Degu Care FAQ

>Questions relating to the keeping of degus<

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QUESTION- Housing & Substrate ANSWER
Do degus like the company of other degus?   Yes- they actually require it. Degus are highly social animals and can become depressed and even physically ill if kept on their own and deprived of human attention. Always aim to keep at least two degus together.  
What can I give my degus to gnaw on in their cage? Wood and branches from the SAFE LIST are great for your degus' teeth and nutritious as well as being a boredom buster and climbing activity. You could provide a mineral block or pumice stone, but these aren't as appealing. A simple cardboard tube goes down a treat! More ideas on the enrichment page.
When I first got the degus I was told that sawdust was very bad for their health and the best thing to use was wood based cat litter pellets. I have used this ever since. However, I just read on Degutopia that sawdust is best for the degus!! They cannot burrow in the cat litter and I just read somewhere else that it can be rough on their feet as well. My problem now, is should I carry on using what my degus are used to, or should I change to sawdust. I want to do what is best for them and am not sure whether changing over now may upset them or please them! Any advice will be gratefully received. Wood shavings are a fantastic substrate as it's light, absorbent and soft on your degu's feet, and of course degus love to dig in it providing it's deep. The only time you should not use shavings is if your degu has an allergy (you will notice this if they cough/sneeze a lot and if they make a wheezing sound when they breathe). The dust in the shavings can cause this, so as an alternative I would recommend shredded paper (but not newspaper due to the ink). For more options see the housing page. I would highly advise AGAINST using wood pellets; their absorbency is great, like you say, but this can have fatal consequences if your degus eat the pellets. If ingested, the pellets swell up inside your degu and can cause colic, constipation, intestinal rupture and death. You know how much degus love chewing wood, so believe me- they eat the pellets! The roughness is also terrible for their feet, like you say, and can lead to bumblefoot (for more info visit the illness section).

If you're really against sawdust and paper, you might be able to try alternatives such as corncob bedding, etc. As for switching, this is not going to upset your degu's karma too much! I would strongly recommend you stop using the wood pellets as soon as possible.

One more thing, you must never use cedar chips as a substrate as cedar is highly toxic. I'm sure you're aware of this from reading Degutopia's housing section, though!

