). Most of them are very simple and inexpensive. It is important to put these systems in place to prevent the degu from getting heatstroke, which can sometimes be fatal.

Keeping the animal cool

The most important thing is to keep your pet cool in the house. If it is possible to take the cage of degus outside in summer, it is advisable to avoid the hottest hours! It is also possible to move the cage, to privilege cooler places, like the bathroom, or even the cellar if necessary. 

Ventilation & shutters

During the day, to keep a certain coolness, it is interesting to lower or close the shutters or blinds, especially those most exposed to the sun. This allows the heat to be “reflected” on these materials and to diffuse less inside. Similarly, early in the morning or late in the evening, as soon as the temperature drops, do not hesitate to open everything wide. Contrary to popular belief, the degus is not fragile to air currents. You can let your degu a fresh air net, so that it can cool itself in all peace.

If you don’t have shutters, consider installing blinds or putting up fabrics, preferably white, to reflect the heat. Arrange damp towels around the window as well.

Wheel and activities

Illustration by ValoniaArt

For the more wheel-addicted degus, the heat can play some nasty tricks. If your degu never stops, consider blocking the wheel during the hottest part of the day! Instead, you can provide enrichment and puzzles to keep him busy without putting him at risk. Also, avoid letting him run around the house when it’s too hot, even if it means waiting until evening, or missing a few outings. 

Keep your degus hydrated

Although he is able to go without water for several days, the degu needs to eat moist food. Choose edible plants and flowers as part of your degu’s diet, and as moist as possible, such as endive. Also, make sure that you always keep clean, fresh water available for the degus.

You can also use a spray bottle on the cage, but don’t target it directly to the degus, which by nature hates water.

Never leave your degus in a car

If you must take your octodon outside for any reason, NEVER leave it in a car, even in the shade. Temperatures in the car’s interior can rise dramatically and can kill your pet in a matter of minutes.

Freshen up the room and/or the cage

In addition to ventilation, there are simple and inexpensive ways to cool a room. First of all, you can put in a fan to stir the air in the room and give a refreshing feeling of air flow. In addition, you can place an open ice tray behind the paddles, so that the draft carries a cooler air.
It is also possible to use wet or even frozen towels or cloths (wet and then put in the freezer and/or refrigerator) to lower the temperature. These cloths can be placed around the cage or nearby. Finally, you can also put ice packs on the cage (cool air goes down), wrapped in cloth, to provide a slightly cooler area. Leave plenty of space for the air to circulate easily, without enclosing the degus, with an “oven” effect. In the rooms with a water point, it is possible to run, sparingly, fresh water to lower the temperatures.

Provide cool places for your degus

If you have tiles or solid cool materials, you can offer them to your degus. These materials should not be dangerous (material, texture, …) so that your octodon will not hurt himself if he settles on them. You can also leave some time before an ice cube or a fresh cloth on it. However, be careful to arrange these objects in the cage, especially if they are heavy!  Then prefer the locations at the bottom of the cage, on load-bearing areas and not on fragile floors. Finally, don’t “ice” these areas, because it may cause a “thermal shock” to the degus and make him fall ill.

What to do in case of heat stroke in the degus?

Octodon degus

Tipi devouring a defenseless dandelion

Occasionally, your degus may suffer from heat stroke. In this case, your rodent will be listless, dehydrated and will probably refuse to move or eat. It is important to react as soon as possible. First of all, you should call your veterinarian to make an appointment.
You can also cool your pet in several ways:

  • Wrap him in a cool (not cold!) or even damp cloth, avoiding thermal shocks.
  • Put him in the coolest room possible, without initiating a cold snap.
  • Wet his paws gently with water at room temperature, not cold.
  • Let him drink as much as possible, if necessary with a little fruit juice and a maximum of water. Do not force him to drink!
  • Offer him fresh and watery foods (salad, endives, …), if necessary fruits such as watermelon and melon, which should not be offered to the degu in normal circumstances, because too sweet.

Note that it is advisable to be extremely careful with thermal shocks in case of heat stroke, which can worsen the situation2. Before taking any action, remove your pet from the hot place and call a veterinarian, who will be able to guide you in the best way. 

Sources

  1. Météo France : réchauffement climatique et vagues de chaleurs[]
  2. Le coup de chaleur chez le chat et le chien[]

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