Before you even buy a pair of degu, you’ll need to be fully prepared. You should:
- prepare yourself for your new pets and the new responsibilities
- prepare your home to house degus
- know what you need to buy to care for degus and where to buy it
- find a vet that knows how to diagnose and treat a degu
As you can see we’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of different topics to cover, so let’s get started!
When you look at the adorable degus in a pet store you might be persuaded to an impulse buy but impulse buys are never a good idea, especially when it comes to buying a pet. Pets require care for a certain period and will have an influence on you and your family.
It’s essential that you prepare yourself and your family before you get a pet. The following questions should always be asked before you get a degu:
- can you keep degus in your home?
- why do you want a degu?
- what do you expect from a/what can you expect from a degu?
- is everybody in your family on board with getting a degu?
- who’s going to care for the degu?
Can you keep degus in your home?
Degus are considered illegal in some countries and states. You might happen to live in such a region where it won’t be allowed to hold degus as pets. Inform yourself about the regulation in your region!
Even if you can legally keep pets in your region, you might not be allowed to keep them in your home. This can be the case when you’re renting an apartment and the lease doesn’t allow pets. You should always check your rental agreement to make sure that pets are allowed. If there’s no written clause that allows this, you shouldn’t get a pet even when your landlord verbally consents.
Why do you want a degu?
People get pets for a myriad of reasons and the reasons why you get a dog are possibly different than why you would want to get a degu or another kind of pocket pet. The most common reasons why you possibly would want a degu are:
- companionship: if you live alone your home can sometimes feel empty. This might lead to a feeling of loneliness. A lot of people get a pet to have someone to take care of and that gives a form a friendship in place.
- taking care of another being: people like the feeling of being needed by someone or something. A pet will need you to take care of it or else it will soon die. This care gives a satisfying feeling to a lot of people. It’s also a good way to give a sense of responsibility to children.
But other pets can also provide companionship and a good feeling. So why would you want to get a degu?
A lot will depend on what kind of pet fits your lifestyle. If you want an active pet that you can go for a walk with, a degu would not be a great choice. Degus are active creatures but they’re small and usually don’t like to be handled too much. They’re not the cuddly animals like dogs and you’ll need some bonding with them before they will be handled.
What do you expect from a/what can you expect from a degu?
You should know what to expect from your degus before getting them. You should be aware that degus:
- are sociable animals: degus are sociable animals that live in groups in the wild. They’ll need the company of other degus to live a happy life. It’s advised never to get a single degu as a pet. Such a solitary held degu can get stressed and can get lonely which may lead to behavioral problems.
- need a special diet: degus are pets that are prone to diabetes and need a low-sugar and low-carbohydrate diet. Although there are special commercial degu diets available it’s necessary to know that they require special care when it comes to their dietary needs.
- need time to bond: degus might seem cuddly but they’re in fact not that easy to handle at first. Just as most rodents, degus aren’t used to being handled and their instinct is to run away and hide when they get caught. Luckily, degus are very smart and curious animals that can be bonded with given the proper time. Their curious nature will aid in this bonding process.
- require a large cage: degus have relatively large territories in the wild and will need a larger cage than most other popular pet rodents. They need a cage that’s both large in height and length. Still, most degu cages can still be placed in houses and even apartments.
Discussing getting a degu with your family or housemates
If you live alone, feel free to skip this little section. But if you live with your family or friends you want to discuss getting degus with them. Make sure that you know the basics of degu care and have informed yourself of the total cost of degus. An important thing to discuss is whether your family members/housemates have pet allergies.
Dividing the responsibilities
If you’re the only one in your household, you will probably carry all the responsibilities related to your new pets. But if you live with other persons or children you’ll need to talk about the responsibilities and sharing them between all the members in the household.
To give you an idea of the new responsibilities:
- you’ll need to feed and give fresh water daily to your degus
- the cage needs to be cleaned at least once a week
- you’ll need to handle each degu a couple of minutes each day for it to become tame
Preparing Your Home
Where to place the degu cage?
You should find a good location for your degu cage by taking into account the following recommendations:
- place the cage on waist level or higher: degus are prey animals and are preyed upon by birds. Their natural instinct is to run when they encounter a predator or bite in extreme cases. Since rodents don’t have good eyesight they might think that you are a bird of prey and get scared. So your degus should always be able to get to a level that’s the same height as yourself.
