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The World of Degus

By Edited Dec 1, 2016 2 2

Just by the look on the pet-sitters face and his guilty looking dog, I was expecting bad news - the dog ate my hamster. Before I could go all girly and teary on him he proffered a box with a ribbon on it. I could heard the little scratching noises as soon as I took it from him.

Sure enough, upon opening the box an intelligent and smart-looking rodent popped his head out and gave us all an indignant look at being locked in a box. He ran up my arm and sat on my shoulder chittering at the hamster killing pet-sitter. 

I was immediately enchanted with the .... wait, what was it. A peruvian hamster the pet-sitter said. A dubious look from me and a scolding from the rodent perched on my shoulder said all that needed saying.

The 'rodent' was a degu. A native of Chile in South America and now in the pet trade once its usefulness wore off on the science testing community. He was very sociable, intelligent and curious. But with an evolutionary history dating back to between 28.5 million to 23.8 million years ago, I am not surprised at such characteristics.

More recently degus have attracted the attention of scientists once again. As more was learned about degus they are being used in other studies such as tool use and good eye and paw co-ordination using a little rake to retrieve the seed; circadian rhythm function likely due to their ability to go between being day active creatures or night active creatures; behavioural and developmental studies; pain research and in aging studies related to Alzheimer's disease.

In the early 1990s no one knew anything about them, today this is much different. In Europe degus are incredibly popular and some of the more trusted resources for their care come from there. Degus had a small burst of popularity in North America but it wore off quickly and degus can be found nearly everywhere including shelters.

I did what I could to learn about degus with what resources were available, trial and error and personal experiences. I must have been successful for he was with me for 11 years, I may have just been lucky and had a degu with good genes. 

There are larger than hamsters and look more like a rat than a hamster. Though once you get to know one, the description of squirrel comes to mind more than rat does. Rats and squirrels are not known for their 'cuteness' but degus are incredibly cute in appearance, even their tail with the little tuft of hair on the end.

The Degu
The 'original' degu is a darkish brown with flecks of darker brown to black fur through out it, giving it a speckled look. Their bellies, ears and around the eyes are a creamy or light gray colour. More recently there have been variations making appearances in the pet trade world, some are blue/gray in colour and there are definitely more brown shade variations as well.

A distinctive feature of the degu is its teeth, they are a bright orange colour very much like a beavers teeth and the teeth that are inside mouth near the cheeks appear like a figure eight, thus it's genus being named Octodon.

Their tail is nearly exactly the same as a rat's tail, but it has a matching coloured tuft of hair - which for some reason gives it less of the eww effect inspired by the naked tails of rats. Their tails do 'fall off' particularly if you pick them up by their tail, it is painful for them, they will heal but the tail will not grow back.

Curious Degus
Degus are very sociable and personable. They are determined, intrepid and curious. They learn quickly new things and remember it too, they are quite intelligent, which can be seen often in their expressive eyes and tilted head.

Keeping and caring for a degu is not hard at all, if you arm yourself with knowledge first, which is a responsible thing to do as a (future) pet owner.

Before you research anything on a degu first find out if it is even legal to own in your country. They are, in certain environments not only viewed as pests but are also an invasive species and as such illegal to possess in some countries - New Zealand; California, Georgia, Alaska in the United States; In Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada[2]. Not a thorough listing, so double-check that you can own them before you research or prepare for an arrival.

This article is divided up into many sections: 

Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Food and Nutrition

Behaviour and Training

Health

The Originals - The Wild Degu

Chile, the Home of the Degu
Degus have lived in the wilds of Chile, South America for hundreds of years and since the earliest of reports in 1832, are the most abundant day time rodent around[1]. Unfortunately today they are on the decline endemic to the continent, their areas are fast shrinking in size due, most likely to human disturbance – farmers view them as pests, encrouching civilization and loss of habitats.

In the wild, degus are semifossorial living underground in elaborate burrows that they dig themselves (as a group). While they are not designed for digging specifically, such their having nails instead of claws. They will shear the soil with their teeth and front feet whilst using rear legs motions to push the soil out under them to behind them. This is likely why they prefer loose or moist soil over hard, dry or compacted.

Degu and His Burrow
The burrows they dig provide many benefits for them: protection from predators, shelter in hot weather, a place to hide or store food, a means of getting area the area without having to go up top and as a safe nesting area. Perhaps because they are not designed for digging, the activity can be tiring for the degu and often they will sit on top of their mound, much like a prairie dog and just look around while taking a break. Luckily for degus they live in large social groups and share the jobs.

