Degus vs Rats – What Is The Difference?

The benefits of keeping a pet cannot be overstated. They help people become emotionally stable, can give you the chance to exercise and get healthy when running around after them, while allowing kids to learn about responsibility.

Though several animal species can make excellent pets, rodents are among the best choices. They are inexpensive to buy, easy to maintain, and remain cheerful. The popular pet rodents currently are degus and rats.

Though you might assume that these two animals are the same and you can easily pick the other when your choice is unavailable at a pet store, this is not so. Here are some aspects that differentiate degus and rats.

Physical Differences

Degus have round squat bodies with yellow-brown fur on their heads and backs. Their feet and underparts are cream-colored. Most of them have a pale band around their eyes, but some have this band around the neck.

A degu’s large ears have dark pigmentation. Its fifth digit is smaller, and its forefoot has a nail rather than a claw. The tips of degus’ tails have black hair tufts, and their bellies sport tan fur.

On the other hand, rats have thinly-furred ears that are quite prominent, moderately long legs with sharp claws, and large adorable eyes.  Their tails look bald and smooth, but they are actually covered by fine short hairs.

Size Differences

Degus look a lot like gerbils but are larger than the latter. They have round squat bodies that weigh 0.5-1 pound. These rodents grow to attain lengths of 10-12 inches from their tails to the tips of their noses.

Rats have adult body sizes of 9-11 inches with an extra eight inches for their long tails. They are generally slender and weigh 450-650g.

Color Differences

Rats come in a broad range of colors, but the AFRMA recognizes forty colors. The common ones for pet rats are black, tan, white, gray, and brown. Owing to the cross-breeding of different rat species, pet rats are also available in champagne, Dalmatian, silver lilac, and beige.

Their eye colors include ruby, red, light ruby, pink, dark ruby, and black. A light agouti is the original color of degus. Nowadays, there are also black, sand/red, lilac, chocolate, champagne, cream, white, and blue/blue agouti degus.

Behavior Differences

Like most wild rodents, it is easy to tame a degu when you start handling it from an early age. The animal is curious and playful. As such, it can become neurotic and aggressive if it does not get enough exercise and interaction.

A few degus will try to talk to you using chitter-chatter sounds. Sometimes, you might hear a high-pitched screech from your pet when it is threatened or hurt. In general, degus will not bite unless they feel threatened or cornered. These rodents are diurnal.

Rats are playful and smart rodents that long for human attention. Contrary to what most people think, they are very clean and will rarely stink. Rats also love exploring, burrowing, and climbing.

These rodents are nocturnal and will thus be most active during the night, at dusk and at dawn. To ensure you do not disturb their sleep, something that gets them cranky, place their cages in places where there isn’t much activity during the day when the rats are asleep.

Diet Differences

Degus thrive on a diet with a high amount of fiber and low carbohydrate content. If you cannot get a degu-specific feed, you can mix guinea pig or chinchilla pellets with a rodent block for a nutritious degu feed.

Ensure alfalfa or timothy hay, and clean water are available throughout. Fresh vegetables daily and occasional treats like seeds, nuts, and fruits are also essential in a degu’s diet.

Nutritionally complete block type or pellet feeds for rats are readily available in pet stores. The ideal rat block should be low in calories and fat with soy meal rather than corn as one of its ingredients.

Add small amounts of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, cheese, mealworms, and whole-grain pasta to the rat’s meal. Clean drinking water should be available for the rodent throughout.

Care Differences

Degus live in environmental temperatures of below twenty degrees Celsius. Temperatures above these might make your pet distressed and at risk of heatstroke. Degus need a lot of stimulation with toys, ramps, tunnels, exercise wheels, and different levels in their cages to keep them entertained.

They should also have a sand bath daily to keep them clean and their fur in optimal condition. Degus live in a minimum cage size of 24 x 18 x 24 inches.

Pet rats will need not less than an hour of play outside their cages daily.  Escape-proof the room you will use for playtime by closing the windows and doors. Get rid of poisonous plants and electric cables as well since these might hurt your small pet.

Start handling the rat soon after its birth so that it gets used to human interaction. The ideal minimum floor space for a rat’s cage is two square feet (12 x 24 inches).

Breeding Differences

Female rats get to their sexual maturity at 8-12 weeks while males attain the same at 6-10 weeks of age. On average, a rat’s gestation is 21-28 days, after which the female gets 8-18 pups. Degus are reproductively competent when they turn 53-55 weeks old.

At conception, your female degu should be at least 220 gram to guarantee the pregnancy does not affect its health. After a gestation period of ninety days, the rodent gives birth to 3-10 pups on average.

Lifespan Differences

Degus live for a maximum of ten years in captivity. Pet rats live for up to three years.


Though they are both rodents, the above facts have shown you that there are stark differences between a degu and a rat. Some people think they can keep rats and degus together.

This is not advisable as degus are territorial and will fight the rats for cage dominance. Moreover, with different care needs for these rodents, the budget and time spent caring for both pets might be overstretched.

avatar Jane
Jane is an experienced animal care specialist with a focus on rodents and small mammals, with over 10 years of experience in the pet industry. Her articles provide practical guidance on choosing the right pet and managing common health issues. Jane is an advocate for animal welfare and supports organizations dedicated to protecting wildlife. read more...

Questions and Answers

It should be added that most (‘fancy’) rats (domesticated rats) will get tumours and die young due to the poor breeding resulting in very bad genes. You’re lucky if a rat lives beyond 2 years old, and will probably need to be put down eventually – so, despite being very cheap to buy, rats have expensive vet bills.
I assume degus, living to 10, are less prone to cancer and illness.
Rats are very lovable and intelligent pets, but their short life, and getting cancer, means you can’t recommend them to the poor or people who aren’t emotionally tough.
Degus or gerbils are rodents people might prefer to consider. Or even sugar gliders or chinchillas.

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