Degus make great pets for older children and adults.
They generally live for 7 – 10 years and a healthy adult should weigh between 176 – 315g depending on age and sex.
Degus are very sociable and in the wild they live in colonies of up to 100 animals! They are best kept in single-sex pairs or groups of up to 6 as they love to play together and snuggle up to one another, and can become very depressed if kept on their own. However, do not introduce new Degus once your Degus are over 10 weeks of age, it is best to get them from the same litter.
Degus love to burrow and build tunnels, so you will need to have a deep layer of wood shavings for burrowing. Wire cages with solid bottoms (rather than mesh) are the best type of cage to get. They love to play, climb and explore, so large cages with several levels or shelves are ideal. Degus also love to gnaw, so provide lots of toys and tubes to gnaw on.
Degus are very clean animals so like to use dust baths for cleaning themselves in. You can buy special containers to put the dust in, but you could use a large metal pet food bowl. Put the dust bath into their cage for them to use a few times a week, but make sure it is removed after 30 minutes, or they may use it as a toilet!
They will tend to use one area of the cage for a toilet, so ensure this is cleaned regularly. Ensure you have a nest box with hay inside for them to nest in. Their cage will need to be cleaned once a week, but clean the toilet area more frequently. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight and draughts, and away from loud noises (e.g. TV, radio). They do not like high temperatures, so do not keep them in an overly warm room.
Give your degus a few days to themselves when you get home before trying to touch them. When you approach them, crouch down and speak very softly. Let them come to you – perhaps hold a treat in your hand for them to have, and be patient. They may not come to you the first time you try this. Once they are happy for you to have your hands near them, gently place your hand over their shoulder and slowly lift them, supporting their bottom with your other hand and hold them close to your chest or on your lap.
Degus do wriggle a lot but once they’re at ease with you, they may sit on you and allow you to stroke them.
NEVER pick your degu up by its tail, as it can be very painful and cause a condition called ‘tail-slip’. This is where the thin skin on the tail can tear off, exposing underlying tissue and bone. The only treatment for this is tail amputation.
Degus do not need to be groomed, as they will clean themselves in their dust baths.
Neutering is not routinely performed in degus. If you do not want your degus to have litters, then keep males and females in separate cages.
You should be feeding your degu a diet that consists of good quality hay, good quality pelleted food and a small amount of fresh greens (making up no more than 20% of their diet)
Your degu should have constant access to hay and grass foods, as this is important for their dental and gastrointestinal health. This should make up the majority of their diet. You also need to provide them with a commercial diet, providing them with the correct nutrients that they need. Ensure you choose a ‘nugget’ food, rather than muesli-style. With the muesli-style diets, they pick out the parts that they like and leave the parts that they don’t, which means that they may not get all of their required nutrients. Nugget-style pellets prevent this selective feeding, as each pellet has an equal amount of nutrients. Finally, you can also give your degu some fresh greens, but not too many! Good foods to give them include kale, collard, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens, and roots such as beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes and turnips.
Degus can be fussy eaters, so take care when changing foods, and always ensure you change foods over gradually over a few days.
NEVER feed your degu foods that are high in sugar (sucrose, glucose, fructose) or honey as this can cause diabetes and will make them very ill. If buying treats from a pet store, ensure that they specify their suitability for degus.
Common Health Problems
Degus do not tend to drink much water, and so can become easily dehydrated if suffering from even small amounts of diarrhoea. Diarrhoea can be caused by poor dietary management, or poor sanitation. So always make sure you give your degu the recommended diet (as above) and clean them out regularly.
Degus can develop diabetes mellitus from eating foods high in sugar that can elevate blood-sugar levels, such as fresh fruit and also guinea pig food. Cataracts can develop within four weeks of the diabetes starting, so it is imperative that you give your degu their correct diet to prevent diabetes.