“ Animal Species: Rodents / Small Pets „
My partner and I had been considering getting a new pet for quiet sometime but just couldnt decide what type of pet to get. We just knew we wanted something a little bit different. So when a friend mentioned that he kept pet Degus we were very interested, as I had not even heard of Degus before. They turned out to be just the type of little creatures we wanted and now our two guys are a big part of our family.
Degus come from the rodent family and originate from Chile in South America. They have yellow-brown fur. Their tails are long and thin with a black bushy tuft at the end, which is why they are often referred to as the "bush-tailed rat". They live for between six to eight years.
Degus are a very sociable and intelligent animal, and therefore make great pets. In the wild they live in communal burrows. It is very important to have more than one Degu, as they are much happier with a little buddy. They will often cuddle up together and just generally hang out together. My two guys are the best of friends. That being said, they do argue on occasion especially over food. I have found giving them seperate food bowls and water bottles usually sorts this out though. The more Degus are handled the more tame they become.
An appropriate cage is extremely important. Degus chew everything, so anything plastic is a definite no-no. I have heard of people using fish tanks to keep their Degus in, however we have found that a large three story cage was most suitable for our guys. They can develop problems with their feet when walking on mesh flooring though, so we have put down solid wooden bases for them. As Degus are very inquisitive, intellectual and active it is important that they have plenty to keep them occupied. They are extemely active and need lots of excercise. We have had a lot of fun buying and making things for them to play with in their cage. A wheel is essential and other things our guys love to play with include ropes, jingle balls, carboard tubes, small boxes, branches, wooden chewing toys and Coconut shells. We also gave our degus small stuffed cuddly toys, (actually made for barbie doll accessories) One was a small frog the other a pig, they absolutely love these and can often be seen carrying their soft toys around with them in their mouths, so cute! A large wooden nesting box with hay or bedding should also be provided, as everyone needs a snug place to catch some z's. A dustbath using chinchilla sand should be given a couple of times a week for grooming, this enables them to keep their coats in a clean and shiny condition.
There is a rather specific diet for Degus. Mainly they eat hay and degu pellets, both of which can be found in pet stores (eg pets at home). A small amount of cubed veg is also recommended once or twice a week and nuts, seeds and crackers can be given as a treat occasionally. There are some foods that should never be given to Degus, including anything that is high in fat and sugar as Degus are prone diabetes.
Degus really do make such lovely pets. I could sit and watch my guys for hours as they run around their cage jumping on and off platforms and onto branches. They are certainly a pet that need lots of love, care and attention. Like any animal, the more you give the more you get back, and i just cant imagine our guys not being such an important part of our family
Degus can become lovely pets, but need a lot of time and attention. I have had my Degus (Terrance and Phillip) for a year now and love them to bits, but they are fussy little things and I think before you purchase them, you need to be prepared for what you have install!
A Degu is a small animal, which looks a bit like a gerbil - but Degus are not related to the gerbil; in fact they are from the same family as the Guinea Pig. They originate from South America and have been introduced to the UK pet market only really in the last 50 years. They grow to about 30cm (15cm body, 15cm tail), are a brown colour, with a yellow tummy and they have a hairy/furry tail.
Degus are very active and need a large environment to live and play in. Ours live in a large Chinchilla cage, with the wire floors removed (Degus can get "bumble foot" if they walk too much on wired flooring). Degus need to live in pairs or groups as they are very sociable animals (in the wild they can live in groups of up to 100!) and the more Degus you have living together, the bigger your cage needs to be. They love to chew so make sure your cage is not made of plastic, else when you wake up in the morning, you may find your pets have escaped - they really chew that much! You can use metal cages, or some people prefer to use aquariums, however Degus need to be able to climb so it is important to have a cage that can accommodate that, so using an aquarium/ tank as the base with a wired cage on top can be ideal.
