The Degu.

written by Stephen Sharp,
41 Gullane Close, East Stanley, County Durham England

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Degus are medium sized animals from Chile. They are about the size of a guinea pig. Like them, they produce young that are born furred and eyes partially open. Degus belong to the order Rodentia (rodents). They belong to the family Caviomorpha as are the guinea pig, the chinchilla and the capybara. For over 100 years and more the Swedish name has been degu. The original scientific name of Octodon cummingi, has been changed to Octodon degu. They live for about 6 years and adults weigh up to 300 grams.

Here is the male degu with a small baby behind him.

Degus are very active, destructive animals. I had to line my wooden cages with glass to prevent them from eating their cage. They are very, very intelligent and need to be kept occupied. Play wheels and boxes to hide in and tear up are a must.

Baby degu on wheel with mom watching on.
This wheel was only in use for a few days to see if degus liked wheels.
I now only use large chrome wheels in my cages.

Females are pregnant for 90 days and have been known to have 5 or more litters a year. They can have up to 10 young but 4 to 6 is the norm. A single mature male can be kept with one or more females. If more than one male is present fights may break out.
Degus need free access of good quality hay (green and leafy timothy hay), and always good quality drinking water in a water bottle. You can add crushed wheat, oats, corn and maybe some nuts and sun flower seeds. You can also give dry bread. I use a guinea pig mix from my pet shop. They seem to like it and breed on a regular basis. They also need some fresh vegetables, and some fruit, in moderation.

Male Degu (Bilbo) on top with female in hide.

Degus have orange teeth. This is normal and white teeth can be a sign of poor health. Occasionally degus will be seen with a white cast on their eyes. This is cataracts and nothing can be done to cure it. Animals with cataracts can live shorter but normal lives. Degus must not be feed sugary foods as they are prone to diabetes. Unlike mice and rats you must never handle a degu by its tail as they can shed their tails.

A group of young babies playing on and near their wheel.
This wheel was only in use for a few days to see if degus liked wheels.
I now only use large chrome wheels in my cages.

My Degus.
I originally obtained 1 male ( Bilbo) and two females from a pet store. These three had been raised in an outside bird aviary and were almost wild. None could be handled and the two females would bite. These bites would go down to the bone and take a long time to heal. One of the female degus eventually had babies and these were a little more friendly than the adults. When these babies with about 5 weeks old I put them in another cage, to raise them away from the adults. With patients these young became quite tame. I retained a pair of females and passed the others to the pet shop. The next litter where not so lucky. One of the females killed them at about 2 weeks of age. I could see no reason for her to do this. It may have been because they were not her litter. After this I decided to move Bilbo (the old male ) in with the two young females. He became tamer and the three did well together.

Degus and Snakes
When visitors to my home see I have a large reptile collection and breed mice and rats to feed to those reptiles they ask if the degus are a food animal. I believe that in the wild the people of Chile use them as food. So let me say that I have had baby degus, still born, and feed these to snakes. The snakes did take them, including a problem feeder that had not fed for weeks. Following this I placed defrosted mice on a tray of chinchilla sand that had been in the degu's cage for a week and was due to be thrown out. The degus use the sand to "wash" themselves and as a toilet. By defrosting the mice on the sand they picked up the scent of the degus. These mice were them offered to a number of snakes. All but one snake feed immediately. I have used the same scent transfer technique with hatchling snakes that would not feed. Many took pinks, scented in this way, when they would feed on nothing else. While I am happy to use the "scent transfer technique" I would not be happy producing degus for the food market.
Degus are easy to look after and breed. They make excellent pets. Prices vary thought the country but I often have a small number of animals for sale. I charge around 15 per animal depending on the time of the year and the number I have running around! If you would like more details, or would like to buy some degus why not Email me.