Latin name: Octondon Degu (The name comes from the worn enamel surface of its teeth which forms a figure eight pattern.)
Degus (pronounced day-goo) are small (approx. 6 inches in length plus another 6 inches of tail, weighing about 1/2 a pound), rodent-like animals from South America and are closely related to the guinea pig and chinchilla. They look rather like large gerbils, although, degus are not actually rodents at all. They are more closely related to rabbits than gerbils.
Degus come from the lowland, west coast plains of Chile and up through the Andes mountains. They live in large social colonies much like prairie dogs and they nest and store food under rocks or hedges.
Degus can live to be around 15 years old in the wild, but in captivity their life span is often shortened because it is hard to replicate their specialized diet of bulbs, twigs, etc. Degus are also prone to cataracts and mouth diseases. Degus behave much like gerbils. They take naps throughout the day, they play with each other, and they like to dig. Degus are more vocal, though, rather like guinea pigs. They make a variety of noises including weeping, warbling with happiness, and shrieking when alarmed.
I recommend keeping degus in pairs, as degus are highly social animals. For a pair, a 15 gallon aquarium or bigger (with a tight-fitting screen lid) is advisable, or, you can also use those large wire cages with ramps often used for chinchillas and ferrets. You should include a water bottle and a food dish. For bedding, definetely use Carefresh or some other non toxic litter. Don't use cedar, and preferably not even pine. These cause respiratory problems, as they do in many other small animals. You can give the degus cardboard boxes to hide in with tissue paper to make a nest with. Things to chew on like toilet paper rolls are fun to play with and keep their teeth worn down. If the cage is large enough, you can put some non toxic branches for them to run around on. You can also supply them with a tail-safe wheel to run on. Degus have very fragile tails, you can't pick them up by it like you can with gerbils. A degu has the ability to shed its tail much like a lizards, but a degu's doesn't grow back.
FEEDING & HEALTH
Degus have slightly more specialized diets than other common pets firstly because they can't digest sugars. Their species has developed in a part of the world where their foods do not usually contain sugars, and so their bodies have evolved and can not digest the sugar because they've never needed to. They can become diabetic if fed too many sugars, which eventually leads to cataracts. I recommend feeding simply chinchilla & guinea pig pellets
, along with hay. An occasional treat could be pieces of sweet potatoes, carrots, a few sunflower seeds, or a bit of peanut. Don't give your degus any fruit (or else very minimal amounts) or any other sugar-holding treats. Try to avoid starchy foods also. Some people just stick with the pellet and hay diet and don't give treats. Whatever works for you is fine as long as the degu is kept healthy.
Degus are also prone to mouth diseases, and many degu breeders recommend hyperchlorinating their water. You can make chlorinated water by dropping one or two drops of household bleach in a quart (a concentration of approximately 1:125000). Their water should be changed daily or at least every couple of days.
Your degu's teeth shold be an orange-yellow color, not white. If they are white, he is probably very sick. The coloration is due to the fact that the chlorophyll in the greens that they eat reacts withan enzyme in their bodies and produces an orange organic fluid in their saliva.
Degus benefit from a weekly bath in chinchilla dust just like chinchillas do. Simply put some of the dust in a wide dish and let them roll around in it, and their fur and skin will be much healthier and cleaner.
BREEDING & SEXING
Deciding the sexes of degus is much harder than other rodents. The most distinguishing characteristic is the spacing between the urethra and the anus. In the female, the urethra and anus are very close together, while in the male a bit of space can be seen between these openings. In mature animals, the male urethra takes on more of a penile shape, while the female urethra is more conical. Female Degus are usually larger than male ones. Degus become sexually mature at the age of 6-9 months, although there have been reported cases of 8-9 week old females being impregnated. Degus have a fairly long gestation period
- about 90 days - and the young are born fully furred and with their eyes open. The average litter size is 5 or 6. Both parents help care for the young. Degu pups stop nursing at around 4 weeks, and can usually be safely weaned at 5 or 6 weeks old.
Degus, like gerbils, have a post-partum estrus, which means they can mate as soon as they give birth. If they do not mate at that time, they will probably not come into estrus again until they have weaned the litter.