SASKATOON -- Cradled in her hands as she takes her fingers to scratch a small degu’s head, a Saskatoon woman says she’s going to fight to keep her pets.

The degu, a small rodent native to Chile, is now prohibited under the province’s expanded exotic wildlife rules.

“A bunch of us in the degu community are very confused as to why this would be, because they’re not a threat, they’re not dangerous, they’re no different than owning a rat, a mouse or hamster,” said Ashley Dyer, owner of Serendipity Degus.

“They’re also related to chinchillas, which are all legal pets.”

This week, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Environment updated its regulations around the import and possession of native and exotic wildlife for first time since 1982.

According to the ministry, the growing interest in exotic wildlife as pets and the rehabilitation of native species has raised concerns regarding public safety, animal welfare and increased focus on maintaining the integrity of the province’s ecosystems.

In an email response to CTV News, the ministry said degus have never been legal to own in Saskatchewan without a licence.

“Unlike chinchillas or gerbils, degus are considered to be a potentially invasive species,” the ministry said. “For a rodent, they are long-lived and could potentially survive in the wild should they escape captivity, displacing native species and damaging the ecosystem. Since the initial review, the ministry has also learned that degus have special care requirements, making them very difficult to care for properly.”

The ministry said it engaged with an expert panel, including a veterinarian with exotic species expertise, a pet industry representative, a ministry ecologist, a conservation officer, a reptile ecologist and a wildlife health specialist from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.

Degus must be shipped out of the province, transferred to a licensed facility or euthanized by Nov. 30.

“The only thing I can think of is whoever decided to make them that is the fact that they don’t know what a degu is,” Dyer said. “They come from Chile, the grasses they eat there, we don’t have anything like that here so they’re aren’t a threat to that.”

Dyer added degus aren’t known to carry diseases and they breed very slowly. She said she’s confused as to why the ministry sees degus as a threat to Saskatchewan.

To her, they are her pets and part of her family.

“They live five to seven years so you have this animal for a long time and to have to give it up all of a sudden isn’t fair,” she said.

“Even though I breed, all of my degus get spoiled, I have huge cages for them with toys ... I want them to be happy, they’re my pets first.”

Dyer said she is going to fight this and try to keep her degus. Since the news came this week, Dyer said her customers have reached out with concerns.

If nothing can be done and she’s forced to get rid of her degus, she says a breeder in Alberta has offered to take them.