Degus come from the same family as the guinea pig and chinchilla. Though recent studies show that they may actually be closer in relation to rabbits.
Originating from Chile, you can find degus anywhere from coastal plains to the Andes mountains. They live in groups of up to 100 in complex burrows which have nests and food stores.
Is a degu right for you?
Degus like human interaction, but like most small pets, they don’t enjoy being handled so you may need to manage your family's expectations and find other ways to enjoy your degu.
They are highly active during the day and love to burrow, climb and gnaw.
The lifespan of a degu is around five to nine years. An impressive age given that in the wild it’s only one to two years.
Do degus need company?
Degus are a social species that should never be kept alone. Being alone can make them very stressed, which can lead to health and behaviour issues.
Ideally degus should live in groups or pairs, such as a group or pair of males or a group or pair of females.
Any group of degus should have plenty of space and resources to allow them to live with each other happily.
When do degus sleep?
Degus are diurnal which means they’re active during the day and sleep in the night.
Where to get a degu
Degu rescue organisations may have adults or youngsters looking for caring homes and charities like ours sometimes have degus available for rehoming too.
Breeders and pet shops
If you are planning on contacting a breeder, here are some things to bear in mind:
- If you are buying a young degu it’s best to see the babies with their mother
- The adults should all look healthy and the cages should be clean and spacious
- The breeder should ask you lots of questions and offer information about how to care for degus
How much is a degu?
If you rehome a degu from us, you will pay a fee of £20 per degu. This includes the cost of:
- having them looked over by a vet if needed
- neutering where appropriate
- a behaviour check by a member of our team
However, we appreciate we may not always have degus available for rehoming. So, if you choose to go to a breeder or pet shop, you will pay, on average, anywhere between £15 to £30.
What do I need to buy for my degus?
- A wire cage
- Suitable bedding
- Exercise wheel
- Clay piping (for tunnels)
- Dust bath
- Earthenware or stainless steel bowls for food and water
- Water bottle
- Carry case for any trips to the vet
As well as the above, your degus need a constant supply of water. You may also want to consider getting pet insurance.
Degus need plenty of stimulation to keep them happy and healthy so there should be plenty of space to exercise.
It’s best to keep them in wire cages with lots of levels and ramps so they can climb and burrow to their heart's content.
What do I need to put in the cage?
The flooring should be solid and covered with a material suitable for burrowing, like a mixture of peat, dust extracted bedding and bark chippings.
How big should the cage be?
The cage should be made of metal as they can chew through plastic, and a minimum of 90cm deep, 60cm wide and 120cm tall for two to five degus.
These measurements do not include any stands and just refer to the actual living space.
Can degus live outside?
No. They need to live indoors. Degus like to live at temperatures between 18-21°C. Anything warmer than this can make them distressed and they’re prone to heatstroke. So their cage shouldn't be placed near a window or a radiator.
How often do I need to clean my degu's cage?
How often you clean the cage will depend on the size of the cage and if they use a specific area to toilet. Usually once or twice a month will do.
Make sure you spot clean every few days by removing soiled bedding and uneaten rotten food regularly – this will help keep the cage clean and keep your degus happy!
How to clean a degu's cage
- Wait until your degus are awake
- Remove your degus from their cage placing them in a pet carrier or in their playpen
- Take out any toys and tunnels, cleaning them as needed
- Scoop out their bedding and any other material using a dustpan and brush
- Using a pet-safe disinfectant, which you can buy in a pet shop, spray the cage
- Then wipe it all down and wash thoroughly with warm water
- Leave to air until completely dry
- Clean their food bowls and their water bottle, using warm water and a bottle brush
You're now ready to set it back up.
- Add in new bedding
- Place their toys in – you can vary their toys or move them around to keep things interesting!
- Add fresh water and food
Degus rely on familiar smells to feel safe, make sure you put back some of the unsoiled used bedding when you do a ‘full’ clean (about a third of the bedding is ideal).
A solid exercise wheel, 25cm in diameter, should be provided to help them exercise.
Clay piping can also provide a tunnelling system for them which is lots of fun and offers great enrichment.
Keeping your degus entertained is a big part of their happiness. Here are some ways you can help to enrich their lives.
Things to chew
Tree branches like pear, apple, ash, beech and oak are great for furnishing their cage and degus love to gnaw on them.
Degus love to dig, so a digging box using organic soil and sand is sure to go down well.
Degus need to have a dust bath around three times a week for about 20 to 30 minutes. It should be available to them after they’ve been handled too.
Toys, like jingly balls, sisal and corn toys are great for degus to play with.
A treat ball will also help to keep them busy – plus it’s great exercise.
Degus will chew almost anything, so it's important to keep an eye on their toys to make sure that they are safe for use.
