Taken from Wikipedia:
- Perhaps the most remarkable feature of degu physiology is their intolerance of dietary sugar. Degus have been found to have a divergent insulin structure (one of the hormones that regulates blood glucose level) and so are highly susceptible to developing diabetes mellitus when fed regularly on a diet containing free sugars. This is thought to be due to evolutionary pressure arising from the lack of availability of free sugars in the degu's natural environment.
Diabetes is the one word that strikes fear in the hearts of degu owners everywhere. Sugar, in its many forms, is everywhere, and degus should have as little as possible (preferably none) of it because they are highly susceptible to diabetes.
However, while not curable, diabetes is a manageable illness in degus. Granted, your diabetic degu might not live as long as they previously would have, but with a managed diet they are more likely to last longer than without the diet. Don't expect miracles, but do expect to save your degu's sight.
The main symptoms of diabetes is a cataract in their eyes. If it is in just one eye, it is known as a congenital cataract and is (probably) not diabetes-related. The first thing you need to do if you suspect your degu has diabetes is to get their urine tested. The same sticks for humans, readily available online and in many high street shops, can be used to check degu urine for the same markers (sugar types) that will suggest the degu is diabetic. Degus with diabetes also tend to drink more water and urinate more often but the cataracts are the easiest and most recognisable trait, although by then it is way too late to cure anything.
So can my degu have anything sugary?Edit
Simple answer, no. Complicated answer, yes but strictly rare occasions. The odd raisin or sultana once a month isn't going to kill them, nor is a piece of dried fruit of any other sorts...some of my guys love dried orange peel (tiny 3-5mm squares, in some sort of syrup...very sugary so that piece is all they get...easily buyable in supermarkets in the home baking section) while others like chocolate rice crispies, and quite a few of them like assorted biscuits from ginger nuts to fig rolls. So what is the problem with diabetes? That's a simple one, it's not the treats we give, it's the foods we give that we don't REALISE contain sugar, like certain guinea pig foods that we assume are safe for our degus. An old case in point is Gerty Guinea Pig; while it used to contain molasses as a mixing agent, it doesn't any more...people were feeding this to their degus thinking it was safe, but back then it wasn't. Another thing to watch out for is degus finding these treats laying around while out playing, have a pot to store these treats in and keep it closed.
Degu owners (and pet owners in general, for the most part) tend to be extra cautious when it comes to their pets, it's natural. If given a bag of sultanas, the degus would wolf it down and definitely get diabetes, they know no better...we're there to care for them.
Lastly, don't make sugary treats a regular thing, vary the distance between the treats so their bodies don't get used to the sugar buzz coming regularly. Give them a treat one week, another the next, then maybe nothing for a few weeks or a month...the longer you give between each treat, the better it is for their system so they can get the sugar out of their system. It is also a good idea to vary their treats, and give plenty of non-sugary ones regularly inbetween.
I should stress at this point that it is not a good idea to give your degus ANY sugar if you have any chance of going too far with the treats. If giving biscuits, they need nothing more than a mouthful, if giving raisins/sultanas you need to adhere to the "only one" rule and be prepared for the "awwww please!" look they give you. If you want to be extra careful, steer clear of sugar. If you plan to give them sugary treats, watch out for complacency...you will soon do it like it is second nature, so be sure to watch out for how often you are doing it.
The smaller the piece of the treat, the more you can give...right? Wrong! With anything sugary, it is all about sugar intake, so a small piece puts sugar into their system...give another piece and the body gets more sugar it can't deal with...keep at this daily and your degu will definitely get diabetes when if they'd had the whole lot at the start they would have stood a better chance of escaping it (although I am not saying give tons of sugary treats and they'll be fine). Other treats (fatty, for instance) are fine, 1/4 of a peanut once a week is the same as a peanut a month.