When they are not in their tunnels or burrows, they are more often than not out foraging for food, engaging in breeding or social behaviour or perhaps even having disagreements or degu boxing fights. They tend to forage early morning and mid evening, but this changes for the wild degu depending on the season – in summer they try to avoid the heat and in winter they go out more often when the sun is up to help with conserving heat.

Degu Forages

Degu do not hibernate they are active all year round but do build stores of food to use during the less active periods (something like really bad weather or predators around). They may spend upwards of five or six hours a day foraging for food. They are small in size, highly active and do not store energy they way we do and need to eat regularly – even during periods of less activity. A wild degus diet is nutritionally very poor and they must make up for the lower nutrition by eating more often. If they are short on food and or low on energy, they will supplement their diet with feces for additional nutrients and water.

While out foraging a degu is prey to many predators and as such are quite vigilant when they are outside their burrows – both male and females. They do not separate the duties either, two wild degus do not go out together with the plan of 'you watch, I'll forage'. They forage and watch, when one of their group is out of eye sight, they do not seek each other out, they simply become diligent or watchful of their surroundings.

Degu Nestled in Rocks
Being that they are small and near the bottom of the food chain, most everything could eat a degu, thus their high level of attentiveness outside the burrow. Commonly foxes, owls and buzzards eat degus, larger lizards, frogs and snakes as well could easily eat degus. Even humans ate them according to archaeological evidence. Their food chain status could easily be a reason why they live in social groups of varying sizes, some researchers say in wooded or covered areas the groups are more commonly three to six females and one or two males, in areas with more openness, where there is greater risk of predation, the groups may be considerably larger.

Classed as diurnal animals, meaning they are awake during the day and asleep at night, they are also capable of switching this to being active at night. Degus are highly responsive and adaptable animals a change in food availability, temperatures or even type of predators could easily result in the degus switching to a different schedule.

Wild degus (and pet ones too) are intensely social creatures, they are well and truly miserable when they are on their own for too long of periods of time. Their social rules and behaviours are as complex as their plethora of vocalizations.

Degus in the wild are not much different that pet dugus with the exception that their social circle includes you and they get more nutritious food than those in the wild. They will display caution to you and its new environment at first, but it will not take it long to grow comfortable with you.

Curiosity and Degu

Housing Requirements

 The first thing you need to consider is size of habitat space you will need and how you will keep your degus – store bought cage, aquarium or custom build. Your degus will be spending a fair amount of time in these 'habitats' you build them and while bigger is always better, it may not be practical to do. I think what is most important is having a solid understanding of their needs and creating the habitat with that in mind, regardless of whether it is a store-bought cage or not.

Degu Habitats

A lot of planning and fore thought goes into the designing of a degus habitat and if you are limited on space you actually have a bigger challenge than some one with a lot of space. A small habitat can be a home for two degus, provided they have plenty of supervised out of cage time to roam and play. The general rule of thumb for housing two degus who are out for at least one hour a day, is two feet in length by two in a half to three feet in height and one in a half-foot wide. For those with smaller spaces, look at building upwards, degus are good climbers and it is a great way to give more space without taking up a whole of the room.

There are other considerations besides size, The bars on the cage (like the bird cages or hamster bars) should'nt be larger than two centimeters apart, anything larger and you risk their escaping and going for a romp through the house. Different levels should be placed throughout the cage at differing heights, it adds extra space without taking up floor space.

A Degu Habitat

Ventilation is an important aspect to bear in mind if you are using anything other than metal bars (which provide plenty of fresh air exchange). With custom builds and with aquariums (with tops on) you have to ensure that there are a number of vents all around the unit, be generous with vents is the habitat is mostly or all closed off. If a degu gets to hot it can overheat easily due to its inability to sweat, ventilation allows for air flow and to control the temperatures.

A degu's reputation for chewing is well-earned, when deciding or building a habitat you have to take into consideration the materials used. A determined or bored degu can easily chew its way through a plastic or wooden bottom cage. Metal is common but not the only option, bathroom tiles have proved successful and even though metal is longer lasting due to lack of chew damage do not be tempted to use just bare metal mesh type materials for shelves as those can bother and cause health problems to degu feet. If you do use it, or anything similar you will have to cover it up with something – material, padding, tiles etc.

