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How to Care for a Pet Degu

Shruti Bhat Feb 19, 2020
Degus, native to Chile, belong to the rodent family, and are closely related to chinchillas and guinea pigs. If you're planning to keep one, this story will help you with some useful degu pet care tips.

Did you know?

When under threat or attack, a degu can shed its tail. Though it would heal and the degu can live its life normally thereafter, it will often fall or keep losing its balance.
Degus are diurnal mammals (awake during the day, not nocturnal). The male degu is known as a 'buck', while the female is called a 'doe'. These are very intelligent creatures. A well-cared-for degu can live for around 5 to 7 years. These animals make ideal pets at home. However, no pet should be impulsively bought and got home. They need immense care too, just like any other pet that we are used to having at home.

Things to Remember Before You Get a Degu Home

Degus are social animals and should always be bought in pairs. A lonely degu is a sad animal, and is often prone to 'weep'. Avoid getting degus from pet stores, as they are not bred or kept in sanitary environment; get them from a breeder. Also, they should be from different parents, so as to avoid inbreeding.

Degu Bedding

Degus are highly active creatures, and need sufficient space to run, climb, and burrow. A cage should have several layers with ramps for the degus to keep themselves entertained.
They love to run, so a wheel in the cage is a must. As far as size of the cage is concerned, it needs to be relatively large enough for them to run around. Make sure that any base in the cage is solid, to avoid any harm to their paws and tail, which may get stuck in between the bars.
Degus enjoy dust baths, which helps them keep their skin and coats clean. Providing them with a shallow dust bowl every so often will keep them happy and clean. You can use chinchilla dust for your little pet degu. You will need to clean the cage on a weekly basis. Degus prefer having a dedicated nesting box as compared to a makeshift shoe box, where they can huddle up and sleep.


A degu needs a controlled environment of around 20 - 25 degrees C (68 - 77 degrees F).
Any temperature warmer than that, and your degu may die or suffer a heatstroke or a heart attack. Baby degus need to be kept in a cage that is no colder than 21 degrees C or 71 degrees F.

Degu Feeding

Degus are unable to process sugar, fatty, and high-calorie food. They need to be on a healthy diet at all times.
A mix of chinchilla pellets and guinea pig pellets, fresh sweet potatoes, carrots, lettuce, parsley, broccoli, celery, slices of cucumbers, dandelion leaves, basil would be good. You could occasionally treat them with alfalfa sprouts, leaves or cubes, and sunflower seeds.
Do not feed degus fruits, raisins, or dry fruits. Do not give them the green parts of potatoes, as they are toxic for both humans and animals. Their bodies do not require carbohydrates. Strictly avoid feeding human food to your pet degus. Provide them with fresh clean water to drink.
Do not feed degus fruits, raisins, or dry fruits. Do not give them the green parts of potatoes, as they are toxic for both humans and animals. Their bodies do not require carbohydrates. Strictly avoid feeding human food to your pet degus. Provide them with fresh clean water to drink.
In the wild, degus can sustain without water; however, they receive their hydration from roots and bulbs. But when they are domesticated, they will require you to supply them with fresh water regularly.

Degu Handling

Degus love to play, among themselves and even with humans. But be careful while picking them up.
Do not grab or pick them up with their tails. They can shed their tail; but it is something which is very painful for your little pet.
To be on the safer side, scoop you degu with both hands, or cup your hands, gently but firmly grasp your degu, and place him/her where ever you want. Once they are tamed, degus will let you scoop them up. Never hold them with one hand or let them sit in your palm; they are known to leap out.

Degu Care

Patience is key to taming and later handling your pet degu. This will allow you to care for it better.
Win its trust by giving it little treats (half a peanut, sunflower seed), slowly reducing the distance between the treat and your hand. Place the treat in your palm and encourage it to sit in your hand. This will teach your new little friend that you are not a threat. Slowly encourage a little touch or tickling under the chin (they love being tickled).
The younger you start handling degus, the easier it is for them to be tamed. Please don't separate them from their mother at a very young age. Unlike dogs, older degus can be tamed and taught new tricks. But remember, you may require a little more patience and a lot more treats with them.

Degu Pair

Avoid breeding unless you have a breeding pair. In the wild, both the parents help raise their young. But in captivation, the female can get pregnant almost as soon as she is born.
If you do have a litter on your hand, you will need to separate the litter from their father at 6 weeks of age. Then further split the males from the females so as to avoid degu infestation.
Degus can mate as soon as they give birth. So, it is recommended to separate the father from the litter as soon as they are born. This will increase the time between two litters. Degus stop nursing in 4 weeks time.
Early litters can range from 1 - 5 pups, and may range to about 8 later. Another alternative is to neuter the male instead of the female, as the level of risk is higher in females as compared to males. Talk to your veterinary about this.


Degus love to play, nibble, and destroy stuff. Jingle balls, wood blocks, branches, willow balls (that are made for rabbits), and cotton robes are great for them to keep themselves amused. Make sure the toys do not contain any harmful chemicals or plastic. You can also tie a little hammock inside the cage for them to play on.

Fight or Play

If you keep two, same-sex degus from two different litters together, you may have a nasty fight on your hands. However, if you keep two brothers from the same litter, with no doe in sight or smelling distance, it will be fine. They are often known to play―which to us may look like a fight―with playful boxing, chasing, and nipping. They are known to groom each other to show love and care.
Increase in their playful fights may lead to a more serious fight. Degus may have squabbles or disagreements among themselves; this may be short and very natural amongst brothers or sisters. However, keep a close eye on them, as it may take a turn for the worse. Serious fights are very distinctive from playful quarrels. Fights often occur to show male dominance or the rule of an alpha degu.
When you see that playfulness is turning into a such a fight, you will require a large towel, another cage, and leather gloves to protect you hands. Wear the leather gloves to save yourself from accidental bites, and cover the degus with the towel. This will instantly distract them. Separate the two by placing one in another cage. If such behavior continues on reuniting them, it's best separate them permanently.

Common Health Problems

Degus are prone to diabetes, liver problems, mouth diseases, parasites, body paralysis, cataract due to diabetes, genetic diseases (caused by inbreeding), etc. A harsh cage environment may also give them wounds. Their teeth are yellow-orange; white teeth in a degu may indicate deficiency of vitamin A.
Degus make excellent pets because they are small and easy to handle, love human company, and adopt their humans as a part of their pack. They have distinct personalities, and will keep their owners entertained. Unlike many other animals, they are clean and their excreta does not produce a strong smell.
However, like any other pet you decide to bring home, degus too require time, love, care, and patience. Taking care of another life is a great responsibility, and should never be taken lightly.