Degus

Degu on hand
Degu sitting in hands. Ales Veluscek/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Names

These rodents are known as Octodon degus, degu, brush-tailed rat, and common degu.

Life Span of Degus

Five to eight years is a typical life span of a pet degu although up to ten years is possible.

Size of Degus

The body of a degu is about five to seven inches long and their tail adds another five to six inches of length.

Degu Behavior

Degus are very social animals and can become very tame if they are handled from an early age (but never pick them up by their tail).

They do best if kept with other degus because of their extremely social nature and are also diurnal so they are active during the day (a lot of rodents are nocturnal). Degus are playful and curious but without social interaction and the opportunity for exercise they can become aggressive and neurotic. In the wild, they live in communities (much like prairie dogs) and dig an elaborate system of burrows in which they make their homes.

Housing Degus

Degus need a large cage to live in. For a couple of degus, a minimum sized cage of 24 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches tall is needed. A larger cage is definitely better and large multilevel cages such as those made for ferrets or chinchillas are ideal and should be provided unless temporary situations need to be made. The cage should be made of wire since degus are avid chewers and will chew right through wood and plastic. It must also have a solid (not wire) floor and shelves and ledges should also be made of a solid material since degus are prone to foot problems like bumblefoot.

 As with other small animals, avoid cedar or pine shavings for bedding due to the potential risks these wood products can pose. Paper based beddings are safer for your degu and still absorbent. 

A nest box is necessary to give degus a sense of security while in their cage. A wooden box about six by eight by six inches is appropriate and if it has a flat roof the degus can also use it as a shelf to sit on.

Nesting material (tissues or paper towel, hay, shredded paper) should also be provided for the box. Be prepared to replace this nesting box as needed since your degu will most likely chew on it over time.

Degus should have a solid surface exercise wheel (11 inches in diameter is a good size for most degus) in their cage. Thick branches can be added to the cage and will offer both exercise (climbing) and chewing opportunities. Thick cotton ropes can also be used as climbing toys. Using heavy ceramic dishes is a good idea since they aren't able to be chewed. A water bottle with a sipper tube can be used for water but you may need to get a chew guard for it (make sure your degu has clean, fresh water available at all times).

Since degus are such determined chewers, it is vital to provide them with lots of opportunities to chew. A variety of wood blocks and chew toys for rodents should be offered at all times. Willow balls and toys made for rabbits are great for degus as well as toys designed for large parrots. A mineral or salt block designed for rodents can also be attached to the cage.

Bathing Degus

Like chinchillas, degus need regular dust baths to keep their skin and coat in good condition.

Provide a shallow bowl with an inch or two of chinchilla bath dust a couple of times a week (leave this in the cage for a half an hour or so to give them ample time to roll around). Water baths should not be necessary.

Feeding Degus

Degus are designed to eat a diet high in roughage and low in carbohydrates. Therefore, the basis of a good degu diet is a combination of high quality chinchilla or guinea pig pellets and rodent blocks. Grass hay (such as timothy hay) should be available at all times and a small amount of alfalfa hay can also be offered. A variety of the following fresh vegetables can be given:

  • Sweet potato (peeled, uncooked)
  • Carrots 
  • Broccoli 
  • Leafy greens (such as kale, spinach, parsley, etc.)
  • Green beans 
  • Dandelion leaves (make sure they are pesticide-free if you pick them from your yard and only offer them in small quantities or they may cause diarrhea) 

    Vegetables that are members of the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, kale, etc.) should only be fed in very small quantities and some degu experts advise avoiding them altogether.

    Fruit should be avoided as a treat (including raisins) due to their high sugar content. For treats, most degus relish seeds (e.g. sunflower seeds), peanuts, and whole nuts in the shell but these should only be an occasional treat due to their high fat content. Do not let your degus get overweight or obese and keep sugary foods to a minimum as they are very prone to developing diabetes.

    Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT