The common mammal Degu or Octodon Degu is a tiny rodent. It is found in central and northern coastal Chile. It resides at an elevation of 3,900 feet. It lives among open grassy regions, close to shrubs, rocks, stone walls, etc

The word degu in the dialect of Chile means mouse or rat. This gentle rodent is a close relative of the chinchilla and guinea pig. The different breeds of degu are:

  1. Moon-toothed degu (Octodon Lunatus)
  2. Bridges's degu (O. Bridgesi) is found in forests near the foundation of the Andes; It dwells in southern Argentina to central Chile.
  3. The Mocha Island degu (O. Pacificus) lives in forest habitat on an island off the coast of central Chile. These degus are classified to the family Octodontidae, a member of the suborder Hystricognatha within the order Rodentia. Degus exist in communities residing in complex underground burrows.

Distinctive Features of Degu

The typical degu is a puny creature with a body length of 9.8-12.2 inch weighing 6-14 oz. Its thick silky fur is yellow-brown from the top and creamy-yellow underneath. There are yellow spots around the eye and similar light marking around the neck. The vision is good and can see ultraviolet light. The urine and the fur on the stomach reflect UV light.

Pet Degu Closeup Shot

The lengthy 8-13 cm thin tail has a tufted black tip, the ears are dark rounded and lightly furred. It has light grey five toes the fifth toe on the forefeet is with a tiny nail and not a claw. The rear feet have comb-like bristles. The hind limbs are shorter than forelimbs. It is called Octodon because its teeth resemble a figure of eight. The head and eyes are large.

These creatures are seasonal breeders. In Chile, they breed in autumn when day and night are equal. The pups are born in spring. The pregnancy lasts for ninety days. On average six fully furred with open eyes pups are born. The males help in raising the pups till they leave home. Under ideal conditions, they live up to 13 years. In captivity, they survive 5-8 years.

The degus are diurnal are mobile during the day. In intense summer they stay in their burrows when the sun is high and come out for food in the mornings and evenings. They have a bubbly personality. Degus attain sexual maturity after six months of age.

Degus require regular sand baths two or three times a week for half an hour for their coats to be healthy and oil-free. The creature displays many communication skills through 15 different sounds. The young should be able to hear the mother's calls then only emotional systems in their brain evolve normally. They scent-mark their urine and acknowledge it.

How to Take Care of Pet Degu? 

Degus are not like other pets and people are less likely to keep them as pets. But if you want to keep degu as a pet then you should know how to set up their habitat, what to feed them and how to take care of them.

How to Setup Habitat for Pet Degu?

Pet Degus requires a large cage. A minimum cage of dimension 24 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches is big enough for two degus to live in. The best cage is multilevel for movement. The mesh cage is conducive to good ventilation. As the creature is a chewer they can damage and make their way out through wood and plastic. Chewing keeps the boredom away. However, the plastic-bottom cage is best. Line the multi-levels with grass mats or soft fabric this way the degus will not get bumblefoot. Refrain from using cedar or pine shavings because the scent can be toxic.

Brown Degu Looking Curiously

A wooden nesting box 6 by 8 inches with a flat roof to sit to mimic the burrows. Nestling material such as tissues, paper towels, hay, or shredded paper is also required. The paper-made bedding will absorb but should be changed regularly. A degu spends its day digging tunnels and burrowing. A solid-surface exercise wheel 11 inches in diameter is a must.

The optimum temperature for Degus is about 65-75 F. Degus do not sweat and become overheated at temperatures near 80 F. These creatures require cage outing daily for exercise. Pet degus should be supervised once out of the cage as they may harm themselves by being curious, adventurous, and quick. They may chew unwanted stuff or get stuck somewhere.

Degus is happy when kept with other degus more so if introduced at a young age. Adults should be introduced gradually. Same-sex pairs are suitable. If the female is in sight they will fight. Other rodent species like hamsters, chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits should not be housed together. They may fight over territory resources.

What to Feed Pet Degu?

Wild Degu is rigidly herbivorous and eats grass, browse through leaves of shrubs, consumes seeds. They adapted to taking a high-fiber diet. They also do coprophagy or fecal reingestion for nutrition. This way gut function stays healthy when food is lacking.

Degu has an intolerance towards sugar. So do not feed fruits or treats with molasses or honey. It is recommended to give them a low protein pellet, low carbohydrate diet but rich in roughage like leafy greens and root vegetables like potatoes, spinach, parsley, green beans, dark lettuces, cucumber, and carrots daily in captivity. Food to be served twice a day.

Make alfalfa hay accessible occasionally because it is high in protein as well as calories and may cause obesity. They relish fresh vegetables like peeled and uncooked sweet potatoes. Hay is necessary for fiber for the intestinal tract it helps teeth to chew.

Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, sprouts as well as kale are to be avoided. Their digestive system cannot tolerate them in excess. For sporadic treats give sunflower seeds, peanuts, whole nuts moderately as they have high-fat content. Seeds and nuts with high-fat content should be avoided. Such food is required for growth and reproduction. A good diet helps in preventing excess tooth growth as Degu needs to chew. A mineral or salt block created for rodents is also a distraction and source of extra nutrition. Pet degu requires clean, freshwater always, serve it in a water bowl. Keep it clean by washing it with hot soapy water daily.