They need a nest box in their cage. We use a simple wooden one, with a flat top, so they can use that for jumping on and for sitting on. They need bedding in their house, Timothy Hay is fine for this.
As mentioned, Degus need to climb. Make sure that there are plenty of levels in their cage. We have wooden ledges, Java branches and a rope hammock in our cage for them to use and they love running and jumping around on them.
Degus are intelligent creatures and will need "Boredom Breakers" and this often involves chewing! Wooden hanging toys, wooden/rope balls, tunnels etc make great toys for your pet. They will love chewing them and moving the toys around their cage. You can also hide little treats for them in their cage which keeps them entertained and active. I find that Pets At Home are good for toys for Degus, they have a large range and I also like to look in their Degu cage to see what they are playing with and buy those toys. They can have cardboard providing it has no print on it, as this can be harmful to the Degus. Ours love grabbing empty toilet roll and kitchen roll tubes and putting them into their house.
Like Chinchillas, Degus need a regular dust bath. Just use Chinchilla sand for this in a large container twice a week.
This is one of the most important things when it comes to looking after your Degu. They are prone to diabetes so must not have any sugary foods. We use Pets At Home Degu Nuggets or Selective Degu Food to feed our Degus, they contain all the vitamins and minerals your Degu needs. It is nice to treat your pet though and I recommend using products that say on them "suitable for Degus (or Chinchillas)" and to only give in moderation. Degus can enjoy fresh vegetables once or twice a week to supplement their diet with extra vitamins and minerals. You must be careful which vegetables you give them though as some vegetables are surprisingly high in sugar - if you are ever unsure it is best to check. Every Degu will like different vegetables; ours like peas, carrots and mixed dried herbs the best. Your Degu will not need a lot of vegetables, we give ours two peas each and half a slice of carrot, rolled in mixed herbs. This is plenty. Degus also need to eat hay, I recommend you buy a hay rack as they may eat their bedding! Replace everyday so they have fresh hay to eat. We also give our Degus dried grass a couple of times a week (we hide it in a wooden cube with holes in, they love it!) and sometimes mini alfalfa bales. As a treat we give ours Sugar Free Yoghurt Drops, which are recommended for Degus and Chinchillas, you can buy these from Pets At Home). They need plenty of fresh water, so replenish daily. Some people recommend using bottled water, but I use tap water for my Degus and have not experienced any problems.
Degus are very intelligent animals, they are friendly and sociable. Without companionship, they will suffer. It is important to spend a lot of time with your Degus else they can become aggressive if ignored. They are curious, ours follow us round the cage to see what we are doing! They have a brilliant memory and after a short while they will soon know the sound of the front door and come to the front of the cage wanting to be picked up.
They can sometimes show dominance and so can dominate food and/ or water feeders. To stop this we have two water bottles and two food bowls. They don't fight at all now unless there is a brand new toy then sometimes one will not let the other have a look in!
They are very fast animals, when you are holding them they will not sit still like a Guinea Pig on your knee, they are on the go all the time. However, once they trust you, they will happily sit still to eat on you etc, ours took a couple of months to do this. If a Degu runs off you NEVER pick it up by its tail, it can come off which is very painful for the animal and will never grow back. You should gently scoop a Degu to pick it up, although when getting them out of their cage you should let them come to you.
To start with, your Degu may be unsure about coming to you (we were very lucky with ours, the staff at Pets At Home had already tamed them) it will just take time and patience to get to the handling stage. Let them get used to your smell and reward them when they approach you, then when they put their paws on you etc etc and eventually they will be happy to jump onto your hand and come out to play.
Degus need a lot of exercise, about 30 minutes outside of the cage a day, but remember that they chew before choosing where and how to let them get this exercise. Ours have large rat balls which they love running around the room in, but sometimes we close off our hallway (which has no wires or dangerous spots for the boys to get into) and let them run free with us watching them, they love this so much!
Unlike a lot of rodenty-looking animals, Degus are not nocturnal (big selling point for me!), they are most active in the morning and evening and respond to light.
