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eRodent > Degus > Before you buy a Degu

Before you buy a Degu

This web page is a companion to my original 'Before you buy a Chinchilla' page. Degus are adorable little fellas and are generally more robust and easier to keep than Chinchillas but, as with any pet, there are things that you should consider. See the degu information page for more information on degu keeping.

  • Degus need careful feeding

  • As I've said before, if you want to feed lots of titbits of human food to your pet get a fancy rat! Degus seem to be unable to regulate blood sugars well and this makes them very prone to diabetes and cataracts, particularly if they are allowed to get fat. This is likely to be due to their diet in the wild consisting of large amounts of fibrous material which is low in nutrients. However as long as you bear this in mind they are easy to feed and should lead a long and healthy diet. The majority of their diet should be made up of lots of good quality hay (see feeding page for more information) with limited amounts of guinea pig or chinchilla pellets with small pieces of vegetable as treats and fresh water available at all times.

  • Degus need lots of exercise and things to do

  • Degus resemble small ground squirrels (you might hear of them referred to as Chilean Ground Squirrels) as much as anything else and it seems likely that in the wild they travel many miles every night to gather food. This means that to stay healthy and not get fat they need lots of exercise. Get the largest cage that you can manage and factor a good solid wheel into the initial costs to keep them healthy.

    A tank is not a great home for degus as they like to climb. They will also not be happy in a cage designed for hamsters as this will be too small. They are better off in something like a chinchilla, rat or chipmunk cage with the wire mesh taken out of the floor (they get sore feet if they have to walk on mesh). Degus can also squabble loudly if not given enough to occupy themselves with and can sometimes take to chewing their fur or the end of their tail.Provide them with lots of toys to climb on and destroy and they will play happily for hours. Look at the Environment Enrichment pages for ideas.

  • Degus are not that well known

  • Since I originally put this page together degus have become much more common, but are still relatively new. If you want a degu read everything that you can find on degus. The degu information page here is a good place to start. Remember that not all information on the web is accurate and bad information sometimes gets copied and repeated on multiple pages, so read lots and decide what you think sounds sensible.

    The other problem that degus not being that common brings is that your vet will be unlikely to have seen them before. However, if you find a keen small animal vet with experience in something like guinea pigs or chinchillas who is happy to look up degus and find out about them you should be fine.

  • Degus breed like mad

  • Please don't breed Degus. Rescue centres are getting them more and more often these days, sometimes because people see them being sold in pet shops for twenty five quid and think they can make money, but more often simply because it's not that easy to sex them. Degus can become pregnant frighteningly young and can mate almost as soon as the babies are born. It's not uncommon for rescues to have a cage full of say 50 degus with all the females pregnant dumped on them because someone brought a pair and didn't split up the results soon enough.The result of this is that you will find degus in most RSPCA branches and rescues these days.

    Avoid this by getting a same sex pair from someone who is knowledgeable about degus (preferably a rescue) and so knows how to sex them properly, and will have separated the sexes early enough to prevent 'accidents'. Alternatively it is becoming more common for male degus to be neutered these days. Apart from the issues with rehoming degus, being pregnant is not very good for female degus. They give birth to large litters of well developed babies - leading to a high risk of problems with the birth. In the wild most degus die quite young and so a evolutionary successful degu is one that has lots of babies as young as possible - the effect on the female's long term health isn't so important as they are unlikely to live longer than a year or two.

  • Degus need company.

  • In the wild degus live in large-social groups. They have one of the most rich animal languages that I have heard to communicate with each other. Always get two or more of the same sex. Inevitably you do always end up with one degu on it's own and they can be given lots of things to amuse itself, but will be happier with company. That said, introductions need to be done carefully, although a neutered male-female introduction seems to be a good combination. Groups of male degus can live happily together, but it's best not to have any females near by as this can cause fights when they come into season. It's also not a good idea to try to introduce a lone degu to an existing male group though as this will upset the established pecking order. It may be safer if he's not too old to get him neutered and introduce him to a female. See the introductions page for more information.

  • Degus live quite a long time

  • Unlike small pets of a similar size degus can live up to 8 or 9 years or more, although generally they seem to live more like 5 or 6 years. This means that you have to be prepared to provide them with a home and look after them for a very long period of time. Think about where you are hoping to be in a few years before buying a degu. This is particularly important for parents buying a pet for their children. That said, if you provide them with a good size cage and handle them frequently, they do not need to be allowed to run around the house like a chinchilla and so could live in most places provided you have room for the cage, and are allowed pets. Also think about who will look after them while you are on holiday.

  • Don't Buy - Adopt.

  • There are lots of rescue centres around the country with unwanted Degus for adoption. Try the RSPCA for a start and then try searching for Degu Rescue on the web. Many of the Degus come from previously loving home and someone has done all of the hard work of getting them tame for you. I didn't have time to keep updating the degu rescue page, but am planning to put some links there for people looking for degus.

  • Degus make excellent pets

  • None of these problems is a particular issue if you read up on degus carefully - Degus do make lovely pets. Unlike many small animals they are awake during the day and will come running over to see you. They are very friendly and soon become tame and will come and 'talk' to you and scrounge titbits (low carbohydrate only of course).

    If you have the room and time for them, please, please adopt some of the degus that are sitting in rescue centres around the country looking for new homes.

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