Keeping a Degu as a pet
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Keeping a Degu as a pet

More small exotic pets are becoming popular and the United Kingdom has seen a rise in the types of pets that many people, several years ago, hadn’t heard of. With these new species being more popular, there also comes a vital responsibility to learn how to look after them correctly.

This Pets4Homes article looks at one type of increasingly seen pet, the Degu. It looks at the type of ideal environment that the animal likes to live in, health issues and things to be aware of, and whether they make good pets for everybody.

What is a Degu?

These little creatures belong to the rodent family that is a very close relative to guinea pigs and even chinchillas. Because they are a relatively new type of pet, there has only recently been more research into them and scientists have discovered they are also related to rabbits - in fact, they may have a closer link to bunnies than any other animal.

What do they look like?

They are what is termed a cute pet! A fully-grown adult Degu averages in length at 15cm. Often their tails are the around the same length as their bodies! Their tails are also distinctive with a little tuft on the end of them. Colour wise these furry creatures are a brown, sometimes darker brown. They have a light coloured tummy and normally have white feet.

Where do they come from?

You can probably guess they are not native to the United Kingdom. These originally come from South America, namely Chile. In the wild, they can be found living in all sorts of terrain, from coastal areas to mountain ranges - such as the Andes. They are very organised in the way they live - and you can find them active during the daylight hours.

How long can a Degu live for?

If you were to find a Degu in the wild that was over three years old, it would be an amazing age! Generally, in the wild, they only live for 1 to 2 years. It’s having them domesticated into humans’ homes that has helped lengthen their lifespan. Although not a very long life, they can live with us happily for 5 to 9 years.

What do they eat?

Degu’s like to have a variety of food - and who can blame them? The same foods all the time would get boring! However, care needs to be taken on their diet - which we will cover later. Suffice to say a really good mixture ion chinchilla and guinea pig food in the form of pellets are ideal. Along with leafy veg and the odd dandelion. A real must is hay, this needs to be available all the time as should fresh water.

What do they need for housing?

Degus are susceptible to too much heat, in fact, they can suffer heatstroke if the temperature is above 20 degrees. If they get too warm, they start getting distressed. This must be taken into account with housing them, and the environment. Wire cages are best for them with levels they can climb on ramps. They need a great deal of space. The floor needs to be covered with something they can burrow in - peat, and wood chipping that is dust free is ideal.

Do they exercise much?

Yes, they do! They really like to be kept stimulated mentally. A good exercise wheel is a must. Pipes also help them have their tunneling experience - make sure the pipes are clay so they cannot be gnawed. Talking of gnawing, branches of apple, beech or oak are also favourites. They also need a digging bowl and a sand bath for them to clean themselves after they have been handled.

Do they need toys?

All the environmental enrichment is great, but yes, they still love toys. A ball that can be filled with treats is good (it’s not just for dogs!) Other toy balls that can be carried or pushed are also good - especially if they jingle! Other toys are also available from pet shops, ask them what is available - corn toys are normally popular in them.

Do they need a friend?

Yes, having a friend is vital - they should never be kept by themselves. They are a very sociable animal - in the wild, they live in groups of around 100. They should be kept with their own sex, so two or more males, or females, but never together. It is not so much a breeding issue, but if males are kept in a group with females they will fight.

As for human’s friendship, they don’t like much handling - so as a young child’s pet they may not be ideal.

What illnesses can they pick up?

Degus are predisposed to diabetes, which is why we mentioned earlier they should have any sugar in their food. They should always have clear eyes that are bright and with no discharge. With the use of their sand bath, their fur should be lovely and glossy, with almost a sheen to it. Degus can also have a respiratory problem, so any breathing problems must be checked out quickly.

What about teeth?

Like rabbits, their teeth constantly grow and need to be worn down with good quality hay. If there is a wet mouth or dribbling, the teeth may need trimming as they could be overgrown. A vet will advise on this. They also should not have pearly white teeth; Degu’s teeth should actually be yellow! If a Degu doesn’t have enough vitamin A, the teeth can become white.

In all the Degu is one little pet that seems like it’s here to stay. Like all small pets - indeed any pet, they do take a good deal of care. In captivity, they rely on humans to provide everything they need. If you are thinking of taking one on, be aware of the commitment and financial aspects, more than anything, do your homework! With the right care they can really become a member of the family, and a talking point! As always if you do want more information about them, or you own a Degu and are worried about them, please contact your own vet.

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