Degu Behaviour FAQ

>Questions relating to degu behaviour and intelligence<

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QUESTION- Burrowing & Digging ANSWER
My degu sometimes looks like he’s trying to dig when I let him out. Do degus like to dig?   Degus are semifossorial, meaning they live partly underground and partly above ground. In the wild, degus dig out burrows and tunnels that they use to hide from predators and to keep cool during mid-day in summer. To an extent degus have the behavioural need to dig, which is why you may see your degus trying to dig through their cage substrate. Why not try making them a digging pit for their play area?  
My degus have a tank filled with soil substrate for them to dig in. Do degus prefer to dig in hard or soft soil?   Degus prefer to dig in soft soil as it is less energetically expensive per unit of soil shifted. In the wild, degus will often dig out burrows in the winter, just after rainfall when the soil is soft.  
How do degus dig burrows?   Degus use their teeth and front feet to shear the soil whilst combining front and rear foot motion to shift loose soil out behind them. Degus may also use their head to break up soil on the roof of the tunnel. Wild degus will organise themselves to form digging chains and decrease the time taken to create a burrow.  
Do degus bury food? Yes. Wild degus will store food in their burrows for winter food shortages, but will also bury their favourite tid-bits in order to stop other degus hassling them when they are eating and stealing/finding it. Degus bury food by clearing a space with their forepaws, placing in the bit of food and then covering it up with rapid forepaw movements. Degus have been observed to frequently uncover and re-cover the food when burying it (as if to check it's still there). They may also return to the place they last stored it regularly to make sure it hasn't been discovered! However it's not unusual for the degu to forget where they buried it! 
QUESTION- Vocalisations & Sounds ANSWER
Do degus make noises?   Yes, degus have a wide variety of vocalisations with many uses including warning, aggression, social contact, isolation, playing calls of pups and maternal calls. Degus also make other sounds such as tail beating and drumming. Degus are a very vocal species and most of the sounds they make are within the human hearing range- which means they can also hear us when we talk to them!
When my degu is out, sometimes he squeaks loudly and runs for no reason at all. Why does he do this?   Degus will give an alarm vocalisation, known as the 'wheep' (a loud squeak) if they think a predator/threat is approaching to alert other degus (and you). If your degu feels insecure, he may run to a place that is covered where he feels more secure until the threat has passed. If your degu does this, try and see what could be scaring him, for example a loud noise or if he sees a cat or unfamiliar object.  
Sometimes early in the morning one of my degus chirps really loud like he's screaming? does this mean he's bored? once I manage to pick him up and cuddle him he seems to calm down and starts wobbling with his brother which is really cute. Degus have a variety of different vocal sounds and calls. The loudest, most squeak-like sounding calls are the alarm 'wheep' and the territorial 'bark'. The alarm wheep is given out a few times when the degu thinks there is danger nearby. Pet degus may do it as the result of a sudden movement, or loud or unfamiliar noise to warn other degus that may be listening that there may be danger. The bark is used mainly by male degus after mating, but also by females as a non-immediate territorial alarm, and is very repetitive; the degu will often squeak like this for several minutes, even hours! It is most commonly used after a male has mated with a female, or occasionally after dominance mounting with another male. There is one other type of unknown call that sometimes degus emit whilst asleep; it is a repetitive squeak that degus start while still sleeping- whether it is caused by a dream-like state is unknown. The other sound you hear (the 'wobbling') is a friendly call, the 'chitter'; it tells one degu that they are happy to see the other- a bit like saying hello. You will also hear them use this call when playing together.
QUESTION- Circadian Rhythms ANSWER
Are degus nocturnal?   No, degus are diurnal (awake during the day, like humans). However, their biological clock (also called ‘circadian rhythm’) can be changed to fit in with their environment, so for example if you work night shifts and feed your degu at night, your degu may also become nocturnal.  
Are degus more active at certain times of day?   During hot days, degus may be more active during the morning and evening when it is cooler. This is when most foraging activity would take place in the wild.
Help! My degu is nocturnal, but I don’t feed him at night! Why is this happening?   Research has shown that degus allowed continual access to a running wheel may become nocturnal. This is because running makes them hot, so in order to minimise heat generation running is done in the coolest part of the day (at night). To return your degu to diurnal rhythm, simply remove his wheel at night and reduce the temperature of the room during the day.  
