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Degus, rodents from central Chile, have a unique defense system to escape from predators such as buzzards, foxes, owls and raptors. When a degu is caught by the tail, he can shed the skin and slip away. Although this usually isn’t harmful to the degu, it’s important not to handle your pet by his tail and to be prepared if he does lose his tail.
Why Degus Lose Their Tails
When a predator catches a degu’s tail, the rodent will spin around to loosen the skin until it slides off, leaving the hunter with a piece of pelt instead of a meal. Rather than regrowing the skin, the degu gnaws off the bones that are left uncovered. The degu doesn’t always lose his whole tail, just the part he needs to jettison so he can escape.
If Your Degu Sheds His Tail
Most of the time, degus are fine after they lose their tails, but occasionally they need stitches or develop infections. If your pet “degloves” his skin, he’ll probably bleed for a little while. If he bleeds heavily or for longer than 20 minutes, or he seems to be in pain, take him to the vet. After the skin’s gone, his tail should begin to dry up and atrophy. When the tendons become weak and brittle -- usually in several hours to a few days -- he’ll chew off the remaining part of his tail. If you see discharge or swelling from the stump, he might have an infection. Contact your vet right away.
Picking Up Your Degu
You might have trouble picking up your degu without trying to grab his tail, especially at first. Be patient in building trust so he feels comfortable with you. Don’t trap him in a corner or pin him against the wall of his cage. Place your open hand several inches from him. Allow him to sniff you and climb onto your palm, but don’t close your hand around him or restrain him. Eventually, when he seems relaxed and confident -- probably after multiple sessions -- you can lift him in your open palm, but move slowly in case he panics and jumps off.
Holding Your Degu
When you hold your degu outside his cage, leave your palm open, rather than wrapping your hand around him. Don’t ever grab him around the midsection. If you think he’ll run away, offer him oats to remain in your hand. You also can use oats to reward him for letting you pick him up, or as an incentive to climb around your arm and shoulder.