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Degus are fun, easy to look after, and interesting pets. However, you should never adopt a pet before fully understanding what the commitment involves. Here are 10 of the most important things you should know about the behaviour and habits of degus before adopting one.
Most rodents are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and are awake during the night. This can prove annoying to owners that have their cage within hearing distance of where they sleep. Rodents tend to gnaw a lot to keep their teeth trimmed, and they are curious animals often moving around or exercising.
Degus however are diurnal, this is the opposite to nocturnal. This means they are generally awake during the day when you are, and sleeping overnight. Much more convenient if you have their cage in your bedroom, or in a small apartment where you can hear them. While their hours of sleep may not overlap yours completely, this is definitely a big advantage.
When choosing pets one of the first considerations is how well the chosen pet fits your own personality and lifestyle. While degus can get most of their socialising with other degus in the same cage, they respond well to being handled by people, especially from a young age.
It is not mandatory that you handle them regularly, but if you want to build a trusting and strong bond it is suggested. The plus side being, it will be easier to move them when it comes to cleaning out their cage.
While degus are not going to clean up behind themselves (although that would be nice, wouldn’t it), they are much happier in clean environments. You will need to clean out their cage once a week, giving all of the accessories a thorough clean with pet safe disinfectant.
If you keep their living area clean and tidy they will have a happier, healthier life. Degus rarely give owners any problems when well maintained, making them easy pets to keep.
The average lifespan of a degu kept in captivity is 6-8 years, with 9 years being the maximum expected age. Before adopting a degu you should think about the future, if for any reason you cannot honour a commitment this long you should reconsider adopting them. A pet should always be for life, not a passing phase or a short-term project.
Always avoid housing degus of the opposite sex, the chance of them reproducing is too high. It is not recommended you breed degus at home, if you are trying to establish yourself as a breeder you should look into that separately.
If you discover you have degus of the opposite sex in a cage you should separate them immediately. Degus can reproduce very quickly, managing a lot of newborns is not an easy task and the problem can escalate to an unmanageable situation.
Like a lot of rodents, degus are curious animals. In their natural environment in the wild they would travel great distances for food during the day. Therefore, keeping them in captivity we need to provide ways for them to exercise and satisfy some curiosity exploring.
A rodent wheel is an easy fix for daily exercise, degus are very receptive to the wheel and will use it. As for satisfying their curiosity, you can exercise your creative freedom in their cage. Add as many obstacles, ledges, hanging platforms, and anything else you can think of to make their cage more interesting.
Degus do not regulate blood sugars as well as other rodents. You need to take care not to overfeed them or give them bad foods, otherwise their health can deteriorate quickly. So, as a responsible owner you need to take care to ensure they are eating a well balanced diet suitable for them.
You can feed them chinchilla or guinea pig food mixes and food pellets. Along with hay this will make up the bulk of their diet, and some occasional treats will not do much harm.
Before handling a degu you need to be aware that they can, and will shed their tail if they are mishandled. If this does happen it’s important not to panic and cause any further stress to the degu. Although it does not do any real damage to the degu, apart from losing its tail of course, avoiding it happening should be your first concern.
They are most likely to shed their tail if pressure is put on it, or if they feel threatened or trapped in some way. Never attempt to pick up a degu by the base of its tail, this is ok for some rodents so might be attempted by someone not aware of this issue. It’s your job to inform anyone visiting how to correctly and safely handle a degu.
Degus are not a common household pet, so you may need to call around to find a vet that has some experience and expertise with them. It is unlikely you will need to call a vet for any reason, but it’s always advisable to know where one is in case of an emergency.
With everything taken into account I think you will agree that a degu is not a difficult pet to care for. They are small, tidy, fun to watch and easy to feed. They are awake during the day and love to play and socialise with other degus or people.
It can be a rewarding experience setting up an interesting and interactive environment for them in their cage, and you will develop a trusted bond over the years. If you decide to adopt one of these lovable little rodents I wish you all the best.