Small and funny Australian home pet Degu.

Degu Care Sheet: Diet, Habitat, & More

If you have ever seen a degu, you know how impossible it is to resist them. With those curious eyes and adorable cheeks, you will want to collect them all. And if you have found this website, you likely want to know everything you can about degus. Read on to find out how to care for your degu and keep them happy and healthy. 

An Overview Of Degus

Degus are a burrowing rodent that originates in Northern Chile. These cute creatures are relatively new to the pet trade. The original degu’s purpose was for meat and fur, and in 1923 degus were brought to the USA for the fur trade. It wasn’t long before people caught wind of the gentle and curious nature of degus as pets. 

But it has taken veterinarians and scientists years to figure out the best care for them. In this degu care sheet, we will talk about only the best care options for your pet. These are all proven facts that increase the life of your degu. 

Housing And Stimulation

If you planned on going out and buying a degu starter kit, you might want to think again. No pet store will have a cute cage with everything you need inside of them. But don’t worry, you have us for a reason! We will walk you through everything you need to look for, and even a few recommendations. 

First, degus need a metal chew-proof cage. One degu will need at least a 24 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches sized cage to live comfortably. Cages with multiple levels built for ferrets or chinchillas are ideal. You can check out our posts on recommended cages for ferrets and chinchillas to learn more. And for each degu you add to your herd, you will need an additional 750 sqft to prevent overcrowding and fighting. Whatever cage you choose should also have less than ½ inch bar spacing and multiple shelves. 

A cage this large allows for a designated potty area, eating space, and separate sleeping areas. And of course, you can never go wrong with getting a larger cage than necessary. Your degus will greatly appreciate the larger space, and you will find that they will thrive more with the room. 

Another thing to watch out for is to have no plastic in the cage. Plastic is hazardous for your degu if they ingest it. Know we know what you are thinking, is it possible to buy a cage that uses no plastic? 

The most common degu cage recommended is the double Critter Nation. It is large and spacious, but it has plastic pans. You could replace these pans with custom made metal ones, or you could use a few tricks in the bedding section below to cover them. Until then, let’s talk about how to keep your degus busy all day. 

Degus are relatively active all day, and therefore need things to keep them preoccupied. Giving them lots of wooden toys and chew sticks helps stimulate their minds. It also helps keep their teeth in perfect condition by filing them down when they grow too long. 

Whatever toys you use, be sure that they are made from safe materials. You should never use plastic and any loose parts that could pose a choking hazard. Things like bells are common in toys, but degus like to chew on them. If the bells come apart, your degu could choke on the pieces. Even with wood, you have to be cautious because not all wood is safe. 

The most common woods used for degu toys are kiln-dried pine, hawthorn, apple, and hazel. You could even give your degus a whole branch for added fun. As long as the branches are organic and treated appropriately before adding them into the cage, they are entirely safe. 

The Perfect Climate

The natural environment of the degu is high in the cold mountains. The optimal temperature for a degu is 68 degrees. But they can live in climates even cooler than this and be just as comfortable. 

Heat, on the other hand, is not tolerated as well. Anything above 71 for too long could cause heatstroke. If you don’t have central air in your home, you might invest in a portable A/C unit or window unit to keep the room chilled. 

You should also keep granite tiles in the freezer in case of emergencies. Granite is the coolest tile, and when frozen, can provide significant relief if you have a power outage. But this is only for temporary cases. You wouldn’t want to use this long term. 

Degu Bedding Options

Degus are a burrowing animal that loves to feel snug. The most common bedding used in degu cages is DIY fleece pads that cover plastic pans in the Critter Nation. Most people sew a no pill or polar fleece into a pillowcase style with two layers on the top half. The double layers make them super absorbent. And since you can wash them, they are cost-effective too. Not to mention they come in adorable prints. 

If you aren’t handy with a sewing machine, you could always buy premade styles online. Both Etsy and Amazon have plenty of cute patterns to choose from. And don’t forget to get lots of nesting boxes, tunnels, and hammocks for your degus to entice their burrowing instincts. 

