The degu is a member of the Octodontidae family of rodents. They’re in the sub-order caviomorpha, which means they’re related to guinea pigs and chinchillas although recent studies show that they may actually be closer in relation to rabbits.
Degus can’t digest or metabolise sugar and carbohydrates and they’re very prone to diabetes so it’s important to make sure they get the right diet.
The average lifespan of a degu kept in captivity is 6-8 years, with 9 years being the maximum expected age. Before adopting a degu you should think about the future, if for any reason you cannot honour a commitment this long you should reconsider adopting them. A pet should always be for life, not a passing phase or a short-term project.
If you keep their living area clean and tidy they will have a happier, healthier life. Degus rarely give owners any problems when well maintained, making them easy pets to keep.
Degus are very sociable so they should never be kept alone as this can make them very stressed. They should live in groups but male groups shouldn’t be kept nearfemales as they’re likely to fight.
Degus need to have a sand bath available to them every day and after they’ve been handled. Because degus love to dig, a digging box using organic soil and sand is sure to go down well and a treat ball will help to keep them busy – plus it’s great exercise. Toys, like jingly balls, sisal and corn toys are also fun for degus to play with.
The average litter size of a degu is five but it can be any number from one to eight. The weaning age is around five to six weeks and the breeding life of a degu is six years.
Degus originate from Chile, and you can find them anywhere from coastal plains to the Andes mountains. They live in groups of up to 100 in complex burrows which have nests and food stores. Degus are diurnal which means they’re active during the day. They love human interaction and enjoy living in busy, active homes.
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Degus however are diurnal, this is the opposite to nocturnal. This means they are generally awake during the day when you are, and sleeping overnight. Much more convenient if you have their cage in your bedroom, or in a small apartment where you can hear them. While their hours of sleep may not overlap yours completely, this is definitely a big advantage.
The life span of a degu is around five to nine years, although in the wild it’s only one to two years. An adult degu is around 15cm long and has a 15cm tail with a tuft at the end. Their coat is mid to dark brown with a light cream belly and white feet.
Like a lot of rodents, degus are curious animals. In their natural environment in the wild they would travel great distances for food during the day. Therefore, keeping them in captivity we need to provide ways for them to exercise and satisfy some curiosity exploring.
Degus are not a common household pet, so you may need to call around to find a vet that has some experience and expertise with them. It is unlikely you will need to call a vet for any reason, but it’s always advisable to know where one is in case of an emergency.
Degus exhibit a wide array of communication techniques. They have an elaborate vocal repertoire comprising up to 15 unique sounds, and the young need to be able to hear their mother's calls if the emotional systems in their brains are to develop properly. They use their urine to scent mark, and experiments have shown that they react to one another's marks, although in males the hormone testosterone may suppress their sense of smell somewhat.
Degus are also invaluable in development and aging studies. Research has shown that separation anxiety caused by separating pups from their mother from an early age for periods of half an hour or more can cause developmental and behavioural changes in later life, similar to ADHD in humans. In elderly degus, neural markers have been discovered which are remarkably similar to those in humans with Alzheimer's disease, which is the first time this has been seen in a wild-type rodent.
Before handling a degu you need to be aware that they can, and will shed their tail if they are mishandled. If this does happen it’s important not to panic and cause any further stress to the degu. Although it does not do any real damage to the degu, apart from losing its tail of course, avoiding it happening should be your first concern.
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Degus do not regulate blood sugars as well as other rodents. You need to take care not to overfeed them or give them bad foods, otherwise their health can deteriorate quickly. So, as a responsible owner you need to take care to ensure they are eating a well balanced diet suitable for them.
It can be a rewarding experience setting up an interesting and interactive environment for them in their cage, and you will develop a trusted bond over the years. If you decide to adopt one of these lovable little rodents I wish you all the best.
Degus are fun, sociable animals that love to keep active. Whether you just want to know more about them or you’re thinking of getting some, our factsheet will tell you more...
While degus are not going to clean up behind themselves (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it), they are much happier in clean environments. You will need to clean out their cage once a week, giving all of the accessories a thorough clean with pet safe disinfectant.
Degus like to live at temperatures below 20°C. Anything warmer than this can make them distressed and they’re prone to heatstroke. They’re pretty resistant to even extreme cold but they don’t like wet or damp conditions.
They are most likely to shed their tail if pressure is put on it, or if they feel threatened or trapped in some way. Never attempt to pick up a degu by the base of its tail, this is ok for some rodents so might be attempted by someone not aware of this issue. It’s your job to inform anyone visiting how to correctly and safely handle a degu.
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Degus are a hugely popular choice of pet, and with their friendly nature and intelligence it's no real surprise. At Pets at Home we stock a huge range of products for degus, making it easy for owners to show their degu as much love as it shows to them!
Degus should be bright with clear eyes and ears and glossy looking fur. They should have clean tails with no signs of faeces from their rear end. Their teeth should be yellow and not white – white teeth are a sign of a vitamin A deficiency. If you notice a wetness around their mouth, this could be a sign of overgrown teeth. Discharge and difficulty in breathing could be an indication of a respiratory problem.
Degus need constant stimulation to keep them happy and healthy so there should be plenty of space to exercise and it’s best to keep them in wire cages with lots of levels and ramps. The flooring should be solid and covered with a material suitable for burrowing, like a mixture of peat, dust- extracted bedding and bark chippings.
Degus love human interaction but they don’t really enjoy being handled a lot so they’re not ideal for young children. They are highly active during the day, love to burrow, climb and gnaw and can live for up to eight years.
A rodent wheel is an easy fix for daily exercise, degus are very receptive to the wheel and will use it. As for satisfying their curiosity, you can exercise your creative freedom in their cage. Add as many obstacles, ledges, hanging platforms, and anything else you can think of to make their cage more interesting.
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Degus are fun, easy to look after, and interesting pets. However, you should never adopt a pet before fully understanding what the commitment involves. Here are 10 of the most important things you should know about the behaviour and habits of degus before adopting one.
You can feed them chinchilla or guinea pig food mixes and food pellets. Along with hay this will make up the bulk of their diet, and some occasional treats will not do much harm.
Some jurisdictions consider degus as a potential invasive species and forbid owning them as a pet. In the United States, they are illegal to own in California, Georgia, and Alaska. In Canada they are illegal to own in Newfoundland and Labrador. They are completely illegal in New Zealand.
Most rodents are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and are awake during the night. This can prove annoying to owners that have their cage within hearing distance of where they sleep. Rodents tend to gnaw a lot to keep their teeth trimmed, and they are curious animals often moving around or exercising.
If you discover you have degus of the opposite sex in a cage you should separate them immediately. Degus can reproduce very quickly, managing a lot of newborns is not an easy task and the problem can escalate to an unmanageable situation.
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Another interesting area of degu research is circadian rhythm function, i.e. the ability of the brain to tell what time of day it is. Degus have the ability to show both diurnal and nocturnal rhythms if the environment permits, allowing a unique opportunity for study. Degus can take cues that do not relate to day length, such as temperature, melatonin levels and even scents from other degus to adjust their rhythms.
One disadvantage of the degu as a pet is their predisposition to chewing, due to their continually growing incisor and molar teeth. For this reason degus cannot be housed in plastic-bottomed cages typically found in pet stores. A metal cage with multiple levels made for rats and secured double latches works best. It is important to line the levels with grass mats or a soft fabric so that the degus do not get bumblefoot.