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10 Things to Know Before Getting a Degu as a Pet

Nicole Cosgrove

Degus are in the same family as Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas, and these small, burrowing rodents have become a popular pet in the United States. They are native to Chile and are social animals that tend to live in large communities, sometimes numbering upward of 100! They make great little pets because they are awake during the day (diurnal), making them easier to interact with. They closely resemble a mouse or squirrel, but with larger ears and a tufted tail and a round, squat body.

If you are interested in getting a Degu as a pet, we’ve created this checklist of 10 important things to know before bringing one home.

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1. They are diurnal

degu climbing on a branch
Image Credit: AStoKo, Pixabay

Unlike their Chinchilla cousins, Degus are diurnal, meaning they are awake at night and sleep during the day. Guinea Pigs are also largely diurnal but tend to take frequent naps throughout the day and are awake for short periods at night too. In the wild, Degus are more likely to be crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dusk and dawn. They are adaptable animals, though, and in captivity, they can easily adapt to both nocturnal and diurnal lifestyles.


2. They are highly social

Degus are social creatures and are known to live in groups of 10 or 15 animals, and these groups then often form into colonies, numbering 100 or more in some cases. They live in communal burrows, and this social behavior is critical to their survival in the wild. While they are adaptable animals in captivity, it is still highly recommended to keep them in pairs or groups. In captivity, they are exceedingly socially tolerant and take well to new members joining their group.


3. They need loads of exercise

Common Degu sitting in a running wheel
Image Credit: Ondra Vacek, Shutterstock

Degus are active and curious animals that love to play and explore their surroundings and need loads of exercise. They do not need any specific exercise from their owners, though, as long as they have companions to interact with. Toys like balls and multi-level running tracks are great, and because these animals love to burrow, it’s highly recommended to give them a digging box filled with soil to keep them busy.


4. They have a long lifespan

Degus can live for 6-7 years in captivity and even longer in some cases. Compared to other rodent pets, like mice and rats that only live for 2-3 years, these animals have a fairly long lifespan. This is an important factor to think about before bringing one home, as they are a responsibility that will be around for quite a while.


5. They are clean

Degu close-up
Image Credit: Nenad Nedomacki, Shutterstock

Degus love to clean, groom, and bathe themselves, and as such, they are very clean animals, provided that their cage is well equipped. They love to roll in dust and then rinse off in water, so you should provide them with a ceramic bowl of dust to play in. Like most rodents, Degus love to chew, and commercially produced wood chewing blocks will keep this urge satisfied.


6. They have sensitive tails

Degus are easy to tame once they get used to their human owners and are happy to be handled, but they should never be picked up by their tails. The skin and hair tuft at the end of their tails is highly sensitive and can easily come off. This is an adaptation from the wild to help them escape from predators, and if this happens, their tail can quickly become infected. It is far safer to pick them up with two hands, one behind their front legs.


7. They need a particular diet

Squirrel degu eating food
Image Credit: In Green, Shutterstock

Degus are strict herbivores and in the wild, feed on small leaves and shrubs, so they need a diet high in fiber. This makes their digestive tracts highly intolerant to sugar, and they have been known to quickly develop diabetes. In fact, these animals have been used widely in laboratories as research models to try and understand diabetes in humans. Commercially made rodent pellets (sugar-free!) are ideal and should be supplemented with leafy greens like lettuce, and they should have an unlimited supply of hay in their enclosure at all times.


8. They form close bonds with their owners

As Degus are social animals, they are known to form strong bonds with their owners. They will recognize other Degus and their human owners by both sight and smell and are known to stand up on their hind legs, indicating that they want to come out of the cage and say hi!


9. They are highly territorial

degu
Image Credit: dianakuehn30010, Pixabay

While Degus are social animals, especially in the wild, they can be highly territorial when housed with other Degus of the same sex. Males housed with other males, especially when there is a female in sight, are likely to fight and become aggressive. Also, Degus are prolific breeders, so unless you want babies, males and females should ideally be housed separately.


10. They need a large amount of space

Degus love to burrow and ideally need a digging box filled with soil to keep them busy. Additionally, Degus need a large cage, the larger the better, especially when housing multiple animals together. Because Degus are prolific chewers, metal cages with solid floors are best, and cages with multiple levels will keep them active and entertained. Degus will love daily time outside their cages too, although they are fast-moving and should be carefully monitored during these times.


Featured Image: Tom Meaker, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.