Another bedding option is to use recycled paper bedding. This bedding is soft, absorbent, and easy to clean. Just be sure only to use paper bedding with deep pans. Otherwise, your degus will push it all out while trying to make themselves at home. 

You might be wondering if you can litter train degus like with some small animals. While you can’t technically potty train them to pee and poop in a specific area, you can make cleaning a little easier. If you notice that your degus always use the same area to pee, you could place a litter pan in that corner. 

Great options for a litter pan are glass, metal, or ceramic containers with bedding inside. When your degus go to use the pan, it will make it an easier cleanup. But don’t hold your breath that they will always use it, if at all. Some degus will just move to another area if they don’t like it. 

Degu Dietary Needs

Next on our degu care sheet is what to feed your pet. Degus have a sensitive digestive tract. For instance, degus should never have sugar of any kind. Degus are naturally diabetic, and any sugar could produce seizures or cardiac arrest. Even small amounts of sugar could prove fatal for their little bodies. 

Your degu’s main diet will be high-quality timothy hay. Timothy hay is high in fiber and essential nutrients that make up over 80% of your pet’s diet. Hay should be available all the time and replaced daily to keep it fresh. 

The other part of their diet is a premium pellet diet. The pellets shouldn’t contain molasses or other sweeteners. It should also be free of seeds, dried fruit, or any other additives. The most popular brand of degu food in the US is Sunseed Vita Prima. This food will give your degus everything they need.

But you might be wondering if there are any treats you could give on occasion. Treats should only be a small part of your degu’s diet, but they are appreciated when given. Things like black oil sunflower seeds, unsalted peanuts, plain oats, and a few dried flowers are great options. Just be sure not to provide them with treats more than once or twice a week. Too many treats will cause obesity and other related issues. 

And finally, if your tap water is safe enough for you to drink, it should be safe for your degus. There isn’t anything harmful in regular tap water as long as it is clean enough for human consumption. In fact, water from the tap will have trace minerals that are vital to your pet. But if the water is not safe, filtered or bottled spring water is an acceptable replacement. Distilled water is the only store-bought water that is unsafe for degus. Distilled water is filtered through reverse osmosis, which can dehydrate your pet and deplete them of nutrients. 

Do Degus Need Exercise? 

You will notice that your degus are very active. They love to run around and play all day long. It might get you wondering if they need exercise outside of the cage. Luckily, you can do a few things to ensure that your degus are getting all the activity they need. 

The first option is to have a wheel in the cage. Wheels let your degus run and get all their energy out any time they need it. The ideal wheel size is at least 12 inches with no middle support bar. These middle bars tend to make running awkward and could cause back problems with extended use. 

The other thing you should look for is that the wheel isn’t plastic. Your degus will eventually chew on the wheel out of curiosity. For this reason, you will want to get either a wood or a metal wheel. We personally prefer metal because they are rustproof and durable. Wooden wheels are harder to clean, and degus will chew them as well. But some people don’t mind wooden wheels for aesthetics. 

Our second option for a little exercise is to have playtime outside of the cage. But you don’t want to let them free-roam the house. It is best to use a playpen that they can’t escape. This could either be a metal pen with ½ inch bar spacing, or a plastic with close supervision. 

Degus love when you add chew toys, balls, tunnels, and even dig boxes in these playpens. You could even add a wheel to the playpen for some added fun. Or attach it to the front of the cage so that your degus can go in or out freely. And not only is this great exercise for them but its also a great bonding experience. You will enjoy watching your degus play, and it allows them to explore you and your personality. 

Possible Health Conditions

No one likes the idea of their beloved pets getting sick. But knowing what your degus are prone to could help diagnose the problem early. Here are a few common health concerns you should keep an eye out for and is preventable with proper husbandry. 

Diabetes is the number one issue that people have with degus. Many don’t realize how sensitive degus are to sugar and give too many unhealthy treats. Even fruits that we see as healthy could make diabetes unmanagable for degus. Some signs of diabetes include extreme thirst, frequent urination, and weight loss. 