My degu is STILL nocturnal even though I take the wheel out at night!   If you have recently done this, give your degu time to adjust to his new rhythm. Also, check the temperature of the room your degu is kept in, if it’s too hot he may prefer to be active at night when its cooler. Try feeding him half his feed in the morning and half in the evening to encourage him to invert his rhythm. As an alternative, if your degu is female try housing her in the same room as another degu who is already diurnal. Your nocturnal female will take odour cues from your diurnal degu and adjust her rhythm accordingly (this doesn’t work so well in males).  
Why do my degus run on their wheel more in the morning and evening?  Degus show increased wheel running activity at dawn and dusk as this relates to their circadian activity patterns of foraging in the wild. Wheel running has been shown to be analogous to foraging behaviour.
QUESTION- Biting & Chewing ANSWER
Why is my degu biting me? If your degu is new to you, they might need some time to get to know who you are and that you aren't dangerous. A stressed degu will be more likely to bite you, so make sure you aren't trying to pick him up incorrectly (let him come to you) and don't corner them. If your degu is a new mother, she may try and bite you if she feels you are threatening her pups. Make sure your fingers don't smell of food. Alternatively, your degu may simply be grooming you a little enthusiastically, so try showing him it hurts you by making a 'squeaking' noise and moving your hand away. This is how degus tell each other they are being groomed too hard.
My degus are female and are now about 2 and a half months old. They are extremely friendly towards me and I have a lot of fun playing with them, although lately they have (mostly just one of them) been nibbling my fingers when I put my hands out for them to get on. I make sure I wash my hands so I don't have food smells on me, but this doesn't seem to make much of a difference. I have also tried making little squeaking sounds whenever they do it (despite how funny I sound when I do it!), in hopes that they realize it could hurt me. The nibbling is not enough to actually cause me pain, its more like they're gently pressing/scraping their teeth on me, but I'm afraid that if I kept my fingers there, that they would bite! Any suggestions on how to train them to not do this?!? Obviously I can't guarantee this, but I'm almost certain that your degu is 'grooming' you. This is the process by which they use their teeth to gently nibble each other/you (you have probably seen them doing it to each other). This is a sign that a) your degu trusts you, b) your degu recognises the fact you are a 'friend' (sees you as a degu) and c) wants you to groom her back! Next time she does this, don't squeak but give her a tickle behind the ears- they love this- and see what happens. She may even lift her front paw up for you to rub her belly. Degu grooming attempts are nearly always gentle, but if she gets carried away and grooms a little too hard, let her know by what you were doing before- moving your hand away and making a gentle squeaking sound by quickly and gently sucking air through your lips. This replicates a sound known as the 'pip' that degus use to tell each other "ouch!".
QUESTION- Intelligence & Learning ANSWER
Are degus clever? Degus are extremely intelligent which is more than likely related to the fact they are a complex, highly adaptive social mammal. It has been claimed that degus are more intelligent than rats and guinea pigs. They can certainly be trained to do various tasks, such as jumping through a hoop, or using a tool to retrieve an out-of-reach treat!
Can you teach things to degus? Yes. Due to their intellectual capacity, degus are easy to train. They pick things up very quickly and this is easily reinforced by giving small amounts of food or grooming as a reward. Degus have been taught to come to their owner when called by name, get in and out of their cage on demand, tug on a trouser leg when they want attention and climb onto and open hand when asked.
Do my degus know their names? Probably, if you use it often enough. Degus are very intelligent and their sensitive hearing and good auditory range make it easy for them to recognise specific vocal commands. Degus have been observed to associate specific acoustic signals with particular people, tasks and objects. Therefore if you call your degu's name, they will probably approach you as they associate this sound pattern (their name) with attention from you.
Does my degu know who I am? More than likely. If they see you often enough, degus can recognise individual people by their voices, appearance, smell and actions. Degus also have a good associative memory, which means they remember people that have been nice to them (rewarded them) and people who they have had bad experiences with.  
I'm trying to hand train my degus but they won't eat from me, how can I hand train them if they wont accept treats? This could be caused by one of two things:

