Housing and Environment

Degus adapt readily to new environments34 and are easy to keep52. These are just two of the many reasons why degus make such great pets, as they will happily live (almost) anywhere! To recreate the best environment for your degus, Degutopia has provided all the information you need to get started...


Selecting an appropriate cage is very important for your degus

This is the most important piece of kit you'll need as its where your degus will inevitably spend most of their time. Ideally, the cage should be as big as possible, but that's not always practical. It's a good idea to take into account both the size of the room and the amount of time your degus spend outside their cage- the less time they have out of the cage the bigger it will need to be. A typical cage for a maximum of two degus that are let out once or more a day for at least one hour should be a minimum size of:
70 L x 70-100 H x 45 W cm.

How do I know if my cage is big enough, and how many degus can I have in it? The best way to calculate this is based on the cage volume, and we have created a handy tool to allow you to work this out. Enter the dimensions of your cage below (in cm):

Please enter the dimensions of your cage in cm.


John Hopewell makes some superb degu cages with extra-deep bases, his site is definitely worth a look and his cages feature in many of the examples below (including our own custom-made cages!). Bar spacing needs to be a maximum of 2 cm in order to safely contain your degus, any larger than this and a degu (particularly a juvenile) can squeeze out to freedom! Remember that for cages which contain any shelves/levels made of wire mesh, these should be covered with lino or something similar (ceramic bathroom tiles are a good option) to protect your degus' feet and that the cage should have a solid, metal base (degus can chew through a plastic or wooden base and escape). The cage should be place in a light, damp-free room out of direct sunlight. The room should be neither too warm nor too cool and care should be taken to avoid placing the cage in a draught (see below). It's important to check how your cage is secured as degus are highly intelligent and can soon learn to escape from all but the most secure of homes! Click the buttons below to see some examples of good cages:

CAGE SUBSTRATE- To maintain cage hygiene, a litter substrate must be used to absorb moisture. A popular substrate to use is pine wood shavings- please ensure it has been made from kiln dried pine. It's cheap, clean and easy to find, and above all its completely safe for your degus. The only time shavings should be avoided is if one or more of your degus has a respiratory complaint, which can be aggravated by certain wood dusts89, in which case dusty shavings should be replaced with shredded (plain) paper or finely chopped straw. NEVER use cedar wood chips, as these are highly toxic when ingested55, and avoid sawdust as the fine particles readily become airborne and often cause respiratory complaints99. There are many bedding alternatives on the market, including recycled paper and cardboard (such as Carefresh and Finacard), corn cob102 and chopped wheat straw99. Various studies have been done into the relative toxicity of different litters, with highly variable outcomes. Bleached cellulose materials have been found to be safe88. In terms of edibility, straw has been found to contain more crude protein and nitrogen than kiln dried pine shavings99. Whilst wood shavings and recycled newspaper provide a poor growth medium for microorganisms99, wood shavings contained the highest density of small particles of a size consistent with triggering respiratory sensitivity99. In terms of absorbency, wood shavings and recycled newspaper absorb 400 % while wheat straw absorbs 200 %99. Recycled newspaper does not hold toxic properties in terms of printing ink content99. Something that should never be used as a substrate is wood pellet or paper pellet type cat litter. Not only can the rough surface of wood pellets contribute to bumblefoot, but since these pellets are designed to swell on contact with moisture, they can cause potentially fatal rupture of the stomach if ingested. Steer well clear! If you're not convinced, you might want to view and .

Substrate Types- Pro's and Con's


Example Brands



Kiln dried pine shavings


*Anti-bacterial properties

*Fairly absorbent

*Retains smells well


*Can be composted

*Contains allergens some degus with wood-dust allergies are sensitive to

*Light and easily kicked out of the cage

*Can be tricky to clean out

Chopped straw

Russel Bedding

*Low dust and hypoallergenic


*Can be composted

*Not very absorbent

*Light and easily kicked out of the cage

*Doesn't retain smells so well

Recycled paper/card



*Low dust and hypoallergenic

*Heavy and more likely to remain in the cage


*Good for the environment

*Can be composted

*Can be a little more expensive than other substrate

Processed wood pulp


*Low dust and hypoallergenic


*Retains smells well

*Can buy fairly cheaply in bulk

*Can be composted

*Light and easily kicked out of the cage

*Usually can only be bought in bulk (horse bedding)

Shredded paper


*Low dust and hypoallergenic

*Cheap (usually free!)

*Good for the environment (particularly if you shred old bills, etc)

*Can be composted

*Not very absorbent

*Light and easily kicked out of the cage

*Avoid printed paper if your degus try to eat the paper regularly

NEST BOX- In the wild, degus sleep in burrows. A nest box is an artificial replication of a burrow environment, and your degus will quickly learn to nest and sleep in a comfy nest box. Research has shown that most domestic rodents prefer sleeping in an opaque nest box than in an empty cage73. Wooden boxes are available, but must be made from kiln dried pine as your degus are likely to gnaw them. For a cheaper alternative, you can make your own nest box out of thick card, but remember this isn't going to last as long! An alternative that we use is a large, open terracotta plant pot. Bedding material should be supplied to allow degus to line the box as they would line a burrow. The best material to do this with is shredded jaycloths or long strips of soft, shredded paper73. Try putting pieces of kitchen roll in the cage and watch your degus get to work!

TOYS- Including a running wheel are an essential part of your degus home. Degutopia has therefore dedicated a separate section to environmental enrichment (remember: A happy degu is a healthy degu!).

