When spring and the beautiful days arrive, the temperatures increase and nature comes back to life. It is with these milder temperatures that comes the idea to take your degus outside. Whether it’s to let your octodon roam around in a new environment, or to feed on fresh plants, the outings must be done according to precise criteria. The physical security of the degus is essential, but other elements are important to take your degus out without stress.
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The prerequisites to take out your degus
In order to regularly take your degus outside, some prerequisites are necessary:
- The degus must be accustomed to the climate: start by opening the window in the degus’s room, so that the outside and inside temperatures are the same. Once accustomed, the degus can be taken out.
- The degus must be able to eat greenery, or put on a ground without food: when it is outside, the degu will attack the various plants at its disposal. It must eat regularly freshly picked plants before going out, to prevent digestive problems. If he is not used to it, think of covering the ground and offering him picked plants in adapted quantities.
- The selected place must be secure: the enclosure must be well fixed to the ground, with a minimal distance between the bars or meshes, to avoid escapes or bites from predators.
- The plants available must be edible / non toxic: you will not be able to control what your degus will eat outside! Choose a place where the plants are not toxic, but consumable for the degus.
- The enclosure must include 3 essential elements: when you make outings, especially when they are prolonged, it is important to propose to your degus shade, water and a shelter.
- The weather conditions must be adapted: the degus is very sensitive to the heat strokes, it is essential not to leave it at the hottest hours.
The weather conditions
An adequate weather is necessary for the outings of the degus, especially if this one is not used to the thermal amplitudes of the outside. The degus must be put outside when the weather is nice and if the temperature does not exceed 24°C (75°F). Indeed, it is very vulnerable to the heat strokes and can die very quickly. Thus, in summer, it is advisable to privilege its natural rhythm and to take it out only in the morning or in the evening, when the weather is more clement. Contrary to popular belief, it is not particularly sensitive to drafts. It is the difference in temperature between inside and outside that must be taken into account when taking them out. The maximum temperature that octodons can correctly withstand is 32°C (95°F), but they should only be taken outside between 1°C (33°F) and 24°C (75°F)1.
In the wild, it lives periods of great cold, but its coat is adapted and its moult is more consequent than in captivity. If the degus is used to changes in heat, it is possible to take it out early enough in the year, but the outings must be limited in time and when the adequate weather conditions are met.
In captivity, the degus is much more accustomed to daily temperature changes than in the wild, where its burrow oscillates between 22°C (71°F) and 24°C (75°F). In the wild, he will go out for short periods when it is too hot or too cold, adapting his schedule to the temperature. It is possible to accustom your degus to the outside temperature by leaving a window ajar or by beating. The idea is not to create a big draught, but to acclimatize him to the outside temperature.
The outings should be done only in good weather, when the wind is not too strong and when it is not raining, because the degus hates the rain. The degu must have an unlimited access to a cooler, shady place to shelter if it gets too hot.
Being a natural prey and a potentially invasive species, security is essential to the good progress of the outings. They must take place in a park or under an adapted fence. The degus is an easy prey for other animals, in particular cats, dogs or birds. Their enclosure must be covered and the mesh fine enough to avoid bites or injuries from predators. In addition, if it escapes, it may become acclimatized and pose a risk to the local environment. It is therefore essential to handle it safely when transporting and enclosing it.
Therefore, it is sufficient to take a small cage and place it in the enclosure before removing it to prevent any escape. The enclosure should be well secured to the ground and, if the degus is not actively supervised, should also have a wire mesh floor to prevent burrowing. It is possible to install them in an outdoor aviary with a wire or concrete floor.
In general, the degus must be taken out under supervision of their owner and in the total absence of predators (cats, dogs, ...).
The use of a harness is inappropriate for this species, because it requires a long training and the risk of escape remains very high. Few harnesses are adapted to the size of the degus, so it can be easily undone or injured if it tries to escape.
