“What is a Degu?” is a question that is being heard more and more lately.
This very sociable and curious animal is seeing increasing popularity as a pet in recent years.
In this article, we will provide everything you need to know about this intriguing rodent.
Origins Of The Degu
The wild Degu makes its home within Chile, from anywhere from the coastal plains to the Andes Mountains.
They are a member of the Octodontidae family, specifically the sub-order Caviomopha. This means they are closely related to Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas.
Like these animals, they have been introduced into households as pets in recent years.
What Is A Degu’s Appearance?
The common Degu body is around 25-31 cm long, with a moderately long tail.
They are very light, weighing in at around 170-300 grams depending on their size.
Degus have soft fur, but there are really only a a few degu colors.
Degus are generally yellow-brown in color. However, the underbelly is a much paler color, usually looking like a creamy yellow.
A healthy Degu’s teeth will be yellow to orange in color, with their cheek teeth resembling a figure eight. This characteristic is where their genetic family name, Octodontidae, stems from.
What Is A Degu Pet Like?
Degus are incredibly social creatures. They live in small, tightly-knit groups of up to 5-10 that together make up colonies of up to 100 members.
These colonies live in large, complex burrows with nests and food storage within.
Due to how social these animals are, it’s incredibly important that they receive not only a significant amount of human interaction but interactions with other Degus as well.
It is therefore heavily recommended to never own just a single Degu. Loneliness will be a real problem, and human interaction will not be enough.
A pair of Degus or a small group will be enough for them to lead happy, social lives.
It’s also important to only have Degus of the same sex within one cage. Otherwise, mating will be much too likely, and you may end up with more Degus than you know what to do with!
They also love to burrow and build nests. Allowing somewhere for your Degu to dig within the cage with some twigs scattered about can be a real way to keep your Degus active and busy.
You could even help satiate their curious nature by burying and hiding food within the cage, giving them a reward for exploring.
Degus tend to be wary of humans at first, but when they get used to you they will develop a bond with you.
It’s also important to note that unlike many other rodents, Degus are actually diurnal. This means they tend to be more active during the day, specifically peaking during the morning and evening.
Degu Care And Caging
Degus are very active rodents, so it is important the cage where you house them allows them to stretch their legs and get their daily exercise.
Larger is better, but of course, there are space and budgetary concerns to think about.
The best cages to look out for are ones that are tall rather than long, feature multiple layers, and have enough space for toys.
We have an article that delves deep into caging ideas for the Degu here.
It’s heavily recommended to have a wheel within the cage, so Degus get their daily exercise.
Degus, like other rodents, have constantly growing teeth.
Because of this, they need to constantly wear their teeth down to avoid them getting too long. Giving your Degu ample things to chew within the cage such as branches and rope is a good idea.
They will also require daily sand baths, to remove grit and dirt from their fur.
Handling Degus is important to bond with them, but there are a few important rules to do this safely.
Never reach from above the Degu to try to touch or pick them up. Degus are instinctively predisposed to run from this behavior, as it mimics a predator.
Instead, let the Degu come to you of their own volition, rewarding them with the occasional treat when they do so. This will help them learn that you are not a danger.
Never grab your Degu by the tail. They may shed part of the tail to escape, losing it permanently.
What Can Degus Eat?
It is very important you keep a close eye on your degus’ diet.
They are very intolerant of sugar, and eating just small amounts can quickly lead to diabetes. Therefore, sweet fruits and vegetables should be avoided, even as treats.
Carbohydrate and protein-rich diets may also prove to be dangerous to the Degu.
Instead, feed your Degu fibrous pellet-based food and hay. These are healthy for your Degu to eat and they also help wear down their teeth.
There are Degu-specific pellets you can find, but failing that Guinea Pig and Chinchilla pellets are usually fine provided they do not have high sugar, protein, or carbohydrate content.
For suggestions on the best kind of food for your Degu and more information on their diet, check our article here.
Degu Health Issues
As we mentioned in the earlier section, diabetes can be a huge issue in the Degu. It can quickly lead to many secondary issues, such as cataracts, and significantly shorten their lifespan.
It’s incredibly important to be careful with your Degus’ diet to ensure they remain healthy.
Bumblefoot is a foot condition that can commonly be seen in Degus. It’s a painful issue where cuts and grazes on the feet become infected and begin to form ulcerations.
This usually happens from Degus walking on wire mesh platforms within your cage. As such, you should attempt to minimize contact with these surfaces by instead having flat, solid platforms.
Dental problems such as Molar Malocclusion, Enamel Decoloration, and Molar Elodontoma are prevalent within the species.
It’s very important that the Degu is able to chew regularly. You should always be on the lookout for any discomfort the Degu shows related to its mouth, such as trouble eating or pawing at the area.
One thing that is good to remember about Degu teeth is that yellow or orange is the healthy color.
White teeth can be a sign of something not being quite right and should be checked out by a vet as soon as possible.
How To Find A Degu
Degus can be either adopted from rescue centers or purchased from local breeders.
In both cases, it is wise to inquire about its health and upbringing, as well as the health of its parents. There is a chance certain health issues could be passed down from parent to child.
If a Degu has been raised poorly it may lead to increased wariness around humans and stress behaviors.
Considering these points about any Degu you may be looking at will allow you to make a more informed choice.
However, it is very important to be aware that within a few states in the United States and Canada, the Degu is illegal to own. This is due to their potential to be an invasive species.
Check with your state laws before purchasing.
What Is A Degu’s Ideal Home And Are They Right for Me?
The best home for a Degu would have enough room for a sizeable cage, with other Degu friends and a few gentle humans to bond with.
As long as you as an owner can put in the time to look after them and provide them with a nice calm space for them to live with plenty to do, they will be very happy.
Potential owners would also require to be ready for the long haul. Captive Degus can live up to around 10 years or more, provided they are looked after well.
Resources and Further Reading
- Blue Cross for Pets, Degu.
- Woods, C.A. & Boraker, D. K. (1975). Octodon degus. Mammalian Species, 67(21).
- Fulk, G.W. (1976). Notes on the activity, reproduction, and social behavior of Octodon degus. Journal of Mammalogy, 57(3).
- Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, Caring for your Degu.
- Washington, I. M, et al (2012). Chapter 3 – Clinical biochemistry and hematology in The Laboratory Rat, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents (eds. Sukow, Stevens, Wilson). American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, Academic Press.
- Blair, J. (2013). A comparison of clinical presentation and treatment of pododermatitis in rabbits, rodents and birds. Veterinary Clinics of North America Exotic Animal Practice, 16(3).
- Kinoshita, J. H. et al (1979). Aldose reductase in diabetic complications of the eye. Metabolism, 28(4).
- Long, C. V. Common dental disorders of the degu (Octodon Degus). Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 29(3).