1. Your degus are not yet familiar with you and you need to develop their trust first through more training work- how long have you had your degus? At first, degus can be wary of new people and they need time to recognise you're not a threat to them. This comes with time and familiarity.

2. Your degus are not motivated to eat that particular treat. What treats are you using? You need to find one that they don't get fed on a regular basis and that they really like- sunflower or pumpkin seeds are good (not too many) and I found that natural puffed rice or natural rolled oats are loved by all as a reward- I use these a lot when training. Also, think about when you do your training. Your degus motivation to work for a food reward goes down the less hungry your degus are. I strongly recommend you train your degus before you give them their feed, as their motivation to work for food will be highest then. If you limit training to the mornings and evenings, you will find that your degus are more active and ready for what you have to tell them.

 Let me know what you think and I might be able to help you specify your training so you have more success.

QUESTION- Sociability & Grooming ANSWER
Do degus like each other's company? Degus are highly social and require each other's company in order to be healthy and happy. Wild degus live in large groups and carry out a range of social behaviours including playing, grooming, burrowing and mating. Degus kept on their own in captivity can become depressed and even physically ill if not given enough social contact- they really rely on their friends!
My degu lifts his front leg up for me to tickle his belly! Why does he do this? Your degu is letting you groom him. Degus frequently groom each other as it is pleasurable for them and allows strong bonds to form. The fact that your degu lets you do this shows he has bonded with you and trusts you- a very special thing. After grooming them, try keeping your hand still and your degu may even groom you back!
My male degu loves me to groom him, but my young female degus don't want to know. Why is this? Research has shown that sociable animals housed alone will often express stronger bonds towards humans than socially housed animals. Time is also required for degus to learn to see a human as another degu and bond with them. This is probably the reason your male degu lets you groom him (he has bonded with you and views you as a valuable social companion), but your young females do not (they have neither the experience nor the need to bond with you). But don't worry, given time and a bit of patience, your degus will be queuing up for your attention!
My young degus run around the floor 'chattering' to each other when I let them out. Sometimes they even stand on their hind legs and look like they're trying to 'slap' each other! What is the meaning of this?   Your degus are playing. The 'chattering' is a specific sound that degus make when they are excited or playful, and is frequently emitted to other degus as a greeting. The 'slapping' behaviour is actually play fighting, again accompanied by 'chattering' and often followed by one or both degus involved leaping into the air (also known as 'frisky hopping'). It shows your degus are relaxed and happy in their environment and is a lovely thing to watch/hear.
My female degu flicks her tail at a male degu and displays her rear end toward him. Why? Tail flicking is a sign of excitement and displaying her rear end shows the male she is in oestrus- she wants him to mate with her. See the breeding FAQ for more info.
QUESTION- Fighting & Dominance ANSWER
When I let my two male degus (brothers) out of their cage, they 'grunt' at each other and lunge out. Sometimes they even kick each other and flip in the air! Are they play fighting? There is a line between play fighting and real fighting.  Play fighting can always be distinguished as it is accompanied by 'chittering' sounds and only lasts short lengths of time. Your males 'grunt' at each other, which is a good indicator they mean business! Real fighting is a serious problem, as your degus could really injure themselves. If your males only fight when you let them out, it could be they are competing as there are females present, or a food source. Try removing all sources of potential conflict from their play area. If your males continue to fight in their cage, you may need to separate them as there could be a dominance issue between them.
Why does my degu flick their tail and grind their teeth at another degu? This tail flicking/teeth grinding combination acts as a threat warning towards the other degu. It is a way of saying "I'm not happy with you and if you come any closer I will bite!" It could be that your degu does this toward an unfamiliar degu, or it is sometimes seen in two male companions in the presence of females. This is a good indicator that your degu is going to start fighting, and you should be prepared to take action.
I have a pair of degus- they have identical genitalia, but one is trying to mount the other rather frequently and one of them has been spraying urine. What's up with this? Typical puberty shenanigans or have I sexed them incorrectly? From everything I've seen, they're both boys. If you're convinced they're both the same sex I would suggest the most likely explanation is that they are exhibiting dominance behaviour. The most common way of one establishing dominance over the other is to mount the subordinate, as this puts the subordinate in a position where they are at their most vulnerable. It's completely normal. Another possibility could be that if they're both youngsters, it's just a form of play, however the increased incidence of scent marking suggests the former. Scent marking is a territorial behaviour and also frequently observed in degus.

I hope this helps, and if you're still unsure it might be worth getting someone else like a vet to check the sexes to confirm you're right- better to be safe than sorry!

Hey! I just noticed my two females today and one of them keeps trying to mount the other one, but I am almost positive they are both girls!! I've checked underneath them and their genitalia are the same and resemble the female anatomy pictures. Is this just for dominance or should I be worried about possible babies?!? (Not to mention they are from the same litter). I am sure someone has asked something like this before, but I just want to be sure! Thanks for your help. This behaviour is quite common amongst most animals. You're right, the most likely explanation here is that you're seeing dominance behaviour, since both degus have female anatomy. Mounting each other is a normal way of establishing dominance, the more dominant degu will mount the lesser degu, which will 'submit' and hold still in recognition of this. This mounting usually follows a minor argument or squabble as a reminder of who's boss. This behaviour is also frequently seen in juvenile degus, not as a demonstration of dominance but just in play. The difference is that playing degus will often use the characteristic 'chitter' vocalisation throughout.

Mounting is an effective means of demonstrating dominance as it requires the subordinate to adopt their most vulnerable posture and completely submit themselves to the more dominant degu.

If you're still worried, it's worth keeping an eye on them just to be sure that they are the same sex. If they look identical in terms of genital anatomy, chances are they're the same sex but it's worth checking from time to time!