A degu will show you any flaw in your cage (or design) in hours – not days or weeks. They are smart, curious and intrepid creatures. If the lock slips easily if shaken a little, they will pick up on that. If there is a loose bar that gives a little more space for squeezing through, they will. Double check your habitat three maybe four times and even once they are in the habitat, keep an eye out for places of interest to the degu. I am fairly certain these three have discovered something.

Mischeivious Degus

The location of the cage is also something that needs some planning, you can't just plop it on a table or under the window on a floor. You want them somewhere where it is not too cool nor too warm – so no placing them near drafty spots or spots in the path of the heaters or air conditioners. They do best when in a room where the majority of the activity in the house happens – a living room or den, unless you spend a lot of time in your bedroom or basement they won't appreciate being 'left out' of the household activity.

One last thing to keep in mind when building or buying a cage. Check to see how easy it is to clean. If the cage is long in length and high can you reach the other side from the entrance?. Does the bottom come out like they do in a birdcage?. Is there a door or is it just a small opening that your arm fits through?. Does it come apart easily and go back together easily? No matter how amazing a cage or habitat is - if it is difficult to clean and restock with food and water, you may be less inclined to keep it spotless. 

Substrate Choices

The habitat, or cage, needs some sort of litter on the bottom to not only help maintain the cages occupants business (and odour) but also as something for the degus to walk and run on, not to mention sleep and play in. When it comes to what kind of substrate you use, you do have options to choose what works best for you.

Degu Habitat

Hands down, the most popular substrate used for degus, and many other small animal pets, is wood shavings. Degus should only be using kiln dried pine wood shavings. Cedar is toxic for them when ingested (and they will nibble and eat it at times). Try to get one that is as dust free as possible and do not use saw dust either as the dust can cause (or bring forth) respiratory problems. If you know your degu has respiratory problems for whatever reason, you should not use any wood shavings. I also had the experience of my partner being allergic to the pine shavings I used for my degu and he had a awful time with sinus issues.

Chopped straw is a option some folks use when they can't use wood shavings as it shredded plain paper, recycled paper and cardboards, corn cob, some sands and wheat based cat litter. Straw, in my experience, was not very absorbent at all but in contrast the wheat based cat litter is highly absorbent and makes little clumps that can be easily cleaned out. It's also incredibly light and soft.

Some substrate to avoid include wood pellets or paper pellet type bedding. Any pellet that's designed to swell when wet should never be used. A degu that eats those risks stomach ruptures since it will swell past his belly size. Another reason to avoid pellet style bedding is the rough surface of the pellet bedding can cause health issues such as sore feet or bumblefoot. 

Food, Hay and Water Dishes

You will need a hay rack or something similar to keep the hay off the floor, though you could use a dish if you like. Degus are avid eaters and will eat all day if you leave constant food in there for them. The only food you should be leaving in their cage day and night and keep it topped up with fresh is hay. Degus really should have constant access to hay as it is good roughage for them and keeps their molars healthy. 

Substrate

They do eat foods other than hay, such as seeds and greens, but those should be fed in a controlled portion once or twice a day (depending on your portion and how you feed them). See the food section (next) to see what kinds of greens and seeds you can feed them.

One tip is to use a heavy bottomed dish for food. They sit on the edge of the dish sometimes, other times they are eating out of it while moving their rump around to protect the dish from the other degus (normal behaviour). This behaviour is why it is often suggested to have more than one dish in the cage. 

And finally you will need a source of water. Some use bowls, many more use small animal water bottles. Bowls of water get dirty entirely to quickly with all the degu moving around and kicking up substrate. Degu do not need a lot of water, they are actually designed physiologically speaking to maximize their water use. But just because they drink little does not mean you do not have to change the water everyday, you do have to provide fresh clean water daily - whether they use it or not. 

The Wheel

Just like with hamsters, degus need a wheel (or two or three - though they share them pretty well). The wheel is not a toy nor something for mental stimulation, it is an outlet for their energy, some exercise, even the largest of cages have wheels in them. And just because you let them out a few hours a day, does not mean they do not need a wheel. 

There are a variety of wheels, plastic, metal and wood and other than plastic and wood risking getting chewed on any of them would work. Try to get wheels that are solid inside where they run and not barred, barred wheels run the risk of injuring or causing bumblefoot to your pet. 

