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Degu care Guide
Degus can be great, entertaining pets, but they have a few specific housing and dietary needs. Before you buy a degu, you need to ensure you have the time, space, and money for your degu to live a happy, healthy life.
Degus can live from six to eight years, which is a big commitment. They are very friendly, inquisitive, and can be easy to tame. They make great pets for older children and adults and love to live in groups — so that means getting more than one degu! Make sure you do your research before you commit to degu ownership.
About the degu – Degu Facts
- The degu is a small rodent that originates from Chile. They are sometimes referred to as a brush-tailed rats or the common degu.
- The degu is almost like a smaller version of the chinchilla or a larger version of a gerbil. They can grow to around 10 to 12 inches in length, with a long, thin tail with a black tufted tip.
- Their front legs are shorter than their hind legs (back legs), and their ears are quite large. Their overall coloring tends to be grey-brown with a slightly yellow tinge on their backs and lighter shades on their bellies.
- Degus are extremely social animals; they live in burrows and dig communally, constructing larger holes than they could on their own.
- When they dig together, they coordinate their activities, such as forming digging chains.
- Female degus living in the same group have been seen to nest communally and nurse each other’s babies.
- Degus forage for their food on the surface. They spend a lot of time out of their burrows, and when in groups, their ability to detect predators increases.
- They can grieve if they lose a mate and sometimes become severely depressed — especially pet degus who have lost their cage mate.
- Degus are very vocal animals and have several different communication techniques. They can make up to 15 different sounds and scent marks using their urine.
- They are seasonal breeders, with pups born in early spring. Degu pups are born fully furred, with their eyes open, and have fully functioning auditory and visual systems.
- The male degus take part in looking after and protecting their pups too until they reach an age where they can leave the family. They are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, making excellent family pets!
Before buying a degu
Before buying a degu, consider the following:
Degus need to live in pairs or groups.
Degus are extremely social animals, so they will need to live in at least pairs of the same sex or family groups of up to six.
They will live much happier and healthier lives if they have a playmate and love to snuggle up together when it’s time to sleep.
When you buy your degus, buy all of them at the same time so that they’re already familiar with each other as it can be much harder to introduce them to one another later on in life.
Degus can be noisy
Because degus are sociable animals and live in groups, they talk to each other. Some people may find this noisy, but it’s usually quite entertaining as they chat away between themselves.
You may want to bear this point in mind when choosing where to put their cage — and avoid having them in a bedroom.
Degus are also quite active, so you may find them rustling around, climbing, jumping, and running around in their cage.
They love to chew!
Degus are a member of the rodent family and therefore love to chew everything, so it is essential that you buy a suitable cage and housing materials that they can’t destroy by chewing.
Degus have specific dietary needs.
Degus have a few specific dietary needs, so it is best to stick to a diet that they are used to.
Degus cannot break down fatty or sugary foods and are prone to diabetes, so getting their diet right is very important. They have sensitive digestive systems, so you should introduce new foods gradually.
Time outside of the cage
As mentioned earlier, your degus will need some time outside their cage. A pet playpen will keep them safe and secure but provide them with plenty of space to run around and get some much-needed daily exercise.
You will need to be sure that you can get hold of foods (available at specialist pet shops and online retailers) suitable for your degus and feed them twice a day.
Degus need exercise time outside of the cage.
Degus are very active animals, so they will need to spend some time each day outside of their cage. This will allow them to get all the exercise they need, such as running, jumping, and climbing.
You will need a safe room to let them out in, away from electrical cables and household items that they could destroy by chewing.
You can purchase a pet playpen (we highly recommend this portable playpen) that will keep your degus restricted to a particular area if you don’t want them roaming free around your room.
Housing your degu
You must buy the correct size cage for your degus, depending on how many you are looking to buy.
Regardless, you will need to get at least two degus; however, they can also live in small family groups. So the more you get, the bigger your cage will need to be.
How big should the degu cage be?
A cage for two degus will need to be at least 100cm long x 60cm wide x 60cm high — chinchilla cages are suitable if you cannot get hold of one specifically designed for degus.
60cm is the recommended height of how tall a degu cage should be.
A wire cage with different platforms for them to climb on is ideal, allowing them to move around with ease.
You must ensure that the cage has a solid base and solid platforms so that their paws don’t get caught and injured.
When choosing your wire cage, check that the spacing between the wires is small enough so that your degus can’t escape. If their head can fit or squeeze through the gap, they will definitely be able to squeeze their bodies through it.
