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Degus are unique, fun, and interesting pets. They are not difficult to keep and have fairly basic requirements, and knowing how to keep them happy and healthy will make the experience of owning them even more enjoyable.
In this article I will cover some of the more important tips and details involved in keeping your degus happy, and healthy.
Degus need to interact with other degus, they thrive as a part of large groups in the wild. When adopting a degu and keeping it in captivity, the least you can do is find a cage mate for it. You cannot just choose any cage mate however, you’ll need to find a degu of the same sex that doesn’t act aggressively towards the other.
Degus like to spend a lot of time together, they’ll help groom each other, play, take sandbaths, and huddle up together to sleep. The mental stimulation they get from interacting with each other is great for their wellbeing.
Lone degus often feel insecure and vulnerable and their health will often suffer as a result. They have a strong inherent need for attention and social activity, without another degu in their cage they will show symptoms of depression. They will become reclusive and not want to interact with people, eat less, and sleep more.
Being highly active and agile animals the more space you can provide a degu the better. Ideally you will be able to accommodate a large, tall cage with plenty of ledges and obstacles for them to navigate.
A lot of people use this as an opportunity to take on a cage building project. You can make it as big as you want, build in some ledges and platforms, add hanging ropes, and put a deep layer of bedding on the floor to allow them the opportunity to dig and burrow.
The backbone of ensuring your degu is healthy is providing a good balanced diet. This is easy and inexpensive, there are many food mixes specially formulated to provide all the necessary nutrition a degu requires. Chinchilla and guinea pig food mixes are ideal if you cannot find a degu specific product.
Degus are sensitive to having too much sugar in their diets, so treats containing sugar are to be given on rare occasions if at all. Providing them a daily serving of healthy food mix is essential.
To maintain a good level of fitness degus need regular exercise. If you have a large cage with different levels and accessories they will exercise by jumping, climbing, and running around their cage. Adding an exercise wheel is always a good suggestion too, they will happily use the wheel to exercise.
It is always tempting to add lots of different items in their cages, the tip here is to try and avoid this. Keep plenty of space available for a degu to run around in and dig. They love to dig and burrow, it’s a natural instinct to them. In the wild they build underground tunnels to hide from predators and store food, and digging just happens to be a great form of exercise.
A degu is going to spend the majority of its life in its cage. On one hand it’s only fair that you keep it clean and tidy for them. On the other hand, they are much happier living in a clean environment and will be healthier for it.
Degus do not make an excessive amount of mess, even compared to some other rodents they are tidier. But this does not change the fact that you will need to clean out their cage once a week. A fresh layer of bedding across the floor of their cage, some new nesting material, and a wipe down of all the accessories
Just like chinchillas, degus need sandbaths to clean their coats. As they roll around in the sand, the sand particles comb through their fur absorbing oils and removing bits of dirt. Sandbaths are an important part of their overall wellbeing, and providing one is an essential part of owning degus.
Some owners choose to leave a sandbath in their cage permanently, only removing it to clean and replace the sand. While others place the sandbath in each or every other day, removing it after it has been used to minimise the mess created around the sandbath.
Generally speaking, we keep animals as pets to give them the care and affection they need. But it is still worth pointing out that the more care and attention you give your degu, the happier and healthier it will be.
The best way to form a bond between yourself and a degu is to take things slowly, build up trust over time. Use your voice in a soft manner to talk to him/her, and have patience when it comes to handling. Allow the degu to feel secure enough to approach your hand instead of you chasing it around.
Degus are naturally curious creatures, and in order for them to thrive you need to add some diversity into their lives. Think about how much open space and new ground they would have to discover in the wild. Obviously you cannot replicate that when keeping them in captivity, but you can provide some variation with a little effort.
Every time you clean out their cage you can place their items back in different locations. You can add some new obstacles to their cage to add a bit of mental stimulation. Or, as well as those suggestions you can introduce some new food that are safe for them to eat.
The goal is to keep them mentally stimulated with new experiences and challenges, and you can make it fun for both yourself and the degu if you try.
I hope these tips come in useful if you are a new degu owner, and if you are an experienced owner maybe there is some food for thought here. Either way, good luck and enjoy your own experience with your degu.
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