There are a plethora of ideas and examples of home made wheels some even using lazy susans with those pot mats (some are made with cloth, others bamboo or woods) to sit a hot pot on. Whatever works for you and your wallet and whatever makes your degu happy. 

One note of caution, those plastic clear through exercise balls are not suitable for a degu (I don't think they are suitable for any animal). 

Nesting Boxes

Just like wild degus, pet degus will sleep in burrows if you build them one. The best replacement for a burrow is a nest box, it works very well for replacing a burrow type environment and your degus will put hay or other items like cloths in there to soften in up and make it comfortable. There is a bedding material that many degu owners use that looks like stretched cotton balls or the insides of some blankets. The degus really love those for their nesting boxes. Shredded J-Clothes work well too.

Degus and Nesting Boxes

The box does not have to be fancy or even large, degus will share nesting boxes and sleep huddled together. Be warned though just because the box is for sleeping does not mean they will not chew it. You can use most anything – a shoe box or other cardboard box, a wooden box, some bird feeders work and even a terra cotta plant pot works well. Even those heavier cardboard rolls would be appreciated and used.

You can get creative with nesting boxes too using hollowed out logs standing upright, a nest made of straw (commonly sold in pet stores), those bag type pouches , a paper bag lined with something soft and even build your own little house for them. Pretty much anything you offer as a nesting box will be appreciated as studies show that most rodents prefer to sleep in an opaque or nearly see through box than a cage without any boxes or nests in them. Provide them a nesting box to help ensure their health and well-being.

Dust Bathes

Degu need dust to bath, much like a chinchilla does. Provide a bowl of it for an hour or two to the cage and watch them as they roll around in it kicking up dust. These dust bathes are vital for healthy fur, but too often given dust baths can lead to skin and fur problems.

Chinchilla sand is perfect to use, you can put it in a bowl, a jar or even a pie tin. I like the cookie jars that sit on their side and are clear, it helps to keep the dust in the jar and not all over the cage. Another option is to provide it outside of their cage.

Dust Bathing Degu

Feeding and Nutrition

Follow a few simple rules and you can not go too terribly wrong in regards to feeding your new pet. Their diets are simple and not complex at all. There is an abundance of information on degu diet, but when you boil it down there are really only a few hard and fast rules to follow as well as a few things to watch out for.

While hay is provided at all times, your degus will also eat hard feed (pellets). Commonly used are guinea pig pellets, since degu and guinea pigs are cousins it is the best choice if you do not have access to degu specific pellets. These pellets will contain all the nutrients your degu will need. The only thing to double-check with any hard feed or pellets is that the ingredients do not list any type of sugars – molasses, honey, glucose, sucrose or fructose.

Degu and Food

Do not use rabbit pellets or feed, they contain ingredients that are harmful to your degu. Chinchilla hard food can be used by chinchilla foods tend to have dried fruits in them and a degu does not need dried fruits regularly as dried fruits (and fresh) contain sugars. Any degu food needs to be absent of sugar, or if low amounts of sugar can use as treats but not regularly.

Nutritional wise, you really want to keep your degus protein daily intake to under fifteen percent, sugar should be absolutely no more than five percent and anything above fifteen percent in fibre is excellent for your degu. A degu will eat all day if you provide the food for it to do so and they can get obese which is unhealthy. Ideally you want to feed them about ten grams of hard feed a day. You can do this either in one feeding or break it into two or even three. Whatever you choose, make sure to keep it regularly timed, they like routine when it comes to food.

Hay

Hay is the one food in your degus diet that is supremely important for them to have. They should have fresh, clean hay available to eat in their cage at all times. To keep it clean it needs to be off the floor using a hayrack or large dish. Hay provides excellent roughage for them and keeps their teeth in tip-top shape too. In the wild degus ate upwards of sixty percent dietary fibre, pet degus are not much different.

There are a variety of hay to choose from including meadow hay and timothy hay. Both of these are sold in pet stores, but some people can get clean fresh hay from farms or bulk sources. If the hay smells musty or is pinkish in colour, do not use it, toss it out, it is a sign of mould. Hay should smell sweet and fresh – like a fresh-cut yard.

Hay Mixes

Brown in colour is good, green is not as it can cause your little guy to bloat up. Alfalfa is another popular choice but should'nt be used in large amounts, but rather a little mixed in with fresh hay to make it a touch more palatable for the degus. Little bits of alfalfa is not bad, but in large quantities can cause health problems.