DUSTBATH- Degus need regular dustbaths in order to keep their fur free from naturally secreted oil36. Degus should be allowed access to a dustbath at least twice a week36. Dusting clay suitable for chinchillas can be used, most commonly this is 'sepiolite' clay. Sand on its own should not be used as it does not have the same grease-absorbing properties as clay. Although some chinchilla owners suggest putting a teaspoon of talc in the dustbath for extra conditioning, this is HIGHLY ADVISED AGAINST as talc is a respiratory irritant and suspected carcinogen (cancer causing agent)55. It's best to use a large, high-sided bowl as a bath, and to place it in your degus play area as placing it in the cage is unhygienic and can lead to overuse and various disorders. Remember to change the dust/sand in the bath every week or so to maintain its effectiveness.

FOOD BOWLS and DRINKING BOTTLES- Food bowls are a must-have, as they prevent food contamination by keeping food off the cage floor. These should be shallow, ceramic dishes that allow easy access to food but can't be tipped over (one for each degu is a good idea as degus are quite possessive over their feed!). Dietary hay should also be kept off the floor by providing it in a bowl or, ideally, a hayrack. Water should be supplied in a drinking bottle with a spout to prevent water contamination and ensure improved hygiene and safety. For more information on food, hay and water, visit the diet section.


Degus are extremely sensitive to high temperatures5 and can develop heat stroke due easily due to their inability to sweat. For this reason, you should always make sure your degu cage is in a room at room temperature (18-22ºC)- it's a good idea to keep a thermometer by the cage. In hot weather, move the cage into a cooler room and make sure the cage is NEVER in direct sunlight. Degus can safely be kept between a temperature range of 15-25ºC, but should not spend long periods at these temperature extremes.


Degus need to be let out of their cage frequently in order to get all the exercise they need, which includes running, jumping and climbing. Wild degus climb frequently in bushes, trees and on rocks51. Bear in mind that degus should have as big a play area as possible, as wild degus generally occupy home ranges of 1.67 hectares76 (per six degus76, equivalent of 16,700 m2!). The recommended zoological enclosure area for one captive degu is 0.0960 hectares76, the equivalent of 960 m2. Taking into account that the average room size is 9 m2, it essential to maximise the amount of exercise your degus get. For more information about providing this exercise, visit the enrichment section. Your degus will get the most out of their exercise/play times if you let them out in the morning and evening, to correspond with their peak activity levels52.

A note on exercise balls- although these are commonly used to exercise some small animals, their use is not recommended for degus. Free exercise outside the cage environment is important for degus to use muscles that they can't inside the cage or in a ball, and is also vital for the mental stimulation your degus get through exploring and interacting with novel objects (remember degus rely on their noses to explore and investigate!). It's also a great chance for them to interact with their owner and to do training work. Not only that, but degus can become easily stressed when trapped inside small places for any length of time107, and degus have been known to pass away inside them on hot days if left unsupervised. If you want to use exercise balls with your degus, it's much better for them to leave the ball open in their play area, so your degus can choose whether to use them or not, and how long for. You'll find that most degus would much rather be exploring than using one!


Your degus' cage needs regular cleaning to maintain hygiene. Although larger in size than most small rodents kept as pets, degus don't need cleaning out quite as frequently as they are very clean animals, they don't produce strong-smelling urine and their droppings are small and inoffensive. A cage housing 2-4 degus will need cleaning approximately every week (dependent on size). Remember, the more degus you have in a cage, the more often it will require cleaning. Cleaning should involve removing all substrate, food and uneaten hay from the cage and washing down all surfaces, drying thoroughly. Because many degus have sensitive skin and can develop dermatitis on contact with harsh cleaning products, hot water and washing up liquid suitable for sensitive skin should be used only. Some degus develop allergies to 'pet safe' disinfectants, so if your degu is sensitive these should also be avoided. Substrate should then be replenished with fresh materials. Drinking bottles should be cleaned with a bottle brush and food bowls washed. Remember to replace the bedding/nesting material and dustbath contents semi-regularly, also.


If you're feeling creative, you might be considering constructing your own degu enclosure or cage. This is a great opportunity to create something tailored to both your needs and the needs of your degus, but do be advised that the finished article needs to be sturdy and escape-proof, as degus are masters of testing the defenses! We would highly recommend anyone planning to build their own enclosure to have a read of the excellent guide provided by Nightwishraven on this website:
It's also a good idea to talk to other degu owners who have built their own degu enclosures to share tips, and a great place to do so is Degutopia's Yahoo group (via the 'forum' menu button on the left). There are also a wealth of pictures there of custom-made degu cages to inspire you!

Before you start, it's helpful to bear the following pointers in mind:
Get an idea of the size of enclosure you will need to build, according to the number of degus you plan to keep in it, by using the 'cage space calculator' applet at the top of this section.
Remember that ventilation inside an enclosure is very important, so you will need to consider this if your enclosure is made from solid materials like glass or wood before you start. A mesh top and/or fan that is not accessible to the degus, at the top of the enclosure, is a good idea.
Consider how you will be able to access the cage for cleaning purposes- particularly in a large enclosure! Having to bend double to reach those tricky spots could become rather annoying: big doors are an excellent idea!
Be sure not to use any types of wood that are unsuitable for degus in areas that they will have direct contact with- consider different materials like aluminium sheeting, glass, mesh, or kiln dried pine in these locations.
Also remember that degus love to chew wood, so if your enclosure is made from wood it is advisable to reinforce certain areas (such as inside with mesh or outside with aluminium sheeting) to prevent accidental escapes!
Above all, be doubly sure to check the finished article thoroughly, all over the inside, for any sharp edges or points that your degus could injure themselves on.

Degutopia's very first cages and modified cages

One of Degutopia's first cages (closeup)

One of Degutopia's more recent cages, The Hazels (top half)