What do degus eat?
Degus can’t digest or process sugar and carbohydrates and they’re very prone to diabetes so it’s important to make sure they get the right diet.
The majority of a degus diet should be hay, as this is necessary to keep their guts and teeth in good health.
There are only a few degu-specific pelleted feeds available. But, degus can be fed chinchilla pellets as they meet their dietary requirements.
A lot of the treats marketed for chinchillas can also be fed to degus – hay-based treats are the best.
They can also be given:
- forage mixes
- dandelion leaves
- leafy vegetables
How much should I feed my degu?
They need one tablespoon of pellets a day and unlimited hay.
How to feed my degus
When feeding degus, it is a good idea to scatter their food or treats around their cage so that they can forage for their food. This will reduce any tension between the group over food and will also provide them with some enrichment.
How to keep degus healthy
There are a few common health problems within degus that it's good to look out for.
Diabetes in degus
Due to their inability to digest or metabolise carbohydrates and sugars, degus are extremely prone to diabetes when they have been fed an inappropriate diet.
It can be managed through the correct diet, but it's likely that their health will continue to decline.
Some of the signs of diabetes in degus are:
- excessive drinking
- excessive urination
- weight gain
The best way to prevent diabetes is through feeding degus the correct diet from when they are babies.
Degus can also be prone to dental issues. These can usually be brought on by:
- a lack of chewing opportunities
- a poor diet
It's also worth know that they can be inherited from their parents too.
Degus teeth should be yellow in colour – if they are white then this could indicate a health issue.
As with other rodents their teeth are constantly growing and therefore need wearing down. Degus do this by having a diet of mostly hay, and through chewing items in their cage. This is why it's important to provide degus with lots of appropriate items to chew, such as:
- wooden arches
- wooden houses
- gnaw sticks
Signs of dental problems include:
- weepy eyes
- reduced appetite (may play with food but not eat much of it)
- teeth colour changing
- swollen face or abscesses
- teeth growing apart or at an angle
- less faeces (poo) or a change in faeces shape
If you notice any of these issues, then you need to take your degu to see your vet.
It's actually quite common for a degu to suffer an injury on their tail from being handled incorrectly or from fighting with another degu.
Did you know that degus can also lose the skin and fur covering their tail during a fight or when being handled? This is known as 'degloving' and can help them to escape a predator. If this happens we'd advise you to contact your vet.
It is possible to have male degus neutered, after which they can be kept with females after successful bonding has taken place (you will need to wait six weeks after neutering before introducing).
It's important to keep unneutered male groups away from females as this could cause fighting amongst the males.
Handling your degus
Although degus are usually friendly, they tend not to like being picked up and carried.
But, as you may have to handle your degu occasionally when cleaning or health checking, it's a good idea to get them used to gentle handling from an early age.
Some degus will enjoy climbing on you while you're sat down in a safe area. You can also build this up slowly as you get to know them.
How to handle your degu
- Start by placing your hand in their cage so they can sniff and get used to you, then gently stroke them
- Pick them up by forming a cup with both hands either side of their body and scoop them up gently
- Ensure they are always held close to a surface such as a table, your lap or their cage, as degus are fragile and they may get injured if they have a way to fall
- Give them a treat when you're holding them to reassure them that they get good things from being picked up
How to introduce degus
To introduce a new degu to one other or a group that you already have, follow our step by step guide below.
- Put them in separate cages side by side, about 10cm apart - this way they can smell each other without physical contact
- Put their beds at opposite ends of the cages so they feel they have somewhere to escape to
- Give each degu its own dust bath, but swap these over daily so that they get used to each other’s scent – you can also swap cage furniture between cages to achieve this
- Once you are seeing positive signs, such as wanting to be close to each other you can move the cages and beds closer until the degus are sleeping next to each other in their separate cages.
- When they seem to be living happily side by side, you need to create a neutral environment that the degus can meet in. This is because if the meeting is done in their own cages then the degus can become very territorial.
- When the meetings in the neutral space are going well, you can thoroughly clean one of their cages while it is empty and then set it up ready for the degus to move in together
- Make sure that there are lots of things to do in there, and that there are multiples of each resource, eg two water sources, lots of hiding areas and food in multiple areas. This will help to reduce any squabbling when they move in.
It’s important to introduce them slowly to avoid fights. They may take to each other straight away or there may be some initial squabbling. If this seems serious, separate them again for a few more days, but things should eventually settle down. It’s usually easier to introduce animals of the opposite sex (make sure the male is neutered first).
If you're struggling with introducing your degus and you got them from us, then please give us a call and our Behaviour Team will be on hand to help you.
Alternatively, if you didn't get your degu from us, then you can give the Animal Behaviour and Training Council a call.