Ok, I’ll be honest.
Even though I love chinchillas more than anything, I have to admit.
Degus are every bit as cute as chinchillas.
In fact, I would be happy owning a degu, although I will always prefer my chinchilla, of course.
But how are degus as pets?
Chinchillas are wonderful, and they are relatively inexpensive and easy to care for.
Is the same true of degus?
Keep reading to find ou. We will cover everything you need to know, if you are considering caring for a degu.
Degus As Pets
Degus make excellent pets because of their affectionate and cuddly nature. They are also highly intelligent, social, and trainable animals.
However, degus are not the best pets for very young kids or novice owners. After all, they do need a lot of care and you must research and read up on everything about degus as pets before buying one. This article will help with that last part.
Degu Pet Care
The habitat is the most important factor in degu care, so we will begin with that. After going over the habitat setup, we will talk about the food and additional things you need to know, when it comes to properly caring for a degu.
Degu Habitat Setup
As a new degu owner, the first thing you need to do is consider the housing for your pet. In fact, you need to buy a cage for your degu before bringing it home.
The starting point is the same as with any pet. Always look at the animal’s natural environment in the wild.
In the case of degus, it is important to understand that they are extremely social creatures. They need to live with their own kind.
Without the company of its own species, a degu can get very lonely and depressed. Therefore, you must, at the very least, keep degus in pairs. That means you need a larger cage.
The minimum size requirement for housing two degus is 24 x 48 inches (60 x 120 cm). A larger cage is always better. Buy as large a cage as you can. This way, you can accommodate your degus’ climbing, digging, collecting, and food storage needs.
Avoid plastic and small gauge wire cages, since degus have very sharp teeth and they can easily chew through these flimsy materials. Instead, choose a heavy gauge ungalvanized wire cage, to prevent your degu from escaping.
You could use a rabbit hutch or large cages with aquarium-type basements which enable you to see your pet’s activities. Some dedicated degu keepers recommend using customized cages having a framework of tempered aluminum in combination with glass or acrylic panels.
Degus need substrate for digging and burrowing. Therefore, the cage you select should contain a ground room where you can add at least 4-inches of bedding.
The best choices for degu substrate include aspen or pine shavings, corncob bedding, recycled paper products, and grass hay. Avoid cedar shavings, because they contain volatile oils that could be harmful to degus.
Temperature And Humidity
Degus require an environment similar to chinchillas, with temperatures between 10 to 17° C (50° F to 62° F) and humidity less than 40%. Remember that these creatures are prone to heat strokes, because they are not particularly good at regulating their body temperatures. Therefore, you must ensure good ventilation and avoid placing the cage in direct sunlight.
Food And Water
What do degus eat? Degus need to eat 25 to 70 grams of dry matter per kilogram of their body weight. You can feed a pelleted food specifically formulated for degus, along with small quantities of leafy vegetables or weeds, and good-quality hay.
Avoid feeding too many root vegetables and sugary fruits. This species is prone to type 2 diabetes.
Always provide food to your degus in a mentally challenging way to encourage foraging behavior and also stimulate them mentally and physically.
For example, you can stuff hay and greens in (untreated) paper bags and cardboard rolls. You can also add concentrated food pellets inside activity balls scattered amidst the bedding.
Toys And Accessories
Degus are remarkably intelligent creatures that are even capable of using tools. You must provide your pets with adequate mental stimulation in the form of toys and other accessories. As with all cage furniture, ensure that the toys and accessories you select do not have any sharp edges.
If you have multiple degus, you need to place several heavy-duty ceramic food bowls in the enclosure. Degus guard their bowls as a substitute for the normal food-hoarding behavior they show in the wild.
Without enough bowls for every degu, there could be fighting between your pets. While you must encourage this food hoarding behavior, it is equally important to promptly remove all rotting food regularly to prevent diseases.
Degus will also need several water bottles in the enclosure to ensure hydration. You can use glass or ceramic bottles with metal sippers. This article mentions our favorite bottle for chinchillas. We recommend the same one for degus. Make sure the bottles are fastened to the cage with metal brackets.
Puzzle feeders and items to chew are some of the most important accessories to add to the degus’ cage. Commercial toys developed for rats and parrots are good choices. Just make sure they won’t splinter when chewed.
Additionally, as part of your degu cage setup, you should add multiple enrichment items like branches, hollow logs, wood blocks of assorted shapes and sizes, and heavy cardboard tubes. Untreated twigs of birch, hazel, willow, beech, and apple (with leaves removed) are good accessories for degus.
Do add a large degu wheel in the enclosure. Choose one that has a solid floor (to prevent foot injuries) and ensure it has no plastic parts.
Degus also need a sand bath area just like chinchillas. You can use metal-bottomed trays from small-mammal cages which allow several degus to roll in. They are also easy to clean.
Caring For A Degu: Common Health Issues
According to the RSPCA UK, common health problems reported in degus include:
- Dental issues: These include misaligned and white teeth. Degu teeth should grow rapidly, and you must check them every week. If the teeth appear misaligned, white in color, or stop growing, see your vet, because these symptoms indicate a nutritional deficiency or poor health in degus.
- Diabetes: As mentioned before, degus are prone to type 2 diabetes. Symptoms include a lack of appetite, excess drinking and urination, and cataracts. Cut all sugar from the pet’s diet. Breeders should prevent the breeding of diabetic degus.
- Heat stroke: Your pet might appear lethargic and remain very still. Its fur will be hot to the touch and also appear ruffled. Ensure a constant supply of fresh water and adequate ventilation. Wipe down your pet’s fur with cool water and if needed, seek veterinary help.
- Vitamin A deficiency: Most common sign of vitamin A deficiency is white teeth; always ensure the front teeth are yellow orange in color.
- Liver disease: Symptoms of liver disease are lethargy, soft wet feces, ruffled fur, weight loss, and hunched-up posture. See your vet right away.
- Constipation: This is usually caused due to inadequate water intake or intestinal parasites. Do not let your pet overheat and ensure sufficient water availability with a healthy diet.
Are Degus Good Pets: Final Thoughts
Degus can make for great pets. But there is one caveat. You should only get a degu if you are willing to get at least two, and ideally a few.
We mentioned the reason for that above. Degus are highly social creatures and they just won’t be fully happy unless they have at least one degu friend to keep them company.
Apart from that, they are basically just as easy to care for as chinchillas. For a full comparison of degus vs chinchillas, read this post.
And degus also don’t cost much to care for. The biggest expense is the cage. After that, things get much cheaper and the ongoing costs are among the lowest for pets.