In the wild, the degus lives partly in burrows and spends its days looking for food in its territory. These activities allow him to keep himself in good physical shape and to explore the surroundings. In captivity, the cage of the degus is an essential element in its life. Indeed, this one will be their place of life, but also the place where they will be locked up all the day. The choice of the cage, as well as its installation is thus not trivial. It is essential to know all the essential elements to keep your degus in the ideal living environment. This one will have to be the most spacious possible and answer some specific needs of the degus, as well as propose them various activities.
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Choose the cage
The cage is a crucial element of the habitat of his degus. This one must indeed suit its needs in terms of movements and territory management. The degus are gregarious animals, which require to live with several in the same cage. However, in order for this to happen without any problems, it is important to adapt the cage to reproduce a natural environment. There are many different types of cages that are suitable for degus. From aviaries, ferret cages, terrariums, and mixed cages, all can meet the needs of the degus, as long as they are spacious enough and carefully designed.
In laboratory, cages are generally very small, with a surface of only 2500cm², for a cage of 50cm x 50cm side and 20cm height for 1 or 2 degus. This is of course absolutely not adapted to the needs of the species and can lead to many behavioral and health problems. As for the rodents offered for sale, mainly in pet shops, the situation is even worse. Tiny cages, sometimes smaller than A4 sheets, without light, without medical care … These living conditions, and uncontrolled reproductions generate numerous genetic health problems, as well as important behavioral disorders.
The degus is a very active animal, which needs a large space in its cage, in order to be able to spend easily. Moreover, a large space is necessary for healthy social relations in this species, small cages increasing the risk of serious injuries by fighting. A minimum size chart is proposed by a forum of amateurs, largely above the more basic standards1. This charter allows the establishment of habitats of size adapted to the degus.
The CARA charter is an ideal tool to find a cage adapted to the needs of the degus2. To check the maximum capacity of your cage, simply measure any flat surface (counting the floors), to calculate the area and add all the surfaces to calculate the overall surface of the cage.
|Number of degus||Size in cm²||Size in inch²|
|From 6, per additional degus||4000||1575|
There are several types of cages that can be adapted for degus. Cages for rodents and ferrets are usually quite spacious and affordable. But terrariums, as long as they are well ventilated, or aviaries can also be used. Terrariums should be spacious and fitted with high elements, allowing the degus to climb occasionally.
Above all, it is necessary to choose a resistant material, because the degus is a very… efficient rodent! Cages made entirely of plastic or wood can be a problem for some owners whose pets will destroy the cage walls. Glass and metal grids are much more resistant to the teeth of degus. Be careful with the distance between the bars, 2.5cm maximum for adults. Cages with small bars should be avoided to prevent marked stereotypies, which could lead to dental problems. One type of cage is not particularly to be preferred to another, it is important that the cage is spacious and solid enough.
It’s also worth considering the issue of cage protection. Many rodent and ferret cages have litter guards to prevent dirt from accumulating outside the cage.
The location of the cage of the degus must be considered and adapted to the species. It must not be subjected to a constant light, noises or excessive stimulations in order to rest properly. This directly impacts its physical and mental health and can, in the long run, cause many health problems3.
Setting up the cage of your degus
In the wild, the degus lives in a complex of underground tunnels, with many accesses on the surface4. To reproduce natural living conditions, it is possible to make some adjustments in the cage2.
The access to the litter is important, because the degus can dig in it and look for food. If this access is not possible, it is possible to set up digging areas by using a large glass or plastic container. In order for the degus to be able to dig efficiently, a layer of 15cm high is recommended. No heavy items should be placed on top of the bedding, to avoid collapsing. To know more about our litters, don’t hesitate to read our article on this subject: Which litter should you choose for your degus?
Offering hiding places is essential for the well-being of your degus. These can take various forms, like houses (wood, fabrics, plastic), tunnels (cork, hay, plastic), … It is important, especially for groups of degus, to offer hiding places and houses with multiple entrances. This allows them to imitate their natural behavior, but also to flee in case of a fight. The choice of the material and the size is to be thought according to its rodents: if they destroy a lot, it is interesting to turn to the wood, which they will be able to gnaw without problem. However, offering a variety of sizes, shapes and materials is always a good way to arouse the curiosity of the degus.
In addition to offering hiding places, which will often be used as nest, hammocks and other beds are privileged places for degus. It is advisable to pay attention to the materials used, and to their washing. Avoid all bedding with fabrics with long “fur”, which could be ingested. Fleece and natural fabrics are to be preferred, like cotton or linen. Bedding can be used as a resting place in an “outdoor” space, but can also be used as a platform between floors.
The degus can be kept in a room at room temperature without the need for a heater. It will be able to create a nest with hay if necessary. If it supports well the rather low temperatures, it supports very badly the high temperatures. Above 25°C, it will settle in the coolest corners and adopt a more nocturnal lifestyle. In summer, during the hot periods, it is important to adapt its cage to avoid the heat stroke in the degus.
Ultraviolet lights should be made available to the Octodon degus, as they are for reptiles and some birds. The degus is able to see the light of the UV spectrum5, but this contributes primarily to the maintenance of calcium homeostasis, for its dental health6. Thus UV-B lamps can be placed outside the cage, and replaced regularly. Cables and plugs should be kept out of reach of the degus to avoid the risk of electrocution.
Games & Enrichments
Enrichments can be offered to the degus to keep them busy and stimulated. This involves natural elements, access to a wheel, a sandbox, the possibility to dig, …
The wheel is the essential element for the mental and physical health of the degus7! This will allow him to exercise all day long, when he feels like it, but also to be less stressed. But it must also be adapted to his species. Its diameter must be at least 30cm, ideally more than 40cm, in order to maintain the back in a natural position. Moreover, the wheels must be solid, in order to avoid the risks of fractures and for the groups, they must have only one point of entry, to avoid that the degus get stuck between them. It is possible to choose models for chinchillas, which are bigger and more adapted for degus.
The sandbox is an essential element for the health of the degus and must be available at all times. The Octodon degus needs to have access to a spot of sand, in order to be able to wash itself, by eliminating excess of sebum and parasites. This also allows it to maintain a good group cohesion8 9 10. The sandbox should be large enough for at least one degus to roll around on both sides without bumping into each other. Also, it should be deep enough for the degu to dig in, like the litter box.
There are many other enrichments that can be offered to degus. Whether they are made or natural, it is important to bring them something new very regularly. Buying animal toys is not necessary, because it is possible to find a lot of elements directly in nature, like branches, stones, bark, moss, … Be creative! Also remember to remove the different elements regularly, especially if they are soiled. This also allows to rotate the enrichments, in order to awaken the interest of the degus. After a few hours/days in the cage, an item will no longer provide the novelty necessary for his mental well-being.
- CARA – Degus international community[↩]
- Handbook of Exotic Pet Medicine[↩][↩]
- Nutrition and Behavior of Degus (Octodon degus)[↩]
- (Vigilance and social foraging in Octodon degus[↩]
- Visual adaptations in a diurnal rodent, Octodon degus[↩]
- Impact of a high-phosphorus diet on the sonographic and ct appearance of kidneys in degus, and possible concurrence with dental problems[↩]
- Voluntary exercise reduces plasma cortisol levels and improves transitory memory impairment in young and aged Octodon degus[↩]
- A Comparative Study of Sandbathing Behavior in Heteromyid Rodents[↩]
- Dustbathing and intra-sexual communication of social degus, Octodon degus (Rodentia: Octodontidae)[↩]
- Male degus, Octodon degus, modify their dustbathing behavior in response to social familiarity of previous dustbathing marks[↩]