- keep it away from ventilation, radiators, direct sunlight and cold spots: degus are sensitive creatures and can get a heat stroke when exposed to high temperatures for extended periods. But when the cage is located near a cold spot, they also can get sick and can get pneumonia.
Locations to avoid
There are some locations that are more suitable than others to place your degu cage. Here are some “bad” cage locations, although a lot will depend on the particular situation in your home:
- bedroom: degus are most active during the day but when you place a cage in your bedroom it’s possible that they still make noises that wake you up. Besides that, it’s never a good idea to place a cage in a bedroom because it can lead to the development of allergies.
- garage or shed: garages and sheds are usually colder than the rest of the house. Also, exhaust fumes are dangerous for your degus.
The above locations are also less suitable because you’ll not see your degus as much as when you house them in your living room. Most people will house their degus in their living room so they can enjoy them during the day and so the degus can be part of the family.
Degu-proofing the room
Why do you need to degu-proof a room?
Degus are smart, curious and fast creatures that love to spend time outside their cage. Although it’s possible to keep degus most of the time in their cage – if it’s large enough and provides enough stimuli – you’ll have to get them out of the cage at some point.
Common situations where your degus will be kept outside the cage:
- while cleaning the cage you’ll need to keep your degus in a separate cage or container
- it’s recommended to handle your degus daily and at this time they’re outside the cage
- to play in a playpen or roam around in a room to explore
A lot of rooms in our homes contain dangerous objects for animals. Since degus can be escape artists and can slip from your hands while handling, you’ll need to be sure that the room is degu proof for their safety. If you don’t degu proof the room, they can escape and chew on wires or get stepped on.
A house can be a real death trap for small animals and if you’re not careful your degu might find a place to crawl in and not be able to get out. Before you get degus – and especially before you let them out of their cage – check that the room their cage is in, is degu proof. This means that:
- there are no traps lying around: make sure that there are no sticky or snap traps in the room. You might want to get rid of a rodent problem but degus are equally in danger of getting caught in such traps.
- there is no rodent poison in the vicinity: just as with the traps, degus might take a bite of something layered in rodent poison.
- household chemicals are kept in a closed cabinet: if you’ve got children you should already store these chemicals in a closed cabinet where your children can’t get to them. The same is applicable to degus.
- electrical cords are unplugged: degus like to chew on things but when they chew on a plugged-in electrical cord they will get an electrical shock and get serious injuries if not die. Make sure that the cords are unplugged and out of the reach of your degus so they can’t chew on them
- there are no small holes or crawl spaces: degus can fit through relatively small holes and can get stuck in the process. You should make sure that there are no crawl spaces or cracks in the walls.
Degus are small prey animals and they should be kept away from other pets. Animals, while they can be friendly towards you and your family, still have their hunting instincts. Dogs, cats and even birds can pose a serious threat to your degus. When your degus are out of their cage it’s the safest to not let any other pet in the same room. Even when they’re in their cage you should always be careful that the cage is safely secured and that your other pets can’t hurt them.
Buying the Necessary Gear
What do you need for a degu?
When you’re getting a pet, you’ll need to buy a few products that are necessary to take care of your degus. You’ll need to buy some basic gear for the degus:
- degu cage
- substrate and bedding material
- water bottle and food dishes
- nesting box and hideaways
- dust bath, exercise wheel, cage accessories and toys
You’ll also have some recurring costs, some of which are mentioned above. The most important recurring cost, however, is food.
Degus love to jump and run around in their cage and you should definitely get a large enough cage. There are a lot of different views on the appropriate cage size for degus and a lot will depend on your budget and the number of degus you get. In general, the bigger the better.
A rodent cage needs substrate and there’s a lot of different material available in shops and online. Substrate is what you put on the cage floor to cover it and absorb the urine. Substrate can also be used as a bedding material to be used in the nests of degus.
Not all of the substrate that is sold is suitable for degus. Some substrates can be toxic or cause respiratory problems for your degus.
The following substrate is suitable for degus:
- aspen shavings
- wood pulp substrate
- paper-based substrate
However, never use any of the following materials:
- pine and cedarwood shavings: these are highly toxic for degus when ingested – and degus will somehow ingest them when they’re used as bedding material. These shavings can also contain toxic airborne chemicals.