Ok, here I go! I thought for sure I had 2 males... I examined them often as they grew... they were born in January. even now when I look at them they appear to be the same sex, But I just walked in on them doing the deed! I hear that males will do the dominance thing... So I'm hoping that this is the same thing, but one had his genitals out... any others out there have males practicing to to the point that their genitals are out? Yes, this is most likely to be a dominance thing and as long as your degus both look the same underneath, they are both males. The easy way to tell is that males have a large space between the urethra and anus, females have almost none. In all groups of degus there is a dominant degu and a subordinate. Problems arise when both degus compete to become dominance, but this doesn't seem to be a problem with yours. Dominance is frequently decided by one degu mounting (and attempting to mate) the other as this is the most passive position a degu can be in and is a way of saying 'don't hurt me, look I'm even going to let you mate with me'. It's perfectly normal and is seen in both males and females.
We have had a single male degu for about 6 months now. He was born this past Valentines day and was severely abused by his siblings (he lost his tail). After rescuing and rehabilitating him back to a social tolerance, we have acquired two female companions for him (we wanted to buy him another male but were warned against doing so because they may fight to the death and ended up with two females instead). last week, when they were introduced, he was so happy to see them and have someone to "talk" to. He cuddles with them and is so happy. Yesterday however, I came home to find him huddling in the corner with spots of blood around and his left pinky finger missing!!! He was also squinting one eye and his tail nub was cut. We separated the girls from him (they all live in a 6'x3'x3' multi-level cage with lots of caves and stuff) and after resting for a bit he began trying to "break them out" of their separation cage. They also would liven up when he came around them. So, we let the less aggressive seeming one out with him and after chasing and sniffing her a bit, she attacked him and made him squeal really loudly and hide under a cave. We separated her again, let him rest and tried the other one. They got along great and seemed quite happy to be together (running, exploring, etc.) but then he was sitting and minding his own business when she snuck up from behind and bit his tail which erupted into a fight and he again ran away and hid (this girl is also missing a finger but it may have happened before we got her).

I don't know what to do. We have kept the girls separated from him all night but he and the fingerless girl are sitting right next to each other while the other is on the other side of the cage. The girls seem to squabble a bit too. I don't want him to continue being hurt but he loves their company so much. I'd also hate to take one away and it be the one he likes best. Do you have any suggestions?

It's quite a tricky process introducing degus as you can never tell how each degu will react- they all have their own unique ways of acting as I'm sure you know. It sounds like your male was picked on because he is not naturally aggressive or dominant- perhaps he was the smallest of a litter or just has a shy personality. Either way, he is the omega degu, the most submissive when in a group. Your two females, on the other hand. Do you know their history? How long have they been living together on their own? They may be very settled in their ways. Can I ask- when introducing them to the male, how long did you keep the male apart from the females for? It is essential to let your degus get used to each other before introducing them, and should involve several steps to achieve cohabiting harmony! I'll help you with these steps if you like, I just need to know what they've had already, or you can read and download the step-by step guide on how to introduce degus. For now, I suggest that you keep both females in a separate cage to the male, but keep it so they can have some contact with each other (like sniffing) if you haven't already. Patience is the key here. It might be that your two females have more dominant personalities and will therefore be harder to introduce, but if you keep at it, it might work. If all else fails, the one thing I can suggest is introducing the male to a neutered male. Neutered males are naturally submissive and should be much easier for him to get along with. But let's see if we can fix this first!

Let me know about what you've already done and we'll see what we can do.

