Is it a hamster? Or a mouse? Or maybe even a gerbil?
Nope, it’s a Degu!
A cousin of the chinchilla, it is a Caviomorpha rodent from Chile that is herbivorous. They are also referred to as brush tail rats or trumpet tailed rats, but are not related to rats at all. The word degu, derived from its Latin name, Octodon degus, translates into ‘eight tooth taste graze’.
Fully grown, these furry creatures fit in the palm of a human. They are active during the day, have brown fur, and have orange teeth and a medium length tail. They also have five clawed toes on their forepaws and five on their hind feet. Their cute little ears are shaped to capture sound and to dissipate body heat. Their large, dark eyes are on the side of their head to improve range of vision.
The female Degu has a better sense of smell than the male and has four pairs of teats, three of which are on the side of the body in a line between the front and hind legs.
Degus are semifossorial, which means they live partly underground. They also prefer to live in groups. They adapt extremely well to new environments, especially if you provide them with a stable living area. Degus thrive better in large cages with bar spacing that is a maximum of 2 cm, or less than one inch, to keep them contained and safe. The cage should also have a solid metal base with a substrate of pine wood shavings, shredded paper or finely chopped straw. NO sawdust or toxic cedar wood chips please!
The cage should also have a nest box in it because Degus LOVE to burrow. Open terracotta plant pots bedded with shredded jay cloths or soft paper work great! Because they require constant stimulation, a solid wheel without spokes or a flying saucer wheel is essential for it to run on. Also important are apple, hazel, hawthorn, kiln-dried pine, pear or linden wood branches for them to climb and gnaw on. They also really enjoy bamboo cane, coconut shell and grapevine.
When out of its cage, plastic wheels and obstacle courses are great exercise for them and entertainment for both of you! They also LOVE cardboard tubes, parrot toys and ladders, jingle balls and marbles!
Degus love to groom and be groomed and they especially like human company, which makes them easy to handle. Their high level of intelligence makes them easy to train and interact with.
You’d think these little creatures would require a special diet, but that’s not true. The only things to avoid altogether are sugar, molasses, honey syrup, glucose and fructose. Other than that, they do well eating dried mix or pellets from the pet store like guinea pig, chinchilla or Degu-specific food. AVOID chinchilla mix because it contains sugary, dried fruit! Also unsuitable are hamster or gerbil food mixes.
10 g, or 2 teaspoons, of hard food once a day is plenty of nourishment for a Degu, along with hay, which is the most important part of its diet. It helps it to maintain gut function and molar teeth wear. Meadow or Timothy hay are ideal, mixed with a little Alfalfa hay to make it tastier. Also, fresh vegetables like chopped, raw carrots, cabbage, peas and herbs such as mint, chives, oregano and basil, in small quantities once or twice a week, are perfect for the Degu diet. You can even add a rose petal to make the veggie mix more enticing.
Here are some basic rules to know before you make a Degu a part of your life:
Rule #1: They prefer living in groups, so strongly consider owning more than one
Rule #2: Unlike other rodents, you cannot pick a Degu up by its tail- it will tear off
Rule #3: Let the Degu simply sit in the palms of your hands – do not encircle them
Rule #4: Use recommended foods like puffed rice or wheat, flaked corn or peas, bread crumbs, cracker pieces or rolled oats as a reward during training
Rule #5: The way to a Degu’s heart is a tummy rub. To them, it’s worth YOUR weight in gold
Rule #6: Speak to a Degu in a soothing tone of voice, even when using voice commands
Rule #7: To protect their intestinal and kidney functions, never over-feed a Degu because they have small tummies.
Rule #8: Spend a lot of quality time with a Degu, as they love and need the socialization, even if they do have Degu roommates
– Kassira McKee
For more amazing information about Degus, click here.