The degu is a small rodent that originates from Chile. They are sometimes referred to as a brush-tailed rat or the common degu. The degu is almost like a smaller version of the chinchilla, or a larger version of a gerbil — growing to around 10 to 12 inches in length, with a long, thin tail with a tufted black tip. Their front legs are shorter than their back legs and their ears are quite large. Their overall colouring tends to be grey-brown with a slightly yellow tinge on their backs and lighter shades on their bellies.
Degus are highly social animals, they live in burrows and dig communally, constructing larger burrows than they could on their own. When they dig together, they coordinate their activities such as forming digging chains. Female degus living in the same group have been seen to nest communally, and nurse each other's babies. Degus forage for their food on the surface, spending a lot of time out of their burrows, and when in groups their ability to detect predators is increased. They can grieve if they lose a mate, and sometimes become severely depressed — especially pet degus who have lost their cage mate.
Degus are known for being very vocal animals and have several different communication techniques. They can make up to 15 different sounds, and scent mark using their urine. They are seasonal breeders, with pups born in early spring. Degu pups are born fully furred, with their eyes open and have fully functioning auditory and visual systems. The male degus take part in looking after and protecting their pups too, until they reach an age where they can leave the family. They are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day — so they make great family pets!
Degus are extremely social animals so they will need to live in at least pairs of the same sex or family groups of up to six. They will live much happier and healthier lives if they have a play mate, and love to snuggle up together when it's time to sleep. When you buy your degus, buy all of them at the same time so that they're already familiar with each other as it can be much harder to introduce them to one another later on in life.
Because degus are sociable animals and live in groups, they talk to each other. Some people may find this noisy, but it's usually quite entertaining as they chat away between themselves. You may want to bear this in mind when choosing where to put their cage — and avoid having them in a bedroom. Degus are also quite active so you may find them rustling around, climbing, jumping and running around in their cage.
Degus are a member of the rodent family and therefore love to chew everything, so it is essential that you buy a suitable cage and housing materials that they can't destroy by chewing. A wire cage for example would be a good choice.
Degus have a few specific dietary needs, so it is best to stick to a diet that they are used to. Degus cannot break down fatty or sugary foods and are prone to diabetes, so getting their diet right is very important. They have sensitive digestive systems so any new foods should be introduced gradually. You will need to be sure that you can get hold of foods (available at specialist pet shops and online retailers) that are suitable for your degus, and feed them twice a day.
Degus are very active animals, so they will need to spend some time each day outside of their cage. This will allow them to get all the exercise they need, such as running, jumping and climbing. You will need a safe room to let them out in, away from electrical cables and household items that they could destroy by chewing. You can purchase a pet playpen that will keep your degus restricted to a certain area if you don't want them roaming free around your room.