I have had 2 male degus for the last 7 months all ok apart from food time. I have now been given 2 more unwanted male degus. I have had them separated in the bottom half of a 3 tier cage for the last 5wks , so they can smell and see each other but I keep on putting off putting them together as I know how nasty they can be. What can I do to bring them together? I have bathed them in vanilla sand so they all smell the same. Do I chance just opening the cage and let nature take its course (FIGHTING) or something else? Introducing male degus can be very tricky, especially if they are all adult males and sexually mature. It is often impossible to introduce strange males without them fighting, even if you separate the cages as you have done. I would suggest that you don't just let them mix in the cage, as this will almost certainly lead to fighting. Instead, use a large room that the degus are not used to being in- this way none of the degus will have yet claimed it as their territory. Then, let each of the degus bathe in vanilla sand. Put the first pair in the new room and let them have a quick explore. Then put the second pair in the room and see what happens. If there is immediate fighting, separate the degus as soon as you can (careful not to get bitten!) and remove one of the pairs. If the fighting is not severe, i.e. just a few warning grunts and pushing, leave it for a few minutes and see what happens. If all goes well, return both pairs to their separate compartments and try again the next day, but for a bit longer. Repeat this until both pairs are comfortable being let out together, then you can take the next step of letting them share the same cage. Incidentally, you should try to avoid integrating degus during breeding season, which is from late winter to mid spring each year. This is when their sex hormone levels are highest and they are much less tolerant of newcomers as a result (for both male and female degus!). I hope this works out for you, but unfortunately males have a hard time getting along if they haven't been together from an early age. If there's no way they are going to tolerate each other, but you want them to live together still, there is always the option of neutering two of the degus. that should sort out any fighting between them. More info on neutering can be found here.
I've got two new male baby degus in the family (around 5-6 weeks old). They seem to fight quite a bit, mostly over food (even though I've given them two different dishes) and over the one exercise wheel. Is this normal? It's only been a week, but listening to them squabble is hard. Should I get them two wheels? Or is separating them the only answer? They get along at least half the time, and bicker the rest. At feeding times, they even growl at me if I go in near their food dish. You will find that degus of both sexes will bicker and argue over resources that they value highly. This is most noticeable over food, but as you have seen, often occurs over running wheels and other toys. This is completely normal- in most cases the bickering tends to be mostly noise (the whine and groan vocalisations- see the sound page), along with pushing/shoving and occasional lunging or nipping. I would only be worried about the fighting if is gets serious- i.e. you see signs of physical injury, or one degu tearing/kicking at the other. Basically, your degus have a conflict of superiority and are trying to sort out their hierarchy- both want to become the alpha degu and get first say over the food/wheel. This should settle down after a while once some sort of order is established, but you will always get some 'possessive' squabbling, it's degu nature! In the meantime, you are absolutely right to give separate food bowls. In addition, you could try placing one bowl on a different level to try and keep the two apart at mealtimes. I also think getting another wheel would be a good idea, although they will still squabble over one (the old 'I want what you're playing with' syndrome!). I also recommend you give them as much fresh hay as they can eat to provide them with another source of boredom relief and keep their gut functioning healthily (if they don't have hay already!).
One of our degus has been chewing the fur off his front paws for the last couple weeks. Until the last few days, it hasn't been that big an issue, he just had bare paws. He's not working his way up his front legs and he started to pull so hard it started to bleed.

We're nearly positive why he's doing this. He's stressed because of some problems he's having with his eye (the chewing increases as his eye gets worse). Since we've had him, the tear duct between his eye and nose  has been blocked or is non-existent, leaving his eye squinty and full of mucous. We have a surgery appointment in a couple weeks to hopefully get this remedied.

In the meantime, we were wondering if you had any suggestions to get him to stop. We've read about a stop chew lotion that's available in the UK, but by the time it would get here, he would've a) had his surgery or b) chewed all his fur off. I've heard that some people use Bitter Apple spray, designed for dogs, to stop chinchillas from doing this. Has anyone tried something along this line? We don't want to give him anything that is dangerous or will hurt him.

That's really interesting- Degutopia's Jeremy has had the exact same problem! However, with Jeremy, he has always chewed the fur off his left paw as a stereotypy/stress response and only recently did his tear duct and sinuses become infected as a result of blockage. He had a week's course of antibiotics which not only cleared up the infection but also sorted out the blockage which cleared up by itself- now he has completely stopped chewing the hair off his paw. I have to say that I didn't try and stop him doing this as it might have caused him to develop a more serious stereotypy through behavioural suppression- chewing hair is a way of coping with the stress. However, his fur- chewing was not as bad as your degu's, the worst it got was chewing it up his leg as well and some on the other paw. I think that the degree if paw chewing is directly related to the stress levels your degu is experiencing and thus his attempts to cope are increasing. Since your degu is actually self injuring (a maladaptive behaviour) I can suggest that his ability to cope and his welfare is decreasing. By stopping this paw chewing, you may stop your degu from inflicting further damage to himself, but this will not improve his welfare as he will still be attempting to cope with his situation but it will now either be inhibited of expressed in some other form. In the worst case scenario, by stopping your degu paw chewing you could induce learned helplessness- a state of complete behavioural suppression in which your degu will stop interacting with his environment entirely.

But I might be being a little pessimistic here, this is the worst possible outcome after all. The best advice I can give is to get the sinus problem sorted out ASAP to completely remove the source of stress and the stereotypy will disappear with it- if you catch it in time.

A full guide to treating fur-pulling in degus can be found here.

