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WHAT ARE THE FACTS?
To give you a quick breakdown on what you need to know, here are the basic facts:
Habitat:degus originate from Chile, where they live in large family groups between the west coast and the Andes Mountains.
Reason for Domestication:Degus came into the domestic market only in the last 50 years or so as they were used in laboratories to investigate their diabetic tendencies. Degus cannot digest sugar and if it is ingested, are likely to develop diabetes, making them a key species to understand.
Life span:In the wild a Degu will usually live less than a year. In captivity however, with the better conditions, constant supply of food, water and love, Degus generally live between 5 and 8 years, although some have been recorded as having lived to 9, this is generally the same as humans living past 100 years, possible, but not common. Degus kept on their own will nearly always die much younger as they are very social animals that crave attention always. I know this sounds harsh, but it is sadly true. Unless you can devote hours a day to keeping your Degu entertained, a cage mate is very important.
Gestation: Degus are sexually mature from 9 months old, but have been known to conceive from as young as 2 months, and so should be kept in single sex groups when weened at about 5 weeks. Pups will be born after a gestation of 90 days, and are born well developed, and will explore the nest at just a few hours old. After mating the male will make a loud, prolonged announcement of his success, "wheeping" for a great length of time. Yep, just like all men, he is showing off!!!
Diet:Perhaps the most important aspect of caring for degus, it should always be remembered..
DEGUS CANNOT DIGEST SUGAR
Sugar must never form part of their diet, so no fruit or sweet treats. Molasses should be avoided, sunflower seeds should be kept to a minimum.
A chinchilla mix is usually the best to be offered if a Degu designed food mix is unavailable. Hay should also be offered daily.
Compatibility: Degus in the wild will be found in family groups of up to 90 individuals. In captivity they should never be kept on their own as they will pine. It is advisable to keep them in single sex groups, however if the group is mixed, it should contain no more than one male, more males will fight to the death for the right to the females in the group.
General notes: Degus require a lot of space to run around. The cage should be large enough to allow this, to allow the degus to climb and explore. If a wire cage, it needs to have a solid base. Plastic will be chewed through in days. The Degu also needs to be able to move off the wire at times, so the addition of wooden shelves are ideal. If not, the Degu is likely to develop a painful condition known as Bumblefoot. In extreme cases this will result in the foot needing to be amputated. This condition can be avoided easily by providing ledges and toys that are solid wood and allow the Degu to stand on. I personally recommend the Leap N Ledge accessories as they allow the Degu a great deal more area to explore in the cage, and somewhere to sit off the wire.
If all these points are followed, the Degu kept as a pet is a wonderful, friendly and intelligent companion.