Degus make lovely pets. Unlike many small animals they are awake during the day and will come running over to see you. They are very friendly and soon become tame and will come and ‘talk’ to you and scrounge titbits (low carbohydrate, low sugar only, of course).
The Degu is a very sociable animal, living in groups in the wild, so they can get quite lonely and depressed on their own. It‘s best, if possible, to keep at least two animals.
Which Degu will you choose?
If you have the room and time for them, why not adopt some of the degus that are sitting in rescue centres around the country looking for new homes rather than buying from a breeder.
Bringing your Degu home
Make sure that you have everything ready before you collect your Degu, so that you can put it into its new home as soon as you arrive and it can spend the first 24 hours getting used to the new environment.
Don’t forget to talk to your Degu and keep it company because it may be missing its brothers and sisters.
We suggest you don’t handle your Degu too much for the first day or two, just give it plenty of clean water and feed only hay for the first 24 hours to avoid digestive upset.
You’ll soon know when your Degu has settled in – it will begin to eat, drink and groom itself.
What to feed your Degu
Degus need feeding twice a day, every day (in the morning and in the evening). A good quality, heavy, earthenware bowl keeps food dry and clean and prevents the degu from tipping the food. Bowls must be cleaned after every use.
Degus have traditionally been fed on guinea pig mixes. However, this is not ideal as their requirements are different and guinea pig mixes contain too much fat for a Degu.
The ideal diet for a degu is very low fat diet with high levels of vitamin C. To find out more about high quality, nutritionally complete Degu food, click here
To help keep your Degu’s teeth healthy, you need to provide lots of hay and perhaps a gnawing block.
If you’re changing your Degu’s diet, it’s vital that you introduce the new food gradually. Mix about one quarter of the new food with three quarters of the old food on the first day and then gradually increase the new food and decrease the old food over a 10-day period. This should make sure that your Degu has no tummy upsets.
You can also feed treats such as dark green leafy vegetables – broccoli and Basil are ideal for their antioxidant properties. Fruit should be avoided, as it is too sugary for degus and they can be prone to diabetes.
It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times. The best way to provide fresh drinking water is to use a gravity-fed water bottle, attached to the front of the hutch. Use one of the large ballpoint bottles to prevent dripping and ensure a constant supply is available. Water bowls are not really suitable as they are easily tipped over and can get contaminated.
You need to provide plenty of room for your Degus to eat, sleep and run around. Ideally Degus should be kept in pairs or groups and you must make sure that there is room for all of them.
They need to be kept indoors and careful thought must be given to where the cage will be. The temperature in the room should be constant, away from direct sunlight and draughts, and out of reach of any other pets.
Degus are extremely sensitive to high temperatures and can develop heat stroke easily due to their inability to sweat. For this reason, you should always make sure your degu cage is in a room at room temperature (18-22ºC)- it’s a good idea to keep a thermometer by the cage.
In hot weather, move the cage into a cooler room and make sure the cage is NEVER in direct sunlight.
Degus need good, secure, roomy housing. They can be kept in a wire cage. A large rat or a chinchilla cage with the mesh floors taken out, or covered, is ideal, but avoid plastic bases as these can be chewed through remarkably quickly.
In the wild, Degus sleep in burrows. A nest box is an artificial replication of a burrow environment, and your Degus will quickly learn to nest and sleep in a comfy nest box.
Degus claws are quite sharp, so it’s worth having a piece of stone in the cage for them to rub them down on. You can also get stone parrot perches that are designed to keep claws worn down and these also work quite well.
A good cage will be two tiered and have at least two compartments – one for the day and one to nest and hide in at night. Don’t forget that if you have more than one Degu you will need a bigger cage.
Remember that a cage can NEVER be too big – buy or make the largest cage you can manage.
Degus enjoy a dust bath to keep their coats clean. You can buy chinchilla bathing sand and give your degus a large ceramic bowl with an inch or two of it in the bottom for a short period every day. The dust bath shouldn’t be left in the cage for too long or they will use it as a toilet.
Cages should be cleaned out on a regular basis. This is especially important in warmer weather in order to prevent flies being attracted to the cage.
Every day: Remove all stale food and check water bottle.
Once a week: Check for dirty bedding and remove.
Every 3 months: Remove all bedding. Thoroughly sweep out all the soiled bedding. Rinse with warm water and mild detergent and wait until dry. Spray inside of cage with safe cleaning product and wait until dry. Replace with clean bedding (check for signs of mould etc. on bedding and discard if necessary)
There are many types of bedding available but the best are the natural products made from paper, wood or straw.
Some of the synthetic products can harm your Degus if eaten. It is also recommended that you provide bedding that is dust extracted, as this reduces irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory system.
