Want to know about the degu lifespan? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Degus are not the most popular pets – yet! But they are cute little creatures that may steal your heart with their outgoing personalities and gentle behaviors.
If you are thinking of getting one as a pet, you’ll want to know everything you can to ensure you can provide a long, happy life for your little pal.
So let’s find out more about degus.
After all, knowing the degu lifespan might help you figure out whether they’re right for your household, and how good a quality of life you can offer.
Read on if you want to know more about degu life expectancy.
Degus are a South American rodent, native to central Chile.
Their native environment is Mediterranean-esque, with dry summers and rainy winters.
These tiny creatures are also known by their scientific name, Octodon degu, because their cheek teeth are shaped like figure eights.
As adults they may grow to 12 oz. in weight, and up to 12 inches in length.
Generally, degus have yellow-brown fur and a lighter yellow belly. Their tails may have a black tip.
Degus are social, living in small groups within larger colonies.
They’re digging animals, and they love to forage.
Degus as pets
These rodents are caviomorphs, like guinea pigs. They are similar to chinchillas as well.
Like guinea pigs and chinchillas, degus are sold as pocket pets.
Degu breeders do exist, but owning a degu is illegal in some places, including U.S. states California, Utah, Georgia, and Alaska. Breeding them is illegal in some other areas.
Because they are still considered exotic pets in many places, you won’t find “pedigreed” degus.
Degus are diurnal, so they’re active during the day – which is one reason people love having them as pets.
The life expectancy of degus
As in the wild, degus typically survive around 1-4 years.
But this depends on a number of factors, some of which won’t apply to pet degus – such as predation.
In captivity, degus are still considered young at about one year old.
They’re not really “grown up” until they reach two or three years old.
Degus are a long-lived rodent, and may live into their teens with excellent care and a generous helping of luck.
However, the average captive degu lifespan is usually quoted as 5-9 years.
What factors hold the secret to a long degu life expectancy?
Genetic conditions that affect degu lifespan
The inheritance of genes is one factor that plays a role in the longevity of degus.
Unfortunately, degus do have some hereditary health problems that are more than averagely common.
Degus are prone to spontaneous diabetes mellitus, a condition that is much like Type 2 diabetes in humans.
In this type of diabetes, the cells in the pancreas stop using or producing insulin.
Symptoms include excessive urination and excess drinking.
This may lead to a condition called islet amyloidosis, which affects the pancreas and does not develop in other rodent species.
Degus are also prone to the spontaneous development of beta-amyloid deposits, which cause Alzheimer’s disease.
In fact, degus are often used in laboratories as “natural” models for Alzheimer’s disease because they experience degenerative cortical changes as a result of age which is very similar to the progression of the human disease.
Many captive degus, unfortunately, experience Alzheimer’s symptoms.
Some scientists even believe it is inevitable for these animals, although the jury is still out.
Degus may develop cataracts, lesions on their eye lens, and other eye diseases.
These problems can be triggered by many causes, but a genetic predisposition is thought to be one of them.
Diabetes actually may cause some of the eye problems that are common in degus as well.
Degu life expectancy – The role of diet
Genetics aren’t the only factor that can determine how long your degu lives.
Diet plays a large role as well.
In fact, scientists have found it was one of the three biggest causes of disease in degus. Fur chewing and improper handling were the others.
Some factors that influence degu health and have dietary origins include diarrhea and obesity.
Degus require a high-protein, low-fiber herbivore diet. In the wild, they tend to eat a lot of herbaceous foliage, such as shrubs, grass, and seeds.
In captivity, degus tend not to eat enough hay because we tempt them with too many treats that they’d rather eat instead.
Hay is also important for wearing down degus’ teeth and keeping their dental hygiene in good nick.
Acquired dental diseases can be a major health problem for degus eating the wrong type of diet.
So degus need good access to high-energy, low-sugar foods that are both healthy for them and good for their teeth.
Skin and teeth issues that affect degu lifespan
Degus may develop dental diseases can cause health problems, such as incisor malocclusion and elongation of the cheek teeth.
Rodents often experience dental issues because their teeth continue to grow throughout their lifetimes.
If they aren’t given the right foods to gnaw on, and to wear down their teeth, dental problems may get worse if not treated by a veterinarian. That’s why diet is so important!
