Degus as Pets

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Degus as Pets

What is a degu? Degu facts you need to know Handling your degu Degus are becoming a popular pet in the UK as they are social, intelligent and playful small animals who enjoy interacting with their owners.  They are suitable for older children and adults and can make loving pets. With regular handling and patience degus and can be allowed out of their cage to sit on your lap or exercise – although you will have to degu-proof your home first!  What is a degu? Charles Darwin wrote about discovering degus in his voyages in the 1800s but they were not introduced to the UK until the 1960s and have only been available as pets until fairly recently.  Degus are native to northern and central Chile where they can be found on the west slopes of the Andes.  They are sometimes called the Chilean Ground Squirrel or Brush-Tailed Rat but actually have a closer relationship to Guinea Pigs and Chinchillas.   Degus look a little bit like Gerbils but are bigger. They are typically between 5 – 7 inches (15 - 18 cm) long and with a tail of about 4 inches (10 cm) that has a tuft on the end.  Their front legs are shorter than their back legs and they have quite large ears. The usual coat colour of degus is agouti (a sandy brown with grey tips with grey under fur).  They have lighter under parts and a black tip to their tails.  Other colour variations have developed, and although rare, they now include agouti in black, dark brown, blue (light grey), sand (ginger), champagne (cream), white and white patched. On average a pet degu lives between 6 - 8 years, although if they are well loved and looked after they can live up to 10 years. BackTo Top Degu facts you need to know The degus natural habitat is desert like scrub where much of the vegetation is dry.  They live on grasses and green vegetation, bark, seeds and fruit.  In the wild degus often climb the branches of shrubs, small trees and craggy outcrops foraging for food. Pet degus need a lot of space so their cages are large and roomy. Degus are highly social and live in burrows.  They live in a colony and dig their tunnels communally together.  Females living in the same group will often nest together and nurse one anothers young.  As they are so sociable its best to keep degus in same-sex pairs or groups of up to 6 as they become miserable and lonely when kept on their own.   Degus are very sensitive to high temperatures and can develop heat stroke very quickly as they can not sweat like humans. Ideally pet degus should be kept at a room temperature between 18 – 22ºC. Degus are vocal little creatures and can make up to 15 unique sounds.  They will make a “wheep” sound when alarmed; a “bark” is used as a warning and will chirp and chitter when they are happy.  They also thump their tails to make a drumming noise. Degus are quite prone to developing diabetes so it is best to avoid foods that are high in sugar. Fresh fruit should not be fed regularly but given in small amounts as a treat. Visit our Degu Health section to learn more Degus need regular sand (or dust) baths to keep their coats healthy and free from grease. Your pet degu should have a dust bath several times a week for about 20 minutes or so.   Visit our Degu products section for our range of dust baths and degu grooming accessories Degus shed their fur seasonally (around March – July in the UK). This isnt a health problem as it is perfectly normal for them to moult. BackTo Top Handling your degu When you bring your degu home leave them for a day or two before handling so that they can get used to their new surroundings.   Before you start to handle your degu let them get used to your voice.  Then introduce your hand so they can become used to your smell.  You can encourage your degu by offering them a treat and see if they will take it from your hand. Once your degu has become used to you, pick them up with one hand supporting their bottom and one hand over their back.  Hold them close to your chest.   When you have gained your degus trust they will sit on your lap and even groom you with a gentle nibbling action.  They enjoy being rubbed behind their ears, stroked and cuddled.  Very tame degus will even fall asleep in your hands. Never pick your degu up by the tail, this is extremely painful for your degu and will cause the skin to tear off at the base of their tail. BackTo Top