Another common issue is heatstroke. If your degu is in temperatures over 75 degrees for too long, they become prone to heatstroke. If you notice dehydration along with lethargy, you might want to check the temperature in the room. Breaking out the emergency chilling blocks from the freezer could help save their lives. 

Tooth conditions are common in all rodents, and degus are not immune. Degus could have problems with teeth growing too fast, not enough, or too brittle. Teeth conditions could be genetic or the product of an improper diet, so it is best to seek medical help from a knowledgeable veterinarian. 

And another preventable illness is respiratory illnesses. Degus have sensitive noses, and when exposed to dusty bedding or unclean conditions, they get sick quickly. That is why you should never use wood shavings which are too dusty. While the wood itself is not toxic, it does produce too much fine dust that irritates their lungs. 

Another reason for upper respiratory infections is having a dirty cage, especially with fleece. When urine stays in the cage for too long, ammonia builds up and can cause distress. Fleece is a massive culprit for this because it harbors bacteria. To prevent ammonia buildup, you should change fleece every 5-7 days and clean the cage regularly. 

And finally, bumblefoot is another common problem with degus. Bumblefoot is a bacterial infection that many small pets get. It happens when your degu has a small cut or splinter in the foot, and it gets dirty. The most common reason for bacteria buildup is not having a clean cage. Urine especially grows bacteria quickly, and since degus can’t be potty trained, pee gets everywhere. The bacteria grows and leaches into small cuts in the foot, causing bumblefoot. Covering it in an antibacterial ointment is usually the best treatment. But if the infection goes unnoticed for too long, your degu may need oral antibiotics. 

degu in cage

How Can I Tell That My Degu Is Healthy?

Having a happy and healthy degu is the reason for our existence as owners. And without knowing what to look for, a lot of conditions go unnoticed. Especially since rodents have the keen ability to hide problems as long as possible, it might be harder to notice. Here are a few things you should check daily

Clear Eyes: The first thing to look for is that your degu’s eyes are clear, bright, and crust free. Discharge in the eyes could be a sign of respiratory distress or even dental problems. 

Shiny Hair: While your degu won’t have highlights and low lights with a fresh cut, it should look healthy. The hair should have a soft shine without being oily. If the hair is too oily, it means that they need a good bath. But we will explain how to do that later. Dull hair that is brittle is almost always a sign that something is wrong. 

Acting Normal: We know what you are thinking. What is normal? Typical behavior for a degu is active, eating, and chewing. If your degu isn’t his or her energetic, silly self, it is usually the first sign that something is wrong. 

Clean Feet: And a lesser-known thing to watch for is clean feet. The feet should not be red, swollen, or covered in feces. These could be signs that you aren’t cleaning the cage often enough, which could turn into bumblefoot. 

In addition to looking for these things daily, you should also take your degus to the vet every six months. Semi-annual checkups by a trusted vet help catch any issues before they get out of hand. Your vet should have experience in degus specifically. Having a vet that doesn’t have experience with these exotic pets doesn’t do much good in emergency cases. And finding degu experts can prove difficult in many areas. 

Temperament And Handling Degus

Next on our degu care sheet is how to handle your degu. But before we can tell you how to gain your new pet’s trust, it helps to know their temperament. A temperament is how a species acts according to their instincts and nature. It does not take into account an individual degu’s personality that is formed through experiences. 

The temperament of degus is a curious little thing. They love to run and jump all day. And they absolutely love to explore anything and everything. Degus are an exciting little creature that never seems to quit. But despite how curious they are, they can be shy until they get to know you. 

When you first bring your degus home, you will need to give them some quiet time to adjust. During this time, you should provide them with something of yours with your scent. You could wear a white cotton shirt to bed and place it in their cage in the morning for this step. Your degus will naturally explore it when they think no one is looking and, in turn, get used to your smell. 

After a few days, start trying to give your degus some healthy treats or chew sticks. Keeping your voice low and calm as to not scare them, call them over for a treat. Place the treat or stick in your flat palm and put your hand gently in the cage. 

