The Mountain Degu
Species: Octodontomys gliroides
The mountain degu is native to the south-west of Bolivia, northern Chile and north-west of Argentina. They mainly occur in the dry mountainous areas and on the plateau of Altiplano (2000-5000 m above the sea level).
It is a moderate sized rodent that normally grows to 25-30 cm long, the tail is about 15 cm. The coat on the back is gray with some black hair, and snow-white on the belly. The tail is bushy and sometimes curls on the back, like squirrel’s. The coat is very soft and thick.
The mountain degu is most active at dusk and at night. During the daytime the degu hides in holes under cactus and acacia or in rock crevices. The menu varies depending on the season. In winter degus eat acacia pods, and in summer cactus fruit.
Before acquiring the degu, you will have to set a proper home for it, so that the rodent feels comfortable in your house.
The most important thing is to prepare a good house for your degu. The ideal option is a wiry enclosure or a well-ventilated cage with the bottom area of 1 sq.m. and the walls about 70 cm high. Another option is a plastic cage, but it is not the ideal choice, because a curious rodent will gnaw on it and can get poisoned or else can escape. The cage mustn’t ever be located under direct sunlight and be away from radiators, windows, TV, loud music and strong smells. It is not recommended to keep the degu outdoors since they are not adapted for life in our climate. You should install in the cage a house for degu, many shelves, stones, logs and driftwood for the degu to chew and to gnaw on. These animals love having many hiding places.
Near the cage you should install an exercise wheel: degus are very active and have to move a lot. Also you will have to put in the cage two food bowls: one for pellets and the other for vegetables, a water bottle and a hay net.
It is best to use shredded paper, rags or pressed corn cobs for litter, because degus can be allergic to wood cuttings. Everything in the cage has to be fixed tightly so that you pet doesn’t drop the objects and get injured.
You should clean the cage when it gets dirty. But you will have to wash the bowls and take away the uneaten food daily. Check the house and wooden platforms, and if you find dried feces and dirt, it has to be removed. The general cleaning that involves changing food and water bowls and disinfection of the house shall be performed once a month. Regarding the sand baths, you should put the bowl with sand in the cage once a day and remove it after the bath.
You can let degu out for walks in the house, but before that you will have to take away all plants, materials and other objects that can harm the rodent. Also you will need to cover the electrical wires, since degus chew everything they see.
Degus don’t need any specific or complicated care. They are very neat animals. They take good care of their coat and as a rule don’t require any extra grooming. So you don’t have to comb them. Sand baths help to remove grease from degu’s coat. You can add to the sand one teaspoon of talc powder: it will prevent skin irritation. You mustn’t ever wash your degu. If it gets very dirty, you can wipe it carefully with wet towels. You don’t have to cut the claws of degus, since they grind when animals run around on rough surfaces. However you might need to cut the claws of old animals.
Degus are rodents. In the wild they eat dried grass, tree bark, roots and seeds. In captivity it is best to provide them with similar menu.
Today there is a wide range of foreign-made commercial food especially adapted for degu.The rodents love them and they don’t trigger any allergic reactions even when degus eat them for a long period of time. Another option is self-prepared mixtures that contain various cereals, seeds, dried peas and some crackers.
Degu’s main feed is hay, and it should always be in the rodent’s cage in sufficient amounts. Also degus need juicy green leaves, about 50 g a day.
The mountain degu mustn’t ever eat sweet fruit. You can give it apples and hard pears, but the main source of plant feed is vegetables. The most suitable vegetables for degus are carrots, cauliflower and radish. Before giving vegetables to degu, you should wash them carefully in running water and wipe them dry. Never give to degu vegetables and fruit from the fridge, since it can result in a cold in your pet. Always control the quality of vegetables and herbs: rotten, flaccid or moldy food is very bad for the rodent, it can lead to a bad food poisoning.
The best treats for the degu are nuts and sunflower seeds, but you shouldn’t give to the animal too many of them, since they contain a lot of fat and large amounts of this food can lead to obesity and other health problems. Your degг mustn’t ever eat milk, dairy products, unripe fruit, salty and spicy food, people food.
It is best to feed the degu with small portions several times a day. Then they digest food properly. Don’t forget that degu must always have hay in the cage. You must control carefully the condition of food in the cage and take it away every day so that it doesn’t rot. Don’t change the degu’s menu abruptly, it inevitably results in dysbacteriosis.
Your degu must always have a bowl or a bottle with fresh cleaned water. You will have to change the water daily. The water must be of room temperature.
The mountain degu is skittish, gnaws on furniture, so careful control is a must.
The most common diseases that occur in degus are respiratory infections, fungal diseases, hair loss, diarrhea.
The average life span in captivity is 6-8 years.