Do degus like being held? Degus will only tolerate being held (restrained) for short periods of time if they are familiar with the person and only when they are comfortable. Degus hate being held completely around the abdomen (middle) as this is similar to being grabbed by a predator in the wild. If held in this way, the degu will try and wriggle out of it to break free (this promotes survival from a predator). However your degu will enjoy sitting on your hands/arms for a while if you give them a rub behind the ears. Very tame degus have even been known to sleep on their owner's shoulder or in their hands. A relaxed degu will sit very still or even lie in a comfortable position. You can tell if your degu is comfy if they yawn, stretch, close their eyes or grind their teeth together briefly. Try some hand training to get your degu used to climbing on your hands.
I have recently bought two new degus- they are both from the same litter and are brothers. I have put my hand in for them to come out and sniff, one degu does this but the other just gets really scared and lies down in his bed. I take the other degu out and put him in a separate cage whilst trying to get the one who is scared but he still hides away from me and makes a loud squeaking noise constantly for about 5 minutes, can you help? Don't worry, your degus just aren't used to you yet. It sounds as if the one that hides is a little more timid than the other. I recommend that you don't separate them, as this might make the shy degu worse. When you put your hand in to pick him up, he squeaks because (in his eyes) you are a predator coming to grab him. Picking him up in this way not only will scare him even more, but may prevent you from ever being able to handle him. But don't worry, there is another way! You must teach both your degus that you are not a predator and are not going to harm them. This will involve training your degus and you must be patient, but it will be worth it. To get you started, here's what I suggest you do: Keep your degus together- this will decrease their fear and the braver degu may help encourage the other. Open their cage in a safe room and let your degus investigate their surroundings. This may take a while at first. When a degu approaches you, reward that degu with a bit of food. Repeat this exercise daily. I recommend that you do this training before you feed your degus- this makes it easier to get them back into the cage. I also strongly suggest that you read the training section- it gives you a step-by-step guide of everything you need to know. If you need any more help/advice I'm always here to help so please don't hesitate to ask!
Why does my new degu become immobile (freeze) when I put her on the floor? Degus that are intensely afraid or anxious remain completely motionless when exposed to a new environment or unfamiliar object. This is an anti-predatory response and allows the degu to camouflage with their surroundings, which happens even in captive degus. Freezing is a fear response and is stressful to your degu, so it's best to remove your degu from the environment if they do not start to explore. A cautious degu will even explore the new situation, which is a more natural response.
Hi, I have just rescued a couple of Degus (a boy and a girl) and I am worried that they haven't settled in yet. I got them on Sunday so maybe I'm just worrying and that I should just leave them alone. They have a 3 tier chinchilla cage as a home and all they do all day is sit on the top shelf together and they look really sad. They have a wheel and other toys but there just not interested. They won't come near me to give them treats so I cant get them to start trusting me. They were in large litters when I got them so maybe they just miss the other degus. This is really starting to worry me so if you have any ideas or comments I would be really grateful. It's quite normal that your degus are acting this way. They have just had some major lifestyle changes- being taken away from their littermates, moving to a new cage, getting a new owner, moving to a new house with new smells, routines and even a different temperature which will all affect their behaviour. Your degus are still adjusting to their new life and will need time to get used to you, your routines and their new environment. At the moment they are just sitting still in a place where they feel safe and sticking close to each other for reassurance. Gradually, they will start exploring their new cage and becoming braver and more active, but this is going to take a little time. I would suggest that before you let them familiarise themselves with you, you let them adjust to their new home. Move their cage to a quiet room and leave them alone for a couple of days, just feeding them etc like normal. When you come in, try to be quiet and talk to them in a soothing voice to help them adjust to your presence. When you notice your degus moving around more in their cage this is a sign they are comfortable and have adjusted, so you can begin working on gaining their trust and letting them get more used to you. More tips can be found on the guide to 'taming a nervy degu'.

Are both your degus from the same litter? I only ask as you have a male and a female housed together and they are going to breed when they reach sexual maturity. It is not a good idea to let two related degus mate as this inbreeding can lead to problems with the pups due to something called genetic depression. This is a particular problem in degus so I thought I should point it out- hope I'm not intruding!

I recently rescued two four month old girls from a horrible pet shop and brought them home. I am being patient, they are VERY nervous. I have held them and have not been bitten, but if I go near them they run for cover, actually they hardly come out from their "hide" boxes, only when no one is around. It may just be that they are nervous, they are soooooo adorable.

I do not know what to do next, I am patient, but I also want a pet I can cuddle, I do not want to hold tight, or hold for long periods of time, but it would be nice if I could eventually scoop them up without cornering them, it seems cruel but I have to when I clean the cage. I have only had them a week.