Your degus will become interested and will come up to take the treats from your hand. But don’t get discouraged if it takes them a few weeks actually to take the treat. Once your degus walk up and take the treat without hesitation, you know that you are ready for the next step. 

Next, you should start with gently touching your degus. Degus love tender scratches under the chin, and if you are lucky, behind the ears. Moving gently once your degu is eating the treat, place a finger gently under the chin. Don’t be scared if they suddenly move but don’t force yourself onto them. Chasing degus never ends well. 

After your degus let you pet them with no problems, your degus will allow you to hold them. But never grab them around the waist. The best way to pick them up is to hold a tunnel out to them to crawl inside. Then you can tip the tunnel until your degu is in our hands.

And there you have it. This might sound like a lot of time to get your degus tamed, but it is worth it. Once they are acquainted with your touch, they will readily come to you and allow you to scoop them up with ease. 

Cleaning The Cage & Bathing

Cleaning and bathing your degus is an easy task. If you have fleece pads, cleaning is as simple as removing the pads and throwing it in the washer. Washing on a warm cycle with fragrance-free detergent and no fabric softener is best. Strong scents could make your degus sick, and fabric softener could make your degus sick if they lick it. 

After the pads are washing, you can wash all bowls, water bottles, and the wheel with hot water and soap. If you have wood shelves, houses, or toys that have gotten soiled, you can wipe these down with diluted vinegar. Vinegar will disinfect the wood and deodorize the urine smells. 

You will also need to clean any shelves and the cage bars at least once a month. You can clean these areas with vinegar water and a rag easily while your degus play nearby in a playpen. 

Bathing degus are even more straightforward than cleaning the cage. Degus take a dust or sand bath that soaks up all oils from their fur. Many people prefer dust baths that are marketed for chinchillas. But if you suffer from allergies, you might find sand baths better. The fine chinchilla dust sends clouds of dust all over the house. Sand, on the other hand, is denser and doesn’t irritate your allergies as much. But either way, you will have dust or sand everywhere, no matter what. 

You should give these baths at least once a week, but in humid environments, you might find that they need more. However, no matter what, you should never wash a degu with soap and water. 

Do Degus Make Good Pets?

As you can see from this degu care sheet, a lot goes into caring for degus. But do they make good pets? Degus might be a little more care than a hamster, but they aren’t super complicated. If you have never owned a pet before, they aren’t any more complicated than dogs or cats. As long as they have proper care, they live long, healthy lives. 

Degus also make great additions to the family if you have older children. Degus can teach your children how to care for another being and take responsibility. Not to mention the great learning experience your children will have by keeping a pet. But what are some other pros and cons of owning degus?

Pros: 

  • Degus are smart and intelligent creatures. 
  • They love chin scratches and being apart of the fun. 
  • You could have multiple degus for a cute little army. However, they don’t do much protecting. 
  • Degus also don’t have a smell unless they need their cages cleaned. 
  • Feeding your degus is cheap and straightforward. 
  • They also have a long lifespan of about 5-8 years. 
  • And you can get degus in so many color morphs that it makes it hard choosing. 

Cons:

  • The biggest con for degus is that their setups are expensive. Cages, toys, bedding, and chew sticks will be a considerable cost upfront. 
  • Speaking of toys, you will also spend a pretty penny replacing toys every month because your degus get bored and destroy them. 
  • Degus also need to have at least one friend, which means that your costs are automatically doubled. 
  • And if your degus get sick, specialty vets are expensive. So keeping your degus healthy should be the top of your list, but not everything is preventable. 
  • And if you dream of having a spic and span home, degus aren’t for you. Your degu will throw poop around all day while running. Sometimes you might even get the feeling that they are doing it on purpose. 

If you can get past all of the not so great sides of degus, you are the perfect match.

Are You Ready For Your Degu?

Owning a new pet can be nerve-wracking. You get lost in what to do and what you need. But with this degu care sheet, you will be more prepared for everything life throws at you. It takes all of the scary parts out of owning a degu all in one place. 

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