You will need to think about a suitable location for your degu cage – they aren’t the smallest of cages, so you’ll need to be sure that you have the space for it.
What is the ideal degu cage temperature?
Degus do not like the heat and should stay in a cool enclosure.
The cage will need to be kept out of direct sunlight and away from anything that may cause rapid temperature changes, such as radiators or draughts. Degus don’t like high temperatures and do not have the ability to sweat, so they can’t be kept in an overly warm room.
The temperature should never exceed 20°C. For this reason, degus should also never be housed outside; unlike guinea pigs or rabbits, degus are indoor-only pets.
Toys and platforms
The cage will need to have platforms at different levels so that your degus can climb and jump from one to the other.
They will also need a nesting box (approximately 20cm long x 15cm wide x 15 high) which should be filled with hay or shredded paper for them to sleep in.
You can also give them clean branches and cuttlebone for them to perch and chew on — apple, pear, ash, beech, and oak are all OK to use; make sure they are washed well and free of any insecticides before you place them in the cage.
Other toys are also advised so that your degus have some varied entertainment while they are in their cage.
Some of the enrichment toy ideas for degus include the following:
- solid rock formations to climb,
- solid tunnels
- An exercise wheel to stretch their legs — these must be solid plastic to prevent them from getting their paws and tails trapped.
- Parrot toys are usually great entertainment for degus — especially if they’re wooden and chewable. Be sure to keep an eye on all the toys to avoid becoming dangerous and splinter.
- A dust bath will need to be provided a few days a week so that your degus can clean themselves and have some fun rolling around and digging in the sand.
- Make sure you cover the bottom of the dust bath with chinchilla sand — and watch them have some fun!
- Terracotta plant pots or ceramic plant pots all offer your degus a cooler place to lay or a hideout in the hot summer months, and they won’t get destroyed by all the chewing.
- You will need to cover the cage floor with dust extracted bedding, bark chippings, or peat to allow your degus to dig burrows.
- Scatter their food around the cage and hide treats so that they have to hunt for food — this will keep your degus entertained, and they can carry out natural foraging behavior.
This is one of the best portable playpens for Degus, and we highly recommend it.
Degus must be supervised at all times as they can run very quickly and, of course, they love to chew!
Keep them out of kitchens and bathrooms as these are rooms full of potential hazards such as electrical cables that they could chew.
Let them out about once or twice a day, in the morning and evening. This way, they will get the most out of their playtimes as this is when they are at their most active.
The cage needs to be thoroughly cleaned out once a week, replace any soiled bedding materials, and clean all the toys, water bottles, and food bowls with a pet-friendly disinfectant.
You can also do spot cleaning throughout the week and clear away any droppings and uneaten foods. Degus aren’t dirty pets, so cleaning should be an easy task.
Feeding your degu
Degus have particular dietary requirements, so you must make sure you feed them foods that they are used to eating.
Good quality hay (Timothy hay) and a mixture of guinea pig and chinchilla pellets will provide your degu with a variety of seeds, cereals, grains, dried vegetables, and most importantly, Vitamin C, which will keep their teeth and gums healthy.
You can offer root vegetables mentioned below to you degu every other day. Ensure you feed your degus twice a day (in the morning and the evening).
- sweet potato
Fatty foods and high in sugars should be avoided as degus can’t break down the sugar like other animals.
You should also avoid peanuts, sunflower seeds, fruits, and carbohydrates — so don’t buy cereal-type foods that include these. Sugary foods can cause diabetes and make your degus very ill. This also means that Degu pet owners should never feed any chinchilla or guinea pig foods containing molasses to your degus.
If you introduce new foods to their diet, mix a small quantity with their current food gradually so that you avoid causing them tummy upsets.
You will need to make sure you purchase a heavy, sturdy food bowl to not tip over in the cage.
You should also remove any uneaten food each day, and the bowl and water bottle cleaned and refilled every day.
A water bottle with a metal spout that attaches to the outside of the cage is the most suitable. To keep their vitamin levels up, try adding some supplements to their water.
Caring for your degu
What do I need to buy for my degu?
