If you’re looking for a new furry friend, is a degu pet a good choice?
Degus are now regularly seen in pet stores right around the world, and their popularity as pets is increasing every day.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at degu animal pets, and we’ll try to answer the questions that a prospective owner might have.
Let’s find out more about degus!
What is a degu?
A degu is a small, furry rodent that originates from Chile in South America. Considered to be nuisance pests by farmers, degus were first exported to Canada and the US in the 1950s to be kept as domestic pets.
Wild degus are highly social, living in underground holes and tunnels in large family groups, sometimes up to 10 strong.
Do degus make good pets?
Yes, they do!
A degu pet is easy to keep, thriving on a simple diet and typically enjoying good health.
They are intelligent, curious, playful, and cheeky. And they love human company!
Degus make gentle, fun pets, especially if regularly handled from an early age.
Just make you understand the details of good degu pet care before you get one!
Can degus live alone?
No, absolutely not!
Degus are highly social creatures and will become stressed and unwell if kept without the company of at least one cagemate.
You should ideally keep a small group of same-sex degus, although two is better than one by itself. Groups of degus should contain all females or just one male and several females.
Do bear in mind though that degus will readily breed if kept in mixed groups. Degus can be very tricky to sex, so always ask your vet to check whether you have boys or girls before you mix them!
Groups of male degus should all come from the same litter. Degus from outside of the “family” may be aggressive towards others in the group.
Do degus bite?
A common question asked by many prospective degu owners is whether their degu pet might bite.
Degus don’t usually bite people, although there are occasions when biting could happen. If the little guy feels threatened or scared, he may respond by biting.
The most usual cause of biting is inappropriate handling. If the degu feels trapped, he will wriggle around to try to escape, biting as a last resort.
Degus do sometimes bite their cagemates, especially if living quarters are cramped. Also, adult male degus can become aggressive towards each other.
If you or a family member is bitten by your degu pet and the skin is broken, you could be at risk of infection. In these circumstances, always consult your doctor right away.
If one of your pet degus is bitten, an abscess may develop. Reddened skin, swelling, or signs of pus leaking from the skin could indicate a problem.
If this happens, you should take your degu to the vet right away.
Are degus good with kids?
Degus are generally very good with kids.
However, you must teach your child to handle their degu pet very gently.
The degu should be carefully scooped up into your cupped hands. Never pick your degu up by his tail!
Are degus nocturnal?
No, degus are diurnal.
Diurnal means that your degu pet will be mostly active during the daytime. Daytime activity is great on a number of levels:
- you get to watch your entertaining little pets playing
- you won’t be disturbed at night by squeaking exercise wheels and burrowing degus
- you can watch your pets’ behavior to make sure that no fighting is happening
Also, an active diurnal pet is easier to check for health issues than one that sleeps all day!
How long do degu pets live for?
In the wild, degus generally live about 2-3 years.
Pet degus typically live for up for 5-9 years, but may survive longer with good care.
Housing your degu pet
Choosing the right housing for your degus is extremely important for their happiness and well being.
For detailed information on how to choose the best cage for your degus, follow this link to our article on the subject!
Here are the key things you should know about degu housing:
- Cages allow better air circulation than tanks.
- Avoid plastic cages – degus are serial chewers and will quickly chew through plastic!
- Multi-level cages are best as they allow for climbing and playing
- Be sure that the cage locks securely – degus are notorious escape artists!
- Provide your degus with a water bottle on each level of the cage.
- Provide several ceramic food bowls – degus do fight over food.
You’ll also need to provide your degus with some nesting material and bedding. Paper-based litter is best for this.
Don’t use cedar chips or pine as these can cause respiratory problems.
Degu living environment
Always keep your degus’ environment at a temperature below 68 degrees F. Anything warmer than this could cause heatstroke.
Although degus can tolerate a certain amount of chill and damp, they don’t like it, so site their cage in a dry, temperate area.
Cage enrichment for your degu
Degus love to play! Exercise is very important for their physical and mental well being, so be sure to provide your pets with a solid exercise wheel that measures roughly 25 cm in diameter.
Degus are great climbers and they love to tunnel too!
Furnish your degus’ cage with pear, apple, oak, or beech tree branches for them to climb, and include a few pieces of clay piping or a tunnel toy.
Degus also enjoy digging. Just add some organic sand or soil and they’ll burrow away happily for hours!
An essential addition to your degu pet cage is a degu bath. Bathing is essential for degus to keep their fur clean and free from the oils transferred from your hand when you handle them.
Instead of water, degus bathe in dust. Be sure to use proper chinchilla bath dust for your degus’ bath tub, and change it after they’ve used it.
Treat balls are also a great addition to the cage, as are chew blocks, which provide entertainment and also help to keep the degus’ long front teeth ground down.
Feeding your degu
Feeding the correct diet is vital for your degu’s health. For the full low-down on degu diet, check out this article!
The most important aspect of degu feeding is to provide them with unlimited amounts of hay. Hay provides important fiber and also helps to wear down the degus’ teeth.
Use timothy hay, rather than alfalfa, which contains too much calcium.
In addition to hay, degus should be fed a specially formulated pellet or mix for optimal nutrition.
You can also add some fresh veggies and fruits to their diet, but don’t overdo it as too much can cause diarrhea.
Degus are typically pretty hardy creatures, but there are a few things to be aware of:
Degus’ teeth should be yellow. If your pet develops white teeth, he could be suffering from vitamin A deficiency or some other mouth disease.
Providing your degu with plenty of things to gnaw on will keep his teeth short.
If the teeth become overgrown, you must take your pet to the vet to have his teeth clipped.
A diet that is too high in sugar can cause a degu to develop diabetes.
Signs to be aware of include increased drinking and/or urinating more than usual.
Degus can pick up mites, ticks, and fleas from their hay, bedding, or from other pets in the household.
If you notice your pet scratching or if his ears smell bad, ask your vet for advice.
Both these problems are usually caused by poor diet. If your degu develops either of these conditions, check with your vet for advice.
Some degus develop cataracts, usually as a result of too much inbreeding.
This is an incurable condition.
Like other small exotics, degus can be vulnerable to respiratory diseases and problems.
If your pet appears to have problems breathing, has a snotty nose, or makes a rattling sound when he breathes, get him to your vet immediately.
Bumblefoot is a condition that affects the degu’s feet, especially if he’s kept in a wire-bottomed cage.
Look out for small lumps and bumps on the soles of the feet, which could be signs of bumblefoot.
Prevent bumblefoot by providing your pet with flat ledges in his cage to sit on, and be sure to cover all wire cage bottoms with washable matting.
So, are degus good pets?
Yes, they are!
There’s lots to like about degus. They’re fun, lively, and curious pets who are usually gentle when handled.
They are also mostly active during the daytime, so you can enjoy watching their games.
Do you have degus as pets?
If you do, why not tell us all about your experiences as a degu owner in the comments section below!
References and further reading
- St Kitts Veterinary Group (2013). Degus – A rough guide to owning degus.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Wissink-Argilaga, N. and Pellett (2014). Guide to Husbandry and Common Diseases in Degus and Skunks. Vet Times.
- Blue Cross for Pets. Caring For Your Degu.