So, you have decided that a degu is the right pet for you? Congratulations!! We here at Four Seasons Animal Hospital want to help you every step of the way in the care of your degu, starting with the basics.
Degus, also known as brush-tailed or trumpet-tailed rats, are natives of central Chile. Here, they survive in open scrubland where they are routinely exposed to droughts. Degus survive on very poor diets in the wild. Adult male usually weigh approximately 275 g while adult females weigh 250 g. In general, degus live 5-9 years (should live 8+ years in ideal conditions). They reach maturity at 75 days and carry a litter (if pregnant) for 87-93 days with a litter size of 3-11 but 5-6 are usually seen.
Degus are stick herbivores and in the wild feed on grasses, seeds, cactus fruits, tubers, and local crops. The captive diet should consist of rodent chow that is low in sugar (devoid of cane molasses), such as guinea pig or chinchilla pellets, supplemented with green vegetables, and free-choice grass hay. Like some other herbivores such as rabbits, they perform coprophagy (fecal reingestion) so as to extract more nutrition from their diet. This also serves to maintain healthy gut function during times when food is scarce. Avoid fresh fruit and other sugar-rich foods such as corn, peas, and potatoes due to the degus’ intolerance of dietary sugar evident through their divergent insulin structure (one of the hormones that regulates blood glucose level). Because of this, they are highly susceptible to developing diabetes mellitus when fed regularly on a diet containing free sugars. Degus normally drink very little water.
Degus are very active. For this reason, it is very important to provide a wheel, PVC tubing for burrowing, and a hide box within the degus cage. Also provide small nylabones, paper towel rolls, and pine cones for chewing. Hang small, sturdy branches across the cage for climbing and chewing. Also provide ladders and ramps for climbing to support the degus active lifestyle. Unlike similar rodents, degus are active during the day and have good vision.
Degus are extremely sensitive to high temperatures and can easily succumb to heat stress at temperatures > 86 F. For this reason it is important that you keep your degu cage in a room between 18-22 C. For good measure we recommend keeping a thermometer by the cage to monitor this very carefully. In the summer it is important to move the cage into a cool room and make sure it is never in direct sunlight!
Degus are social animals that may be housed in same sex pairs. Singly housed individuals may develop stereotypies (OCD behaviors), depression, or barbering without a lot of owner attention so having more than one degu is often recommended. Degus also exhibit a wide array of communication techniques. They have an elaborate vocal repertoire comprising up to 15 unique sounds.
Your degu needs to be frequently let out of its cage in order to get all the exercise it needs. This activity should include running, jumping and climbing, as it would in the wild.
Degus must regularly groom themselves in an act called dust bathing. This helps to remove oil and moisture from their thick fur. Provide dust baths at least once or twice weekly for only a short time to prevent a perpetual dust cloud in the cage. Dust baths must be large enough and deep enough to allow the chinchilla to roll around in the pan. Dust bath containers and dust can be purchased from your local pet store.
Can I own a Degu?
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.