Degu Enrichment and Toys

Are your degus a bit bored? Try some of these!

Degus, like most mammals, require constant stimulation from their environment in order to remain happy and healthy73. Here are some pointers on how to jazz up your degus' home!

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the picture.

WHEEL- A wheel is essential in your degus' home as it allows your degus to get the exercise they need every day, and may also be the behavioural equivalent of foraging6. Degus have been reported to run an average of 4.5 km per day on a wheel52! The wheel should be large, with plenty of room for the degus to stretch out whilst running. It must be a solid wheel, as open rung (wire frame) wheels have been reported to cause serious injury to a range of animals. These injuries most commonly include broken legs, feet and toes. The wheel should also not contain spokes, especially if there is more than one degu in the cage, as the points where the spokes cross over can also damage your degus, with the most common injury being a severed tail. Here's some pictorial examples: a and a . You will notice that the 'good' wheel has no possible way of trapping your degus' appendages as they run, whilst the 'bad' wheel is a comparative nightmare. It's even rusty, and it's clear to see why you shouldn't use it. However, it has been shown that degus can invert their circadian rhythm (become nocturnal) when given unlimited access to a wheel6. This is due to the fact that exercising generates body heat, so the degu runs at night as it is cooler then6. If your degu is becoming markedly nocturnal, try taking out their wheel at night, or moving the cage to a cooler room during the day. Another type of wheel that degus really enjoy is the . It can take a short time for your degus to learn how to use it, but once they do they're certainly !

Suitable types of standard solid running wheel can be tricky to get hold of. Many degu owners choose the easily available 'silent spinner' plastic wheels, but these are readily chewed and if possible it's much cheaper in the long run (and quieter!) to invest in an all-metal running wheel. A great example of this is made by John Hopewell in the UK. Note that any running wheel should have a minimum diameter of 12" for degu use, in order to prevent curvature and damage to the spine whilst running. We know that metal wheels can be extremely hard to get hold of, but it is possible to make one yourself. João Reis has kindly created the following tutorial to help you make the wheel below:
Make Your Own Wheel!

PLAY AREA WHEEL- Degus also like to use wheels when you let them out to play. You can use huge plastic wheels for this as they won't be chewed and don't need to fit inside a cage. The picture shows two plastic wheels, one plain and the other lined with fine sandpaper. This is to aid wear of degu nails, but always provide an alternative so they can use it if their feet start to hurt!

BRANCHES- Degus love to climb and gnaw on wood and branches, as they would in the wild. Putting a branch in your degu's cage will provide hours of entertainment for them, but care must be taken to use the right wood (as most wood varieties are toxic to degus). You tend to read a lot of misinformation and it's easy to get confused about what is safe and what is not. Degutopia has therefore provided a correct overview of safe woods and a toxic wood list (see button below).
Other degu-safe substances include bamboo cane, coconut shell and grapevine.

Remember, if in doubt- leave it out.

APPLE BRANCH OBSTACLE COURSE- If your degus enjoy climbing on top of their cage at play times, why not add a few apple branches to the cage tops for them to play on? Your degus will also enjoy trying to chew the apple bark from inside their cage to keep them busy during the day. Put an assortment of apple logs and branches in their play area for them to leap over and climb while they're out. Thanks to Melissa for this great idea and the pictures!

LOGS- You can place logs of a 'safe wood' type in your degus play area for them to chew on, too.

CHEWS/GNAWING BLOCKS- As mentioned, degus love to gnaw and will chew almost anything in their cage. If your degus do not have wood/branches in their cage, an alternative should be provided to help keep your degus teeth short. If degus do not wear their teeth down, they can grow too long resulting in eating problems (see illness section). Safe chews include pumice stones55, and pieces of kiln-dried pine wood. In addition, you should regularly give your degus small bits of hard food to chew on, such as hard, dry bread or dried pasta. Why not occasionally give them a whole nut (in the shell) such as a hazelnut? It will keep them entertained for hours and is great for their teeth, but don't feed nuts too often as they are high in protein and fat (a once-per-month treat only!).

