Social Behavior of Degus: Can a Degu Be Kept Alone or Not?

When you go to a degu breeder or pet store you’ll notice that degus are kept in pairs or groups and that they’re not housed in solitary. But some people are scared of caring for more than one pet and want to get just one degu. There are a lot of “group” animals that can also be kept as a solitary pet and live in harmony with their owner. But is the degu one of these animals and can a degu be kept alone?

Can degus live alone? Degus are social animals that live in large groups in the wild. In general, it’s recommended to keep at least a pair of degus. There are some rare cases where a degu is (temporarily) kept as a solitary pet. In that case, you’ll need to provide your degu with a lot of 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 even be more difficult than caring for a pair or small group of degus.

Of course, keeping group animals pose a different set of possible difficulties than keeping a solitary pet. They might fight each other, not like each other and it can – if you get a male/female pair – result in degu babies.

In this article, you’ll learn why it’s best to keep at least a pair of degus, how to keep them from fighting, how to let your degus adjust to a new degu, and what to do if you want to house only a single degu in your home.

Social Structure in the Wild

Wild degus live in large groups that can have up to a hundred members. More commonly the wild degu will live in groups of 1 or 2 males and 2 to 5 females. The degu world is based on hierarchy and dominance.

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);
  • degus will groom each other

The group offers a lot of other advantages for the degu. It’s been noticed that larger groups are better at detecting predators and notifying the rest of the group. Larger groups also result in more foraging time and are better at digging burrows.

Keeping Multiple Degus

Degus are social animals and thus should have at least one friendly degu companion. It is usually easiest to buy and keep them in pairs. Introducing the third degu to a pair that has already bonded may result in the newcomer getting bullied or injured during a fight.

Same-sex pairs

I highly recommend that, if you decide to get degus, you get at least a pair. Degus are very social animals that will thrive in small and large groups but can as easily be happy with just one other companion.

The final number of degus you’ll house is of course determined by several factors like:

  • the housing space,
  • the time you have to take care of your degus,
  • and whether you want to breed and raise baby degus.

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 when not housed with a female degu
  • female siblings
  • a mother and her daughter(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.

Male and female pairs

There are some people that 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 that they will start fighting each other to establish a hierarchy. I wouldn’t recommend getting a male and a female if this is your first experience with degus. Get two siblings of the same sex, as mentioned above.

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 care for degu babies

How to Help a Degu Adjust to Another Degu

Degus are social animals and you probably got at least a pair of degus. If you decide that you want to have a larger group of degus or got a single degu and decide to get him or her 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.

Introducing degus to each other

You should take the time to introduce degus to each other. If you have a chance, introduce them at a young age (preferably before they’re 10 weeks old). Hold both degus and let them sniff each other. This might start teeth chattering, a way of communication and also a way to establish hierarchy. Keep both degus in a separate cage near each other or keep them in a cage with a divider halfway. Your degus should be able to see and smell each other. Also keep food, water, toys and exercise wheels in both cages so they won’t fight over this.

Next steps

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.

Real fighting

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.

Keeping a Degu Alone

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 why you want to keep degus in at least a pair is that they will become sad that they don’t have a degu companion. This might lead to 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.

Related Questions

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.

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