Degu Guide for Beginners | Keeping Degus as Pets

You’re reading the Introduction in Degus: The Complete Guide for Noobs. Quickly navigate to other chapters: Intro | Preparing for a Degu | Buying a Degu | Degu Care

So you decided to buy a degu – or you want to know a bit more about this curious and funny little pocket pet. Let’s start with the first introduction on this rodent that’s lives in the same region as other well-known pocket pets like chinchillas and guinea pigs.

What Is a Degu?

Before we start learning about the degu, let’s take a look at the animal in question!

As you can see, the degu is an animal that looks a little bit like a squirrel or mouse with large ears and a tufted tail. They’re often physically compared to gerbils, being larger than these rodents.

So what is a degu? A degu is a rodent that originates from Chile, South America. They’re used for research in laboratories but are also interesting pets. The degu is a social animal and is active throughout the day, with peaks of activity at twilight periods. These little animals are low-maintenance pets that are pretty easy to tame. They do need to be kept in pairs or groups to be happy.

Let’s explore all this information a little bit further to give you a full idea of what a degu is and where they come from.

Basic data and measurements

Body length

Tail length

Weight

Lifespan

5 to 8 inches (12 to 31 centimeters)

5 inches (12 centimeters)

6 to 10 ounces (170 to 300 grams)

5 to 8 years

Natural habitat

Region

Degus are rodents that originate from South America. Like a lot of other pockets pets, their natural habitat lies in Chile. Degus can’t tolerate very high altitudes – their biology isn’t adapted to this. So, their habitat is limited to elevations below 1200 meters. If you ever want to take a look at a wild degu, the western slopes of the Andes are the place to be.

Vegetation

Degus live in the so-called Chilean “matorral” region. This region mostly contains grasses and herbs and has hard-leaved shrubs and trees (shrubland). Degus use these shrubs and small trees to take cover from predators.

Climate

Central Chile has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and cold wet winters. The skies in this region are generally clear so there is little temperature change from day-to-day. In the summer, the temperature can rise higher than 40 degrees Celsius. In the winter, the region can get as cold as 0 degrees Celsius.

Density

Degus are very social creatures that live in groups that can consist of up to 100 individuals. In the wild, the density is around 100 degus per acre. Because of their large numbers, degus are considered pests for agriculture in some regions and they’re even illegal as pets in some regions. So, make sure that you can legally hold one as a pet before you buy one.

Behavior of degus

Crepuscular behavior

Degus are crepuscular animals in the wild, although many articles will consider them to be mostly diurnal. They’re more active at twilight periods, so at dawn and dusk. During the day and night, they will sleep in short intervals that only last a few minutes.

One of the interesting things about these little pets is that they can adjust their sleeping habits to that of their owners. If you want your pet to be more active during the night, they can adjust to become nocturnal. But if you want a good night’s sleep, they’ll also be happy to live a diurnal life and sleep at night.

Prey or predator?

As is the case with other rodents, degus are prey animals. Their primary predators are culpeo foxes and birds of prey like owls and eagles. These little animals are very social and have a system to detect predators fast and communicate this through alarm calls to the rest of the group. When they encounter a predator they will try to outrun the predator and find cover under shrubs, trees or find shelter in their burrows.

Social behavior

Degus are social animals that live in groups. The average group consists of one to two males and two to five females. A group will stay in a territory of roughly 200 square meters. Degus live in a hierarchic structure that’s based on dominance. Although degus will have fights to establish the structure in the group, they’re in general very friendly and non-aggressive animals that will prefer to run if they encounter a dangerous situation.

Legality of Degus

It’s important to understand that degus are not legal in all regions. Some regions in the world, and even in the United States, have strict regulations concerning pets. In some regions, keeping a degu is illegal or requires a permit.

The most common reason for this is that they’re sometimes considered a potentially invasive species that can pose a potential threat to the native fish and wildlife, agriculture or public health and safety.