I have just built a HUGE new cage for my degus, what I would like to know is how many degus can I keep in it? This depends on the cage's volume. Degus are really active and require a fair bit of space to jump, climb and run about inside the cage (and out!). Degus also really hate being overcrowded, this can make them fed up and aggressive to other group members, so it's really important you get the group size right. There is a handy calculator tool on the housing page which allows you to check how many degus your cage can accommodate based on the dimensions. 
This is a baby female degu. I have never seen them in pet shops here before, so I am unsure when I could find another female. I think I need to wait until her parents have another litter. She is very sweet. The pet shop said she did not need dust baths. However every web site I go to says she does :) What is your opinion on this? You should have no problem getting her a friend. If you wait until her parents have another litter, you can buy one of the female pups and introduce her to your female straight away, this should be fine provided the pup is juvenile. If your female does not take to the baby girl straight away, you can divide the cage for a couple of weeks to let them get accustomed, but I don't think you'll need to do this. The shopkeeper is not correct about dustbaths. Degus need frequent dustbaths in order to keep their fur free from grease and in good condition (they also have a behavioural need to express bathing behaviour). When your degu sheds her winter coat, dust bathing is also needed to help loosen/remove hair. You should give your degu access to a dustbath every day, but don't put it in her cage as she will use it like a toilet and stop bathing in it. You can use any type of dusting sand or clay (sepolite) suitable for chinchillas. 
What wood is safe to give to my degus? Safe woods include apple, hazel, hawthorn and kiln dried pine. These woods brought in from outside must be cleaned before your degu can chew them- just give them a scrub in the bath with a nail brush. Be sure to check the wood has not been treated with anything first! Don't give your degu any other types of wood as almost all are toxic to degus- please visit the enrichment section for more information. Degutopia now has a complete list of woods that are toxic to degus.
Your website didn't mention whether manzanita wood is okay. I wanted to purchase a couple of really tall w/lots of branches pieces for the inside of their cage - to be used to run up and down to different levels. Manzanita is the wood most often used for parrots and parrot trees. After extensive research I can't reach a definite conclusion about manzanita wood, in all likelihood, manzanita wood (genus Arctostaphylos) is suitable for degu use. I am unable to find any reports of toxicity for the species which are used to create wooden perches/chews for animals, however one shrub species Arctostaphylos uva-ursi should be avoided (although this is a small shrub an unlikely to produce woody branches). On another note, some species of manzanita are critically endangered so that may also be a factor in considering it for degu use! Please do bear in mind that substances safe for some animals may not be for others. Most parrot and bird websites with a list of safe woods include manzanita on their safe wood list. HOWEVER, also on the safe wood list are lilac, pear, fir, eucalyptus, magnolia, almond and myrtle. THESE ARE NOT SAFE WOODS FOR DEGUS- PLEASE STEER CLEAR! This demonstrates that some woods supposedly safe for one species are toxic for another. I would stick with what I said previously- unless proven to be safe, assume it isn't. A comprehensive index of toxic woods for degus can be found here.
As you are having the discussion about safe woods right now, I'd like to add that even though Birch trees are in the toxic category on your web site, very many people from my German degu forum ( report that they have offered Birch for many years and that it is considered safe. Just wanted to let you know. 
I've compiled the list from various papers and I added birch to the unsafe list as it is listed as toxic to humans- contact can cause dermal irritation and respiratory complaints. There has not yet been any specific research as to whether the wood is cytotoxic to degus, however if it does contain a toxin I would be hesitant to give it to degus as we don't yet know if it may be causing them harm. It may be that when a degu ingests the birch wood, they are able to break down/convert the toxin into a harmless form and excrete it, or it may build up in vital organs such as the liver and could cause long-term injury. Since we just don't know, given the evidence that birch is found to have toxic effects on other mammals, I would stick to woods we now know are safe. But by all means do some research and prove it safe!
Can degus eat/play with pine cones? NO! You must not give pine cones to your degus as they are TOXIC to them. Please visit the toxic wood list for more information.
I just wondered if you could give me a little advice on wood. I've been using eating apple branches for years but I'm on a shortage at the moment and I have a damson tree which is a fruit wood, so I wondered if it was safe to give them? I've checked all the toxic woods list and it isn't listed but I just wanted a second opinion before I went ahead and gave them some. I'm afraid that damson is a member of the plum family and so is not safe for degus. This is for the same reasons as plum/cherry woods- they all contain cyanogenic compounds which are really bad for your degus (and a lot of other animals!). I would suggest you try asking around for people with apple trees in their garden, or hazel is another common wood. Just be sure to check they don't treat their trees with chemicals first. It's always hard finding branches at this time of year, particularly when most people have already finished pruning them! As an alternative, if you're looking for things to climb on, you might like to try untreated sisal rope. That's the really thick stuff made from natural twine. Degus love climbing on it, although unfortunately it's not as tasty as apple wood!
QUESTION- Environment & Exercise ANSWER
Do degus like warm places? Degus are adapted to a warm climate and so are more sensitive to the cold. You can tell if your degus are cold as they will sit in a hunched up position with their fur fluffed up (like shivering). You might find that when your degus are out they seek out a warm place to sit even if they aren't cold, as they lose less heat when they are warmer. Wild degus often sit in the sun to get warm, but if they get too hot they simply return to the cool of their underground burrows. For this reason it is also important that your degu's environment is not too hot, as this is very bad for them since they cannot retreat to a cooler place. The ideal temperature for your degus is room temperature- around 21°C. It's a good idea to keep a thermometer near your degus cage so you can regulate the temperature more efficiently.
Is it safe to let my degu run around my room?  Before you introduce your degu to a new environment, make sure you remove all potential hazards and block any escape routes. Remember that degus are excellent climbers and are very curious. Be particularly careful to check there are no wires lying around as degu love to 'test' things for edibility- they could be in for a nasty shock! Be sure to remove any potted plants at lower levels as degus love to try plant leaves, whether or not they are poisonous. Your degus will love the time they spend in a big room full of new things and it's great exercise for them. 
How often should I let my degus out into their play area?  You should aim to let your degus out every day to keep them fit, mentally stimulated and happy. You should let them out for a minimum of half an hour, or let them out for shorter periods throughout the day. Remember to give your degus access to a sand bath every time they come out.
What time of day should I let my degus out?   Degus are most active in the morning and the evening, as this is the time in the wild they would do most of their foraging for food. You should aim to let your degus out at these times so they can get the most out of their play time!
I bought a hamster ball for the degus over the weekend (the kind you put them in and they can run around the room). They LOVE it! I get a kick out of seeing them in this. The only thing I am worried about is that eventually the ball might be too small for them. How will I know when I should stop using it? Thanks again so much for your help! I'm not a big fan of these balls because they restrict your degu's movement and they can't get out of them when they want to. However, degus love running in balls as much as they love wheels, so I would advise that you leave the 'hole' you put them in open to allow them to get in and out as they wish. By leaving the open ball in their play area they are free to use it when they want to, and you can see which degu spends most time in it and how long they spend inside. Giving them a choice (going in the ball or not) also lets you judge how much they really enjoy being inside, so you can monitor their welfare more accurately. Eventually, if they get too big for it, they will stop using the ball altogether.

