Are Degus Social? (Understanding Social Nature of Degus)
When you go to a degu breeder or pet rescue, you’ll notice that degus are kept in pairs or groups and are not housed alone. But some people are scared of caring for more than one pet and want to get just one degu.
Many “group” animals can also be kept alone and live in harmony with their owner. But is the degu one of these animals, and can a degu be held alone?
Degus are social animals that live in large groups in the wild. They love to play, cuddle, and sleep in a group. Therefore, it’s recommended to keep at least a pair of degus. However, in rare cases, a degu is (temporarily) kept alone. In that case, you’ll need to give your degu much attention.
Degus are group animals that love to spend time with other degus. They’re not used to living alone like some pocket pets. I would highly recommend that you get at least a pair of degus. Caring for one degu can be more complicated than caring for a pair or small group of degus.
Of course, keeping group animals poses different possible difficulties than keeping a solitary pet. For example, they might fight, not like each other, and it can result in degu babies if you get a male/female pair.
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Social Structure in the Wild
Wild degus usually live in groups of 1 or 2 males and 2 to 5 females. Like other group animals, the degu world is based on hierarchy and dominance.Yeates, J. & Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. (2019). Companion Animal Care and Welfare. Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119333708
These little rodents have built their entire life around living in a community. A couple of examples that show their co-working/co-living behavior in the wild:
- degus keep each other warm by snuggling;
- they dig burrows simultaneously or alternate the digging (creating a “working” chain)Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) ‘Energetics and burrowing behaviour in the semifossorial degu Octodon degus (Rodentia: Octodontidae).’ Journal of Zoology, 252: 179-186.;
- degus will groom each other.
The group offers a lot of other advantages for the degu. For example, larger groups are better at detecting predators and notifying the rest of the group.Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) ‘Communal burrowing in the hystricognath rodent, Octodon degus: A benefit of sociality?’ Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47: 365-369. Larger groups also result in more foraging time and are better at digging burrows.Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) ‘Communal burrowing in the hystricognath rodent, Octodon degus: A benefit of sociality?’ Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47: … Continue reading
How to Keep Multiple Degus (Considerations)
Degus are social animals and should have at least one degu companion. Therefore, it is usually easiest to buy (or better adopt) a pair of degus. You can also opt for a bigger group, although this can be more complicated when you haven’t got a lot of experience with degus.
The final number of degus you’ll house is, of course, determined by several factors like:
- how much space you can provide to your degus;
- the time you have to take care of your degus;
- whether you want to breed and raise baby degus.
Keeping a same-sex pair or groups
If you haven’t got a lot of space, only get a pair of degus of the same sex. The following combinations of degus will work out most of the time:
- male siblings
- female siblings
- a mother and her daughter(s)
- a father and his son(s)
It’s also possible to house a pair of males or females that are not related if they’re kept together from a young age.
Keeping male/female pairs or groups
Most people don’t recommend keeping males and females together unless you’re planning to breed degus or had them desexed. If you house multiple males and females together, you risk they will start fighting each other to establish a hierarchy. A more considerable risk is that you’ll end up with degu babies.
In European countries, such as the United Kingdom and Belgium, a lot of degus end up in animal shelters (rescues). This is because degus can get many babies very fast. But, unfortunately, people aren’t equipped for this and the degus end up in a shelter.
I wouldn’t recommend getting a male/female pair, especially if you haven’t got any experience with (breeding) degus. Only people with a lot of experience and know what they’re doing can keep a male/female pair. Even so, breeders should always investigate their region’s market and ensure there is a demand for degus.
If you do decide to keep a male and female or multiple males and females, you should:
- make sure that the cage is large enough for the number of degus
- have a good ratio of males and females
- neuter the males if you don’t want to have degu babies
How to let degus adjust to other degus (pairing)
Degus are social animals and you probably got at least a pair of degus. If you want to have a larger group of degus or got a single degu and decide to get a companion, you’ll need to take a couple of steps to introduce the degus to each other and get them to like each other.
Pairing degus is a time-intensive process with no 100% chance of success. The pairing is easier with younger degus (10 weeks or younger) but isn’t impossible with older degus.
The first step you’ll need to take is introducing both degus to each other. This means that you should let them sniff each other, but in a safe way.
Keep your degus in separate cages near each other or keep them in one cage with a divider/split halfway. Your degus should be able to see and smell each other. Both cages should contain food, water, toys, and exercise wheels to keep them busy.
As the week progresses, move the cages closer to each other. When the degus seem to have gotten accustomed to each other’s presence, put them in the same cage. They may get along well immediately, or they may squabble. If a serious fight breaks out, separate the degus and keep them separate for a few more days.
When the degus seem to have gotten used to each other, you can also try letting them play together in a neutral area that isn’t any degu’s territory. Bring your degus in an area where they haven’t been before and let them explore the room and each other.
Since degus are social and friendly animals, you should be able to put your degus in one cage without a lot of problems. There will be some squabbles to establish hierarchy but this will only take a few weeks and will be limited in length.