 On top of pellets and hay, you should offer your degu some fresh vegetables, but keep fruits (particularly sugary ones) to a minimum if at all. If you feed too much cabbage, lettuce or peas the degu may become bloated, so offer a little of everything – some lettuce and cabbage with some herbs such as mint or parsley are always well received. You do not have to offer fresh veggies every day, once or twice a week is plenty. You can offer them dried vegetables and herbs as well, but not exclusively as dried foods lose some of their nutrient value, but using dried foods is a great way to expose a picky eater to new vegetables. 

Another great food option is flowers ... seriously they love them.

Treats

I am fairly certain that every pet known to man has treats that they can get on top of all the other food. Degus are no different really. But in the case of degus, a treat is exactly that, a sometimes given food or a food used in training – and again in small amounts.

Loves his Food

Nuts and seeds are quite possibly one of the more favourite treats and easy to make at home your own special degu blend if you so choose. Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, natural unsalted peanuts and whole hazel and brazil nuts with shells are loved by degus. Though with nuts, watch the fat content. Remember these are treats so we are talking about two or three sunflower seeds and not a handful.

Dried breads that are crisp. If you use human types like Melba toast, or just regular bread toasted, watch the sugar and salt content. But I found my degu loved toast, the left overnight rock hard next morning kind, particularly the crusts of rye breads.

Treats

Fruits can be given as a treat, but small pieces only and not very often at all. Once a month is usually the safest. Degus are incredibly sensitive to sugar, you want to avoid sugar at all costs but small amounts not regularly given will not cause them any harm. 

Puffed rice, dried rosehips and flaked corn or peas are also highly enjoyed treats. Rolled oats, preferably the bran kind are great for training and taming, for giving medicines and for keeping them in spot – photo time!. The rolled oats are high in carbohydrates so as a daily treat only give a small pinch.

There are some things you should never give to your degu these include most human foods like breakfast cereals, anything with caffeine in it, sodas, hot chocolate or anything with sugar in it. Degus were made with simple diets, they do not need the stuff they will beg you for just cause it is food and you're eating it – oh yes they will.  

Environmental Enrichment

Feeding a degus active mind is just as important as feeding their little bellies. A degu that has no stimulation in their cage - whether that is toys or something as simple as a cardboard tube - will become stressed and bored, leading to all sorts of behavioural and physical problems. If you let your degu out to play, you should have a play area - filled with things to occupy him - as well as enrichments in his cage.

Enrichment

Some of the simplest ideas include placing a pot of growing grass in their cage - the smells will spark their brain, the nosing around inside it to see what it is will activate their curiosity and best of all, they can nibble on it. 

Adding branches to your degus cage is a great idea for a number of reasons. You can hang branches from the top of the cage, you can lay them flat on the ground or piled up haphazardly or sit them so the rest on a level and act like a ladder. You can use apple branches too and even though degus will chew these or strip the bark they are great for creating obstacle courses. In no time at all your degu will look like an acrobat running, jumping and leaping across branches. Always double-check the wood is a safe choice for them, not all wood is. 

In the same breath, rope does the same thing for them. Rope is a great climbing material and allows them to really hold on, unlike wood sometimes does. The only downfall is that rope will not withstand their chewing as well as wood will, but it does allow you to hang it from the top of the cage or under a level and provide climbing area. If you drape it along the cage from level to level, for example, and create a bridge, you will find them challenging themselves to walk across the moving rope bridge. 

Due to their insatiable curiosity they will investigate anything and everything you put into the cage. Toys are a hit and miss for the most part. And by toys I mean those stuffed toys for animals, plastic balls and such. The one toy my degu seemed to always play with no matter what other 'toys' I put in there was a toilet paper roll. Hands down his favourite piece in the cage. A friend of mine who has a degu has taken a particular liking to a stuff moose, hauls him every night into the nesting box, much to the consternation of the other cage inhabitants. 

Other than their nesting box, offer some hammocks for resting or pop up tunnels for them to run through. Many parrot accessories can be put to good use with a degu cage, as can marbles, though marbles are for outside play, they love to chase them around. Place half coconut shells around with either a treat or a toy under it. Remember that degus love to dig tunnels, offer him a box of (clean) dirt to rummage around in. Maybe make a toy box and have all his toys in it and let them pull them all out.