Of course as an alternative you could buy one of those giant wheels (the 12" safety ones, not wireframe wheels) and leave that in their play area. This goes down a treat- and stops your furniture getting bashed!

I've just inherited a 3-4 year old very tame male degu, & am hoping to pick your brains a bit!

1. Do you know if it's possible to litter train a degu?

2. Also, more importantly, what do you do when you let your degus out for exercise? Where do you let them out? How do you set up your room, etc.? I want to make sure that my degu doesn't escape or injure himself, or get stuck anywhere he shouldn't!

Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Cheers - a concerned degu convert!

You lucky thing! Before I start, I'd like to say that your male is very tame because he's solitary. Research has proven that social animals reared in isolation crave attention and can become very attached to humans. This is not a bad thing at all (I started with an adopted male, too) but it means that you need to devote more of your time to playing and talking (etc) to him to prevent him from becoming depressed. This is because he views you as another degu and will actively seek out attention from you. I'm sure you've discovered that he loves having his belly scratched and will lift his front paw up for you to do so- I found that even now I have seven friends for him to play with he still prefers attention from me.

Anyway... Yes it is possible to litter train degus, you will find that most degus prefer to urinate and defecate in particular places anyway. You will find it's especially easy to train your one male to do anything (it's an attention seeking thing!). Degus by nature are very clean and you will find that when you let him out, as long as you either leave his cage open or provide a dustbath, he will return there to go to the toilet. This does, however, depend on what he was used to before. You might find that he uses a specific corner of the room he plays in to go to the toilet. Also remember that degus do scent mark, which involves passing a very small amount of urine over something (e.g. the floor). There is no way to stop them doing this, but I don't find it a problem.

Letting him out- degus by nature are diurnal (awake during the day) with activity peaks in the morning and evening. Let your male out at these times, if possible! He'll get more out of it (exercise wise). The room- Check the room throughly before you decide to use it as his exercise/play area. Check all the walls and make sure there are no holes or gaps that your degu can squeeze into- they're very curious and like to explore but by no means will hide away when you let them out. They love to play with you and aren't afraid to be out in the open. Make sure there are no wires or cables lying around- degus aren't always big chewers but will 'taste' the odd cable- this can be a fatal mistake. And it's worth removing your best wooden chairs- degus LOVE gnawing wood so watch out for your wooden furniture! You should also make sure there's no dangerous stuff lying around- common sense I know but you'd be surprised what degus try to eat/play with- watch out for rubbers and pencils! Finally, degus love jumping and climbing and you should let them do this where possible. Degus can jump really high and can (annoyingly) get up onto most things that they're not supposed to!

