Caring for a Degu
Origin: South America
Lifespan: 5-8 years
With curious personalities and a cuddly demeanor, Degus are great family pets, though they nap for much of the day and become most active in the evening. Degus may find it hard to sit still as babies but generally love to be held as they get older. Though a Degu can do fine on its own with the proper care and attention, a responsible pet owner will keep at least two individuals of the same sex to allow for the social interaction the Degu craves. When bonding with your Degu, avoid sudden movements and loud noises. Degus prefer to be held on their own terms and would rather hop into your hands than be grabbed. They are naturally inquisitive and may sniff and nibble your fingers, but it is easy to train them not to bite. Children should always be supervised when holding Degus to prevent accidental falls and injuries. To ensure a good relationship between you and your Degu, you should set aside time everyday to play with it outside of the cage. A Chinchilla dust bath is recommended a few times per week to keep their coat in good condition (and they really like it!).
Consider how many Degus you have when purchasing a cage to allow for a decent amount of room per animal. Avoid cages with wire floors and ramps as they can seriously injure your Degu's paws. Your Degu will enjoy a multi-level cage, or a cage with shelves, as well as a hideaway house. They must have a variety of safe, wood chew toys to keep their teeth healthy at all times. Cover the floor of the cage with a layer of safe bedding such as Yesterday's News or Carefresh - do not use cedar shavings, as they contain harmful oils.
A healthy diet for your Degu is based on specially formulated Degu pellets along with a good quality hay available at all times. Fresh water should always be available in a water bottle. Degus simply cannot metabolize simple sugars and are prone to diabetes, so any sugary fruits, veggies, and other foods must be avoided at all costs. Yes, it is easy to win over your Degu's affections using a peanut or slice of strawberry, but it is also easy to win a child's affection using cupcakes. You wouldn't make it their main diet either, would you?
Spot clean soiled areas within the cage 2-3 times per week and wash the cage bottom, food dishes, and water bottles weekly. Always rinse and dry the cage well before adding fresh bedding.
Be alert and consult a veterinarian if you notice signs of illness such as lack of appetite, limping, tooth discoloration (healthy teeth should be yellow), clouding eyes, changes in droppings, bald spots, or discharge from the nose/eyes. Signs of diabetes can be increased thirst, weight gain, and extreme cases tumors on the thyroid.