How to care for Degus


July 18th, 2017

Degus can make fantastic pets. They are inquisitive, intelligent and have a range of interesting vocalisations. Although they are a delightful species a lot of thought and care is needed when looking after these playful rodents.  Becoming the best pet parent is all about understanding the needs and quirks of your new companions. So with that in mind here are some facts and tips to help you understand these clever critters.

Sociability

Degus have a long life expectancy in comparison to other rodents.  They can live anywhere between 6-8 years! Degus are social animals and in the wild would live in groups (usually 2-5 females and 1-2 males). It’s for this reason that degus as pets should be kept either in a pair or as a social group.  Making sure you have a cage large enough can be tricky but remember it’s important to have as big a space as possible. As a guide the minimum size of a cage should be 72cm x 60cm x 45cm for two adult degus. However remember to give them as much (supervised) time out of their house as possible, they are inquisitive and somewhat nosy creatures who will enjoy being able to explore!

Playing with your Degus

Degus love to play! They are very active and curious as a species so it’s encouraged to play and interact as much with your degus as possible. They generally tend to like anything noisy so toys such as Rosewood Rainbow Dangler usually go down very well! Remember your degus need to keep their teeth in tip top condition so it’s important to include a variety of different pet safe wooden chews they can happily chomp on. You can of course make your own games and toys for your degus. Using empty boxes or egg cartons, cutting small holes into them and filling them with hay and/or treats. This is enriching for your degus and encourages natural foraging behaviour, you could always time how long it takes them to break inside!

Hygiene and Bedding

As with all animals, it is imperative to keep their cages clean and hygienic at all times.  A pair of degus would usually need to be cleaned out twice a week fully. Make sure you are using a pet safe cleaner as household cleaners can be dangerous for your degus. Most types of small animal substrate can be used including wood shavings and Carefresh Pet Bedding. Always ensure your degu has fresh water and hay.

Degus being the social animals they are will usually snuggle and sleep together in the bed/nest area of the cage. Always make sure you have a dedicated bed area for your cosy degus. Bedding can just be shredded pet safe paper or long soft strips of soft paper/ tissue. Distributing bedding randomly across the cage/ poking pieces through the bars can encourage your degus to naturally start to create their little den. This is enriching, encourages natural behaviour and of course is very cute to watch!

Bathing

As well as keeping your degus cage clean it’s also very important to keep them clean. Degus don’t bathe in the traditional sense- and definitely would not appreciate you running them a relaxing bath!

They actually bathe in sand, by using this sand to remove naturally secreted oils from their fur. You can use any pet safe bathing sands available on market, for example, Tiny Friends Farm Science Bathing Sand and make sure you give them access to sand a few times a week. The sand can be contained in a number of ways, as long as your degus can easily climb in/ out of the container. Remember to make sure the sand is deep enough for your degus to roll and dig in.  Regular sand baths will keep your degus coat looking clean and healthy.

Health and Training

Any pet owner knows the importance of regularly health checking their companion. Taming your degu using treats and positive reinforcement is the key to making sure they are happy to be handled. You could also clicker train your degus! (See our handy guide for tips) High value treats are particularly useful when training your little degus but remember to use them sparingly! Nuts tend to go down very well (some degus will actually learn recall simply by shaking them) but are high in fat! Have fun and be patient, as some degus will pick up training quicker than others.

Training and handling go hand in hand. It’s recommended to go through a health check at least weekly, and remember the more you desensitise your pet to handling the easier it will be!

  • Is underneath the tail clean? – A degu can drop its tail if scared/threatened. Never ever pick them up by their tail.
  • Do they have all their toes and nails? Are they clean and not overgrown?
  • Do the legs move freely with no staggering or stiffness?
  • Are the teeth present? Are they straight and not overgrown? – Important to note a degus front two incisor teeth should be covered in a bright orange enamel.
  • Is the nose clean with no discharge?
  • Are the eyes bright and clear? – remember milky/ discoloured eyes could be the sign of serious disease.
  • Stroke the ears; are they smooth and clean?
  • Is the fur clean with no bald patches or parasites?
  • Blow in the fur; the skin should be healthy not red, dry or flaky.
  • Feel the body. Is it fat enough? It should not feel bloated or bony.
  • Listen to the chest. Is the breathing almost silent with no wheezing?

As well as the above it’s important to understand the potential risk of diabetes with your degus. Due to their natural habitat Degus are prone to developing diabetes if fed an incorrect diet. Avoiding unsuitable sugary foods such as breakfast cereals, fruits and honey based small animal treats can help to avoid this condition occurring. Always feed your degus treats sparingly and keep an eye on their weight.

Diet

A domesticated degu is best fed on a diet consisting mainly of hay (preferably Timothy), a complementary dried pellet feed (however degus can be picky) and a selection of vegetables.

They should always have a fresh supply of hay in their cage as this is integral for proper gut function. If your degus are being fussy with their hay why not try a different type? Hays such as G&S Timothy Hay with Flowers can encourage your degus to forage through and eat their hay. You could also add in small amounts of special herbs like Rosewood Natures Salad into your degus hay to increase palatability. Hard feed should be provided alongside their main hay diet. Degus should also have fresh vegetables included in their diet, small amounts twice a week should suffice. Vegetables such as red/green peppers and pumpkin can be fed weekly but avoid feeding sugary vegetables such as carrots too often. Remember to NEVER feed lettuce or avocado as these are too watery and can lead to loose stools.

Conclusion

Degus are complex creatures who do require lots of care, attention and time. Make sure you are prepared for being a degu parent and can fully provide for them. Degus have been known to groom their owners and can enjoy being stroked. You often see degus lifting up their little paws to encourage you to stroke under their bellies!  With the right care, you could have Degu friends for life!