Legality in the United States

In the United States, most states don’t have specific regulations that prohibit keeping exotic pets like degus. There are only a handfull of states that have regulations that prohibit ownership and keeping degus as pets. These states are California, Utah, Georgia, Conneticut, and Alaska.

Legality in the Canada

In Canada, degus are legal to keep in most states, except for Newfoundland and Labrador. The Newfoundland and Labrador Wilf Life Act Regulations lists the animals that are exempted from the general prohibition of keeping non-native animals. A lot of pets are included in the exemption, but the degu is not one of them. So, if you’re in Newfoundland and Labrador, you can’t keep them as pets.

Legality in the Australia

Australia has one of the strictest policies on importing animals and keeping unique or exotic animals like degus. A lot of pets that are legal to keep in the rest of the world are illegal to keep as a pet in Australia. The degu is one of these animals that’s not a legal pet in Australia.

Legality in the New Zealand

New Zealand has, just as Australia, a strict policy on importing and keeping (exotic) animals. Besides cats and dogs, importing animals is limited to rabbits, chinchillas, and guinea pigs from Australia and Great Britain. Degus can’t be imported into New Zealand and are considered an invasive species that can’t be legally kept as a pet.

Is a Degu a Good Pet for You?

Now that you know what a degu is, you probably want to know if it’s a perfect pet for you. This is not an easy question to answer because it depends on a lot of different factors, which I’ll try to cover.

Is a degu a good pet? A degu can make an excellent pet for older children and adults. Degus are social animals that can be tamed easily and will form a bond with you. Contrary to most pocket pets, like hamsters and chinchillas, the degu is active during the day. It can also adjust it’s sleeping habits to your own lifestyle. This makes it more suitable as a pet for a lot of people.

Questions to ask yourself

When you consider buying a pet it’s important to know if you can take care of it. Before you buy yourself a degu you need to know a bit more about its needs. Below are some of the most important questions that will finally determine if a degu is right for you.

  • does it require a lot of space?
  • does it need a lot of attention?
  • how easy it to take care of?
  • are they easy to handle?
  • is it easy to feed?
  • does it match my budget?
  • can I take care of it for a lifetime?
  • is it child-friendly?

Does it require a lot of space?

Degus are active creatures that love to play, run, jump and climb around in their cage. Since they’re social creatures, you’ll need to keep at least a pair of degus which means that a cage should be large enough. The most popular housing for degus is a vertical cage, a little bit like a birdcage, with enough room for toys and an exercise wheel.

To give you an idea of the space you need; a degu cage for a pair of degus will need to have at least the following measurements:

  • 28 inches (70 centimeters) wide
  • 18 inches (45 centimeters) deep
  • 40 inches (100 centimeters) high

Although this is larger than the cages for smaller rodents I don’t think it would be a problem to house a pair of degus in an apartment or a smaller house.

Does it need a lot of attention?

Degus are crepuscular pets that are active during the day, but more so at twilight periods of the day. They’re also social animals that need the companionship of other degus to be happy. If you keep them as a solitary pet, you’ll need to give a lot of attention to it. If not, it will become stressed and even sick. But if you’ll keep a pair or a small group of degus, they will have a lot of fun together. They will play and snuggle together and will not need a lot of attention from you.

Although they won’t need a lot of attention and can be perfectly fine without you handling them, it’s important to spend some time each day handling them to make them tame and affectionate towards you.

How easy it to take care of?

Degus are low-maintenance pets. They need all the care that other rodents, and other animals, also require such as daily feeding and cleaning the cage weekly. They do need a dust or sand bath and you need to clean the cage at least once a week, depending on the number of degus you keep in the cage. If you want to keep your degus tame, you’ll need to handle and play with them daily.

Are they easy to handle?

Degus can be easily tamed, especially when they’re still young. Make sure that you handle them daily to strengthen the bond. If you don’t handle them daily, your degus might not stay tame and it will be difficult to handle them.