Degu Environemtal Enrichment

They love puzzles, anything they have to solve. Use cubes with holes in them or any hollow toy or device and fill it with things they like ... like their nesting materials, hide a few marbles in there. They like to dig and whether it is dirt or digging into something that may hold a surprise ... is all the same to them. 

Anything that makes a degu think, or have to solve is highly enjoyed by them. Just ensure that the toys have no small plastic parts that can come off easy and check the toys often to ensure they are still safe. 

Behaviour and Sociability

Degus and their behaviour are complex and fascinating.

Social Degus

Degus are highly social animals with a hierarchy that is complex, to humans at least. They will appear over hyper with their jumps of joy and excited squeaks, they can be incredibly tranquil at times you wonder if they are high or dead. They love to talk and make a variety of noises, up to 30 different sounds, squeaks, weeps and clicks. They may seem like they are not sleeping much but degus sleep in small batches throughout the day.

They are active of mind and body – when they are not in motion they are running, jumping, exploring and talking with the other degus and you too of course. While they seem quite friendly and social it is important that you have at least two degus and never just one. No human can replace what a degu gives another degu.

Fighting happens and it can be a cute argument with some degu boxing or it can be an all out fight to the death, at which point you will have to separate them.

Boxing Degus

Since degus should'nt be kept alone and it is best to buy at least two, you will have fighting, Having two males or more can cause more fighting than you would see with two or more females. You can mix the sexes as well, but then you have to watch for mating and pregnancy, cause a male and female degu are almost always going to give you babies. Whether you mix their sexes or not, fighting is going to happen – and it is more likely it will happen with two males that were not raised together from pups. Just like in human families, degu families have disagreements too.

It is always best to let a degu come to you and crawl into your hand, grabbing at them makes them cautious of you and trust won't grow. Degus can recognize people and will 'call out' to you either for attention or just to let you know they see you. When you do have them out of their cage, you must keep an eye on them particularly if running free through the house and not in a playpen, they love to chew wires and mine cleared off the plastic from the fridge cord in the back. Needless to say I purchased a play pen for him after that.

Sleeping Degus
As I said earlier they make a variety of noises - weeping, chattering, clicking and squeaks. They make them in a variety of tones, some short and loud, some soft and under their breath, yet others are rapid series of different noises.

Squeaking is one of my favourites. Weeping is often done if lonely, just finished mating or sometimes about to fall asleep.

Learn the sounds, they are indications to mood, situations, behaviour and health.

The website Degutopia has some sound audio files to listen to, to get an idea of the noises they make and what they (usually) mean.

Training

The degu is a highly intelligent animal and can be trained to do things. Training them to run through obstacle courses is surprisingly common, but training can be used for other purposes too. Some people will train their degu to come a running at the sound of a bell.

In fact on the site Degutopia one lady said she had her degus trained to come when she made a certain noise with her phone. Every time she fed them or gave them a treat, she played this noise ... eventually, a few weeks the degus associated that sound to food and other good things. Any time they escape or can't be found she makes the noise and they come running. 

Training a degu is very similar to training a dog. It's essentially a learning system for your degu based on positive feedback and positive reinforcement. because degus are smart, you can't force them ... you have to ask them and then reward them when they do, do as you asked. 

Hand Training and Building Trust

There are types of training. Normally the first training any pet owner does is hand training, where you get them comfortable with your hand. We have all seen the small animal (and some large ones) that will crawl onto an owner awaiting hand, that is hand training. You don't want to always have to grab at them and since they have tails that fall off, you want them to trust you and come to your hand on their own. It also makes it easier to handle them. Degus are wary by nature with new things, but they learn fast. 

The trick to getting them onto your hand is patience and food. It is a series of steps. Naturally when you first receive your pet degu they may be timid around you. Offer them some food while holding your hand out and open. When they approach give them the food. Once this is learned, the next step is to not give them food until they place their front paws on your hand. Do not rush or try to grab at them, they will feel trapped and not trust you easily again. 

Once they are comfortable with touching you encourage them into your hand and even up your arm. Let them come on and off as they wish, show them you are not a threat. A few weeks of this at most and your degus should be comfortable around you and your hands. 

You can also do voice training, which is convenient when you need to rush out the door or go to bed and they are running free. 

