Degus are a member of the rodent family and orginate from Chile in South America. They grow to around 5-8 inches in length and can live for between 5-8 years. Degus are a highly social species and live in large groups which are active during the day. A degu is brown in colouration which is often lighter underneath, a medium length tail that has short wiry hair at the base and gets longer towards the tip which is often black in colouration lastly, they have orange teeth which is a sign of good health.
This is the most common colour variety seen in degus and is there natural colour. The hairs are striped brown with a grey tip and grey under fur.
Here the gene for brown colouration has been switched off resulting in a grey coat colour.
This colour has the agouti banding still present but the base of the hair is a cream colour.
This is a dark shade of brown resulting in black colouration.
This colour has a ginger coat but originally came with many health defects and was stopped from being bred however; a healthy strain has been produced in Germany.
White patched agouti
These are agouti with areas of unpigmented skin resulting in white patches.
How many and what gender?
Degus are generally sold in pairs but from owning degus for 5 years I have found that groups of a minimum of three work best, this is because they usually ascertain a dominant degu and if you have two that are equally matched it often results in more squabbles then a group of three where you will usually get a hierarchy system. Male and female degus generally do not differ greatly in personality type and you want to make sure all are the same sex in your group to prevent lots of baby degus. Males will however self stimulate which does lead to varying periods of time of high pitched squeaking (can last from 5 minutes to an hour) which some may find not pleasant.
Most degus are kept in large cages which should be as big as possible, it is generally recommended that for two degus that are let out once or twice a day that the size be 70 L x 70-100 H x 40 W cm. However for my degus I built my own enclosure for them using two vivariums, this was because rodents kept on cage flooring often develop a condition called bumble foot which causes their feet to swell and become painful.
A standard cage setup
A larger cage setup
A vivarium style setup
The most commonly used substrate is sawdust due to its absorbent properties; however shredded paper is also sometimes used. Straw can be used as nesting material and placed inside the nest area, such as a nest box which can be brought from pet shops.
Degus need to use a dust bath everyday to maintain coat cleanliness and quality. A variety of different types of dust baths can be brought from pet shops from metal baths to plastic covered ones which help to reduce mess alternatively, if you are making your own set up your can build one into your enclosure like I did with mine by using a wooden divider 2 inches high that fits across the width of the floor of the enclosure providing a separate area which can be used as a dust bath (can be seen bottom left of my enclosure setup). To fill the bath a range of chinchilla sand is available from pet stores in a variety of different sizes for convenience.
Degus are very active and require a lot of toys to keep them occupied, the main requirement is a wheel, aim to get one that has a mesh/solid bottom as degus can get their tails trapped in ones with gaps and even though degus are a species that can detach their tail they do not grow back. Toys that they can gnaw is always a must as this helps to keep their teeth in good condition a variety of different wooden toys can be brought from pet shops but I prefer to use parrot toys as these can withstand the destructive force of degu teeth the longest! I also place branches from out apple tree into the enclosure which they love to climb and gnaw on, not all branches are safe to use but here are the recommended ones: apple, hazel, hawthorn, kiln dried pine, pear and linden (lime). Cardboard toys such as boxes are also enjoyed I like to use postage tubes and fill them with hay to encourage scavenging. Jingle ball toys are also enjoyed just make sure they don’t try to eat the plastic and sisal/rope toys can also be used.
Cleaning should be undertaken once a week for a group of 24 degus removing all substrate and uneaten food from the enclosure. Degus often have sensitive skin and therefore warm water and washing up liquid for sensitive skin is generally used though some pet safe disinfectants can be fine too.
Degus are fed on a diet of pellets however, all pellets have to be low or free from sugar as they can develop diabetes which can kill them therefore it is best to stick to degu specific pellets to prevent this from happening. Here are a few recommended brands: XtraVitalDegu, Pets at Home degu nuggets, science selective degu, excel chinchilla and degu care .
Hay is an important part of a degu diet as it provides fibre they need to maintain gut function which is as much as 60% of a wild degus diet. Meadow hay that is available at most pet shops is suitable for your degu to eat.
Fresh water should be provided daily for your degus via a drinking bottle that can be attached to the cage or in the case of a vivarium setup can be a glass drinking bottle attached to the inside of the cage as plastic will be chewed.
Handling your degu
When handling a degu the most important thing to remember is to never pick them up by their tail, this is because degus can shed their tails as an anti predator defence, this leaves exposed bine which the degu later chews off to cut off the blood supply to reduce blood loss therefore the tail never grows back.
It is best to encourage the degu to come to you by placing your hand in their enclosure, do not grab them as this will often result in a bite. They may not approach you immediately but be patient and they will eventually approach, you can then try placing some pellets in your hand to encourage them to climb onto your hand and see you as a positive object which is safe to interact with and eventually with time and patience you degus will be happy to climb onto your hands and often up your arms and perch on your shoulder.