As mentioned before, Degus can get Diabetes, so sugary foods need to be avoided. If your Degu shows signs of becoming overweight then it is important to reduce food intake, give them plenty of hay to eat and let them exercise more.
They can get something called "Bumble Foot" which is caused by walking on wired floors. If you buy a wire cage, just take the wired floors out. When purchased, our cage had 2 1/4 wired floors, it now just has the 1/4 floor, but by providing lots of ledges for the Degus to go to get off the floor if they want to, this is OK.
You must keep your water bottle clean as Degus are prone to mouth infections.
Who are Degus suitable for?
These are not a god pet for young children, or for people who do not have a lot of time. They are fantastic pets for people who are willing to put the time and effort in, and don't mind having to deal with their requirements! Degus are a very rewarding pet but you must think carefully before buying some.
We got 3 degus Last summer, They aren't a very cuddly pet They are very muscular animals and have rather sharp claws. Degus are wonderful to watch though the way they interact with each other and play. a few months ago we had to split them and we have one who lives on his own (this is advised against as they are social creatures and need to be in groups) but he really hates other degus and he is great to watch on his own doing silly things like rearranging his bedding standing on it then looking confused because its not moving!
They need to be housed in an all metal cage ideally, any wood or plastic they can chew through it in minuets, we had a plastic storage box where we kept them while cleaning and they chewed out of that pretty fast. The cage also needs to be large the bigger the better our cage is 3ft high at least.
They are quite bright creatures and need to be stimulated so lots of toys are needed. They love to sleep on hammocks or in nest boxes, we have wooden swings, bridges, swinging toys, little bells, hanging tubes to make the cage like a bit of an obstacle course. The cage needs to be rearranged regularly to keep interest. A large wheel is also a good idea! metal is the best, but plastic works just be prepared to replace it regularly.
They eat Degu mix or degu pellets which are sugar free, they can't eat sugar as they are prone to diabetes. Hay is another stable in their diet. treats range from leaves to vegetables, anything with out sugar. Degus love stripping bark off of sticks and eating it, avoid willow, its poisonous to them and I would only feed what is sold in pet shops as eatable.
On the floor of the cage we use card board square we have found this works best. you'll also need a sand bath filled with chinchilla dust, this is where they will keep clean and share there 'smell'. Also an ice block can be fitted in certain baths to keep them cool in the summer, heat is a big killer as degus get heat stroke easily. They need cleaning out every few days the cage gets smelly quickly! They have a long life span for rodents.
over all they are more sit and watch pets than cuddle pets.
At the beginning of this year, I decided, as I do quite often, that it was time for a new pet to join the gang here at FourPaws Headquarters! It had to be a relatively small animal, that didn't require huge amounts of space, as well, space is frankly very limited here and I also wanted a pet that was a bit of a challenge. Something new, something a bit different and something I hadn't owned before. After a couple of weeks of indecisiveness, I finally settled on a pair of Degu, and welcome them into my life just a few days later.
The Degu (pronounced day-goo) is a small rodent, native to Chile, which is very closely related to the Chinchilla and Guinea Pig. If I had to describe them though, I'd personally say they look a bit like a cross between a Gerbil, a Squirrel and a Rat- yes, they are very strange looking animals indeed!
Also known as The Bush Tailed Rat, these cute little critters are now becoming increasingly popular choices as pets, and with their friendly nature, unusual looks, relatively basic demands and fairly long lifespan of 6 to 8 years, it's not hard to see why.
The Degu will grow to around the same size of a domestic rat by the time they reach adult hood at 9 months. Typically, they are around 13 to 15 cm in body length, with a further 10cm of tail and weigh in at approximately 300 grammes, making them a relatively small and compact little pet in comparison with their larger Chinchilla cousins.
They come in a small variety of colours ranging from light to dark brown, with various black hairs throughout the body and a light creamy coloured belly. Small and erect ears, dark piercing eyes and a bush tipped tail complete the look of these funny little guys.
