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Degus vs Gerbils – What Is The Difference?

Rodents, in the past, were considered pests, but nowadays, they are quickly becoming the leading choices for pets. Their popularity might be because of their small sizes that translate to minimal care needs.

Degus and gerbils are among the leading pet options. Though most people assume that these animals are the same because they both belong to the Rodentia order, several aspects differentiate them.

Below are guidelines on the elements that differentiate degus and gerbils.

Physical Differences

The degu generally resembles a domestic rat. It has small black eyes, and its ears are large. These ears have little fur, but their ear canals have slightly coarse and longer hairs. Degus have fingers on their rear and front feet.

The front paws have a nailed digit that helps the animals to hold food when eating or grazing. Their moderately long tails have small black brushes at the tips, whereas their coats are soft and short. This rodent has twenty teeth comprising six molar pairs, two premolar pairs, and two incisor pairs.

There exist over 85 wild gerbil species. Gerbils have large dark eyes that are less protruding and bulbous than other rodents. Though this gives them a somewhat sleepy look, they are alert and have excellent peripheral vision.

Gerbils have six lower cheek teeth and six upper teeth. Their short club-shaped tails are generally adapted to store fat. Most of these rodents have dense, soft fur, and their tails’ sizes differ according to their species.

Size Differences

The most evident difference between degus and gerbils is their sizes. Degus are bigger than gerbils and will thus need more living space. They can grow up to thrice the size of gerbils. In general, degus are 5-7 inches long with average weights of 6-10 ounces.

On the other hand, gerbils grow to adult body lengths of approximately four inches with an extra four inches for their tails. Their weight ranges from 1.7-3.2 ounces.

Color Differences

Wild gerbils have sand-colored fur that makes them camouflage with their dry natural habitats. However, domestic gerbils come in several colors because of selective breeding.

These include black, white, cinnamon, and lilac, along with combinations of these colors. The fur on gerbils has tan, gray, reddish-brown, or brown upperparts and grayish to white underparts.

The thick, soft fur of a degu is yellowish-brown on its upperparts, while its underparts are creamy yellow. Degus are a natural light agouti color.

Since their introduction as pets, this color has evolved to include light grey, dark brown, blue, champagne, sandy brown, cream, and white patched degus.

Behavior Differences

In the wild, gerbils live in colonies. As such, they are very social animals and will not thrive as solitary animals.

It is best to keep two same-sex gerbils for them to remain healthy. Gerbils are generally friendly and will often only bite when threatened.  They are mainly nocturnal animals.

It is easy to tame degus if you handle them from an early age. The rodents are instinctively social and will be healthier when kept in same-sex pairs. They are also curious and playful.

As such, degus will become neurotic and might fight you when you do not give them enough interaction and exercise. Like gerbils, they will rarely bite you unless they feel threatened. Degus are diurnal animals.

Diet Differences

The diets of gerbils will comprise specially formulated gerbil food that is generally a loose seed mixture. Sunflower seed mixtures are best used as treats in a gerbil’s diet. The ideal feed should contain 4-7% fat and 10-12% protein.

For feeding, opt for a heavy ceramic bowl for your gerbil because this is harder to tip over than a lightweight bowl.  Ensure the rodent has a constant supply of clean, non-chlorinated water from a water bottle.

Degus thrive on a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in roughage. This informs the mixing of guinea pig pellets, a rodent block, and a chinchilla feed to make the perfect degu feed.

Nutrient-rich grass such as alfalfa or timothy hay and fresh water should be available in a degu’s cage throughout. Peanuts and sunflower seeds make perfect choices for degu treats.

These rodents should not have any sweets in their diets because they are prone to diabetes.

Care Differences

A pair of gerbils will comfortably fit in a 12 x 24 x 24-inch cage. Since they are very active, getting a larger cage than this is ideal.

Glass aquariums are better than wire cages because they offer a deep bedding layer through which gerbils can burrow. Have lots of enrichment and climbing options in your gerbil’s cage, as well as an exercise wheel to keep it active.

Two degus can comfortably fit in a 24 x 18 x 24-inch cage. Since these rodents are avid chewers, opt for a metal or wire cage rather than a plastic or wooden one.

To satisfy their chewing, include chew toys and woodblocks in the degus’ cage. There should also be a dust bath in a shallow bowl so that the rodents can keep their coats in optimal condition.

Breeding Differences

The average gestation period for degus is three months, and they will get 3-10 pups per litter. Newborn degus are 14.6g on average and are quite developed.

The gestation period for gerbils is 24-26 days, after which they get 5-6 pups per litter. The pups are born deaf, blind, and hairless. They cannot survive without the mother until they are about six weeks.

Lifespan Differences

You can expect your gerbil to live for 2-4 years while a degu’s average lifespan is 5-8 years.

Wrapping Up

Despite the above differences, both degus and gerbils will need quality healthcare. Get your pet to a vet immediately you bring it home and ensure its vaccinations are up-to-date.

This is because degus and gerbils can become infection carriers into your home when not properly vaccinated. Aim to imitate your pet’s natural habitat as much as possible.

After all, even pets need some semblance of their natural habitats for them to feel at home and remain emotionally healthy.

Rodents - Updated: December 1, 2020
avatar I’m Noah, chief editor at VIVO Pets and the proud owner of a playful, energetic husky (Max). I’ve been a volunteer at Rex Animal Rescue for over 2 years. I love learning and writing about different animals that can be kept as pets.

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