TOYS- Toys come in many shapes and forms, some you can buy and some you can make. The best toy of all time is a simple cardboard tube. They come in all shapes and sizes, are easily found, mostly free, replaceable, and degus love them. Other toys your degu will love include soft toys (containing no plastic/removable parts such as pressed eyes), parrot toys and ladders, cardboard boxes in all shapes and sizes and big marbles. Marbles are a hit with most degus, who will happily chase them around the floor when they are out of the cage, but should not be placed inside the cage. When your degus are out, why not try putting a few whole sheets of kitchen paper on the floor and see what happens? You might be surprised! Please make sure you check each toy for potential injury risks- there have been reports of enrichment toys causing injury to animals when left unsupervised98.

FORAGING- Wild degus spend a lot of time foraging and it is an important behavioural expression even in captive degus. To allow degus to perform this behaviour, its a good idea to scatter a few treats such as puffed rice or porridge oats over the floor of either the degus' play area or a clean cage. Your degus will then walk around and 'forage'.

HAY BOX- Placing a box filled with hay in your degus exercise area is a great thing for them to play in and also encourages foraging behaviour.

GRASS BOX- A fantastic invention from Degutopia, designed specifically for the cage. A grass box will provide your degus with unlimited access to growing greens, maintaining health and teeth condition. A wire mesh above the growing surface will ensure the grass can only be eaten down to a certain height, allowing it to re-grow.

DIGGING PIT- Another Degutopia invention, designed for your degus play area. Comprising a large, deep box with a solid base filled with soft, sandy earth (a mixture of organic soil and sand77), the digging pit allows your degus to construct their own tunnels and allows them to mimic wild behaviour. Make sure the walls are high sided to prevent earth being thrown out and let your degus dig! Thanks to Melissa for supplying the picture of her digging pit.

TREAT TUMBLER- Largely designed for rabbits, treat balls are available in many pet shops. These are great for your degus play area as when they push them around, it can be adjusted to dispense a treat or bit of food.

HAMMOCKS- I'm sure you've heard of the famous 'rat hammock', but did you know degus love hammocks just as much? It's really easy (and very cheap) to make a hammock for your degus cage. Just take a rectangle of material, fold over the ends and sew them, making a loop at either end. Then take two bits of wire and post them through each end, and pass the wire around the roof of the cage. That's it! Remember to use wire, not string to secure the hammock as this prevents it from twisting round.

COCONUT SHELL- We've all eaten coconuts, and we know the best bit is smashing the husk open. But when you've finished it, don't throw away the empty shell, give it to your degus to gnaw- they're crazy about it! Why not hang it in their cage so they can play on it, too? Just be sure not to leave the coconut meat on the shell- it's too high in fat and protein for degus to eat.

GRAB BOX- From Degutopia, a real test of your degus' cognitive abilities! Take a shallow terracotta tray (or anything shallow and heavy) and cover it securely with chicken wire. The chicken wire should have a mesh size small enough to prevent your degu from squeezing their heads through (this is the first method of attack!), but large enough to put their hands/arms through. Now put a few treats/seeds in the bottom and watch your degus try and get to them. The weight of the tray should be enough to stop it tipping over, and remember to secure all sharp/pointy edges. This is fantastic mental exercise for your degus (see who works it out first, then watch the others as they tag on!) and is also great reaching exercise for their arms.

ROPE- Bits of thick rope not only look good in your degus' cage, but they will love to chew and climb on them. Make sure the rope is made from untreated cotton or sisal.

ROPE TOYS- Any cotton or sisal rope toys with kiln dried pine beads or other objects are great entertainment for degus. Make sure the colours used to stain the wood are natural dyes.

JINGLE BALL TOYS- All degus enjoy rolling jingle ball toys around their home and play area. Just make sure they don't try and eat the ball, particularly if it's made from plastic. You can also get jingle ball toys made from natural materials such as sisal and loofah.

