Caring for Your Degus
CARING FOR YOUR PET DEGU
Some people may say that a degu looks like a large gerbil. While this may be true, the degu is more closely related to the rabbit and is cousin to the chinchilla. In the wild, they inhabit the mountainous regions of Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. Degus are social and active pets that are relatively easy to care for. Degus are very interactive with each other and their owners. They are intelligent pets that will learn to recognize their owners, and their owner’s voice, even from another room!
Two or More?
When degus are happy they almost sing, and when they are sad, they weep. Their frequent vocalizations to each other reinforce the need to keep more than one. They truly are a communal pet being happiest with many degus in their unit. Most active in the early morning and late evening, degus will take short “cat naps” sleeping in cycles of 20-minute spurts.
Handling Your Degus
A degu should never be caught by his tail. The skin may slough away or the end of the tail may drop off and permanently disfigure the degu. This could cause balancing, jumping and climbing problems. Instead, let the degu first smell your open palm, then gently pick him up around his body. Keep him close to your chest, so he doesn’t panic and jump away.
Raising A Family
In the wild, degus live in large colonies where all of the adults, male and female, communally care for the young. Sexual maturity occurs at 45 days with some as late as two years. The gestation period is 90 days with a litter size of two to 10. When there are new babies in the nest, dad will care for them after mom gives birth. Very little intervention other than fresh food and water are required.
We recommend placing your degu’s cage in a room where there is a fair amount of activity, since they always want to be in on the action! The optimum room temperature is between 69°F – 73°F20 (21°C – 23°C). Rapid changes in temperature could lead to respiratory problems. Place the cage away from heat or air-conditioning vents and any drafts. Degus enjoy “sunbaths,” but you need to make sure they have a shady place to go and cool off.
To provide a happy, healthy atmosphere for your degus, Petland recommends the following necessary, and fun accessories. We have listed them as your new pet’s four basic needs: Nutritional, Environmental, Maintenance and Behavioural. When these needs are met, along with a loving environment, your degus will live long and happy lives. Information to date suggests a healthy degu may live between five to seven years.
Your Degu’s New Home – A cage is more suitable for a degu than an aquarium for a number of reasons. Not only does a cage have increased air circulation, but they are also better suited for inserting climbing areas and branches. Tall cages with bars that are close together (no more than 1 cm apart) provide your degus with the climbing areas they require. A cage to house two degus should be a minimum of 24"x18"x24" tall. Should an aquarium be used, we recommend a 33-gallon, as a minimum size with a snug-fitting screen lid.
Nesting Material – Nest building is an activity they spend hours working on. This material is specifically made for degus, mice, hamsters, gerbils and rats (it’s safe). It provides degus an opportunity to gather and chew bedding to form a cozy bed inside their hideaway.
Hiding Place – Every living creature needs an area to call their own. Their hiding place is necessary to reduce stress and to make them feel secure. Larger homes made especially for small animals work well. As well, a glass betta bowl (found in the fish department) stuffed with bedding is roomy and easy to clean. Toilet paper rolls or tissue boxes may be happily slept in and chewed, but they are a potential health hazard that you should avoid.
Your degu is a herbivore, which means he only eats plant food. Degu hay pellets, made specifically for degus, are your pet’s primary diet. If there are no degu pellets available, you will need to combine chinchilla and guinea pig pellets at a 1:1 ratio. Degus are very sensitive to sugar. Being almost diabetic in nature, their bodies cannot process it properly. It is for this reason that their extras and supplements need to be monitored carefully. Along with their staple diet, the following extras listed under “Treats and Other Diet Variations” should be included in your degu’s diet.
Hay – Grass hay is absolutely vital to the digestive health of your degu. It helps prevent obesity, dental disease, diarrhea and boredom. Degus should have unlimited access to grass hay, and eat the amount of hay about the size of their body daily. Grass hays also stimulate natural foraging activities, and are an excellent source of nesting material. You may choose from a variety of hay since all grass hays have the same nutritional value; however, each hay type will be different in taste and texture. Note that alfalfa hay should be used only as a treat.
Many small animals are susceptible to diarrhea, especially when new foods are introduced too quickly or they encounter a stressful situation (i.e. being adopted). By providing food that is familiar to them, their digestive systems will prevent this type of health problem.
Moss Hollow Adapt – Using Moss Hollow Adapt, while minimizing stress, can help your new pet adapt to their new home by promoting relaxation from stress caused by the environment (Echinacea), offering a prebiotic for building gut flora (Burdock Root), easing diarrhea (Psyllium Husk), increasing palatability (Wheatgrass), providing a natural dewormer (Diatomaceous Earth), and nutrient rich clay (Bentonite). This veterinary health product uses natural ingredients which can aid all small animals before symptoms emerge.