There are a few different ways to handle degus, but the most common way to handle them is to scoop him up with two hands and hold them tightly so he doesn’t fall. They have fragile bodies and a fall from even a relatively small height can be the cause of serious injuries. Never pick them up by the nape of the neck or the tail! The tail will fall off and it will not regrow.

Is it easy to feed?

Degus are easy to feed and don’t need a really special diet. They’ll need quality rodent food that you can find in stores and online. Make sure that the food is fresh and occasionally give treats like grass hay or seeds. It’s important to never give cooked or processed food to your degu as this can be dangerous for their health. They can’t metabolize sugar and will become diabetic if given too much sugar. So, don’t give chocolate, candy or food that contains a lot of sugar.

Does it match my budget?

The price of a degu ranges from $20 to $100 depending on the color variation and region you’re in. You’ll also need to buy a cage, toys, and food. Estimate a budget of at least $600 as a startup cost for holding a degu. It’s important to be aware of these high startup costs and also know that there are recurring costs, such as food and cage bedding.

Can I take care of it for a long time?

Most rodents only have a lifespan of a few years. The degu has a lifespan between 5 and 8 years in captivity. This means that you need to be certain that you or your children will take care of it for that time. If this is a little bit too long of a commitment, you can also try looking at pocket pets that have a shorter lifespan such as hamsters or rabbits.

Is it child-friendly?

Degus are really friendly animals that can bond well with their owners. If you’ve got children, you want to be sure that your pet is child-friendly. Children can be really interested in pets and want to hold and play with them. These little pets will certainly spark the interest of your children as they’re curious animals themselves and look really cute and funny.

In general, they’re child-friendly animals but you’ve still got to be careful. You have to make a distinction between young and older children. In either case, you should always supervise your child when it handles an animal.

Young children

It’s best for young children to not have access to the cage and to just let them watch the degus in their cage. It’s also possible for them to pet the degu when you handle them or when they stay in their cage.

Older children

Older children can handle a degu but they should always use both hands when doing this. Make sure that your child knows the right way to pick them up and handle them.

Why wouldn’t you want your children to handle your pet?

It’s fairly simple. Your child might not know the right way to handle such a little and fast pet and grab it for example by its tail. Or while handling, your child can make sudden movements that make the degu afraid.

If your degu gets frightened it will try to escape (and might fall) or – if there’s no other option – will bite. An escaped degu can be really difficult to catch because it’s tiny and fast. A bite, on the other hand, will be a terrible experience for both your child as your pet.

To Sum It Up

Name

Scientific name

Habitat

Lifespan

Characteristics

Degu

Octodon degus

South America

5 to 8 years

a social animal, crepuscular, easy to tame

Related Questions

Are degus cuddly?

Degus can get very affectionate and cuddly when they’re used to you handling them. The degu is a very intelligent animal that will want to cuddle with you but will also like cuddling with other degus.

Are degus nocturnal creatures?

Degus are crepuscular in the wild. They will be active during the day and sleep in short intervals. Degus are more active during twilight periods, dusk and dawn. One of the interesting things about degus is that they’re able to adapt their sleeping habits to that of their owner. Depending on their environment, they can become diurnal or nocturnal.

Do degus smell?

Degus are clean animals that don’t really smell but their cage will need regular cleaning each week to prevent smells. Urine and feces will mix with the bedding and can create nasty odors when you leave it in too long. Besides that, it depends on the number of degus you keep how often you’ll need to clean the cage.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about keeping degus as pets, you should definitely read the following articles:

You can also find awesome guides below that contain a lot of practical tips. These articles also go in-depth on certain very important topics and it would recommend reading them before you get degus.

degu cage guide
degu diet guide
degu substrate guide
cleaning degu cage

You can also find great information from a community of degu owners on the Reddit subreddit about degus.


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