When the degus is outside, it should not be able to leave its cage, but no predator should come to bother it. Prefer an outside aviary, mobile or fixed according to the needs, with a grilled or concreted ground to avoid the burrows. The mesh should be strong and as close together as possible. The grids for parrots or parakeets are particularly adapted, because they are very solid and allow a stable installation. Moreover, it is essential that the park is not open on top, a fence is necessary to avoid birds of prey.
The degus must always have water, a shaded area and one or more shelters available. It is also possible to set up various activities and hiding places with natural elements: stones, tunnels, bark, etc… They can then explore new things during their outings.
The first outings
The first outings are often the most complex, because the degus can be stressed to be in a new environment. Before taking the degus out, the enclosure must be well installed and secured. In particular, it must be predator-proof and secured to the ground. When the degus are put in the park, the ideal is to be able to put directly the transport cage in the enclosure, to open it then to close the enclosure the time of the exit. To catch the degus at the end of the outing can be complicated, especially if he is not used to it. It is interesting to teach your degus to enter the transport cage on demand, or to guide him with a treat.
During the first outings, it is advisable to pay attention to the reactions of the degus. If your octodon is stressed, prostrate and doesn’t dare to stick his nose out, then he may not be ready to go out yet. You can start to familiarize him with outside sounds by placing his cage near a half-open window. If the degus starts to explore, observe its behavior or eat, it is comfortable enough to continue the outing.
In general, the first few outings should be short, to get the degus used to the change of environment. It depends of course on the attitudes and behavior of each individual, but 15-20 minutes maximum are appropriate at first. Little by little, the outdoor outings will become habits and their duration can be lengthened.
To make live its degus outside
It is possible to make your degus live outside, at least for a certain period of the year. But this requires several important criteria to respect:
The climate should not exceed 32°C (89°F), but the ideal temperature is 24°C (75°F) maximum for 1°C (33°F) minimum1. The degus is very sensitive to heat stroke. It is possible to create an artificial burrow buried to maintain a cooler temperature. A probe can be put in place to check the temperature during the day and night. The degus should be brought in before the first frost and taken out only when it is no longer freezing at night. An adaptation to the climate before and after the setting in enclosure is essential.
The enclosure must be appropriate, perfectly secured, with a roof, an airlock, and a floor to avoid burrows. In a general way, it must be out of metal, to avoid being eaten. The degus is a semi-furrowing animal, which prefers to move on the ground. Thus, it is the space where it can run that is important, and not the possibility to climb. Land bird aviaries are suitable, as they offer a large floor space.
Degus need to have shelter from outside temperatures. In the wild, the temperature range of the burrows varies very little, which allows the degus to be warm in winter and to stay cool in summer. It is possible to create an artificial burrow, or to bury an insulated metal tray to simulate a shelter and keep it at the right heat.
The degus must have permanently at its disposal a water point, but also various hiding places. The degus likes to live under a grassy cover or under rocks. This allows him to feel safe and to watch his environment without being seen. A wheel can also be added, preferably made of plastic, to let the octodon exercise if needed. In general, the degus will tend to be much more observant than indoors. The installation of a sandbox is essential for the health of their coat.
Outdoor enclosure created by degupedia.de
Plants around the cage and in the cage should be edible. Similarly, degus should be fed daily, even if they have plants available. Creating and planting a garden within the enclosure, and adapted to the needs of the degus, is a possibility.
The degus must be accustomed to go outside, but also to feed with fresh plants, because it will eat them while being outside. If he is slowly accustomed to the thermal amplitudes to and eating herbs, he will adapt without problem.
The degus will have to be dewormed periodically with a veterinary medicine to avoid contaminations. Moreover, in the presence of cats and dogs, the enclosure must be put far from the natural dropping points of the animals. It is important to deworm all animals in the same household, especially if they go outdoors, to prevent inter-species infections.
Finally, the enclosure must be inspected regularly, at the slightest doubt, you should not hesitate to bring the degus in and solve the possible problems. As with all uncontrollable situations, accidents can happen. Rats, weasels, foxes can sneak into the enclosure, or the degus can get sick. It is important to keep this in mind before embarking on the venture and to be prepared to work the set up. Not all situations can be anticipated, but testing and adjusting will allow for a suitable enclosure.