What do I need to buy for my degu?
Before you bring your degus home, you will need to have a few essentials ready. These are:
- A suitable, chew-resistant degu cage
- Nesting box and nesting materials
- Timothy hay
- Dust-extracted shavings
- Water bottle
- Food bowl (sturdy, so it doesn't get knocked over)
- Dust bath and chinchilla dust
- Mineral stone
- Toys and large tubes/tunnels
- Pet friendly cleaning products and disinfectant
- Gnawing chews
- Vitamin supplements
- Chinchilla or guinea pig pellets (or degu pellets if your pet store has them)
Degus are becoming more popular as pets, however not all pet shops will have food specifically designed for them yet. Chinchilla or guinea pig pellets (without molasses) are a good alternative to feed them if you can't find specialist degu food.
Handling your degu
It is important to remember that when you first bring your degus home, they will probably feel a little stressed and need time to adapt to their new environment. So give them a few days to settle in before you attempt to handle them. Make sure their cage is all set up ready for them, supplied with food, water and the other essentials such as toys and a nesting area.
In the first few days you should interact with your degu by talking to him so that he becomes used to the sound of your voice. Then try offering him a treat from your hand, and if he is happy to come towards you, gently stroke his back. Never bring your hand into the cage from above, and always lay it out on the bottom and let your degu come to you. Your degu might be a little nervous at this point, so try not to make any sudden movements as he will feel threatened and could bite. Degus will only bite when they are afraid, hurt or ill.
Once your degu is comfortable being stroked and taking treats from you willingly, it's time to try and pick him up. Let him come to your hand, and walk across it or sit in your palm by himself. If he doesn't step onto your hand, you can scoop him up from underneath and hold him with your hands cupped closely to your body. You must never pick a degu up by the tail — this can cause the tail to come off and is a nasty injury for your degu. For the first few times holding him, sit on the floor so that if he decides to jump he won't get hurt. Let him walk across your hands, putting one in front of the other, and allow him to move across your lap. Offer him treats for the first few times and soon he should feel happy to be handled.
Cleaning your degus cage
Degus are generally very clean pets so their cage shouldn't get too dirty or smelly. However you will still need to give their cage and toys a thorough clean once a week using pet-friendly disinfectant, and replace any soiled bedding and nesting materials. Degus can sometimes be a little messy — because they like to forage and dig burrows, some of their bedding materials and food can get kicked around and the odd bit of food or bedding could end up outside of the cage.
Grooming your degu
Degus will keep themselves very clean, but in order for them to do this you will need to provide them with a dust bath several times a week. Similar to chinchillas, the degu will roll around in the dust to clean his fur, this gets rid of any oils and dirt and keeps the fur in top condition. You must never attempt to bath your degu with water as their fur will not dry properly.
Always check your degu's teeth — they grow continuously, so as long as they have plenty of gnawing blocks / mineral stones and other chewable goodies to nibble on, their teeth should stay nice and trim.