I have moved into a new place as of today, and the temperature in the house is warmer than at my other house. I was wondering what temperature they (the degus) should be at before they start having troubles? On the subject of temperature, pet degus find it hard to cope with sudden changes in temperature. In the wild, temperatures range from 0 degrees to 40 degrees Celcius (see the habitat section). Wild degus cope with the hot weather by hiding out in the day in their burrows, coming out to forage in the morning and evening when it's cooler. However, our pets can't escape the temperature of a room and have to find other ways of keeping cool. You might notice that hot degus lie on the cage floor/on a shelf and that they drink more and are less active. In fact, it is temperature change that is the most common cause of stress in small animals, as they have no control over it.

I would suggest that you keep a close eye on your degus and watch for signs of stress and heat exhaustion. Keep a thermometer in the room and try to keep the temperature pretty constant at around 21 degrees C (room temp.). If you can, in hot weather you could move them to a cooler room (try downstairs- heat rises) and ensure as much ventilation as possible by opening doors and windows.

Acclimatisation is the key- your degus will cope much better if the temperature of the environment changes slowly.

QUESTION- Cross Species Housing ANSWER
Could you please tell me if you think degus and chinchillas can be housed together in a large cage? I have two young male degus, who recently destroyed their plastic-based, wired-covered rabbit cage and are currently being housed in a glass aquarium---which really isn't satisfactory! I also have two female chinchillas in a large wire cage, and so I wondered if it would be feasible to move the degus in with them---at least until I can come up with a better home. Unfortunately, I don't think it's a good idea moving your males in with chinchillas. Male degus might get on with female degus OK, but chinchillas are different. Their size may intimidate your males who may feel threatened by their presence in their 'home'. This could lead to fighting between the degus and chinchillas, particularly with one or the other trying to defend their territory and fight off the 'intruders'. The best thing for you to do is to buy a large cage with a metal base- if you live in the UK there are some great value examples on John Hopewell's site (see the links section). Hope this help you!
I have 3 male degus who are just fantastic - they live in a huge cage and get the run of the house daily, they are roughly about 2 years old now. I also have a female gerbil who lives above them in a separate cage. Would it be possible for me to introduce her to them? So they all can run about the house together. My gerbil lost her sister 4 month ago and I would like her to have some company. When my degus run about they go to her cage but my gerbil does not like them going near her territory. Is it possible for me to introduce them to each other or would it be a bad idea? Sounds like your degus have a great time!
Introducing any animal to another can be tricky, and even more so when the animals are of different species. Problems arise with different species introductions as there may be a communication barrier- for example one species' threat or warning signals may not be read by the other species, resulting inadvertently in conflict. There may also be issues with each regarding the other as a threat, particularly around each other's territories. Many species do not tolerate cohabitation with another species, particularly if there is direct competition for resources. Of course, this wouldn't be applicable to our pets, but the cohabitation issue still arises.
However, it is frequently reported that wild degus share a burrow system with another, smaller rodent, P. darwinii- Leaf eared mice. This shows that degus can tolerate and exist with a cohabitant of another species.
Of course, your gerbil would not be living with the degus (and couldn't due to the diets being different) so it's perfectly possible that your degus would tolerate a gerbil in their territory (the rest of the house). I would suggest that if you were going to try it out, introduce your degus to the gerbil (not the other way round) when the gerbil is in a large room that is relatively unfamiliar to both. You should keep the initial interactions short and as soon as either is observed demonstrating aggressive behaviour, remove them. Repeat the encounters and gradually increase the time spent together, then eventually you should be able to let them out together in a more familiar place. I strongly recommend that you keep a close eye on them while they're out with the gerbil, and if aggressive encounters are frequent I would say they're not compatible and should be separated. Bear in mind that your degus are all male and your gerbil is female, so some confusion could arise between the hormone smells. At the end of the day, I've no experience of how degus get on with gerbils, so all this is speculation!
How can I keep my degu's molar teeth short as well as their incisors?  Give your degus a small amount of fresh grass to eat on a regular basis. Grass has a layer of silicone on the surface which helps to wear down the teeth when chewed. However, the most important part of the diet that keeps the molars in top condition is hay, which also contains these silicates.  Be sure your degus are getting through plenty of hay every day, and if not cut back on their hard feed portion to encourage them to eat more of it- it's really important for their health.
Is it possible to litter train degus? This is going to take a lot of training and patience and believe me it won't happen overnight! You can train your degus to urinate in a certain place, but they cannot regulate where and when they produce droppings.