To find out more about suitable bedding products, click here.
It is vital that you ensure there is fresh drinking water available at all times.
Degus need regular dustbaths in order to keep their fur free from naturally secreted oil. Degus should be allowed access to a dustbath at least twice a week – chinchilla bathing sand is ideal. Remember to change the dust/sand in the bath every week or so to maintain its effectiveness.
It is extremely important that your Degu has the opportunity to exercise every day. Degus need lots of exercise to keep them well and should be provided with a large solid wheel that does not have spokes, which can catch feet and tails.
Your Degu will also love to climb about and gnaw, as well as to use as platforms. You can make it some tunnels out of drainpipes or terracotta chimney liners. Flowerpots are great for hiding and exploring and cardboard or wooden boxes give it something to hide in that it can chew as well.
Degus need to be let out of their cage frequently in order to get all the exercise they need, which includes running, jumping and climbing but only do this in a “Degu-safe” room
Your degus will get the most out of their exercise/play times if you let them out in the morning and evening, to correspond with their peak activity levels.
Handling your Degu
To ensure that your Degu becomes tame and affectionate it is important that you handle it frequently and correctly. Picking up a Degu incorrectly could lead to it being permanently frightened and may lead to it becoming aggressive.
Remember that most small animals are prey in the wild. So, if they are approached from above they will see a large shadow and become scared. They might run and hide or try to attack you.
Before attempting handling, make sure that your Degu is awake and alert.
Let it decide when it is ready to come to you. Your voice is a very good method of introduction as it will make it aware that you are nearby.
Always approach your Degu on the same level. Crouch in front of it and let it come to you, presenting the back of your hand to sniff.
Gently put your thumb behind the forelegs with your fingers over the back and lift with one hand whilst supporting the weight of the Degu by scooping up the rump with the other hand.
Gently place your Degu on to your lap or hold against your chest. When holding your Degu, it will sit still for longer if you don’t encircle it with your entire hand. Let your Degu sit on your open palm or arm and give them a treat- they’ll be much happier to be held!
You should NOT try to lift your Degu by the tail or ears (as professionals sometimes do) as this can cause pain or the tail to break off.
Diabetes mellitus & cataracts – Degus can develop diabetes mellitus spontaneously due to pancreatic disease. This can be caused by certain viruses, or a high blood sugar level as a result of eating sugar rich food. Within 4 weeks of the onset of diabetes, cataracts can occur. The pupils of the eyes change colour to a milky grey and the degu will inevitably become blind. Congenital cataracts can also occur spontaneously in young degus.
There is no treatment for diabetic degus so it is best to avoid sugary foods and feed a diet that has no added sugars.
Pneumonia – If your degu is wheezy, finds it difficult to breathe or has a runny nose, he may have a chest infection or pneumonia. You need to take him to the vet immediately as pneumonia puts a lot of stress on their bodies and can be fatal.
Diarrhoea – This is always a reason for concern and needs to be treated as soon as possible. Excess fresh greens can cause diarrhoea. If the diarrhoea persists for 24 hours or more, you should take your degu to a vet immediately. If fresh greens are not the cause, then go to the vet at once.
Tail degloving/tail slip – Degus can slip the skin of their tail when it is grabbed at the base or tip. So
NEVER hold them by the tail. The skin will not grow back and the exposed bone will be chewed off by the degu to minimise blood loss. If you are worried about infection of the wound your vet can advise you on the use of local antibiotics. When degus are familiar with their owners, they are much less likely to shed their tail, so be careful if you are letting other people handle your pet.
Overgrown teeth – Like chinchillas, degus have orange-coloured teeth and they grow continuously throughout their life. It is very important to ensure that they always have something to chew and gnaw on to help wear down teeth. If the teeth become overgrown, they may be unable to eat properly, therefore lose weight, become weak and more susceptible to illness. Dental disease can be recognized by excessive salivation, difficulty eating and weight loss. It will be necessary to take your pet to the vet to have his teeth trimmed if they have become overgrown. Don’t breed using degus with misaligned teeth (malocclusion) as this condition may be inherited.
Always ensure that there is sufficient fibre in the diet and that your degus have as much hay as they can chew!
Neoplasia – Like other animals, degus can develop tumours. Most commonly they suffer from liver tumours. The risk of a tumour increases with old age. If you feel swelling, or a hard lump or bump you should seek veterinary attention. Lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss are also common symptoms of certain forms of cancer. Don’t wait too long before seeing your vet!
Always consult a vet if you have ANY reason for concern.
If you need to know more
For more detailed information about Degus, you can contact us and we will get back to you with our experts’ advice. However if you have any concerns about the health and wellbeing of your degu, you should seek veterinary advice immediately.
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