Add some degus to your day
The degu is a small rodent that is native to Chile. In the wild, these supremely social animals live in groups of up to 100, where they dig complex burrows to hide from predators, complete with nests and food stores. Unlike many small furries, degus are diurnal, which means they are active during the day. These lively little creatures, which look rather like large gerbils, love human interaction and will be happy living in a busy home where there’s plenty going on for them to keep a watchful eye on.
IN GOOD COMPANY
The first rule when keeping degus is never to have just one. These small pets need the company of at least one other degu chum (ideally from the same litter) or they will feel vulnerable and depressed, which will have a detrimental effect on their health. Degus like to do things with other degus – whether that’s playing a game of chase, taking a sand bath together, or cuddling up for a cosy nap.
DID YOU KNOW?
Degus live for around five to nine years and grow to around 15cm in length with a 15cm tail that sports a tuft at the end. They have a silky, mid to dark brown coat, with a light cream belly and little white feet.
When it comes to accommodation, providing a tall cage with a solid roof (degus find movements from above very stressful as they associate this with predators) that’s as large as possible is essential. These active, agile animals need lots and lots of space to run about (a degu-size solid running wheel can help), along with different ledges, platforms and hanging ropes to scamper along. A stable rock formation can also provide additional climbing opportunities.
Degus love to gnaw, which is important to keep their continually growing teeth healthy, so securely tie non-toxic branches such as pear, apple, ash, beech or oak to the side of their cage.
Degus also need enough space for a deep layer of bedding on their cage floor for digging into. For degus, digging is a powerful natural instinct and is also great exercise for them. Clay piping can also be added to provide a tunnel system for further happy burrowing.
A cosy nest box – around 20cm long x 15cm wide x 15cm high – will also be required. Provide a pile of shredded paper for bedding so your degus can make a nest inside their sleeping box with it, just as they would naturally do in the wild.
Your degus’ cage should always be kept at the recommended temperature of 20°C as degus cannot sweat and can suffer heat stroke. They are also susceptible to respiratory infections, including pneumonia, and should be housed well away from draughts.
DID YOU KNOW?
Like chinchillas, degus need sand baths to clean their coats. A regular roll around in chinchilla sand (not builders’ sand!) absorbs oils and removes dirt.
KEEP THINGS CHALLENGING
Naturally curious, it’s important to keep your degus mentally stimulated by providing new experiences and challenges – from adding new obstacles to clamber over to rearranging the items in their cage when you clean them out. Just make sure their home doesn’t get too cluttered so they can still run about freely.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
In the wild, degus live on grass and other green vegetation, bark and seeds. Pet degus need a diet that is not too high in fat or sugar as they are susceptible to diabetes and liver disease. Excel Chinchilla Nuggets are suitable for degus as they are naturally high in beneficial fibre and rich in vitamins and nutrients, such as Vitamin C for healthy skin, coat and gums, Vitamin A to maintain healthy eyesight and Vitamin E to maintain a healthy immune system.
Degus should also have plenty of good quality feeding hay as well as a handful of fresh green alfalfa every day. Avoid high fat foods such peanuts and sunflower seeds, as well as foods that are high in sugar, such as fruits.
DID YOU KNOW?
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.
The best way to form a bond between yourself and your degus is to take things slowly and build up trust over time. Speak softly and allow them to climb on your hand before attempting to pick them up. Hands swooping down on them from above will cause stress as it is natural for degus to run away from predators approaching from above.
Degus should never be caught or held by their tail as they will lose them very easily. Generally, degus are not that keen on being handled and are not recommended as pets for young children. As with all small exotic pets, degus have complex needs and require more looking after than a child can offer. An adult should always be responsible for ensuring degus are properly cared for so they can enjoy their life as endearing and entertaining members of the family.