One day when I'm not writing a book on witchcraft and I'm feeling suitably masochistic, I am going to write a book about degus. And I'm afraid that the very first sentence will be "Don't ever get a degu as a pet....."
That sounds a bit awful, especially coming from a witch with five of the little beasts so I'll explain myself and if at the end of my post you still want to go out and buy yourself a cage of degus then blessings to you and good luck (because you'll need it!).
Ok. So I have five degus. Drifter, Minstrel, Caramel, Wispa and Crunchie. They sound sweet (lol pun!) but in fact each one of them is practised in the art of irritating me to the extreme. Some people think they train their pets. Well that isn't true with degus. Degus train you. Let me give you an example. I share a room with these creatures and on a regular basis one of them will arbitrarily wake up in the middle of the night and start squeaking (its usually Drifter, she's my primary nemesis). To start with I'd get out of bed, check their water bottles, check no degu was poorly and look in the cages to find out the source of the squeaking. This happened a few times and there never were any obvious causes of the squeaking. So eventually I thought I'll just sit it out. I'll play the waiting game. So one long cold night I tried to last the longest. I mean, just how long can a degu squeak for? Turns out they can easily manage six hours continuous squeaking. I gave up in the end, admitted defeat and put my headphones in. Now I've finally worked out through an arduous process of trial and error that the only thing that stops the squeaking is to give them more tissues for their bedding. So at four in the morning I have to go sleepily stumbling round the house looking for supersoft kleenex to shut my degus up. Exactly who's training who here?
Then there are the little presents they like to leave me. Degus like to leave little plops everywhere they go. Which is bad enough when I let them roam free and they deposit their little brown parcels on my altar and between the pages of my favourite books. But its worst of all when I'm fast asleep and a plop or two is flung through the bars at my sleeping form. The indignity of being pelleted by flying degu poop. I mean, just what is that all about? Sometimes I wake up to a bed full of little pellets. Sometimes I even find them in my pants. That's not right.
And the chewing! Dear Goddess the chewing! Degus are the most destructive creatures in the world. Over the festive season they chewed through a live cable connecting my lamp to the mains. They were totally unharmed but the (expensive) lamp was a write off. They eat my books, my candles, my curtains and my skirting boards. They've chewed the bottom of every ritual robe I own. They've eaten the bottom of my door so it lets all the light in now. And they pinch my crystals and hide them in their cage so they can chew on them at leisure while I'm asleep. Especially green gypsum, degus seem to have a real thing for gypsum.
Occasionally I feel obliged to do the motherly thing and give them treats. The internet assures me that degus go crazy for broccoli (totally untouched) dandelions (begrudgingly chewed if nothing better on offer and cabbage (they hated it). All they want is the expensive sugar free shop treats which are full of processed rubbish and additives and make then hyperactive. So I ration them out and then...? Protest squeaking!
And they pick and choose what they eat from their bowl as well. I've learned the hard way to not give them mixed foods as if I do one of the degus will launch itself into the food bowl and sit on the food while snapping out at any other degu who wants some dinner. Then eventually they eat all the good bits and leave all the nutrition in the bottom of their bowl in the hope that I will tip it away and fill up with more good bits.
Like I said, they all have their own individual ways to annoy me. With Drifter its the squeaking and this belligerant look she gets on her little rodenty face. The one that says I can do this for so much longer than you can put up with it. Wispa won't come in the cage, she hides and runs away when its going back in time. Crunchie likes to rattle the cage bars when I am sleeping and Caramel widdled in my hair the other day. Minstrel's ok but she has cost me a fortune in vets bills and she does like to widdle on my ouija board.
Yes, that's the other thing. Degus are expensive. Costly little beggars to buy (30 quid a creature), you've got to have at least two or the little witches get lonely. They need a big cage so no economy there. They eat a lot and you constantly have to replace the lamps and soft furnishings that they eat. They are also prone to health problems especially ingrowing teeth and diabetes. If the teeth don't grow properly that could be a monthly trip to the vets (though I have started doing Minstrel's teeth myself) and the bills soon start to mount up. Don't even think about taking a degu on unless you've got some free space on your credit card....
Nor are they all that friendly. They can be, in fact they can be very loving but most of the time they would rather be trampling through your possessions than having a cuddle. They are not even very nice to each other. I ended up needing two cages as Caramel and Minstrel took an absolutely violent dislike to one another. Caramel was quite savage. And don't ever get in the way of a degu fight. Degu bites are nasty, they bite right down to the bone. And it really really hurts.
So I suppose I am trying to put you off. Degus went through a phase of being very popular pets but according to my vet that bubble has burst a bit now. People are starting to cotton on that these are expensive, high maintenance, long lived (up to 13 years...) and difficult to keep creatures. We are light years away from the hamsters and gerbils you fondly remember from your childhood. Having said that, if you don't feel you've got enough stress in your life at the moment and you fancy taking on the challenge of taming the world's most cantankerous rodent then go for it. But don't say the Degu Witch didn't warn you......
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