Many cute videos can be found on the Internet, showing adorable degus, cuddling each other, asking their owners for petting… However, these videos do not reflect the reality of degus adoption. As with every pet, there are pros and cons to adopting degus. And unfortunately, some aspects of that lead to many, many abandonments, including fights between animals. It is important to understand that Octodon degus are not easy to keep in captivity in good conditions and can easily make your life a living hell. As a warning, here are a few things to be aware of before adopting (perhaps) your future companion!
Degus require time and attention…
Taking care of any animal requires a certain investment of time, and this on a daily basis. This means allowing your degu to go outside, feeding them, cleaning the cage and interacting with them every day.
…but they also help relaxing!
It also presents many benefits1. It is an excellent stress reliever for the owner2 3, but it is also a way of maintaining family ties, and keeping oneself in better health, especially psychologically4. During difficult times, having a small pet is beneficial to boost morale.
Degus are (very) noisy…
Many octodon owners realise that even though these rodents are small in size… they are far from quiet! In addition to their numerous vocalizations5, they quite often start doing carpentry work, even in the middle of the night! It is very difficult to sleep in peace when sharing your sleeping space with octodons, as they produce a lot of noise pollution.
…but their activities are good company.
However, it is always pleasant to hear them interacting during the day, while bringing a familiar presence to members of the household. The quietness they bring to their naps, foraging noises or cooing brings a certain serenity to the environment.
Degus are destructive…
Huts, bridges, wheels, cages… everything goes! Under their sharp teeth, degus can destroy many objects, out of boredom, stubbornness or pure pleasure of destruction. Into the wild, they spend a lot of time gnawing. This behaviour, although normal, can be a source of frustration and expense for the owners to replace the destroyed objects. Moreover,
it can cause major problems when degus gnaw on cables or other fragile materials when out.
…but they are a great stimulus for creativity!
In order to compensate for this destruction, many owners think and look for solutions by themselves. This stimulates creativity and also allows people to discover their environment, through the search for materials, but also to recycle objects destined for the bin.
Degus are dirty animals…
Every week, their cage should be cleaned. Their accessories should also be cleaned along with their toys and other stuff, swept and the room aired. Although degus do not smell as strongly as rats or mice, they can give off a musky smell. Males in particular, tend to have a strong smelling urine, and may mark their territory with it.
…but they allow to put things into perspective.
However, with a little organisation, it is quite easy to sweep the cage daily. And what’s a few strands of hay sticking out of the cage in front of these little creatures that will do anything to get a few treats from you?
Degus may be expensive…
Cage, accessories, food, veterinary care … If degus are not the most expensive animals, they still represent a cost that should be taken into account before adopting them. The cage itself can be quite expensive, as degus need space. But it’s the food, bedding, and veterinary costs that are the most expensive, especially if emergency care is needed.
…but they do teach a sense of responsibility.
Taking care of an animal, having to feed it every day, calculating the necessary expenses, allows youngsters to discover a certain sense of responsibility. Having companions while growing up also builds self-esteem6, and has many benefits for emotional development.
Degus often fight and may have behavioural problems…
Many degus can get into very violent fights, which require the separation of the cages. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why degus are abandoned. Groups, often poorly formed, with a few aggressive animals can lead to complex and violent disorders to manage.
…but they do teach patience and observation.
But if their behavioural problems are numerous, with a little research and patience, it is possible to understand the causes and solve them. However, a(n) (re)introduction can be long and difficult to maintain. It allows us to take time for each of our animals, to observe and understand their specific behaviour though.
Degus can create family tensions…
It cannot be said often enough that the acquisition of an animal must be done with the agreement of all the members of a family. Whatever the reason for the refusal (time, money, allergies), it is essential that all members are able and willing to look after the animal if necessary. The family environment must also be conducive to the adoption of animals, especially in households with potential predators (dogs/cats) or young children (risk of biting). In addition, tensions can arise around the subjects of holidays, cleaning the cage, etc. It is essential to think about all these aspects before adopting a degu!
…but also social openness.
But degus can also be a perfect subject for occupation, learning and discussion. Animals are also a way of opening up socially to others7, via explanations to people who discover this rodent.
Illustration by Anaïs Faë
Degus are not immortal…
Like any animal, the degus can be subjects to accidents, diseases or simply die of old age, between 4 and 10 years old. Losing a companion is always hard, both for the other rodents in the group and for its owner. And not everyone is ready to deal with grief, and to get over it, depending on their sensitivities.
…but they create memories.
However, death is part of the cycle of life. And after mourning, the beautiful memories will resurface, along with some photos and videos.
Translation by Matthieu Selles.
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