Before you bring your degus home, you will need to have a few essentials ready. These are:
- A suitable, chew-resistant degu cage
- Nesting box and nesting materials
- Timothy hay
- Dust-extracted shavings
- Water bottle
- Food bowl (sturdy, so it doesn’t get knocked over)
- Dust bath and chinchilla dust
- Mineral stone
- Toys and large tubes/tunnels
- Pet-friendly cleaning products and disinfectant
- Gnawing chews
- Vitamin supplements
- Chinchilla or guinea pig pellets (or degu pellets if your pet store has them)
Degus are becoming more popular as pets; however, not all pet shops will have food specifically designed for them. Chinchilla or guinea pig pellets (without molasses) are an excellent alternative to feed them if you can’t find specialist degu food.
Handling your degu
- It is crucial to remember that when you first bring your degus home, they will probably feel a little stressed and need time to adapt to their new environment. So give them a few days to settle in before you attempt to handle them.
- Ensure their cage is set up ready for them, supplied with food, water, and other essentials such as toys and a nesting area.
- In the first few days, you should interact with your degu by talking to him so that he can become used to the sound of your voice. Then try offering him a treat from your hand, and if he is happy to come towards you, gently stroke his back.
- Never bring your hand into the cage from above, and always lay it out on the bottom and let your degu come to you.
- Your degu might be a little nervous at this point, so try not to make any sudden movements as he will feel threatened and could bite.
- Degus will only bite when they are afraid, hurt, or ill.
- Once your degu is comfortable being stroked and taking treats from you willingly, it’s time to try and pick him up. Let him come to your hand and walk across it or sit in your palm by himself.
- If he doesn’t step onto your hand, you can scoop him up from underneath and hold him with your hands cupped closely to your body.
- You must avoid picking a degu up by the tail — this can cause the tail to come off and is a nasty injury for your degu.
- For the first few times of holding him, sit on the floor so he won’t get hurt if he decides to jump.
- Let him walk across your hands, putting one in front of the other, and allow him to move across your lap.
- Offer him treats for the first few times, and soon he should feel happy to be handled.
Cleaning your degus cage
Degus are generally very clean pets, so their cage shouldn’t get too dirty or smelly. However, you will still need to give their cage and toys a thorough clean once a week using a pet-friendly disinfectant and replace any soiled bedding and nesting materials.
The degus can sometimes be a little messy — because they like to forage and dig burrows, some of their bedding materials and food can get kicked around, and the odd bit of food or bedding could end up outside of the cage.
Grooming your degu
Degus will keep themselves very clean, but in order for them to do this, you will need to provide your degus with a dust bath several times a week.
Like chinchillas, the degu will roll around in the dust to clean his fur; this gets rid of any oils and dirt and keeps the fur in top condition.
You must never attempt to bath your degu with water as their fur will not dry properly.
Always check your degu’s teeth — they grow continuously, so as long as they have plenty of gnawing blocks / mineral stones and other chewable goodies to nibble on, their teeth should stay nice and trim.
Is your degu healthy?
Providing that your degus are well socialized, get plenty of exercises, have a regular diet and live in hygienic conditions, they should live healthy, happy lives.
Your degus should always be:
- Have bright, clear eyes
- Clean ears
- Glossy fur
- Clean tail.
Keep an eye out for:
- Discharge from the nose
- Difficulty breathing (this can be a sign of respiratory problems)
- White teeth — white teeth indicate vitamin A deficiency (teeth should be yellow)
- Whitening of the eyes can be a sign that your degu has diabetes.
Your degu should have access to a dust bath a few times a week to keep his fur coat in good condition. Dust baths keep their coats clean and shiny.
You shouldn’t attempt to bathe a degu with water as their fur may not dry out properly and could cause skin problems.
Always make sure that your degus are cool enough; if the room temperature gets any higher than 20°C, they will overheat and are likely to suffer from heatstroke.
Degus are prone to certain illnesses such as:
- Diabetes mellitus — this is a result of rich, sugary foods.
- Cataracts — usually occur if your degu has diabetes.
- Pneumonia — if your degu is wheezy, has a runny nose, or struggles to breathe, consult a vet straight away.
- Overgrown teeth — always provide your degus with things to chew and gnaw on; their teeth constantly grow, so it’s essential they are kept trim.
- Tail slip — never grab your degu by his tail. They can slip the skin off their tail when grabbed at the base.
- Tumors — like most rodents, degus can develop tumors. The risk of tumors increases with old age. Always check for any lumps and bumps.
- Diarrhea — diarrhea is usually caused by excess green vegetables. Consult your vet if your degu has diarrhea for more than 24 hours.
Always seek the professional advice of your vet if you are concerned about your degus’ health.