Degu Info

French Translation of this page


In most encyclopedias where you look for 'Degu' you will find nothing. The Degu as pet isn't (yet) as popular as for example the hamster, but every day more Degu-fans can be found. The biggest obstacle for becoming a popular pet is the lack of literature about Degus. People are reluctant to buy pets if there isn't anything written about them. I hope that my homepage will contribute to the knowledge of Degus, and that many Degus worldwide will live better and healthier lives........

General Degu Info

The Latin name for Degu is Octodon Degus. This latin name is derived from the worn enamel surface of its teeth which forms a pattern in the shape of a figure eight.

But what is a Degu really? Short said, a Degu is a little brown rodent. They look and behave like squirrels. If you have ever seen a Gerbil, just imagine him a little bigger, and you will have a picture of a Degu.
Degus originate from the lowland areas of Chile where they live in large groups making their homes in rocks or hedges. They are considered an agricultural pest. Nests and storage for food are usually dug under the rocks. Degus in the wild can live up to 15 years, but in captivity they rarely become 10 years old. If a Degu has cataracts, he will not grow older than 6-7 years.

A recent article published in Nature made clear that the Degu isn't a rodent. DNA research of guinea pigs, which are of the same 'Octodon' family as Degus, made clear that Degus are more related to rabbits than rodents.

Degu Behaviour

Degus are very social animals and need a lot of attention and someone to 'weep' at, so it is recommended to keep at least two Degus. It is possible to keep just one Degu, but a single Degu will get diseases more easily and may get depressed. If you still want to keep just one Degu, or if you only can get one Degu, be sure you give this single Degu a lot of attention.
If you want to introduce a new Degu to one you already have, the best thing to do is to split your cage in two parts, and put one Degu in one part, and the other in the second part. After a week the Degus are used to each other, and you can put both Degus in one cage. It isn't bad if they start fighting (one Degu has to be the boss), but if it keeps on too long, split the Degus up. They just don't like each other. You will then have to keep both Degus in separate cages.

To me it seems that Degus have a sort of memory. They definitely recognize sounds and they recognize voices. Degus are able to recognize their owners, and they behave more 'openly' to people they know. If Degus meet a stranger, they will behave very cautiously, and they will sniff at him, until they are sure the stranger isn't dangerous to them.

Because Degus are social animals, they rarely bite a person or other Degu. Only when Degus feel threatened, will they occasionally bite. Usually, if they feel threatened or uncomfortable, they will give a large 'WEEP!'. Degus fear nothing, so protect them from cats, dogs, and vacuum cleaners (our cat is scared of Degus, because he was once bitten on his tail by one he tried to chase). Degus are also very curious: they will try to taste and sniff at everything that is new to them.

Degus have a rather good memory. They will, for example, remember teasing persons, so always behave politely to Degus. Be sure you never grab a Degu by its tail, because the Degu's defense mechanism will shed their tail from their body. A shed tail will never grow back.

Degus are avid nest builders. Apparently in the wild they spend a lot of making piles of twig. Status within the degu community is thought to depend on the size of their respective twig pile. In the absence of twigs, my Degus collect paper tissues which I give them for bedding. Degus do not come from arid parts of the world like gerbils do. Therefore, they drink a lot more water. This in turn results in more pee and more smell (about equivalent to a hamster or a rat -they are not as offensive as mice or rabbits) Thus Degu cages require cleaning out more frequently than gerbil cages. I clean my Degu cage with two Degus once every week.

Degus sometimes make a 'weep'sound. Degus usually make this sound if they want attention, because for example they think their cage is too filthy, or because they want to 'go out'. Sometimes though, Degus can sit and 'weep' for hours if there's really nothing wrong. I think they do this because they are searching for a female partner. I read in the book 'unser Degu', that male Degus in the wild can 'weep' for hours in the open field after they made love with a female. When Degus are happy, they will 'warble' to each other, and sometimes even to a human. Here is a sample of some Degus 'warbling' to eachother. This one is of some Degus getting food, thanks to

If you want to make your Degu happy, try to scratch your Degu behind his ear. He eventually will turn around and let you scratch his belly. Degus really love this!

Degu Food

Wild degus mainly live on bulbs, tubers and bark. It is pretty difficult to replicate this narrow and specialised diet in captivity, but let's give it a try.

Feed your Degus a 50-50 mixture of chinchilla pellets and guinea pig pellets, sweet potatoes, carrots, dandelion greens, timothy hay and always a large supply of fresh green alfalfa. Give your Degus sometimes (once in three-four days) a few sunflower seeds or a half peanut, a few kernels of dried corn and sometimes some green beans.

The 50-50 mixture of chinchilla pellets and guinea pig pellets are for the day-to-day nutrients a Degu needs. Degus need the yellow vegetables (sweet potatoes and carrots) for the health of their teeth, for vitamin C, and to provide a fresh component to their diet. The timothy hay and the fresh alfalfa grass is given because Degus need high protein and some special nutrients. Degus like the sunflower seeds or the half peanut as a treat, and there are some ingredients in the seeds and peanut that are good for Degus.

A Degu can survive in the wild without any water, but be sure to give your Degus some fresh hyperchlorinated water every day, because the Degus can't get enough water out of the given food. You must hyperchlorinate the water because Degus are prone to mouth diseases. You can make chlorinated water by dropping one or two drops of household bleach in a quart (a concentration of approximate 1:125000)

DO NOT feed your Degu any sugar-holding food, like fruit or raisins. Degus can't metabolize sugar. Also don't feed your Degus the skin or the green parts of pototoes because they are *very* toxic for Degus (and for humans). Be sure not to give to much carbohydrate-holding food (i.e. starchy foods like corn), because Degus can't handle this kind of food. In the area where Degus live in the wild aren't much carbohydrate food sources, so Degus aren't used to carbohydrates. If you are the sort of person who cannot resist giving titbits to your pets, then Degus are not for you.