Degus grow to become loyal companions that are more loving and understanding than any pet I've ever had. They're so unique in their behaviour that I am fascinated by them- hence all the work I have done/am doing for them! I have eight degus at the moment and one five year old male I rescued a year ago is so attached to me that he follows me around everywhere and likes nothing better that sitting on my knee and letting me groom him. He even sleeps on me for hours, he's such a softie. The others are not as attached to me as he is (yet!), but they are getting that way. It's always the same when you get a new arrival, particularly ones that may have been traumatised by their previous experience and who may not be used to human attention. In your case, all you are going to need is a little patience and your degus will do all the rest for you. Your degus are a little scared at the moment as they've just experienced some major lifestyle changes, including moving cages, moving handlers, moving environment and are experiencing unfamiliar smells and routines. Their natural response is to hide away somewhere they feel safe, particularly when they feel threatened. Of course they aren't familiar with you yet so immediately retreat to safety when you approach them- you need to teach them you are OK and aren't going to 'eat' them! It's a good sign that they come out of hiding when no one's around- it shows they are adapting to their new home and settling in. Now is the best time for them to start getting to know you. To begin with, what I suggest you do is whenever you are in the house, sit with your degus in a quiet room while they are in their cage. You could watch TV (quietly) or something whilst doing this so you don't get bored! This will allow the degus to familiarise themselves with your presence, and when one comes out of hiding you could try talking to it in a soothing voice to reassure it. You will need to do this until you are confident your degus are OK with you being there and you're not going to hurt them. This should only take a few days, and in the meantime go about feeding them, etc as normal, remember to talk calmly to them whenever you do this. When sitting with them, you could also try putting your hand against the bars for them to sniff you and adjust to your scent. When you are confident your degus are comfortable with your presence, you can proceed to the next step which is important in gaining their trust. Not only will it teach your degus that you are a 'friend', it is also the first step in hand training them so they are easy to pick up. To do this, when you feed your degus, don't put their feed in their bowl like usual, but keep it in your hand. Put your hand inside the cage with the food inside your open palm and hold very still. Your degus will be hungry as it is their usual feeding time, so will be more inclined to overcome their fear of you to get the reward of food. To begin with, your degus will approach your hand with caution and this is when you will need the most patience, but they will quickly realise you are 'safe' and will associate being near your hand with positive reward (food). You will notice as their trust develops as they will stop snatching bits of food and running off to eat it and will start sitting next to your hand to eat, or even climb on. When they're brave enough, you can start specifying their training to picking them up, but they do need to trust you for this (for a step-by-step guide on hand training your degus please see the training section). All this should only take a couple of weeks, but remember this is directly related to not only their past experience but also to your patience and time- the more time you spend doing this the quicker they will come out of their shells. Remember that what you put into doing for your degus is what you will get out of them tenfold- you will not be disappointed! Talking to many degu owners they have all told me that they have a special bond with their degus unlike that they have had with any previous pets- and I'm sure you will know exactly what they mean in a couple of months. I would also like to briefly mention the 'normal' degu behaviour you are going to experience in the near future: running up to the cage bars when you come in the room to greet you; following you around the room at feeding time; charging around the room when you let them out and playing with each other making little chirping sounds; running, jumping and climbing all over you; sitting in your hands while you give them a rub behind the ear; running off with the pen you were using to do the crossword (grr!); trying to burry that little bit of food you just gave them in the carpet; leaping in the air for apparently no reason at all; I could go on but I think you get the idea! I hope what I've said persuades you to give it a try and not give up on them- you've already helped them so much by giving them a good home. I can promise you that in the end, you will not regret adopting these little guys. If you need any more help or advice I'm always here, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. You might like to join our Yahoo group and talk to the other members too. One more thing- you might find the guide to taming a nervy degu is helpful as well!
Well I only recently got my degus, being I got one yesterday December 16th, and one December 15th. But I've been wondering, my one Kojiro I've had since the 15th, he seems to trust me a little more than he did, he took a piece of alfalfa block from me today and he lets me pet him if I repeat his name in a calm voice, but my newest one Booboo squeaks out loudly and runs when I put my hand in, but he stops when I pick him up and let him run around on my bed, and once he goes back into the cage, he settles down... I was curious also if handling them often or just talking to them a lot may help, because I know that sorta thing works with mice, if their skitzy you handle them more often and baby talk to them to show that everything is okay. Would that work with degus? Sounds like your degus are still getting used to you. Remember they have to build up their trust in you before they will start learning and responding to training- luckily this doesn't take long. I would suggest you work on letting them get to know you. Spend a few days sitting with them or sitting next to their cage and talking to them, letting them approach and sniff you in their own time. After a few days, start handling them a bit more, picking them up and putting them down straight away whilst still talking. Repeat this often but don't force your degus into your hands if they're still to afraid to be picked up- this could destroy their trust. Remember that with training, food is not the only form of reward and a little stroke or a few soft words can also be motivating your degus to learn.

I would say after a week or so their trust in you will be noticeably developing and you should have no problem with training.

