Degus as Pets

Degu on hand
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A lot of people think they are just large gerbils but degus are an entirely different pet rodent. Living much longer than most other small rodents, degus are very active and social pets for the right person.

Names

Octodon degus, degu, brush-tailed rat, common degu

Life Span of Degus

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

Size of Degus

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

Behavior of Degus

Degus are very social animals and can become very tame if handled from an early age (but never pick them up by their tail) and they do best if kept with other degus because of their extremely social nature. They are playful and curious but without social interaction and the opportunity for exercise they can become aggressive and neurotic. Degus are also diurnal so they are active during the day (a lot of rodents are nocturnal). In the wild they live in communities (much like prairie dogs) and dig an elaborate system of burrows to live in.

Housing Degus

Degus need a large cage. 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. The cage should be made of wire since degus are avid chewers. 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.

 As with other small animals, avoid cedar or pine shavings for bedding. Paper based beddings are safer and absorbent. 

A nest box is necessary to give degus a sense of security. 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.

Degus should have a solid surface exercise wheel (11 inches in diameter is a good size) 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 up and a water bottle with a sipper tube can be used for water but you may need to get a chew guard for the water bottle (make sure they have 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

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 fresh vegetables can be given, especially sweet potato (peeled, uncooked), carrots, broccoli, leafy greens, green beans, and dandelion leaves (but they must be pesticide-free if you pick them from your yard). These should be offered in small quantities only 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.

Degus are designed to eat a diet high in roughage and low in carbohydrates.

Do not let your degus get overweight or obese and keep sugary foods to a minimum as they are very prone to developing diabetes. 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.

Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT