Degu Care Information
Housing & Cage Setup
Temperature – Degus prefer temperatures below 70 degrees, and require air-conditioning in the summer. If they are kept in a room above 72-74 degrees, they can get heatstroke and die.
Bedding – Kiln dried pine or aspen bedding should be used in your degu’s cage. I use pelleted aspen bedding, as it helps keep down the smell. Never use cedar bedding, as it lets off toxic gasses which will eventually kill your degus.
Water Bottle – Degus chew everything. That being said, some degus are fine with plastic water bottles and never chew them. If you have a plastic water bottle and your degus chew through it, the next best thing is a Lixit glass water bottle (sold at pet stores, typically in the bird section).
Cage – Degus need room to run around; they are not meant to be kept in an aquarium. The general rule of thumb is 2-3 square feet of cage room per degu. The best cages are wire cages with no plastic, or a wire cage with a plastic base. Be warned, some degus will chew through a plastic base. Regarding the size of the cage, height is better than width, so long as there are many things for your degus to climb on and explore. Degus love to explore, so the bigger the cage and the more things in it, the happier they will be. If you have/buy a cage with plastic shelves, I recommend that you take them out and replace them with wooden shelves, as the plastic could be chewed and ingested. Petco/Petsmart sells small wooden ledges, and if you are good at woodworking, you can make larger ones yourself. If you really plan on going all-out for your degus, I suggest buying a cage from http://www.qualitycage.com, as they have many suitable cages for degus. When buying a cage (regardless of where you buy it from), the bar spacing should be no more than ½ inch, as degus can squeeze through very small openings.
Hidey-House – Degus, being prey animals, like to have something to hide in so they can feel secure. It is important to have something that your degus can hide under, so they do not get overly stressed. Please do not buy the plastic igloos that Petco/Petsmart sells; degus chew on these and they may die from ingesting the plastic. Rather, buy the wooden houses that these stores sell, or something similar, so that the degus feel secure in their cages. Be warned: do NOT buy the “Tiki huts” that Petco/Petsmart sells. These are high in sugar and are likely to cause diabetes in your degu.
Feed & Hay
Degus are highly prone to getting diabetes, so they must be fed food very low in natural sugars. Because of this, they cannot eat hamster/gerbil pellets, because the seeds in them have natural sugars. Further, you must be very careful what treats you give your degu as nothing with any type of natural sugar should be given.
Degus need a high quality chinchilla pellet to survive (such as the Mazuri chin chow they currently eat). Besides giving them just pellets, I supplement my degus with ascorbic acid (vitamin C powder), which I sprinkle on their pellets. If you would like an alternative to buying this powder, you may buy a high quality guinea pig pellet (such as Oxbow Cavy Cuisine – available at Pet Supplies Plus), and mix this in with their Mazuri chinchilla pellets. NOTE: they MUST either have chinchilla pellets sprinkled with ascorbic acid OR a mix of chinchilla and high quality guinea pig/cavy pellets. They need the vitamin C in their diet. HOWEVER, please do not buy the Vitamin C water drops that some pet stores sell, this is not the same as providing the cavy pellets or ascorbic acid powder.
Please do not feed your degus any of the Kaytee-brand food sold in pet stores. This is basically “junk food” because of all the treats it has and will shorten the life of your degu (this food will also likely cause diabetes in your degus in a very short time). Mazuri is also cheaper than Kaytee: $16 for 25 pounds of Mazuri, $9 for 3 pounds of Kaytee. Pellets should be free-fed; that is, you should not restrict the amount your degus eat. Put in more food than they will eat so that they can choose how much they want to eat.
Hay – Degus do not and cannot survive on only pellets. They also need hay to survive, and hay should make up at least half of a degus diet. I recommend getting Oxbow’s Western Timothy Hay (also sold at Ted’s Feed Store and Pet Supplies Plus). If this brand of hay is not available to you, you can use Kaytee’s Timothy Hay (sold at Petco and Petsmart). Both brands of hay are comparable in quality, but the Oxbow hay has more nutrients for your degus. Hay should also be free-fed, as degus will pick and eat the stalks they like the best. Alfalfa hay may be given to your degus as an occasional treat, but do not give this hay consistently, as its protein levels are too high for a degu’s digestive system.
Water – The water in your degu’s cage should be fresh and should be changed often to prevent bacteria build-up.
Treats - First thing to note: degus under 6 months of age cannot have any sort of treats. Many people want to buy their degus every treat and chew toy available at the pet store. Word to the wise: only buy chew toys. NO treats. The treats that pet stores sell (even the ones marketed for small animals) are generally not very good for degus. Do not give your degus fruits and veggies--these are very high in sugar and can also cause diabetes. Healthy treats (after the age of 6 months) include rosehips, apple pellets, apple sticks, whole rolled oats, oats (NOT the quick cook kind), cheerios (plain), non-frosted shredded wheat, dried clover, Kaytee nibble rings, wheat grass, pearl barley, dried lentils (green or red), dried split peas, dried dandelion leaf (from an herb store, not straight from the garden), clean dried dandelions, chamomile flowers, calendula petals, and pumice. Basically, anything safe for a chinchilla is safe for a degu. Other treats which can be given sparingly (one per degu per week) include things like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, unsalted peanuts, dried cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, and crackers. Some veggie treats may be given in moderation. These include lettuce, carrots, broccoli, cucumber skins, and tomato. However, other fruits and veggies should not be given, even in moderation. When veggie treats are given, they should be given in pieces no larger than the size of a small fingernail.
Dust Baths – Your degus needs weekly dust baths to keep their fur in good shape. Degus use chinchilla bath dust to clean their fur. Your degu should get dust baths at least twice a week. Chinchilla dust is sold at Petco and Petsmart. Be sure to get bath dust, not bath sand. Blue Cloud is now available at the pet stores. However, it is possible to get it cheaper online.
Chewing – Degus chew everything. Besides the fact that they are small, can get into everything, and are hard to catch (believe me, from personal experience, you do NOT want to catch one running loose in the house) they should not be let run around the house because they may chew electrical cords. They can get electrocuted and die from this. Degus teeth are constantly growing, and so they need chew toys to grind down their teeth. If their teeth are not ground down, they may grow too long and the degus can suffer from malocclusion. Malocclusion is usually fatal because it is often noticed when the condition is very advanced. Malocclusion it is caused when a degus back teeth grow too long and grow into the degus brain. Because of this, it is a necessity that degus have chew toys in their cage.
Exercise – Degus, being the hyper animals that they are, require exercise. All degus love to run on wheels. The smallest wheel an adult degu should have is one with a 12 inch diameter, as anything smaller will curve their spine, possibly permanently, if they run on their wheel a lot. You can get a large wheel at Petco/Petsmart, but as some of these are plastic, they may be chewed/destroyed in no time. There is also the option of buying the 11” or 15” Chin Spin which can be found at http://www.qualitycage.com. This wheel attaches directly to the degu’s wire cage. Also, another word about exercise: do not buy the clear plastic balls that Petco/Petsmart sells for your degus to run around in. Degus can overheat and die in those balls in a very short period of time.
Degus should have yellow-orange teeth. If your degu is young, it may not yet have this tooth coloration yet, but an adult degu (over 8 months) should have this coloration. If the teeth are white or a very light yellow after the degu is 8 months old, the degu may be lacking in calcium. A flavored Tums chew or part of a cuttlebone (sold in the bird section of pet stores) may help remedy this problem.
Degus are generally healthy animals, but they can get sick. Signs of illness include diarrhea, soft stools, constipation, seizures, weakness, weepy eyes, a change in eating habits, a change in personality, drooling, pawing at the mouth, or leaning the head to one side constantly. Please take your degus to an exotics vet if you notice any of these symptoms and they persist for more than a few days. Do not try to treat your degus yourself.
Taming & Handling Your Degus
One thing to keep in mind when handling your degus is that degus are prey animals. Your new degus may be nervous, jumpy, and possibly even terrified of you (although them being terrified is not likely). Most degus calm down with age. Also, once your degus gets used to you they will usually calm down. However, degus are generally very hyper, energetic animals. Degus can be trained to do a select few things, and it may be possible to litter-box train them.
Degus should be handled gently, as their bodies and bones are fragile. Young children should generally not handle them. If your degus bite you, do not hit them, this will only make the degus more afraid of you. If your degus bite, do not put the degus back in the cage. Rather, try to act as if nothing has happened. Degus are very intelligent, and if they get the idea that biting you will get you to put them down, they may always bite. If you act as if it does not bother you, they will stop doing it because they will realize it has no effect on you. Also, degus may bite when you first get them, but as they get used to you, they generally do this less.
If your degus get loose, try not to chase them. This sets up a predator/prey situation, and chasing the degus will only scare them more. Try setting your degu’s cage on the ground and see if maybe they will eventually come to it. If nothing seems to work, a butterfly net helps to catch them, or even setting out a Havahart Animal Trap works as a last resort.
Regarding introductions, I suggest you take it slow with your degus. Although your degus were handled from day one, this still does not mean that they are going to be super-friendly or very easy to pick up. You still might find yourself chasing your degus around their cage to pick them up. The easy way to do introductions is this: for the first few days, put your hand in the cage with the degus, and let the degus smell you. If you put your hand palm up, eventually your degus will put his paws on your hand or climb up on your hand. A few days/weeks of this and eventually you will be able to take your degus out of his/her cage without chasing it. Basically, you want your degus to get used to you. Talk to your degus; let your degus hear your voice. Move in baby steps if your degus seem frightened. Eventually most degus come around. I recommend interacting with your degus every day, regardless of whether or not they will let you pick them up in this manner (you may be chasing your degus around the cage for a little while). If you start off on a good note, your degus will be a joy to have for years of come. A little work now and you will have great degus for the next 5-10 years!
Important to note: degus should be picked up by lifting them by their midsection and holding them in your open palm. Some degus may climb onto your hand and let themselves be carried around like this also. Never pick up a degu by the tail. If you attempt to pick up your degu by its tail, you may “de-glove” the tail – all the skin and fur will come off, or the tail may actually break off. The fur/skin/tail will not grow back if this happens, so please do not pick up your degu in this manner.
In the future, if you decide to get more friends for your degus, please get same-sex friends. There are many degus in rescues around the country, and males and females will produce kits, so there is no reason to add more degus to the rescues. It is not advised to breed degus without extensive prior knowledge, as without the genetic history of the parents, you could greatly endanger the babies. If you ever decide to get more degus to add to the ones you have, I suggest doing an online search of degu introduction techniques. You can also contact me, and I will inform you of the best way to do it.
If you currently own a degu have bought a degu from us for a playmate: you should not put these two degus together from the moment you bring your new degus home. This is for a very simple reason: degus have bacteria in their body which helps them stay healthy. Each environment has its own bacteria, so when a degu is moved from one home to another, the degu brings its new bacteria into the home, which has different bacteria. Because of this, the degus must be given time for their bacteria to change over to the bacteria of the new home. This is the quarantine period and takes one month, or 30 days. During this 30-day period, your new degus must be housed in a separate cage in a completely separate room from your other degus. After 30 days, your new degus can be introduced to the current degus you own, but please be aware that some degus will never get along.
I strongly suggest buying Mazuri Chin Chow, or another quality chinchilla pellet, for your degus to eat. However, if you ever decide to switch brands of chinchilla food for any degus you have, this must be done slowly (another good brand: Oxbow Chinchilla pellets). Switching brands should be done over a time span of four weeks, because of how delicate a degu’s digestive system is. The first week, your degus should receive a combination of 25% new food and 75% old food. The second week, this should be changed to 50% new food and 50% old food. On the third week, you would give your degus 75% new food and 25% old food. The fourth week you would give your degus just the new food. Most degus progress fine along this schedule, but if at any point you notice soft poos, back up a step and progress more slowly. Also, this switching brands only applies to pellets, not to hay.