Do degus store food like squirrels?   Yes, wild degus store food during the winter, either in their burrows ('larder hoarding') or outside in the ground ('scatter hoarding'). Squirrels store food as a supply during hibernation, but as degus don’t hibernate their store is simply an extra source of food. If your degu is full or has a lot of food already, if you give him a nut he may bury it for later, even if he’s trying to ‘bury’ it in the carpet!
My degu’s REALLY naughty. When I tell him to stop doing something he does it MORE. Why?   Your degu isn’t doing it to be naughty, he just wants your attention. If by doing something he gets shouted at, he will quickly realise that doing it more results in more attention from you. Try ignoring him next time and he will stop, but play with him more when he’s being good.  
Do degus get angry? Anger is a human emotion and cannot be directly related to animals. However, degus exhibit similar aversive reactions in similar situations to us, such as the 'leave me alone' grunt they use when they have some food that they don't want to share! Remember that this behaviour and aversive responses are related to stress, so it's a good indicator that your degu isn't happy.
Why is my degu rolling around on the floor? Degus will try and dustbathe in areas that are frequently urine marked, even if there is no sand. This is thought to be a territorial response and may also suggest they are struggling to find their sand bath.
Why do degus flick their tail? Tail flicking is a sign of excitement and is used in a variety of situations. Male degus nearly always flick and beat their tail on the ground just before mating with a female. Female degus may flick their tail at an aggressive male to try and calm him down, . Unfamiliar degus sometimes flick their tails at each other as a warning before fighting.
I have seen one of my degus 'waving' their tail. Is this the same as flicking? No, tail waving is a completely separate behaviour. Tail waving is unusual in the degu and is rarely seen in our pets. Because of this, we are unsure what it means. From the times it has been observed, it can be speculated that degus use this when confronted with a more serious threat. This supposedly acts as a warning to other degus to stay back, and is probably more commonly used by wild degus. 
Ever since I put the girls in with Dennis he has changed towards us, the night before last he woke us up at 2am CHIP CHIP CHIPPING! What a row! I checked on the girls and they were curled up in the nest box quite content, we had to move the tank into another room just so we could get some sleep. He does not want to be handled but is forever trying to jump out of his cage when we try to give him attention, the girls come over and climb on our hands and are very sociable but Dennis doesn't even want a tickle anymore, can anyone tell me what is his problem? We are missing the fun side of his nature :( You will find that your male barks ('chips') quite loudly and for long periods of time after he has mated with a female (not necessarily successfully). I have also noticed that degus can sometimes begin barking whilst they are asleep, a bit like dreaming. I found the best way to stop them from squeaking for too long is to distract them, for example by giving them a bit of food or scratching their belly for a few minutes. I'm not sure what's causing his change in behaviour, it could be a variety of reasons. I would suggest that it's partly due to the rise in his testosterone levels caused by the increase in female presence and mating activity, and partly that he's competing for dominance and territory. I would think this should all settle down in the next months, but keep me posted!
My two females are 7 months old and are quite friendly. One will climb up my arm and perch herself on my shoulder. The other is still quite timid and is only interested in her wheel. I have noticed that when I remove the wheel from their cage, my timid girl suddenly takes an interest in me. She will jump into my hand and very cautiously climb onto my arm. I've also observed the girls bickering when the wheel is removed. It's a sort of judo-kick boxing type of exercise! They don't harm each other, but you can tell they want to scrap. Once the wheel is replaced, the fighting stops and timid girl is back running in her wheel.

Has anyone else noticed this type of behavior?
That's quite unusual- I've never heard/observed this type of
behaviour before!

Research has shown that wheel running in degus is analogous to
foraging behaviour. In the wild, degus spend large portions of their behavioural time budget foraging for food, due to the poor quality of their diet- they must spend more time eating. Our pet degus are fed a very good diet (usually!) and therefore need to eat less per day, but this does not remove the behavioural need to forage. To compensate, degus spend more time in a running wheel, as this activity of moving around is similar to the motion of moving around whilst foraging. When you remove the wheel, your degus find it harder to keep moving around the cage and so are deprived of that particular behavioural activity. This has a direct impact on their welfare, as they can no longer exhibit a full behavioural repertoire. Thus stress levels increase, and this is more likely to trigger agnostic interactions with companions, and, as you have seen, an increase in interest in things they usually aren't bothered about.

Degus are likely to adjust to the suppression of behaviours by
development of a stereotypy, which is usually a bad thing (such as pulling fur out or bar chewing). This way they compensate for lack of a wheel by 'doing something else'. I suggest that if you're going to remove the wheel, you need to substitute by providing more low nutritional quality food for them to continuously feed on. This could mean feeding them a small amount of their usual diet once per day, and providing them with as much fresh hay as they can eat throughout the rest of the day. You might also try crunching up some crisped rice and scattering it over the cage floor for them to 'find'- more
accurately allowing them to forage (only do this on a clean cage
floor, though).  If you do remove the wheel, it may be worthwhile letting your degus out more frequently and for longer periods of time. This 'distraction therapy' will attempt to divert their attention from the lack of a wheel and give them the exercise that they're missing out on.

However, I recommend that you keep the wheel in. After all, it's not doing them any harm (the reverse in fact, and by taking it out the situation becomes negative), and they're getting great exercise (at least one is!). Perhaps you could only remove the wheel whilst you are training with them to get both of their attention, or maybe even limit training/play time to when they're out of their cage. This way they won't have any distraction (once they've explored) and you will get more out of training/play sessions.

Try it out and let me know how you get on.

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