The common degu, also known as Octodon degus, is a small rodent that is endemic to central Chile. The name "degus" comes from the indigenous language of Chile, meaning 'mouse' or 'rat'. Common degus are highly social animals that live in burrows and can construct larger and more elaborate burrows by digging communally. The degu has a body length of 25.0 to 31.0 cm (9.8–12.2 in) and a weight of 170 to 400 g (6.0 to 14.1 oz). It has yellow-brown fur above and creamy-yellow below, with yellow around the eyes and a paler band around the neck. It has a long, thin tail with a tufted, black tip, dark sparsely furred ears, and pale grey toes. Its cheek teeth are shaped like figures-of-eight.
One downside of keeping them as pets is their propensity to chew due to their continually growing incisor and molar teeth, which means they cannot be housed in plastic-bottomed cages. A metal cage with multiple levels and secured double latches works best. When handling them, it's important not to catch them by the tail as the skin and tuft at the end can be easily "shed" or pulled off, which can cause the animal pain, and the tail end won't grow back. Degus can be tamed with regular handling and food offerings. They often "groom" their owners with gentle nibbling and readily bond with anyone spending time with them. Regular sand baths are also crucial to keeping their coats healthy and free from grease. While chinchilla sand is ideal for this purpose, sand bathing should not be done too frequently as it can soil their coats.
Common degus are highly social animals that live in groups in burrows in the wild but have now become popular pets. Compared to traditional small pets, degus are diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day and then sleep at night. They are also known to have bubbly personalities. They have an elaborate vocal repertoire comprising up to 15 different sounds, and they use their urine to scent mark. Common degus are seasonal breeders. Unlike most other rodents, male common degus also take part in protecting and raising their pups until they are old enough to leave the family.
Common degus are strictly herbivorous, feeding on grasses and browsing the leaves of shrubs, though they will also take seeds.
Common degus are highly susceptible to developing diabetes when fed regularly on a diet containing free sugars. Because of their susceptibility to diabetes, it is important to feed pet degus a diet that is low in sugar. Degus can live up to 13 years under ideal circumstances. However, a poor diet or genetic background can reduce a pet degu's lifespan significantly.
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