Health and Disease

Degus originally attracted the attention of scientists for laboratory testing because of their inability to properly use sugar and their tendency to become diabetic. Degus can become diabetic very easily, thus why all good sources of information stress a low sugar, if any at all, diet. Degus do not need sweet treats like raisins, grapes or apples. Small bits here and there as the treat of all treats is okay, Once a month or even once every few months is best.

Degu getting it Medicine

Stress affects even our happy little friends. It is seen in their behaviour first. This is why it is so important to to learn about degu vocalizations and your degu itself. If stress does become a physical ailment – that means the degu has suffered from it for a while. Two signs to watch out for that are generally universal in a stressed degu is escaping behaviour, which is when they squeak loudly and run for a hiding place[3]. They also do 'distress calls'. Try to see what is causing the stress – it could be a cage mate, the location of the cage or another pet in the house.

Cataracts are another health concern to watch for. Degus tend to suffer cataracts due to diabetes, it can appear within weeks of your degu becoming diabetic. There is also a genetic predisposition to cataracts. Whether its diabetic related or genetic you should take him to the vet as soon as possible. The genetic condition tends to affect only one eye, but not exclusively, whereas in diabetes it is both eyes[3]. You can only slow the formation of it, you can not (as of yet) reverse it.

Sleepy Degu

More recently it has been discovered that degus have a high tolerance for pain. Sounds like that is a good thing, right? Wrong. By having a high pain tolerance your pet will be able to hide their ails better, even something like a broken limb can be hidden from an owner. A limp after a fall could easily indicate a broken limb or something worse. Limping is generally viewed as 'not that bad' or 'it'll pass' – with a degu it means it is hurt, quite likely bad, take the pet to the vet as soon as possible.

While shedding fur is normal for a degu to do seasonally, it can lead to skin and general health problems or show a hidden issue. Degus do not become bald or even patchy when shedding, it's more like a striped effect. This is why degus need dustbaths, keeps their coast in healthy order.

Sickness in Degus

Degus can become obese quite easily, particularly if you are not following the sugar rules, offering them hard feed all day or in controlled amounts, as they eat and eat so long as food is present. If obesity happens you need to overhaul their present diet and bring the weight down, even get them out for more exercise. It's unnecessary stress on their bodies to have them obese and can easily lead to problems with feet, fur and more.

Teeth are also prone to issues if not maintained. Degu teeth are always growing, if you do not provide a way for them to chew the teeth can grow too long and even curl and grow up into their brains – if they survive the hunger that is. One sure sign of teeth issues is eating, they tend to not do to much of it. With teeth the problem may also be the enamel and or in how the body is either not processing it or processing it too much. Below is a picture of healthy degu teeth.

Healthy Degu Teeth

Earlier in the article I mentioned wire floors or shelving in your cage as being the cause of something called bumblefoot. This is a painful condition in which the degus feet become, red and inflamed and in bad cases have sores. THis makes walking, jumping or playing hard to do. A vet visit is a must as they will need a shot of antibiotics to help. Not to mention also softer areas in the cage as well since their feet are so sensitive. 

The tail can fall off, it doesn't grow back but it will heal and the process can be painful for your pet. Avoid grabbing them by the tail, it can fall off if it gets stuck somewhere in the cage or house. So be careful of their tails.

I did not touch on all illnesses that can happen to a degu. Degus can develope a variety of afflictions on the ears, mouth, paws and more. It is just not their outsides but their insides too. You know your degu best and if he or she seems 'off' take them to the vet immediately.

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Comments

Oct 15, 2014 7:27am
vicdillinger
Beware the wild degus!!! This was a truly WONDERFUL introduction to these rodents (as you know, I'm a bunny man myself). Anyway, big thumb, pinned, tweeted, +1'd.
Oct 15, 2014 8:16am
LittleTwoTwo
Oh, these guys play nice with bunnies ... the one in the article with the moose toy, has a giant bunny (I think they said it was Flemish giant or something) as a friend. They do everything together except eat - since degus are bad at sharing food. Thank you for the read and your comment. Keep on hoppin'.
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Bibliography

  1. "The Wild Life of A Degu." Degutopia. 15/09/2014 <Web >
  2. "Basic Care Information Sheet." Lafabre Veterinarian. 15/09/2014 <Web >
  3. "Degu Info." Rodent and Degu Care. 15/09/2014 <Web >
  4. "Ten steps to keeping happier and healthier degus." Octodon degus Weebly. 14/09/2014 <Web >
  5. "General Information." Deguz. 14/09/2014 <Web >

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