Treats and Other Diet Variations – For the first five days in your home, don’t offer any fruits, vegetables or treats to your degus. It is at this time that any small animal is most prone to developing diarrhea. After five days, you may offer the following: Leafy greens, broccoli, cucumber skins, tomatoes and cauliflower in very small amounts. Never more than 5% of the total diet or about a ½ tsp. Steer away from fruits, vegetables and treats (including treat sticks) that are high in sugar, due to your degu’s diabetic nature. A dried carrot can be offered to your degus once or twice a week. Although carrots have some sugar, they contain the least amount of sugar compared to other treats. Staple seed or treat seed mixes may be used as a type of a training aid in very small quantities.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement – This should be added to the drinking water or food according to bottle directions. In the wild, animals can choose the foods their bodies require. Even if you give your degus a wide variety of foods, you may not be providing them with certain vitamins and minerals they need.
Salt/Mineral Stone – Degus need a salt and mineral stone available at all times. Salt encourages your degus to drink water, and the water aids in digestion.
Water Bottle – A water bottle should be used to keep the degu’s water clean and free of shavings. As well, the liquid vitamins will not be wasted if a bottle is used. Fresh water (not bottled) should be made available at all times. If the degus are housed in an aquarium, a bottle holder or bottle guard will be required.
Crock Bowls – These are easy to clean, cannot be chewed, and are hard to tip over. Two are advisable, one for food and the other for treats. A hay manger will also keep their timothy hay in one place.
Litter – Aspen bedding, pine litter, or corn cob are all varieties that may be used in a degu’s home. Since degus love to tunnel and build nests, aspen is the bedding of choice. An aquarium half full of aspen is a fun activity for degus that will delight in making a maze of secret channels! A cage with corn cob or pine and an aquarium full of aspen for their play times would be ideal! A little scoop will be needed to spot clean your degu’s home once a week. Completely clean out your degu’s home once every two weeks (more often if you have more than two degus) with hot, soapy water. It should then be rinsed well and dried completely.
Toilet/Litter Pan – Degus are able to be litter trained, much like a hamster or bunny. This is easy to remove, reduces the time and cost of maintenance and cuts down on odour. The toilet should be placed in the corner of the cage that degus use as a toilet area. Leaving a bit of soiled litter in the potty after regular cleaning will encourage the degus to continue using it.
Dust Bath and Bowl/Litter Pan – Degus need regular baths three times a week to remove excess natural oils and moisture from their fur, just as chinchillas do. They don’t bathe in water, but in finely grounded sand, similar to the volcanic ash found in the Andes. Approximately 2 inches of dust should be placed in a litter pan or glass goldfish bowl. Five or 10 minutes is a sufficient duration. The dust may be re-used, but should be sifted through and replaced with fresh powder as needed.
Cage Cleaner – There are pet safe stain and odour removers available for small pets. Many are enzyme-based formulas that work naturally to permanently break down stains and odours. Once a week, you should clean his cage with a pet safe cleaner, or hot water and mild soap, rinse well and dry. Do not use bleach, or other household cleaners, which will irritate your degu’s respiratory system, or even cause worse problems.
Chew Blocks – In the wild, degus spend most of their time chewing. A degu’s teeth will grow throughout his life. They need to be provided with a number of different chewing aids to keep their teeth trimmed down. A branch from outside may not be safe nor will toilet paper or a paper towel roll. There are many safe products available made specifically with a degu in mind.
Wheel – Degus need exercise to stay healthy and trim. An overweight degu is an unhealthy degu! Providing them with a solid surface exercise wheel will give them hours of running pleasure.
Toys – Degus enjoy playing! Wire cat balls are a favourite to toss and roll around.
Ladders and Branches – Degus love to climb and will often rest at the highest point in the cage. In order to provide them with mental stimulation, exercise, ladders and branches (some located in the bird department) are necessary.
Tunnels and Tubes – Degus like to burrow and dig. Providing them with tunnels and tubes to hide and play in will satisfy their fun-loving nature.
Please ask your pet counsellor if there are any more items that pertain to your particular pet’s needs.
Cleanliness and Safety
All pets can potentially carry diseases that may be contagious to people. Young children, infants, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk of infections and should use caution when in contact with pets or their environments. Regular cleaning of your pet’s environment with a pet safe cleaner may help avoid the spread of contaminants.
Hygiene procedures such as washing your hands before and after handling your pet and/or after having any contact with their habitat, is a necessary routine. Children should be assisted with hand washing and always have adult supervision when interacting with pets.