We all know degus are happiest when kept in social groups rather than on their own, but if you should find yourself with a single degu, how do
you go about introducing a companion to keep them happy? This process can be tricky but it needn't be so with this helpful guide to give
you all the inside tips!
Introducing Degu Pups to Adults
Introducing Adult Degu(s) to Adults
Before we start, there are a few basic principles you need to know about how degus think and interact. Please bear the following in mind:
1. A post-pubescent degu (over 8 weeks old) will not tolerate another mature degu in the place where they live (their territory) automatically. You
*cannot* put two unfamiliar degus together in the same place/cage and expect them to get along. In the wild, all degus (male or female) are
very protective of their group and territory, and will defend it from intruders that might threaten the group dynamics. Even a single degu will therefore
be prone toward initial aggression rather than friendliness on a first encounter.
2. The introductions process cannot be rushed. If you take things quicker than any of the degus are comfortable with, you could end up setting
yourself back rather than making any progress, which will end up taking you more time to correct. Always take things slowly, don't rush your
degus and don't be afraid to go back a step if you think your degus are not yet ready.
3. Introducing degu pups (newly weaned between 6-8 weeks old) is a very different process than introducing a more mature degu (over 8 weeks old).
We'll come to this next, but be aware that it is far easier and quicker to introduce pups to an adult degu than introducing more adults.
4. The sex of the degus involved will affect the speed of introductions. A natural group for a degu in the wild would
consist of a few females and only one or two males (usually who have been together from birth), so introducing female degus to males (for
breeding purposes) is going to be a little easier than introducing adult males to other adult males. Choose the sex of the degus you intend to
introduce wisely- where possible try to introduce only the same sex of pups or adults as your current degu, or if this is not possible, have the adult
male neutered before introducing females. A special point to note about introducing male pups is that you may see
some change to the group structure when they become sexually mature. During this time, you could see an increase in mounting and non-serious
fighting, which is due to a rise in testosterone during this time which in effect causes the male to want to improve his rank within the group. This
process should not last long (a few weeks) and is rarely serious in a previously stable hierarchy. Also note that when introducing adult males, this is
best done outside of breeding season (breeding season is typically between early winter-late spring each year) when males are less
territorially active and more tolerant of other males. Females should not be put through the introduction process while pregnant, as the stress
could trigger a miscarriage.
5. Listen for the sounds that the degus use during introductions and watch for their behaviours, as these give you
useful indications of how they are getting along. Agonistic sounds such as the 'whine', 'groan' and 'grunt' along with aggressive teeth grinding are
warning signs that the degus are not happy with each other. Watch out for agonistic behaviours such as lunging, pushing and biting during this time.
Friendly sounds include the 'chitter' and 'warble' vocalisations, and may be accompanied by grooming behaviour, which is a very good sign your
degus are getting along well. Note that initially you may see a lot of mounting behaviour- this is perfectly normal and is just the degu way of
establishing who is 'boss'. It will become less frequent once your degus have all settled in together. Once they're living in the same cage, you
might observe minor squabbles and fighting such as 'boxing' and chasing; don't be tempted to intervene or separate the degus during this time
unless injury has occurred- your degus will need to 'test' one another's physical attributes in order to establish their own rank in the new group.
If you step in, you could interfere with this process and actually cause it to go on longer than it should (for further details see the fighting guide).
6. You will need to prepare an area for introductions which is considered 'neutral territory' by all degus. Therefore this should be a place that is
unfamiliar to all the degus and has not been previously scent marked. For this purpose, an empty bath tub is ideal, as it is has easy access and
can contain the degus for a short time. You can also consider a small, open room such as the landing area of a house, to enable all degus to remain
in visual contact with each other (and you!).
7. If you have to step in during an introduction session that is going badly, be very careful about where you put your hands! You could easily
get bitten in the heat of an argument- your degu won't mean to direct the bite at you but this can hurt if you happen to get in the way. You might want
to keep a tea towel on standby just in case.
8. Note that it is not strictly necessary to go through what can be a stressful introductions process in all cases. Degus are able to form a very
strong bond with a dedicated owner and learn to see them as another degu and a valuable companion. Therefore if your degu has been alone for
several years and you are able to spend a lot of time with them to give the attention that they need, it may be better for them not to have to endure the
stress of introducing another degu. In most cases, however, degus can benefit from the company of another degu, and so the stress of the process is
marginal compared to the benefit they receive at the end. Really it is up to you to be the best judge of your degu and do what is right for them.