To get started, place a small shallow tray or dish with some dusting clay in a corner of the cage (degus prefer to urinate in corners). I would then recommend that you watch your degus in the cage, and when (eventually) one uses the tray as a toilet, reward them immediately with a treat. You're going to have to do this several times before your degus get the idea, but they will eventually get the hang. This might involve long periods of sitting with your degu cage (why not watch TV at the same time?), but as they learn to associate relieving themselves in the tray with reward, the frequency of use will go up. When they've got the idea of using it in the cage it's time to introduce it to their play area, and the process starts again (but hopefully will be learnt quicker).

If you get stuck, I'm always here to help, but patience is the key here I'm afraid!

My neighbour went on a trip and left me her 5 degus to babysit in my back room!! We were a bit worried about the gathered smell... any ideas??? to help keep it down other then a daily cleaning?? Degus by nature are not only very clean animals but do not produce strong smelling urine, unlike mice and rats. You won't need to worry about keeping the smell down in the room, particularly if you're cleaning them out daily!
Can anyone tell me if Degu like/enjoy/need pumice stones to chew on? I have been surfing some Chinchilla sites that recommended them for Chins and was wondering if it is something our goos like. Hi, Degus can have pumice stones, but they don't always take to them. I guess they just don't get the idea of trying to eat a rock- they probably don't taste of anything! You might instead like to try mineral stones/blocks, these go down quite well. If you're looking for something to specifically keep their teeth short, I suggest you put in a kiln dried pine wood block, or even a couple of apple wood branches for your degus to chew on. These don't last long!
I have a mother degu and her daughters. How do you tell your degus apart? I can tell the mom is bigger but the daughters are identical almost. Ah the old 'spot the difference' degu dilemma! Juvenile degus are notoriously difficult to tell apart, as they haven't yet developed the little distinctive features that they get in adulthood. It doesn't help that they're all related and some of them will be identical twins- this makes it even harder!

One trick to use is in pigmentation. You probably have noticed that some degus have slightly lighter coats than others, or slightly darker ears. This is due to the skin being more/less pigmented in some degus than others and is useful in distinguishing degus as long as you look closely and can compare them directly (it's very hard picking up one baby and knowing if they are light/dark pigmented!). It's tricky, but it's the best method. The other trick I use is most helpful during shedding season (early summer and early winter) when all the degus will shed at different rates, causing lines or bands of darker fur to appear. These aren't permanent though, but they do help out a lot! By the way baby degus DO shed their fur, just in case you were wondering!

Anyway, if you're planning to keep the babies longer than a couple of months you will soon find other ways to tell them apart. Differences in weight and size will occur, and you can start picking up on their personalities. Every degu has their own unique way of life and this makes it very easy to know who you're dealing with! Also look out for tail tuft development. The soft, baby tuft will be replaced by a thicker adult brush unique to the degu. Some degu tails are longer than others, and some have a white flash in their tail tip.

If you're really stuck, you can trim a small patch of hair on their back. This will grow back in a few months, but is very handy for when you need to know who's who!

All I can say is good luck, you'll have your work cut out! I know how hard it can be telling all the pups apart and many a time I have mistaken one for their brother/sister, but it does get easier as they get older.

Do you have a degu care/housing question that you would like answered? Degutopia can help! Send your questions to us and we may even post them here!