*Purchasing a Degu*
Due to their increasing demand within the pet trade, the Degu is now thankfully relatively easy to find should you be looking to purchase one. However, like with any animal, make sure you think carefully and ensure you are well able for the commitment before making the purchase.
Finding a good Degu retailer shouldn't be a particularly hard task. Most of the larger Pets At Home stores now sell them, and this is generally a reasonably good place to start when looking for a Degu as you can be pretty sure that their animals have come from a healthy, well managed stock and you can be fairly confident that you will be brining home a healthy and well socialised animal. However, as always, rescue centres are always another place to look as many people buy these animals without making sure they are able to cater to their demands.
Degu are most active at dusk and at dawn, so if possible, try to go and view your potential pets either as soon as the pet store opens, or just before closing time as this is when you will be able to get a good idea of their individual characters. Ensure that the animals are all healthy with no signs of disease or stress and that their living quarters are clean with plenty of food, water, bedding and toys.
One key thing to remember when getting a Degu however is that they MUST NOT live alone. They are incredibly social animals and will get very depressed and unhappy very quickly if kept by themselves. They MUST be kept in same sex pairs or small groups. If the pet shop is willing to sell you just one Degu, then I advise you to make a hasty retreat, as they clearly know nothing about the animals they are selling.
I purchased my two Degu from Pets At Home for £15 each.
Like most rodents, Degu love to chew and this must be remembered when purchasing a cage for them. Ideally, they should only be housed in either glass tanks or pet cages made entirely from metal as they will chew through plastic or wood within a matter of hours, and believe me, trying to recapture an escaped Degu is no easy task! Each type of housing has its own advantages and drawbacks....
Glass Tanks: These have the advantage of generally being quite large and comfortable for the animal as they have solid bases and make the animal feel safe and enclosed, they also have the great bonus of being completely chew proof. However many lack height, so do not offer much opportunity for climbing and they can be hard to adequately ventilate and heavy and cumbersome to clean.
Metal Cages: In my opinion, these are the best type of housing for Degu. They are generally relatively large, with plenty of space and height for climbing and they are normally fairly easy to keep nice and clean, as well as being lightweight to move around. They must have solid metal bases however, not made from mesh or plastic as plastic will be chewed and mesh is uncomfortable for the Degu to walk on.
When purchasing a cage, try to go for the biggest one you can afford and one that has two doors rather than one, as this makes handling your pet so much easier. Cages marketed as being suitable for rats, chinchillas and ferrets are all ideal, but ones designed for hamsters, gerbils or mice are far too small.
*What Do I Need To Provide Inside The Cage?*
As with any small animal, first and foremost, the cage floor needs to be lined with comfortable and absorbent bedding such as wood shavings, wood based cat litter or specially designed paper based small pet bedding such as Megazorb or Carefresh.
- Nesting Box: Exactly like us, Degu appreciate a warm and comfortable area in which they can sleep peacefully. For a Degu, this should be provided in the form of a nesting box (made from either plastic, cardboard or wood) and be filled with adequate cosy nesting material such as shredded paper, hay or shredded paper. For my Degu, I used a plastic small animal 'igloo' filled with shredded paper- this is a cheap and easy to replace bedding yet is still comfortable and warm for the Degu to sleep in.
- Exercise Wheel: Any caged animal requires means of exercise, and the Degu is no exception. This requirement can be met simply with the inclusion of an exercise wheel for running inside the cage. Degu wheels look similar to hamster wheels, but are normally made from metal mesh (avoid 'barred 'ones as they can damage little Degu feet!) and obviously much larger. They will usually be marketed as being suitable for rats and chinchillas, and shouldn't cost more than £15.