>INTRODUCING DEGU PUPS<
By far the easiest way to introduce companions to a single degu is by introducing newly weaned degu pups, no older than 8 weeks old. The reason
why this is the case is related to the communal nesting habits of degus in the wild. Degus of both sexes readily
accept pre-pubescent pups into their group as it is in their nature to care for even unfamiliar pups, as they pose no immediate threat to the group or
the territory. You will therefore see that the steps needed to complete the introduction process are far shorter for introducing pups than for introducing
more mature degus (below). It should be pointed out that if the existing single degu is more than one year old it is a good idea to introduce a pair
of same-sex pups, rather than a single pup, so you are not left with the 'lonely degu' cycle when the older degu eventually passes on.
Large cage for housing the single degu (and all degus eventually); Smaller cage for housing the pups temporarily for a few days; Sand bath; Vanilla
essence/peppermint/lavender oil; Neutral territory area (such as an empty bathtub); Treats (such as sunflower seeds, natural puffed rice).
1. Assuming you've just brought the pups home with you, you will need to move the smaller cage directly next to the larger cage containing the single
degu and put the pups inside. Remember that a new home is a very stressful experience for a young degu, so it's best to leave them alone in a quiet
room for at least 2-3 days to allow them to settle in. Make sure they're comfortable and monitor the behaviour of the single degu in the adjacent cage.
2. After 3 days the pups should have settled in and begun interacting with the single degu through the bars. There should be a bit of interest on both
sides, but nothing too serious. When you think that both are ready to try an introduction (usually after about a week), mix a few drops of scented oil
into the sand bath and let both pups bathe in it, then pop them into the neutral territory zone. Now let the single degu bathe in the same sand and then
put him in the zone a little bit away from the pups. Have some treats on hand to give to your degus during interactions, to act as a positive reward for
the experience. The aim of this session is to judge how they all react to each other and if it's going to be safe to put them all in the same cage together.
Expect to see a lot of mounting by the older degu of the pups, but don't try to stop it (it's a dominance thing and will settle down). There should be no
aggression by the pups at all, although one thing you might see is the pups lying on their backs under the adult. This mimics suckling behaviour and is
a sign of submission to the adult.
3. After 10 minutes, if all is going well, return the pups to their previous cage and the adult to the larger cage. If you think they need another session,
wait until the following day and repeat steps 2 and 3. If not, wait until the following day and go on to step 4.
4. Allow the pups to bathe in the scented sand bath and transfer some of the substrate from their cage into the large cage (this encourages homogeny
of scents in preparation for the pups moving in). Allow the single degu to bathe in the same sand and then put them all into the large cage together. You
should not observe any fighting or aggression, but may see some mounting which is normal. If everything is going well after 10 minutes, move on to
step 5; if you think they need a little more time, repeat steps 3 and 4 the following day.
5. If the progress is good, you can now leave the pups in the large cage with the adult overnight. Night time is a great time for introductions as the
degus should be sleeping for most of the night, and if a group cohesion is beginning to form you will see them sleeping huddled in the same place. If
all the degus have gone through the night without incident, leave them together and monitor them closely the following day. By this stage, a group
structure should have started to emerge, so congratulations- you now have a social group of degus!
>INTRODUCING ADULT DEGUS<
Introducing adult degus to an existing adult can be a little more tricky, but it is by no means impossible. It will depend largely on the individual
personalities of the new and existing degus, and also on how long a single degu has been on their own. In most cases, a degu which has been on
their own for a year or more is easier to integrate than a degu who has only recently found themselves alone. The only real way to know if any two
or more degus will get along is to put them through the introduction process and give it a try, but you must always be prepared that they may just not
be compatible and you could end up with two separate sets of degus. However, we will give you the best advice to maximise your chances of success!
Large cage split horizontally with a mesh divider (this will be removed later); Sand bath; Vanilla essence/peppermint/lavender oil; Neutral territory
area (such as an empty bathtub); Treats (such as sunflower seeds, natural puffed rice).
