Degus are very friendly and make wonderful pets for the experienced pet owner. I've never had rats but I think degus generally do not enjoy as much handling as a rat would (I might not be correct on this point) but, other than that, I imagine they are much like rats in their intelligence and sociability. Degus are not afraid of people and will climb all over you given the chance. They are intelligent, sociable, and many love to cuddle, know their names and will come on command. They bond to their owners and greet you when you come into the room. (All of mine know me and all of them – all 15 – greet me when I approach their cages.)
I have read that they can live up to 12 years in captivity but I think, due to inbreeding, five to seven years is more likely. They can have issues like diabetes, cataracts and malocclusion, again due to inbreeding. I say they are a good pet for the "experienced" pet owner because they require large habitats, and specialized diet because they cannot be fed sugar-containing products (they can't process sugars and can become diabetic if they are overweight), and need Vitamin C in their diet.
They are avid chewers and should be housed in all-metal cages and provided wood and metal accessories (not plastic ones). They are very strong for their size and seem to enjoy "redecorating" their habitats by moving their "furniture" around. They also make the most delightful noises – having a realtively sophisticated verbal "language". They are highly social and should be kept at minimum in pairs. They're alot of fun to watch.
In Canada, they are classified as "exotics" and need an Exotics-specialized vet for their healthcare needs. I would think that you, being a rat enthusiast, would definitely enjoy having degus.
Last edited by 16degus; 10-23-2012 at 04:27 PM.