- Food dish & water bottle: A food dish isn't strictly necessary as in the wild Degu will forage for their food and you can recreate this by scattering their food around the cage for them to find. I do like to use one however as it keeps the food in one place and helps keep the bottom of the cage cleaner for longer. Remember Degu are little monsters for chewing things, so always go for a metal or ceramic dish. Water should always be supplied in a drip fed plastic water bottle with a metal spout.
- Toys: Degu are incredibly active animals and love to run around and play. Their cage should be furnished with at least three different types of toy, and these should be rotated or changed on a weekly basis to keep their environment exciting and stimulating. I have a few shop brought toys for them such as tunnels and play cubes, but for the most part, I tend to use items such as small empty cardboard boxes or tubes, clean empty jam jars and toys that my fiancé makes for them using chew safe wood and non-toxic glue. They love to climb and get height, so suspending ladders and ropes from the cage roof is sure to be a big hit.
- Sand Bath: Degu naturally come from rather dry and sandy environments, so a sand bath will be much appreciated by many Degu. A medium sized casserole dished filled with chinchilla bathing sand is ideal and can be provided permanently inside the cage or just be made available for a couple of hours a few times a week. I tend to stick with the latter option- my Degu have their sand bath put in their cage a couple of evenings a week, and I'll take it out after an hour or so.
- Branches: Branches of fruit trees, which have been washed in warm soapy water and left to air dry are fairly essential within a Degu home. Not only are they great for climbing, but they are also fantastic for their teeth- the Degu will chew at them, helping to keep their teeth strong and also strip them of their bark, which acts as a form of mental stimulation and provides essential trace elements in the diet.
- Digging Box: In the wild, Degu will dig and live in underground burrows and need somewhere to demonstrate this natural behaviour whilst kept in captivity. For my two, I use a small cardboard box half filled with peat and half filled with wood shavings, and although my two are unusual in the fact they are not keen on digging, it is still important that a digging box is always available should they want it and I'll occasionally find them having a rumage through it!
The Degu is quite unlike most small rodents as they are unable to digest sugar so must be fed a diet that excludes this completely- this means NO FRUIT, or any pet treats that contain honey, dried fruit or has a sugar glazing. Feeding a Degu anything containing sugar, even in small amounts very occasionally, will cause them to develop diabetes and sadly this kills them rather quickly.
Their diet is prehaps their one major drawback, as it needs a fair bit of planning in comparison to other small domestic animals. The base of their diet should be a good quality pellet feed, ideally designed exclusively for Degu but this can often be hard to find. In such cases, guinea pig, rat or chinchilla mix are all suitable foods for Degu, providing they do not have the addition of dried fruit pieces within the mix. Hay is an absolutely essential component of their diet and a fresh, plentiful supply should be available at all times. I use Pets At Home own brand Degu Pellets which cost around £4.50 for 2kg and will last my Degu a couple of months.
Lettuce and dandelion leaves (thoroughly washed) are much enjoyed treats but should be kept to being fed just once a week or so as your Degu will not be able to tolerate them in large quantities. Sugary vegetables such as carrot must be avoided, as should sunflower seeds, dried sweetcorn and locus beans.
Another important factor to take into consideration when feeding a Degu, is that seeing as they cannot eat fruit, they do not get any vitamin C from anything in their diet. So for this reason, a water-soluble small animal Vitamin C Supplement should be mixed in with their drinking water.
Some call Degu curious, I however, call them damn right nosey- they absolutely have to be involved in as much as possible or they will thoroughly sulk! This makes them great little animals if you are looking for a pet that you can handle, cuddle and interact with on a daily basis. They can be jumpy and scatty at first, but once tamed, they rarely bite unless scared and are gentle animals, so rarely scratch either, making them suitable pets for children to handle as long as they are supervised.
Degu can be fast animals, and if startled, can jump at quite some speed, so it is essential to always handle them whilst either sitting on the floor, or whilst sitting at a table, so they do not have far to fall should you accidentally drop them or they make a bid for freedom! They are however, quite robust and hardy animals so are able to withstand quite a bit. Now, I'm not say you can drop them without a worry, but it takes some of the panic away should you ever accidentally drop them!!
