The degu is a curious little critter often overlooked at your local pet shop. We believe the reason that these creatures are unnoticed is because not many people know much about them. Degus make excellent small animal cage pets for kids and adults! So what is a degu?
About the Degu
The common degu is a small rodent endemic to the terrestrial ecoregion of central Chile. These furry little friends are part of the same infraorder as two other loved household rodents; the chinchilla and guinea pig! The common degu will grow a body size of 5"-7", with an added 5" or so in tail length. The degu can be easily recognized by its large, lightly tuffed ears. The degu has an average lifespan of 5-8 years, although some have been documented to live 10+ years. The common degu (and sometimes pied degus) is regularly available at Pisces Pet Emporium!
Degus, like most rodents, are very social animals. If trained and handled during adolescence, they can be quite tame and easily handle-able. Degus are always best kept in groups due to their social behavior. Degus found in the wild will live in a colony together, spending their days burrowing and creating elaborate tunnel systems. A single kept degu will require LOTS more human interaction. By nature they are fun, playful and curious little critters, but without daily doses of social interaction they can become rather aggressive and neurotic.
Unlike the majority of nocturnal rodents commonly available, the degu is actually diurnal (active during the day). This is one of many reasons why the degu makes a great pet rodent, in that they will not keep you up at night with their activities.
Degus should be housed in a multi-level well-ventilated wire cage. For a pair of degus, the minimum size should be 24”W x 18”L x 18”H . Make sure that if the cage bottom is plastic, the bars go right down to the bottom. The bottom of the cage should not be wire however, or this may result in your pet getting Bumble Foot. Pine or Aspen shavings, or other soft absorbent bedding should be used on the cage floor. Avoid using Cedar shavings because the vapors can cause respiratory problems, itchy skin, and liver problems. Thick branches, ropes and various platforms should be attached to the sides of the cage on multiple levels to promote climbing and exercise. An exercise wheel is necessary, about a foot in diameter is an appropriate size for a degu. Your degu should also have some sort of house or nest box where it can sleep and feel secure.
The main diet of degus should consist of pellet mix formulated specifically for degus (Pisces recommends: Sunseed Vita Degu Formula). If you cannot find any specific degu food in your area, use a 3:1 blend of chinchilla pellets and guinea pig pellets. Additionally, fresh timothy hay should be available at all times! You may also offer your degu moderate amounts of peeled sweet potatoes (uncooked), carrots, broccoli, dandelion leaves and green beans. Using ceramic dishes is ideal because they can not be chewed up. A drip-proof, and ideally chew-proof water bottle should be used to provide fresh water every day (Pisces recommends: Living World Eco+ Water Bottle). Like there close relative the chinchilla, a degus digestive system is not great at processing sugar. Because of this, fruit and any pelleted treat with sugar should be avoided. Instead, offer seeds and nuts as a treat sparingly, as they are still high in fat content.
Grooming & Health
The degu is nothing if not an avid and devoted chewer. Oh yeah, these guys like to chew on anything and everything. A degu's incisor teeth continuously grow throughout its life, so your degu should have a constant supply of chew objects in its cage. If your degu isn’t provided with enough stuff to chew on then its teeth can grow to unnatural lengths, which will prevent your pet from being able to eat. NEVER pick up a degu by its tail! Picking up a degu by its tail will cause it to break off. The best way to pick up your degu is by by using both hands and scooping them out of the cage. It is a social necessity to give your Degu a dust bath. Not only does it help keep their fur clean, but it helps them be accepted in their colony, by having all the same odor. Chinchilla dust bath works best, Pisces recommends: Sunseed Natural Dust Bath.