- sawdust: sawdust is made of fine particles that can become airborne and cause respiratory problems for your degus but also for yourself.
- wooden or paper pellets: pellets are water-absorbing and can cause internal problems when ingested. They also are not well for the feet of your degus and can cause injuries.
- cat litter: as with wood pellets, cat litter can be the cause of injuries and since the litter is also very absorbent, it can be a problem for your degu when ingested.
You’ll not only need substrate but also bedding material. Bedding material will be used in the nests of degus to create a soft and nice environment to sleep and relax.
As I already mentioned, substrate can sometimes also be used as a bedding material. But there is also specific material that’s often used as bedding material. Again, certain types of material can be toxic or cause respiratory problems for your degus ad should be avoided.
The following bedding material is suitable for degus:
- paper-based substrate
- fleece bedding
However, never use any of the following materials:
- cotton balls
- felt stripes
- coconut fibers
- straw (sharp edges)
Also, avoid any bedding that contains any of the following material:
- polyester stuffing
- cotton batting
Water bottle and food dishes
Get a water bottle of at least 16 ounces and hang it on the outside of the cage. You can use a glass or plastic water bottle. Glass water bottles are usually more hygienic and are also chew-proof. However, plastic bottles are cheaper and also are suitable as long as you make sure that your degus don’t take a bite in the plastic. Don’t use a water dish! This can be easily tipped over and it can be unhygienic if your degus get into the dish.
Food dishes need to be heavy enough to prevent them from tipping. A ceramic or metal food dish is suitable for degus. There are also plastic food dishes but these are not recommended because they’re not heavy enough and you risk that your degus chew on it, and ingest the plastic.
If you’ve got more than two degus, it’s best to get at least two food dishes. Food is often a reason for degus to fight and you can avoid a fight just by giving your degus their own dish.
Nesting box and hideaways
Degus sleep in burrows in their natural habitat but such a burrow is difficult to mimic in a cave. In captivity, degus will sleep in nesting boxes or hideaways. You can buy a wooden or chew-proof plastic one, but you can also create a nesting box yourself. The nesting box should be large enough to fit in all of your degus, as they like to snuggle next to each other. The height of the nesting box should fit a standing degu.
Degus love to use twigs and other material to create the bedding of their burrow. Give your degus soft shredded paper, like kitchen paper, as bedding material for the nesting box.
Degus, just like chinchillas, need a dust bath to keep their fur clean. Dust baths are also a way for your degus to bond with each other. Don’t use “normal” sand as this isn’t suitable for a dust bath. You should use sand that’s also used for chinchilla dust baths. Provide a dust bath three times a week and make sure that each degu has access to it.
An exercise wheel can look like a great toy for your degu, but it’s also essential for them. Degus need a lot of activity and running in an exercise wheel resembles the activity of foraging that degus do in the wild. Degus will run several miles each day in their wheel so it’s best to get a good one.
Each degu should have a separate exercise wheel that’s made of metal or chew-proof plastic. The wheel should have a solid running surface and have a diameter of at least 12 inches (30 cm). Don’t use an exercise wheel with metal or plastic bars as this might lead to injuries when your degu gets caught in the wheel.
Degus are curious and active creatures that love to play. There’s a wide variety of toys available for degus such as chew sticks, ladders, tunnel tubes, and playhouses. You should always make sure that the toys you get, are made of non-toxic material and that they’re chew-proof – except when it comes to chewing toys of course.
Where to buy the necessary gear?
Most pet stores have everything you’ll need. If your local pet store doesn’t have a lot of supplies you don’t need to worry, you can also buy the necessary gear online on sites like Amazon or online stores that specialize in degus and rodents.
To give you a head start, here are some sites that sell the gear you’ll need:
Although these sites and others can give you competitive prices you might also find really good deals at pet stores. It all depends on the region you’re in.
Finding a Vet
Degus are exotic animals and not all vets have a lot of experience with this kind of pet. You should find a vet that lives close by and that’s capable of doing the annual checkups and treatments of your degus. Also, check what’s the closest emergency animal hospital and write down the number.
Now that you know how to prepare yourself and your home for degus, you can continue to the next chapter in the guide: Buying a Degu.