You may want to buy a new cage, bedding, and toys that don’t smell of any one degu. Alternatively, clean the cage and supplies to get rid of any scents.
Tips and Tricks to Prevent Fighting Among Degus
Degus are generally not aggressive animals but they do rely on a certain hierarchy that makes it possible to live in a group. You have to make a difference between:
- playing and establishing hierarchy
- real fighting with injuries
Establishing hierarchy in groups
Degus that are kept in a group will show behavior that’s meant to determine hierarchy in the group. This behavior can include mounting, chasing, boxing, and chattering.
This behavior will determine the hierarchy in the group and isn’t meant to cause any real injury. Usually, the hierarchy will be set in a few weeks and the “fighting” will be over. This kind of “fighting” isn’t a real fight and the degus will get along fine with each other most of the time. They will snuggle together, share food and toys without a lot of problems.
When you notice that your degus are exhibiting this behavior and there isn’t any physical injury, let them settle things and establish the hierarchy in the group. If you would remove one of them, this will upset the structure in the group and will possibly make things worse.
If your degus struggle for dominance in the group, there can be a real fight with physical injuries. When you notice that a degu has bite wounds or is losing fur from the fight, you should immediately separate the degus from each other. The same is definitely true when you see the degus grabbing each other and rolling in a ball.
You might not always be able to prevent a fight, but you can take some measures that reduce the risk of a fight:
- place separate food dishes: a lot of degu fights take place over food. Place multiple food dishes in different places of the cage to prevent fights over food.
- enough housing: in the wild degus can run away from conflict but in a cage, there isn’t a lot of space to run away. So make sure that your degus have enough space.
- neutering: degus seem to fight more in the breeding season (November to April) when their hormones are flaring up. To prevent fighting and also prevent babies, you can neuter your degus. Make sure that you do this before the breeding season starts.
How to Keep a Degu Alone? (Exception)
As you’ve noticed, keeping a degu alone in a cage isn’t a good idea. It goes against their nature and behavior in the wild. There are a lot of risks and problems when you keep a degu alone:
- he or she won’t have a grooming friend
- your degu might get a lot of stress or become depressed
- there won’t be a friend to play with
- no snuggling up with other degus to keep warm
The most important reason for keeping degus in at least a pair is that they will become sad and stressed if they don’t have a degu companion. Stress might lead to other health issues!
What should you do if you keep a degu alone?
If you do decide to keep a degu alone or perhaps you had a pair and one degu died, you’ll need to provide enough interaction and entertainment for your degu.
This means that you should:
- interact (play, cuddle, …) with your degu daily for at least an hour
- provide enough toys to keep it busy during the day
- let him or her have enough exercise
If you notice any signs of stress or depression, you should still get a companion for your degu. This also means that you have to take different steps to let your degu adjust to its new friend.
When is it OK to keep a degu alone?
There are some rare cases where it’s OK to keep a degu (temporarily) alone:
- anti-social behavior: just like is the case with other animals and also humans, a degu can show anti-social behavior and won’t like to have the companionship of fellow degus. This usually won’t mean that these degus don’t bond with their owners, they just want all of the attention for themselves.
- used to be kept alone: some degus might not know anything other than a life as a single pet. It can be stressful and nearly impossible to introduce such a degu in a pair or group. If your degu is in such a case and doesn’t seem to have any problems with it, you won’t have to worry.
- illness: an illness can spread to different animals in a group very fast, especially with a group animal like the degu that likes to groom and cuddle with fellow degus. If your degu is ill, you should keep it separate from the other degus and seek the advice of a vet. When your degu is better, you can introduce him back to the group. Be wary that this might create problems in groups because of the changed hierarchy.
Are degus affectionate?
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.
Should degus be kept in pairs?
Degus should be kept in pairs or small groups. You can keep same-sex pairs of the same litter or that grew up together from a young age (before 10 weeks). You can also keep a male and female pair but this will lead to babies and a lot more care.
Can two male degus live together?
Male degus can live together when they’re siblings or grew up together from a young age. They will live together without any problems if there are no female degus nearby. If you keep two male degus and a couple of female degus, they will probably fight each other to establish a hierarchy.
|↑1||Yeates, J. & Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. (2019). Companion Animal Care and Welfare. Wiley. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119333708|
|↑2||Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) ‘Energetics and burrowing behaviour in the semifossorial degu Octodon degus (Rodentia: Octodontidae).’ Journal of Zoology, 252: 179-186.|
|↑3||Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) ‘Communal burrowing in the hystricognath rodent, Octodon degus: A benefit of sociality?’ Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47: 365-369.|
|↑4||Ebensperger, L. and Bozinovic, F. (2000) ‘Communal burrowing in the hystricognath rodent, Octodon degus: A benefit of sociality?’ Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 47: 365-369.Ebensperger, L. and Blumstein, D. (2006) ‘Sociality in New World Hystricognath rodents is linked to predators and burrow digging.’ Behavioural Ecology, 17 (3): 410-418.|