Owning a degu
If you are thinking about owning a degu, there are some important things you need to consider. Degus make great pets for older children or adults. Pets you might consider alongside degus are chinchillas and gerbils. A degu looks very similar to a gerbil but is around three times larger and they are also longer lived. They are very similar in size to chinchillas and have similar requirements for housing.
- A degu will live 5-8 years so represents a significant commitment. However, they are kept indoors and a cage with a footprint on around 60 cm by 45 cm will usually accommodate a pair of degus, making them feasible to keep in small homes.
- Degus need company and if you are looking at owning a degu, you really need to look at owning at least a pair. Degus introduced when young are the best combination. Although single sex groups are recommended, males kept together may fight. Males may also fight with females and females can become pregnant again as soon as they give birth. A neutered male can be kept with several females but may also fight. Providing lots of space and open-ended hiding places will help to reduce territorial aggression.
- Degus should be handled daily from a young age. They have to be accustomed to being handled gradually over time. Hold them in cupped hands and be aware that even once used to being handled that an unfamiliar person can cause them distress and they may bite.
- Degus are active, during the day and sleep at night, so their natural behaviours fits with most people’s schedules. If you have more consistent sleep and waking patterns it’s better for your degu too – they won’t enjoy the lights being on till late at night!
- Degus like to run and need lots of space and toys. They also like to burrow and hoard food in their cage.
- Degus need to be kept indoors and at a fairly regular temperature – avoid extremes which they find hard to adjust to.
- You should never bathe a degu but they do love to have a dust bath which helps keep their fur and skin healthy. Provide a shallow tray with bathing sand two or three times a week.
- Provide them with a nesting box or den where they can hide. It’s recommended to have one per degu, as well as one large enough for several degus to sleep together.
- Degus will eat their own droppings. This is called coprophagia and is necessary to allow them to absorb sufficient nutrients.
- It’s best to keep degus away from the sight or sound of other pets that they may consider predators – such as cats, dogs or ferrets.
- Provide lots of hay in different locations. Other foods can also be hidden inside hay to encourage them to eat enough fibre and also provides them with a welcome opportunity to forage.
- Owning a degu is a real delight – they are fun to observe and handle, whether they are foraging as a group, grooming each other, running, digging and taking sand baths. Human companions can add a lot to a degu’s life, although small children will find degus hard to handle as they are so quick and active.