SISAL and CORN TOYS- Anything made from natural corn or sisal with natural dyes goes down well with your degus. Some degus destroy these toys on sight, while others carry them around the cage and cherish them for months! If you have a destruct-a-degu, try hanging these toys from the cage to make them work a bit harder (and make the toy last a bit longer)!

BIRD and PARROT TOYS- Anything jingly, with beads and moving parts, is a great addition to your degus' cage. Bird toys made from hard acrylic with mirrors, bells and other moving parts go down a treat, and will last a long time.

STUFFED SOCKS- Take an old sock (washed, of course!) and stuff it with screwed up plain paper (don't use newspaper as the ink is toxic). Sew up the end and put it in your degus' cage- they love these! They either carry it into their nest whole, or work out how to get inside and remove the paper. Either way it will provide entertainment for them- just watch that they don't try to eat the sock!

CABLE REEL- You would never have thought there was more than one use for a cable reel! Degus love the wire frame reels and use them to climb on and run through in their play area.

Example 1:                         
Example 2:
PLAY PEN- How to let your degu out without them getting into mischief? With a degu play pen!
Example 1: Here's one we made to rein in all our degus at play time. They can't get out by climbing up the sides thanks to some lino and cardboard strategically placed near the top. Degus should still be supervised at all times! The pen measures L 2 * W 1.5 * H 0.9 m and has loose pin hinges to make it flat-pack.
Example 2: Melissa's play pen was bought from Pets at Home (around £70) and comes with a flip-up lid. This pen measures L 1.2 * W 1.2 * H 0.6 m but doesn't flat-pack. Don't use a pen outside- remember that degus can dig!!

PLAY AREA DIVIDER- Or if you prefer to let your degus out in a degu-proof room but don't want them climbing in your bookcase, how about this handy play area divider made from mesh? Note the curled top stops your degus climbing all the way out! Thanks to Melissa for the idea/pic.

FEATHER STICK- A big hit with rats, degus too can't resist chasing them! You can buy these at most pet shops (usually sold as cat toys). Try it out when your degus are playing- you might be surprised at their chasing and pouncing behaviours (we were!). Thanks to Alison for the suggestion and pictures.

BEDDING CUBE- An alternative use for the 'hay cubes' sold in most pet shops. Instead of hay, try filling them with torn strips of kitchen roll... and watch as the degus pull them out one by one for their nest! This enrichment toy also fulfills an important behavioural need to construct nests, and is particularly helpful to pregnant females. Thanks again to Alison for this top tip and pictures.

DIGGING CUBE- An alternative way to let your degus dig and create elaborate nests in their cage (without making a mess!) is to put a small fish tank cube inside their home and fill it with bedding. Small glass fish tanks are cheap and chew-proof, although you must make sure there are no sharp edges that your degus could hurt themselves on- masking tape round the edges should solve this. You should also make sure your degus can get in and out easily, so try providing a ladder (see the picture). Take care when cleaning out the cage that it isn't too heavy to lift! Thanks to Jenny for this enrichment idea and the pictures.

STUFFED TUBE PUZZLE- If your degus are really smart, see if you can get them to work this one out. Carefully punch two holes in a long cardboard tube (try a kitchen roll tube), and post a length of wire between them. Attach the tube to your degus' cage horizontally, in a place they have to stretch to get to. Take a handful of hay, and stuff it in one end to form a 'plug'. Take some of your degus' favourite treats, and put them inside the tube from the open end (you may want to tip it a bit to get the treats in the middle!). Now plug up the open end with hay and you're all set! Your degus will be able to smell the treats, but have to work out how to get at them! This is a good weekly treat for your degus' cage.

STUFFED EGG BOX- On a similar theme, the stuffed egg box provides a mentally challenging puzzle for your degus to work out. Simply take an old, empty egg box (make sure it's clean!) and peel off the label, then sprinkle some of your degus' favourite treats inside the cups. Fill the lid with hay, then close the box and tie it shut with natural twine (just to make it a bit harder for your degus to get inside!). Put the whole box inside your degus' cage and watch them work out how to get at the tasty tid-bits. Thanks again to Alison for the idea and pictures!

