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Which bathing soil / sand for my degus?

The bathing soil is an essential element for the good health of the degus. If it is used to clean its coat, in particular to eliminate parasites and dirt, it also has a very important social function. Indeed, in order to harmonize the odors of the group, the various members groom themselves in the same place. This allows the degus to recognize its peers easily, in an olfactory way.

In the wild, sandbathing is also a territorial marker1,with a large amount of feces and urine traces, which add to the unification of body scents2. Finally, while during the breeding season males groom themselves more often by rolling in the dirt, generally the degus only devotes a very limited amount of time per day to this, about 1% of its activity time3. Males also tend to decrease their number of sandbaths when they have been used by other unknown males4. These sandbaths would allow them to know if the last degus to roll in the sand are females or potential intruders (males) during the breeding season5.
Young degus start to use sandbaths very early, as soon as they are able to move around. It is possible to watch them trying to roll around, a bit wobbly the first days. In captivity, sand bathing can be observed during the first week of life.6.

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!
Octodons degus dans un bac de terre à bain - MN Pocket Pet

Octodon degus in a soil bath – MN Pocket Pet Rescue

Bathing soil in captivity

In captivity, bathing soil fulfills the same role as in the wild. If it allows the animals to clean themselves, they are still less infected with parasites. The social function is essential, especially in the cage, where the territory is smaller and the risk of conflicts is higher. The bathing soil is also an important component of the introduction of new degus.

It is therefore essential for the health of the Octodon degus to offer a space with bathing soil, also called sand. This one must be spacious enough, to allow the degus to turn around properly and to wash itself completely. Round aquariums or candy dishes are an excellent way to provide a dedicated grooming area and limit splashing outside the cage.

Ideally, the Octodon degus should be able to clean itself whenever it wants. For this reason, it is interesting to leave the bathing soil in free access in the cage. If this is not possible, the degus must have access to it at least 30 minutes per day to groom themselves.

There are dirt areas, where degus wash outside the burrows. In captivity, it may be wise to replicate this system and put the bathing soil near a resting place.

Octodon degus qui se roule dans du sable/de la terre à bain - Wikimedia Commons

Octodon degus rolling in sand/bathing soil – Wikimedia Commons

How to choose the right bath soil

Sépiolite broyée

Crushed sepiolite

The role of sand in the good health of the degus is therefore essential. But how to choose a good bathing soil? And what is it made of?

First of all, whatever the name one uses, bath soil or sand are not. Neither earth nor sand in composition. Depending on the brand, it is rather clay, or minerals from the same group, such as sepiolite. Quartz sand is also used, sometimes with the addition of chalk powder. Generally, the ingredients are ground into tiny crystals or very fine dust. These minerals absorb some of the sebum from the animal’s fur. 

The differences in the composition of the bath soils have very little impact on the physical needs of the degus. The most important aspect is its volatility. Indeed, some minerals are more dusty than others. This could cause lung problems on the long term, if the Octodon inhales this dust, as well as conjunctivitis7.It is thus advisable to turn to less dusty brands.

Some degus can however declare allergies or loss of fur linked to a particular ingredient. It is then necessary to change the material used to test if the degu can better support a composition.

Scented bath soil

There are scented bath soils with various scents. These products should be banned, as should the use of essential oils added to the sand. In addition to being potentially harmful to your health8 and that of your companions, perfumes are potentially dangerous.

The use of essential oils to “mask” the smell of the animal in the bathing soil is totally disadvised. Indeed, octodons detect the use of “artificial” scents on their conspecifics, and unless they have been accustomed to these odors since birth, discriminate those who wear it9. Using these scents therefore tends to create an unwanted avoidance or flight behavior when introducing a new member.

Terre à bain minérale

Mineral bathing soil

Sulfur bath soil

Sulfur is used in naturopathy, especially for skin problems. However, to date, there is no evidence of a long-term beneficial effect of sulfur, as few studies are devoted to this subject. Sulfur can help treat some diseases, but it can also cause others, such as dermatitis10.Indeed, sulphur can dry the skin, by eliminating sebum. However, sebum is essential to the degus and is already partly absorbed by the minerals present in the bath soil. Too much absorption can lead to fur loss and skin irritation.

Conclusion

On a daily basis, it is therefore advisable to avoid bathing soil or sulfur sand, because the effects of these products are of no interest for healthy degus and could cause health problems. It seems that these products are only commercial arguments rather than beneficial to the degus.

Sources

  1. NOTES ON THE ACTIVITY, REPRODUCTION, AND SOCIAL BEHAVIOR OF OCTODON DEGUS[]
  2. Nutrition and Behavior of Degus (Octodon degus)[]
  3. Seasonal Changes in the Time Budget of Degus, Octodon degus[]
  4. Dustbathing and intra-sexual communication of social degus, Octodon degus (Rodentia: Octodontidae)[]
  5. The Effects of Exposure to Conspecific Urine on Urine-Marking in Male and Female Degus (Octodon degus)[]
  6. Contact-promoting behavior, social development, and relationship with parents in sibling juvenile degus (Octodon Degus)[]
  7. DIPPING INTO WORLD OF DEGUS[]
  8. Respirez – Association pulmonaire[]
  9. Early Olfactory Environment Influences Social Behaviour in Adult Octodon degus[]
  10. Sulphur and skin: from Satan to Saddam![]

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