What is a degu?
Degus are a little larger than gerbils and are classed as exotics pets.
Degus are best housed in groups of 2 or more as they are social animals and are easily tamed. Degus are intelligent, playful and curious and love interaction and exercise. Degus make little chirping noises when happy but are generally silent other than this.
Lifespan: 6-8 years
Colour: brown and/or white
Most active: during the day
Degus can live from 5-9 years. Before you take them on, it's important to consider whether you will be able to commit to them for their whole lives. They don't generally make good pets for children, who often lose interest.
Additionally, they can be quite expensive to keep. Over their lifetime (after the initial cost of housing) food, bedding, accessories and vet bills could amount to over £4,000 per degu.
Diet and nutrition
Degus are herbivores so need a degu specific hard feed, e.g., Science Selective, plus unlimited hay and dried herbs.
You shouldn't feed degus fresh fruit and vegetables - it can cause an upset stomach.
Degus are prone to diabetes so you should avoid feeding them anything too sugary. However, there are lots of treat available for degus including Good Degu Rice Puffs, Veresele-Laga Complete Crock, and degu-specific seed mixes.
Degus require unlimited fresh water. This should be provided in a water bottle with a metal tube.
Accomodation and environment
The minimum recommended cage size for degus is 100cm x 60crn x 60cm.
Wire/metal cages are the most suitable - they can chew through plastic or wooden cages.
Degus should be kept indoors. They are very temperature sensitive.
Degus are very sociable animals and should be kept in pairs or, ideally, groups.
Degus need a large cage to live in, e.g., the Savic Royal Suite 95, with multiple levels made of metal or kiln dried pine.
IMPORTANT: Degus are avid chewers so cannot be housed in a plastic or wooden cage or they quickly eat their way out - wire/metal cages are the most suitable. This includes anything you transport them in - ensure it's metal or they will escape!
Degus are very environment and temperature sensitive. They should be kept in a quiet area free from drafts, chills, artificial scent, extreme heat and sudden temperature changes.
IMPORTANT: the ideal temperature for degus is 18-22°C.
Degus need hides, huts and hammocks for sleeping.
Degus should have access to a solid surface exercise wheel, e.g., a metal TicTac wheel, minimum size 12 inches. You should provide two wheels for larger groups.
Degus love to burrow, so will need a tub of sand/hay or paper based bedding, e.g., Softacard, Finacard or Bedmax, to keep them entertained.
Shelves, ropes and tubes for climbing will go down a treat with degus.
They also enjoy toys and chews that they can gnaw on. Sticks and small branches made from pear, apple, ash, beech or oak are all great for degus, as are sisal and corn toys.
Suitable bedding materials for degus include chopped card, paper bedding, dust-extracted hay or kiln-dried wood shanvings, e.g., Bedmax.
IMPORTANT: any bedding or substrates used for degus should be dust-extracted.
Wood shavings and sawdust are not suitable bedding options as they are toxic for small animals.
Degus need daily access to a sand bath to help to keep their fur clean.
Degus don't smell, but the toilet area in the cage can have an odour if not regularly changed.
For a pair of degus, it is usually sufficient to spot clean daily and replace about a quarter of the bedding/substrate each week.
The entire cage should be thoroughly cleaned about once a month (though it depends on the size of the cage and the number of degus).
Out-of-cage time and handling
Degus enjoy time out of their cage but must be supervised to prevent any accidents such as chewing cables and falls.
Letting you degus out of the cage for free roam time each day will make them very happy. Provide hides, boxes and sand baths in their free roam area.
Degus aren't always keen to be handled but will rarely bite you - they can be quite speedy though so just be careful not to accidentally drop them. They often happily perch on you whilst having a run around outside their cage and will take treats from your hand.
IMPORTANT: never grab a degu by the tail as they can shed half of it as a way to get away from predators in the wild.
Children and other pets
As with other prey animals, degus can sometimes be jumpy so they're not suitable for young children or homes with curious/excitable cats and dogs unless they can have a separate and secure room.
In general, degus will never make cuddly pets for children.
They require patience to slowly build up a relationship of trust before you can handle them, and some degus might never enjoy being handled.
If you are letting a child handle a degu, or any other small pet rodent, it's important they know to be extra gentle and not hold them too tight - this can cause fatal injuries. It's also a good idea to have them sitting down to reduce the chance of injury from fall.
IMPORTANT: children should always be supervised when handling animals.
How to health-check your degu
This video from Wood Green Animal Shelter provides some great guidance on how to give your degu a health check.