BENDY TUBE TUNNEL- You might have seen those bendy tunnels that dogs run through in agility courses? This is the same idea, but on a smaller scale, made from a bit of tumble dryer tubing! Degus particularly enjoy scampering through these long, winding tunnels as it is similar to the burrow systems degus use in the wild. Use them in your degu play area for a great deal of scurrying fun, but don't use them inside the cage as the plastic can be easily chewed. Thanks to Melissa again for this great idea and pictures.

DEGU GYM- What do you get if you hang a large parrot toy from a hanging basket stand?? A degu gym of course! Melissa's degus love this one as it dangles in their play area!

FLEECY BASKET HAMMOCK- The things you can make with a hanging basket... how about this great idea from Christie. Using a metal hanging basket (you can get these cheaply in places like Wilkinsons) and a piece of fleece, fit the fleece around the basket frame and sew in place. Attach three or four chains around the top to hang inside the cage, and you have a super-snuggly hammock! For those cold winter nights, this will also fit a Snugglesafe heat pad, perfect! Thanks to Christie for the idea and pics.

CARGO NET- Another fab idea from Christie, how about a home-made cargo net for your degus' cage? You will need: some natural sisal rope (make sure it's untreated), you can get this from ebay for making cat-scratch posts. Depending on how big you want your net you will need several metres. Also needed are plenty of small cable ties and 4-6 hammock hooks (ebay!). 1. Make the frame of the net by laying four pieces of rope to form a square or rectangle of the required size. 2. Overlap each rope at the corners and use 2 cable ties to secure each overlap (see pics). 3. Measure out further lengths of rope and lay them inside the frame spaced about 1 inch apart, then secure them to the frame with cable ties (see pics). 4. Now measure out several lengths of rope to go from top to bottom, again about 1 inch apart. This time weave them in between the lengthways ropes, under and over alternately, making sure they are nice and tight. Use cable ties to secure them to the frame (see pics). 5. Now the net is complete you'll need to clip the excess long bits from the cable ties. Clip as close to the head of the tie as possible and neaten up the edges. 6. You can now attach the hammock hooks by securing them to the end square in each corner. 7. Hang inside the cage and consider it a job well done! The net is chewable and may need repairing from time to time with cable ties. Great stuff Christie, thanks again for the instructions and pics!

PLAY SHEET- We all know degus spend a lot of time burrowing and running through tunnels in the wild, but did you know that something as simple as an old sheet can stimulate this behaviour? Try laying an old sheet out in your degus' play area and watch them burrow under it and run around underneath- they think it's a great game! Just watch where you put your feet!

STUFFED LOG- So, you have a large chunk of log (preferably apple wood) that your degus have happily eaten all the bark off and now ignore completely. How to get them interested in this as a toy again? Answer- stuff it with tasty treats! If your log has begun to split as they tend to once they've dried out, you'll find lots of nice cracks just begging to be stuffed with food. I find that rolled porridge oats work really well for this, simply cram them into the cracks and use a knitting needle or pair of scissors (careful!) to pack it in nice and tight. Your degus will spend ages getting out the treats and will start gnawing the wood again- great for mental stimulation and for their teeth!

HAY HANGER- Liz came up with this great idea when looking for an alternative to a hay rack- she bought a really cheap bird feeder, cut it in half, then attached some key ring loops to the handle and hung it inside the cage. Fill it up with hay, and watch your degus get to work! Thanks, Liz, for the great idea and picture!

WATER HYACINTH BALL- Yet another fab idea from Melissa! These ball-shaped baskets are sold in gardening centres and the like for growing plants in. They are woven from water hyacinth reeds, which are degu-safe if chewed, and covered in holes- the perfect degu hideout! The manufacturers mention that it is coated in a thin layer of non-toxic varnish, so shouldn't do your degus any harm.

Need more ideas for enrichment? More inventions coming soon from Degutopia... watch this space!

Do you have a degu toy or invention that your degus love, and think other degus would enjoy, too? If so, why not take some pictures and send them to us along with a short explanation? It could appear right here!