In a study from 2009 on the deaths of pet degus, scientists found that, in addition to the above, many degus developed skin problems.
These include skin alopecia, a result of self-mutilation or fur-chewing. This can be caused by boredom or issues with their care.
Fur chewing is a stereotypic, repetitive activity, one that often leads to problems in degu health.
It can be reduced with proper activity and attention, such as toys to relieve boredom.
Other health matters that may affect degu lifespan
Degus can develop traumatic soft tissue injuries from fights with other degus or improper handling, and skin abscesses from bite injuries.
They can also get parasites.
Some degus die of gastrointestinal illnesses, including liver failure and pancreatitis.
Female degus can have problems with reproduction, while males can suffer from penile prolapse.
Degus can develop arthritis.
They are also prone to contracting bumblefoot, a condition that often develops from uneven contact with wire cages.
I know, it sounds pretty dire. So no let’s find out what you can do to right the balance and offer your degu the longest possible life!
How to improve the life expectancy of your degu
If you treat your degus right, you can easily avoid some of the problems we have listed above, and assist your degus in living a long, happy lives.
Here are some ways to help give your degu headstart:
If you purchase from a breeder, ask questions about the health of your degu’s family tree and find out what their health issues may be.
Feed them a balanced, nutritious diet specifically designed for degus, give them unlimited hay, and avoid feeding them sugary treats. Find out more with our article on degu food.
Keep your degus in pairs or groups, as they are social animals and do better with company.
Spend plenty of time with them! They are companionable and they benefit from interacting with you.
Find a good veterinarian that treats exotic pets and have your degus checked out yearly.
Enrich their lives with suitable shelters, toys, and human attention to prevent fur-chewing.
Make sure degu cages have a solid, level floor so that bumblefoot doesn’t become an issue.
Be slow and careful when handling your degus, and never grab them – especially by the tail. They don’t like to be held as much as they like to climb and sit on you.
If they stop eating, take them to a vet immediately because they may be experiencing gastrointestinal distress or tooth issues.
Longest living degu
While you can do a quick Internet search that shows degus living up to 18 years, there’s not much official information out there on the longest-lived captive degus.
One scientific article referenced an 11 year old degu, but that’s all we could find in terms of verified long degu lifespans.
However, degus are generally one of the longest lived rodent species.
And if you take good care of your octodon baby, yours may be around for quite a few years!
Degu lifespan – How long do degus live?
In the wild, degus live around 1-4 years.
But with luck and great care, your pet degu should easily survive between 5-9 years and beyond.
Their lifespan depends on many factors, including genetics, environment, and diet.
You can do your bit to promote a long life by feeding them appropriately, giving them companionship, and providing toys and opportunities for exercise.
The best bit is that by being hands-on with these things, you’re likely to spot the problems which need veterinary treatment quicker too!
Do you have a long-lived degu at home?
How old are they, and what do you think has been the secret of their long life?
If you haven’t been so lucky, do you think there is anything affecting degu lifespan which we haven’t covered here?
Join in the conversation using the comments box!
Resources and Further Reading
Jeki, V. et al (2011). Diseases in pet degus: a retrospective study in 300 animals. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 52.
Nishi, M. and Steiner, D. F. (1990). Cloning of complementary DNAs encoding islet amyloid polypeptide, insulin, and glucagon precursors from a New World rodent, the degu, Octodon degus. Molecular Endocrinolony, 4(8).
Steffen, J. et al (2016). Revisiting rodent models: Octodon degus as Alzheimer’s disease model? Acta Neuropathologica Communications, 4(1).
Tarragon et al (2013). Octodon degus: A model for the cognitive impairment associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuroscience & Therapeutics, 19(9).
Van Groen, T. et al (2011). Age-related brain pathology in Octodon degu: Blood vessel, white matter and Alzheimer-like pathology. Neurobiology of Aging, 32(9).
Woods, C. A. and Boraker, D. K. (1975). Octodon degus. Mammalian Species, 67.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife, “Why can’t I have a hedgehog, sugar glider, ferret, or other restricted, non-native species as a pet in California?”
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (2012). R657-3 – Collection, Importation, Transportation, and Possession of Animals.
Georgia Department of Natural Resources, “Wild Animals/Exotics.”
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, “Pets and Lifestock: Legal Pets.”