Relatively unknown as pets until a few years ago, degus have risen to become beloved favorites in the small pet category. Interact with these charming creatures and you’ll quickly understand why they’ve reached such an esteemed stature in pet popularity.
Although part of the rodent family, degus belong in the guinea pig and chinchilla group. Resembling a large gerbil, this South American mammal easily fits into the palm of a person’s hand. A degu weighs 6-14 ounces, measures 5-7 inches in length (excluding a 5-6 inch tail), and will normally live 5-8 years in captivity.
Behavior and Characteristics
To the owners benefit, degus sleep at night and play during the day. Intelligent, inquisitive and friendly, these non-aggressive critters are highly social and interact well with their owners and other degus. Constant chewing lets a degu control the continuous growth of incisor and molar teeth, so leaving them unattended around your wooden furniture isn’t recommended.
Care and Hygiene
Except for a restriction on foods containing sugar, degus don’t have any special dietary needs, which makes them relatively easy to care for. Maintaining regular exercise and grooming routines will help keep your pet healthy and active.
Exercise is Essential
The energetic degu loves to run, jump and climb. Encourage these activities with rodent wheels, wire cat balls, ladders, branches, tunnels, and tubes. The degu wants to socialize and explore, so let them out of their homes frequently for supervised investigation of their external environment.
Bathing without Water
Regular baths remove excess natural oils and moisture from a degu’s fur. Their coats don’t dry very well, so potential hypothermia problems can be avoided by using a chinchilla dust bath instead of water. Half hour sessions a couple times per week is sufficient.
Proper chew blocks will help your degu control the continued growth of its teeth.
Food and Nutrition
Degus are strictly herbivorous and only eat plant material. Foods containing sugar should not find their way into a degu’s meal.
Proper degu diets contain dried mix or pellets. A combination of high-quality chinchilla or guinea pig pellets and rodent blocks is recommended. Your degu can be given moderate amounts of vegetables on a weekly basis. Try pumpkin, dried herbs, radishes, beetroot, spring onions, or green and red peppers. Avoid cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale.
Salt Stones and Hay
Timothy hay or Orchard grass is vital to the digestive health of a degu and work to prevent obesity, dental disease, and diarrhea. Salt encourages degus to drink water and water aids in digestion, so make a salt and mineral stone part of your pet’s habitat.
Most degus like sunflower seeds, peanuts, and whole nuts in the shell. Seeds and nuts should be unsalted. Degus also enjoy leafy greens, broccoli, cucumber skins, tomatoes, and cauliflower; dried carrots, peeled sweet potato, dandelion leaves, alfalfa hay, and fresh fruits. Treats are to be given in small quantities a couple times per week.
Foods to Avoid
Do not feed your degu any foods high in fat or sugar content. Also avoid using chinchilla, hamster, or gerbil food mixes; rabbit food or mixes; honey, dried fruit, and raisins.
Homes do not have to be expensive or elaborate, just degu friendly.
With increased air circulation and being suitable for the placement of climbing areas and branches, wire cages are preferred over aquariums. Floors should be solid. Wire and mesh flooring can create problems for the degus feet. Degus constantly chew, so wood or plastic floors and shelving will be quickly destroyed.
Multi-level homes made for ferrets and chinchillas are an ideal size for the high-energy degu. They’ll nicely accommodate extra furnishings like climbing ladders, exercise toys and a cozy hiding place for afternoon naps.
Placement and Temperature
Degus are social animals, so place the home where they can enjoy the interaction with family members. Keep their home away from direct sunlight, radiators and other heat sources, damp areas, drafts, and air conditioning vents.
Bedding and Substrates
Even though degus don’t produce strong smelling urine, a proper litter substrate must be used to absorb moisture and maintain good home hygiene. Commonly used substrates are kiln dried pine wood shavings, shredded plain paper, corn cob, finely chopped wheat straw, recycled paper, and cardboard. Never use cedar chips, sawdust, or cat litter of any kind.
It’s love at first sight when you see a degu. Hold one and you’ll understand why these rising stars of the pet world are capturing the hearts of so many small pet lovers.