1. Where possible, you will need a cage that can be split horizontally with a mesh divider. We have had a 100 % success rate using the horizontal
split and find it to be more effective than a vertical split or positioning two cages side by side, as it does effectively 'trick' the degus into thinking
they are part of one group, and it more effectively allows homogeny of scents throughout the sections. This guide is written based on the assumption
that you have a horizontal divide. Note that the mesh divide should be open in places to allow interactions and scents to pass across it, although you
should use ceramic tiles or cardboard to line sections of it to avoid the risk of bumblefoot. Once the cage has been divided, you will need to put the
single degu into the top section, and the new degu(s) into the bottom section. You must now leave both sets of degus alone (i.e. attempt no introductions)
for one week. This is to allow both degus to interact through the divide and to get used to each others' presence and scents. Don't be afraid to leave it
for more than a week before moving on to step 2; ideally the degus should not be spending too much time trying to interact through the divide as this
will make things much easier during introductions (increased interaction means they are acting more defensively over their territory). Note that it could
be several months before the degus stop acting defensively toward each other, so be patient!
2. You can now begin to change round the sections that the degus are in (note that they should not yet meet). Swap the bottom set of degus with the top
set, so that their living arrangements are reversed. This will allow both sets of degus to familiarise with the scents of each other, and this also helps
to change the way they view the composition of the 'group' in their minds (you're implementing degu psychology here!). You should now leave the
degus in their new sections like this for a further week before moving onto step 3. If you don't think your degus are ready for the next stage, you can keep
swapping them between section on a weekly, or even daily, basis.
3. When you think your degus are ready, it's time to prepare the first physical introduction. Whatever happens, do not rush this step, as the first
meeting will make a lasting impression on your degus and will be the basis of how they meet with this degu in future encounters. You will need to
mix a few drops of scented oil into the sand bath, and then allow the new degu(s) to bathe in it. Now put this degu into the neutral territory zone and
then allow the single degu to bathe in the same sand. You can then put the single degu into the same zone a little away from the other degu(s). Watch
very carefully as the degus approach each other and give out treats as they interact to help them form a positive association with the experience.
You should expect to see a little non-serious fighting, such as boxing, and some mounting; this is normal and necessary for your degus to form a
new group structure and decide who is in charge. If there is serious fighting, such as a lot of chasing and/or biting and rolling around locked together,
immediately (and carefully) separate the degus and return them to their separate cage sections. You will need to start from step 1 again after this. On
the other hand, if all has gone well after 10 minutes, return them to the opposite cage sections that they started in, but still keep them separate. Now go
to step 4.
4. The following day, repeat step 3, and watch how the degus interact. This time, wait 20 minutes before returning the degus to the opposite cage
sections. This switching around is important for when you finally remove the cage divide. If all goes well, move on to step 5. If things don't go so well
in your mind, don't be afraid to go back to step 3- don't rush it!
5. The following day, repeat step 4 again, and do so for the next 2-3 days. This will help reassure you that they will be safe to spend the night in the
same cage section in the next stage.
6. It's the big day (or night)- time to really see how well they're getting along. You will need to repeat step 4 but then, instead of returning them to their
separate sections, you should put them all into the same section. Wait for about 10 minutes just to see how they settle in; if all seems fine you can go
ahead and leave them together overnight. Night time is a good time for introductions because the degus will spend most of the time sleeping. If a
group cohesion is beginning to form you may see them all huddled together sleeping in the same place. If you don't think they're quite ready for the
night yet, you can always leave them together for 20 minutes in one section during the day, then return them before this stage.
7. If all has gone well overnight, you should now leave them together in the same section for the following day. It is just as important to see how they
function as a group during their daily tasks as when they're out playing or in the cage sleeping. If this stage goes smoothly, move on to the next step.
8. Now they're spending a lot of time together it's time to get them used to living as a group in all the sections of the cage, which will make things go
smoothly when you remove the divide. You will need to move them all to the other section of the cage, and leave them there for a day. For about a
week, swap them all between top and bottom sections daily before the next step.
9. Now you're ready to remove the divide. It may seem like a lot of hard work, but if you remove the divide too soon after their hierarchy has formed,
you could re-set the whole thing and end up back at step 1. So now you can go ahead and let them all out in the neutral zone while you remove the
divider. Make sure you keep all the other objects in the cage the same, and don't be tempted to clean the cage out before hand- the aim is to make it
look and smell exactly the same but without the division so the degus treat it exactly the same as when the division was there (i.e. as a
shared group territory). Now you can put the degus back into the now whole cage, and watch them closely for the first 20 minutes. If you see any
signs of aggression, put the division back and re-do step 8 just to be safe.
10. If all goes well then congratulations- you've just successfully integrated a social group of degus! That's no easy task, so you should feel really
proud of your achievement and your new, happy degu group. Well done!
A printable, text version of the introduction steps can be found on our Yahoo group and forum in the 'files-how to...' folder.