Degus won't eat all their given food: they eat until they are satisfied. Also if you give a treat (like a peanut) Degus may bury this food. I think it is the same behavior that squirrel display: to bury food for bad times, like winter.

Degu Housing

Degus need a large cage, because they need to run and climb a lot. The best thing to do in the cage is to build several floors, so the living space will be larger and the Degus can climb up and down and stay fit. Degus love a wheel. I use an 11 inch wheel. Any rodent will fare better with a solid wheel rather that a wire one - the same with cage floors. A Degu's tail can get stuck in a wire wheel, so buy a solid one. Degus that are always on wire floors develop "bumblefoot", which is very painful for them.

They like running in the living room too, but be aware of cables, wooden furniture and cats and dogs. After a while they often go back in their cage by themselves. You can 'surprise' your Degus with a dust bath: if you put some sand in a cup, your Degus will take a bath in it. They really like this!

Degu Breeding

A male and a Female Degu The difference between a male Degu and a female Degu is hard to see. The Degu at the top is the male Degu and the Degu below the female. Female Degus are usually larger than male ones.

Most of the literature that I have found says that degus are sexually mature at about 9 months age. However, I know of four cases, where the female was impregnated when she was about 8 or 9 weeks old. The male was probably her father, so I don't know if males can be sexually mature that young or not.
Degu's are about 90 day's pregnant.
Degus have a post-partum estrus. That is, they can mate as soon as they give birth. They are like guinea pigs in that respect. If they do not mate at that time, they will probably not come into estrus again until they have weaned the litter.

Ovulation seems to be dependent on the presence of a male, according to what I've read, but nobody is sure about this. If so, then there is no definite estrus cycle, as other animals have. Degu youngs stop nursing at 4 weeks. It seems that they can be weaned safely at 5 weeks. Other females in the colony will help a pregnant female with her birth.
And yes, after he mates, a male will sit on top of the nest box and 'wheep' about it all evening - just bragging - like a typical male :-)

Degu Diseases
Diabetes Degus can't metabolize sugar. If they eat too much sugar, they become diabetic. A diabetic Degus will drink more water than normal, and won’t live very long.
Solution Don't feed your Degu any sugar-holding food. (including fruit or too much raisins)
Liver problems If the Degu is fed too much fat, he will get liver problems. This is particularly a concern with females of breeding age.
Solution Feed your Degu very few fat-holding food (like sun-flowers or peanuts)
Mouth diseases Degus are very prone to mouth disseases. If they get a mouth dissease, their teeth will become white (instead of the normal yellow-orange). If the teeth are white, the Degu will die soon.
Solution Give the Degu every other day fresh hyperchlorinated water. I also heard that putting vitamine C in the water will help prevent Degus getting a mouth dissease, but this isn't sure (yet). As far as I know, vitamin C won't do a Degu any harm, so you can put it in the water to be sure.
Parasites Degus can get parasites like mites from other pets (for example from mice or rats). If they get parasites Degus will scratch themselves, or even bite at themselves. If a Degu acts like it hurts if you touch his ears (pull his head away or a giant 'Ouch!' weep) he got an ear infection. You can spot ear mite infestation by looking if the Degu isn't loosing fur round his ears or if the ears smell bad.
Solution Get a bottle of (ear) mite medication for dogs and cats from your Vet and follow the instructions.
Wounds Normally, if a Degu has a wound (usually when two Degus has fight) it will heal within four-five days. Be careful, though. If the wound is really bad - very deep, extremely large or if it takes longer than a week to heal, take your Degu to a Vet.
Paralyzed body parts I'm not sure if this is a very common Degu disease, but my Degu got paralyzed back feet, and he died very soon after he got them. I think he got the paralyzed feet because my Degu was old and got cataracts.
Genetic diseases In the '50s about ten Degus were imported out of Chile. First they were used as laboratory pets, but later they were kept as domestic pets. Because there were only ten Degus imported, all the domestic Degus are related to these ten Degus, thus a lot of inbreeding has happened. One of the main genetic diseases due inbreeding is probably the cataracts. If you're planning to breed Degus yourself, be sure not to breed a male and female out of the same litter. If you breed Degus out of the same litter, the chances of get little Degus with serious diseases is very great.
Degus in Laboratory

Degus are used as laboratory animals. A lot of diabetic research is done on Degus, because Degus become so easily diabetic. Also Degus are one of the few animals which can't breakdown caffeine.
In laboratories Degus are sometimes kept in small cages. A lot of lab-Degus get stressed in this little 10x10x15 cm cages. Degus show strong stress reactions, such as chewing at the bars, and symptoms of 'depression', such as just sitting nervously in the corner, motionless.

Degu Books

There are three Degu books around, two of them in German, and one in Dutch:

Unser Degu Anna Sporon
Publisher Kosmos ISBN 3-440-06147-7
Where almost everything about Degus is explained. If you are planning to hold Degus you should buy this book.
Alles über Chinchillas und Degus Michael Mettler
Publisher Unknown ISBN 3-8068-1130-X
De cavia en cavia-achtigen als gezelschapsdier Anneke Vermeulen-Slik en Rob Dekker
Etiko Uitgevers ISBN 90 5266 126 X


Copyright 1995 Hein Leliveld. You may copy/translate/print this text, but don't forget to mention the source.