Lettuce seems like the type of harmless food that small pets would be ok to eat, but it’s vital to always check before giving your pets any new food.
Degus, in particular, have quite a few sensitivities to different types of food so it’s always best to check first before feeding them anything new.
What about lettuce? Is lettuce a good food for degus to eat? Does lettuce have any health benefits for degus, and are there any health risks associated with degus eating lettuce?
In this article I’ll take a look at these questions, showing you all the benefits and risks of lettuce for degus.
Degus can eat lettuce; however, too much lettuce can pose a health risk to your degu. Certain lettuce varieties pose more risk than others and many provide very little nutritional benefits. However, there are some varieties of lettuce that are beneficial to your degu’s diet.
Which types of lettuce should degus avoid
Certain lettuce types are high in a chemical called lactucarium.
In large quantities, lactucarium can be harmful to small animals and can cause issues with their digestive system such as diarrhea.
Light-colored and watery lettuce such as iceberg lettuce should not be fed to your degu as it has very little nutritional value and lots of lactucarium.
Due to the high lactucarium content and very low nutritional value, light-colored watery lettuce types are just not worth giving to your degu.
At worst they could make them ill, but even at best you will be filling their stomach on lettuce that contains very few nutrients, which could have an unbalancing effect on their diet.
Because of this, all lettuce types should be fed in moderation and some should be avoided altogether.
Which types of lettuce can degus eat
You should search of those lettuce types with a darker color, the ones that have a bit more of a bitter taste.
The leaves will be more fibrous and less watery than types like iceberg lettuce.
Often these types will have a stronger taste, as opposed to the very bland taste of iceberg lettuce.
These varieties of lettuce contain less harmful lactucarium and more of the beneficial nutrients which I’ll discuss below.
Some of the best types of lettuce for a degu include:
- Green leaf lettuce
- Red leaf lettuce
- Romaine lettuce
- Lamb’s lettuce
Health benefits of lettuce for degus
Whilst there are certain types of lettuce your degu should not eat, such as the light-colored watery ones I’ve laid out above, there are still some terrific health benefits they can gain from the darker colors, more nutritious varieties.
Here is a list of health benefits of lettuce for degus, then I’ll follow with some of the health risks.
This is the vitamin that you’re parents told you would let you see in the dark, the one packed into carrots.
Well, it really does help support eyesight and is a great addition to your degu’s diet.
It is also great for young degus as a vitamin A deficiency can actually stunt growth. On top of that, it helps to support god immune and cell function.
This is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps with blood clotting. It also aids bone metabolism and supports the regulation of blood calcium levels.
Antioxidants are believed to reduce the risk of a wide range of diseases.
These include heart disease and cancers. Antioxidants reduce the number of free radicals in your degu’s body.
Free radicals are atoms that attach themselves to cells in the body.
These cells are then identified as an invader and damaged or destroyed, hence leading to serious diseases.
Calcium is a double-edged sword, of course, it has plenty of health benefits, but too much can also be harmful to your degu (we’ll discuss that later).
Calcium helps to build strong bones and teeth, as well as thick fur with that lovely shiny look.
In addition to that, calcium also helps to ensure the blood clots effectively and helps to regulate muscle contractions, that’s important for vital bodily functions such as ensuring a strong regular heartbeat.
Fiber is essential for healthy digestion. It has two categories, soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber helps to control the blood sugar level of the body and aids in ridding the body of fatty substances such as cholesterol.
Insoluble fiber helps to keep the digestive system moving, it will add weight but also softens to your rat’s stools which in turn will help the digestive system to work effectively.
Folic acid is vital for maintaining the structure of your degu’s cell membranes and is necessary for amino acid metabolism.
Magnesium is an essential macro-mineral.
It helps to maintain good nerve and muscle function, supporting the immune system, keeping bones nice and strong and maintaining a steady heartbeat.
This is a mineral that works alongside calcium to help maintain strong bones and teeth in your degu.
Potassium helps to maintain a healthy heart and good blood pressure.
Potassium has also been shown to support bone and muscle strength as the body ages.
Health risks of lettuce for degus
Although we never really associate lettuce with being unhealthy for humans, that isn’t the case for degus.
Lettuce can actually be quite harmful, let’s look at why.
Excess amounts of calcium
I’ve listed calcium as a benefit of lettuce above, but excess calcium can quickly become a problem for degus.
When there’s too much calcium in a degu’s diet their urine can thicken. This can cause urinary tract infections and can cause bladder stones.
Little degus can easily absorb too much calcium, so it’s important to not frequently feed your degu calcium-rich foods.
This chemical is probably the main issue with lettuce and is found in high quantities in light-colored, watery lettuce like iceberg lettuce.
It is naturally occurring but too high a quantity can harm your degu’s health.
Excess amounts of lactucarium can result in diarrhea and so light-colored lettuce should be avoided altogether.
Some lettuces have little nutritional value
This is again mostly attributed to light colored and watery lettuce types.
Ones such as iceberg lettuce have very little nutritional benefit and mostly consist of water.
Combined with the high amount of calcium and lactucarium, there is not really any point in feeding your degu these types of lettuce, they have high health risks and very low nutritional value.
Can degus eat iceberg lettuce
Degus should not be fed iceberg lettuce.
Iceberg lettuce has lots of lactucarium which can be harmful to your degu in large enough quantities.
There is also so little nutritional benefit in iceberg lettuce, it’s mostly water, so there is no reason to feed your degu even a small amount, given the health risks.
Iceberg lettuce is not going to kill your degu, but given they will get almost no nutritional value from it and it could cause them a digestive upset, there is just no good reason to feed it to them.
Can lettuce harm my degu
Lettuce is unlikely to be fatal for your degu and it is not toxic; however, if your degu has excess amounts of lettuce that has a high lactucarium content (like iceberg lettuce) they may develop quite serious diarrhea.
Very bad diarrhea can be life-threatening to a degu as their body is unable to absorb the required nutrients and dehydration can quickly set in.
If your degu has only eaten a small amount of lettuce then serious impacts are unlikely.
If they have eaten a lot of lettuce and begin to show signs of diarrhea then the best thing you can do is provide your degu with plenty of drinking water to ensure they remain hydrated.
If the diarrhea persists for more than a day you may want to consult with your vet.
Lettuce can rot if not cleaned up
There’s the risk with any fresh food you give your degu that it could end up hidden away in their cage and begin to rot.
If food is sitting burrowed in their bedding for long enough it may start to rot and harmful bacteria could grow on it.
Degus can now and again hide their food for later, it’s just a natural instinct.
If they’re not hungry they may leave the lettuce somewhere in their cage for later.
So just be sure to remove any discarded lettuce (or any fresh food) if your degu doesn’t seem to be interested in eating it.
And only ever give them enough lettuce for them to eat there and then, if you give them more lettuce than they can eat they probably will hide the excess amount away.