Degu should be picked in the same way as a rat- by holding them gently around their shoulders, lifting them, and then placing the other hand under their bottom and hind legs to support them, they should then be held close to your body, or by allowing them to walk from one hand to the other. They should NEVER be picked up by the tail.
Thankfully, the Degu is a relatively healthy animal and shouldn't require too many vet visits during it's life span if cared for correctly.
The one pretty much sure fire way to tell if something is wrong with your Degu is to check their teeth. They have very orangey coloured teeth, and lightening or whitening of the teeth is normally an indication of a very serious problem, so they should be taken to the vets immediately if you ever spot this happening. Another point worth noting regarding their teeth is that they grow constantly, so hard gnawing material should always be provided.
Degus have an extremely high tolerance of pain, so very rarely show any signs of pain or discomfort so learning to read their body language and communication noises is essential (this will come with time when owning Degu), so you can spot any problems at first chance. Sometimes a Degu will not start showing any signs of pain or discomfort until it is too late, so you really must always be on the ball with these little guys.
If you have cats and dogs in the house and they catch fleas, these can easily be passed to your Degu if the infected animal comes close to the cage. To avoid you should obviously not allow other pets to get fleas in the first place, but if this does happen, then you will need to treat your Degu with special small animal flea drops available from your vets. Don't use the same products that you use on your cat or dog. Signs of fleas are a dull coat with dandruff and excessive itching.
Bumblefoot is an incredibly painful and very serious condition that often leads to amputation of the limbs and is sadly very common in captive kept Degu. It is a severe and very painful swelling of the feet and is caused by walking on either damp, or unsuitable surfaces, such as mesh floors or wet bedding. Cleaning your Degu cage regularly and making sure their cage floor is solid will practically eliminate the risk of this condition.
You should get to know the usual appearance of your Degu so you can easily identify any abnormalities such as lumps, bumps or scratches on the skin and also become familiar with the amount of food your Degu eats, and the amount of water they drink per day, so you can spot any changes in feeding habits which can be a sign of illness. If you do spot any change in eating habits, abnormalities or problems such as runny eyes, sticky discharge around the nose and ears, diarrhoea or poor movement, then take your Degu straight to the vet.
Well, I wanted a pet with a difference, and with the Degu, I certainly got that! I've had my boys Morse and Rogue since January now and I can honestly say I couldn't imagine life without them. Their requirements, in comparison with some of my other animals, are incredibly minimal but are still absolutely fantastic pets which give so much love, and are incredibly entertaining to watch and also very enjoyable and sociable to handle.
Initial expensive of setting up the cage aside, they are also inexpensive animals to keep- as an estimate, I'd say Morse and Rogue cost me around £3 per week to provide everything for, and that includes food, bedding and vitamin supplements, so providing you have the space, commitment and desire to keep Degu, they are an animal that pretty much anyone can own.
They are naturally very clean, almost odourless, animals so are suitable for even the most house proud of people and require very little other than fresh food and water, weekly cage cleaning, daily handling and twice weekly chances to run around in an enclosed area other than their cage. Morse and Rogue particually like climbing up and down the stairs for some reason, so I let them do this a couple of evenings a week for a few minutes!
Do take into consideration however that they can, when they want to be, very noisy! So they are not really suitable to be housed in bedrooms or rooms that you are likely to want peace and quiet in. We've a room in our house in which all the small pet cages are in, so thankfully we don't get disturbed by their noise too much, but do plan carefully where you put their cage!
All in all, I am well and truly a Degu fan now and I can see them being an animal that I shall always own. They are friendly, entertaining, affectionate, active, playful, brilliant to watch, lovely to handle, easy to keep, cheap to own and all round, a very enjoyable pet that is slightly unusual, but still simple enough not to be incredibly demanding.