What it's Like to Have a Pet Degu?

Untamed common degus as a pet are likely to bite. Being intelligent it is easy to tame them. Consistent non-predatory handling and food-giving help in this transition. Never catch your pet by the tail as the skin and tuft sheds or is pulled off. It is a painful experience. The tail end never grows back. After tail shedding, degus chew off the damaged part. It lessens the chances of infection.

Video Credits: Louise Michelle

Once in the home they get habitual to the owner's schedule, these rodents will come forward to greet you. They will also enjoy playing with the owner. Rub their belly and they will appreciate it. The rodent converse by chitter-chatter. When stressed or threatened they take out high-pitch screeches. They also make whistling and warbling sounds when they groom each other. They take out a dozen sounds. Baby degus pick up sounds from their parents. Degus groom the owners by amiable nibbling action and create a bond.

These rodents seldom resort to biting unless cornered or threatened. A nip given by pet degu does not pain or break the skin but if the animal is defensive it will bite hard leading to injury. Degus adapt to both night and day sleeping patterns. There is a way to handle the pet with one hand over the back, behind the front legs, and the other hand under the hind end. Hold close to the chest or in your lap as they are not comfortable having their legs dangling. In some countries, the degu is considered invasive species and is prohibited. So, check with the local pet shop if its ownership is legal.

The rodent identifies other degus as well as owners through sight and sound. They stand up on their hind legs in the cage to display they want to come out on sighting the owners. They make good pets for elementary school children and older kids under adult guidance. Moreover, they can be reared with other pets like cats and dogs. Predatory animals should be kept away. These rodents develop trust, problem-solving skills, and empathy.

What are the Health Concerns of Pet Degu?

Degus the hardy rodents are mostly healthy though they need not be vaccinated. The common disease commonly occurring are:

  • Diabetes- Degu is prone to diabetes.
  • Bacterial infection Bumblefoot- Tt causes foot sores.
  • Dental disease and infection of the mouth- Chewable toys keep away painful mouth condition
  • Skin disorder- Dust bath prevents dry skin
  • Illness of the respiratory tract- Ensure the enclosure is kept clean

Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Degu

Some of the most commonly asked questions about pet degu are answered below:

Is Degu a Good Pet?

Common degus are very social. It is larger than a golden hamster but smaller than a fancy rat. The most problematic negative characteristic of a pet degu is the habit of chewing because of their continually growing incisor and molar teeth. A healthy and happy situation is one these pets are kept in pairs or groups. Degus are readily tamed if handled regularly from an early age. The rodent thrives on social interaction without which their behavior becomes aggressive and neurotic.
Are degus cuddly?

Are Degus Cuddly?

If a degu is reared at an incredibly young age their displaying of affection is different than if a grown-up rodent is brought into the home. The grown-up is overly cautious in its approach. However, degu can be trained to show affection. Once an attachment is cultivated the rodent will extend love unconditionally.
There will be times when they would want to be picked up. They liked to be cuddled. These rodents want a lot of affection and get depressed if left alone. Sometimes they will start running towards you on seeing or when you call them. At the onset avoid putting your hand in the cage because it can be mistaken for a predator. Wait till they come out on their own.
As companionship with the owner grows you extend your hand, and they jump up to it. Make it happy by giving food. Repeated actions like this will lead to being picked up and cuddle. The degu likes to be stroked and scratched.

Where do Degus Live in the Wild?

In the wild degu resides in burrows in the rocks and bushes by digging communally which spreads out like a maze. The burrow has many chambers and central corridors spread out below rocks and shrubs. In the network of chambers are nurseries, bedrooms, and food stores. All members of the colony work together. Close to the burrow exit males collect piles of sticks, stones, and dung to mark territorial boundaries for nesting sites. The mount thus made acts as a symbol of status in the group. Males sleep next to the mound.
The females nest communally and nurse one another's young. They spend a lot of time outside the burrow where they forage for food in the form of foliage, seeds; they store food in their burrows for the winter. The natural environment is harsh and dry and the rodent lives on dry leaves, grasses, and sometimes seeds. While busy in this activity the big group keeps an alert eye on predators. In the wild, the communities comprise up to 100. The degu spends time grooming, playing, and ruffling each other's fur. This way the group bond becomes strong. The posture during sleeping is snuggling together.
Degus travel abundantly from burrows in search of food. They travel to feeding sites passing through networks of tunnels with the tail high. They eat leaves as well as bark, seeds green grass, and fruits. Degu colonies comprise extended family groups. The rodent does not hibernate and is active all through the year.
If the degu identifies danger, they raise an alarm to warn the rest of the colony. They may beat their tail on the ground as a sign of alarm and excitement.

How Big is a Degu?

A degu weighs 170-300 grams, and the body weight is 25-31 cm. The rodent is 10-12 inches long from nose to tail tip.

What are the Best Ways to Keep Pet Degus Calm?

Getting a bigger cage and making sure that the ratio of male and female degus is correct will keep them calmer.