If you've never considered a degu (or even heard of a degu) as a pet, you may want to consider adding one to your list. In the wild, they live in communities of up to 100, much like prairie dogs. These social, curious animals are one of the few rodents that are awake during the day (diurnal), which adds to their pet appeal.
What Is a Degu?
A degu is a small, burrowing rodent native to Chile that makes a great pet.
They are great nappers, but once they get used to your schedule, these little creatures will come to greet you, often looking to play or get some belly rubs. They crave social interaction and exercise.
COMMON NAME: Degu
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Octodon degus
ADULT SIZE: 9 to 12 inches long, weighing 6 to 11 ounces
LIFESPAN: 6 to 8 years in captivity
Can You Own a Pet Degu?
Some places consider degus as a potentially invasive species and forbid owning them as a pet. They are illegal to own in multiple states within the United States. Before committing to buying one, check with city and state regulations where you live. Some places may require a permit or health certificate.
Things to Consider
If you can give your degu the larger amount of space it needs, and can think about adopting more than one so yours has company—they're pretty affordable—plus you're patient enough to train it to behave in a tame manner, a degu might just be the pet for your family.
Degu Behavior and Temperament
Similar to hedgehogs and other wild rodents, degus are easily tamed when handled from an early age. They do best housed in same-sex pairs with other degus, and are instinctively social. Degus are playful and curious. If they do not get sufficient social interaction and exercise, they can become aggressive and neurotic.
Some degus will attempt to converse with you using chitter-chatter sounds. Occasionally, you may hear high-pitched screeches when threatened, stressed, or if they get their food stolen. If hand trained from birth, they may come to you for cuddles or belly scratches.
Degus rarely resort to biting unless feeling cornered or threatened. A degu nip while playing shouldn't hurt or break the skin. It's only when it is in defensive mode and it fears for its life that a degu will bite hard. Only then may it hurt and cause an injury.
Do not pick a degu up by its tail. A built-in anti-predator mechanism allows these rodents to shed their tails in an emergency. This is often quite painful for your pet, and, unfortunately, the tail will never grow back.
Degus need a large cage. A minimum cage size of 24 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches should house two degus comfortably. The larger, the better. Multilevel cages built for ferrets or chinchillas are ideal. The surfaces should be solid and not wire slats.
Degus are avid chewers. Make sure the enclosure is made of wire or metal; they can eat their way through wood and plastic. A degu enclosure should have a nesting box to replicate the burrows they dig in the wild. A 6- by 8-inch wooden box with a flat roof to sit on should work.
Degus need a solid-surface exercise wheel (12 inches in diameter). Thick branches also make great playscapes for climbing along with cotton ropes.
Since degus are determined chewers, chewing opportunities thwart boredom and keep teeth healthy. A variety of woodblocks and chew toys designed explicitly for rodents should be offered and changed out often. Willow balls and toys made for rabbits or parrots also work. A mineral or salt block designed for rodents is another nice distraction while providing your pet with extra nutrients.
Specific Substrate Needs
Provide nesting material in the form of tissues, paper towels, hay, or shredded paper. Paper-based bedding is safer and just as absorbent when changed out regularly.
As with other small animals, avoid using cedar or pine shavings, as the scent can be toxic.
What Do Degus Eat & Drink?
Degus eat a diet high in roughage and low in carbohydrates. Thus, the basis of a proper degu diet is a combination of high-quality chinchilla or guinea pig pellets and a rodent block. Make nutrient-rich grass, like Timothy hay or alfalfa, available at all times. Provide fresh vegetables daily, such as sweet potato (peeled, uncooked), carrots, leafy greens (spinach, dandelion leaves, parsley), and green beans every day.
Avoid giving your degu cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Their systems can't handle these veggies in excess. Do not feed fruit; its sugar content is too high.
For occasional treats, you can offer sunflower seeds, peanuts, and whole nuts in the shell (sparingly, due to high-fat content).
Your degu needs clean, fresh water available at all times. Use a heavy ceramic dish for a water bowl or a water bottle with a metal tube that has a chew guard.
Common Health Problems
Degus are generally healthy, but they can be susceptible to a few conditions: Due to their natural insulin resistance, degus are prone to diabetes. Telltale signs of this disease include fat rolls and the development of cataracts.
They also get bumblefoot, a bacterial infection that causes foot sores; it requires antibiotics for treatment. Mouth and dental diseases are common (like tooth spurs; provide safe chewable toys to prevent this painful mouth condition; skin conditions like dry skin, which can be prevented by offering your pet a regular dust bath; and respiratory illnesses, which may be preventable by keeping their enclosure clean to prevent unsanitary conditions. Also watch for pawing, eating difficulties, and weepy eyes. Contact your exotics vet if any unusual symptoms come up.
Degus enjoy running around their cages but they also love an exercise wheel, provided it's one they won't chew through. They like saucer disk toys, which are similar to wheels but spin below them. Degus also like bridges they can climb, which can be incorporated into their cages, the same with ropes and tunnels and branches they can climb on or through.
Degus do shed, or more like molt, once a year. If you see it happening more frequently, give a call to your vet.
Like chinchillas, degus need regular dust baths to keep their skin and coat in good condition. Provide your pet with a shallow bowl containing an inch or two of animal bath dust or bath sand. Leave this in the cage for half an hour to give it ample time to roll around. Repeat dust baths biweekly.
Degus are small, around 9 to 12 inches long and weighing a mere 6 to 11 ounces.
Training Your Degu
With some patience, your degus can be trained to be tame enough to be held or cuddled.
It's likely impossible to litter train your degu, they are peeing and pooping machines (though sometimes they do most of their business in their cage's corner).
Pros & Cons of Keeping a Degu as a Pet
Degus are affectionate and easy to care for; they need no grooming help, will get along with your other pets, and enjoy your company. On the negative side, they need food all the time, they chew on everything, and really need another degu as a companion because they need a lot more attention than most household pets.
Purchasing Your Degu
Degus breed prolifically. Breeders and pet stores usually have domestic-bred degus for sale. They cost $25 to $100. You also try your luck rescuing a degu. Check adoption organizations like Adopt-a-Pet and your local humane society for degus that might be up for adoption.
Whether you go through a breeder, pet store, or adoption organization, ask them many questions. They should be able to provide you with the care schedule, a food list, and some background about where they got the animal.
Observe the animal closely before purchasing and look at its enclosure. Look for signs of illness, including discharge around the nose, a watery mouth, cloudy eyes, or foot sores.
Since degus do better in pairs, make sure you don't get a male and a female. If you do, please don't neglect to spay or neuter them.
Similar Pets to the Degu
If you are interested in pet degus, check out:
Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.
Are degus really related to guinea pigs?
Yes, they are both rodents.
Does a degu do better in its natural habitat than in a domesticated one?
Likely. Not that we humans can't give them good homes, but in the wild they're used to having degu friends and lots of space to roam.
Are degu supplies easy to find?
Yes! All of it can be bought at major online pet retailers, nothing special is needed.
Degu care. American Humane Society.
Mice and Rats as Pets. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Caring For Your Degu. Iowa State University College Of Veterinary Medicine.
Ardiles, Alvaro O et al. Octodon degus (Molina 1782): a model in comparative biology and biomedicine. Cold Spring Harbor protocols vol. 2013,4 312-8. 1 Apr. 2013, doi:10.1101/pdb.emo071357