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Degu vs Chinchilla [Differences And What It Means For Ownership]

Not sure what the difference is between a degu or a chinchilla? Cannot decide which one is right for you and your family as your next pet? I understand. I’ve been there. That was until I spent some time researching the rodents to find out exactly how they differ and compare. I’d like to share my findings here with you today.

So, what is the difference between a degu vs a chinchilla? Physically, chinchillas are longer and heavier – requiring larger cages. Visually, chinchillas have fluffier tails and a much denser fur coat. Behaviourally, chinchillas are shyer, more reserved, and less keen to be handled. Chinchillas are also active at night, whereas degus are active during the day. Chinchillas typically live twice as long as degus.

While both are rodents, as you can see degus and chinchillas differ in many ways.

And these are just the main differences.

There’s a lot of little nuances too that we will soon take a closer look at.

In reality, these are very different animals with very different needs.

Either way, when it comes to choosing a new pet you need think ahead.

Besides, what pet you choose can have a drastic impact on their care and your involvement.

But first and and foremost, it actually helps to run through a quick intro about these animals.

What Is A Degu?

Degus are small, intelligent, and social rodents, native to the Matorral ecoregion of central Chile.

In terms of degu size, they are between 10-12 inches in length and weigh between 170-300g, on average.

In terms of their size, they are larger than your average hamster, but smaller than your typical rat.

Visually, degus have a yellow-brown coat, long thin tail, furred ears and grey toes.

Here is what a degu looks like:

Degu Size

Degus will typically live for between 6-8 years, although with good care have been known to live up to 13 years of age.

What Is A Chinchilla?

Chinchillas are also small and social rodents, native to a complex network of burrows in the Andes mountains in South America. They live in colonies called “herds” and do so at high elevations.

There are actually two different species of chinchilla.

Short-tailed (Chinchilla brevicaudata) and (Chinchilla lanigera)

Each species will grow to different sizes.

Short-tailed chinchillas will typically reach 11-19″ in length and weigh around 400g.

Long-tailed chinchillas typically reach 8-10″ in length and weigh up to 1kg.

I know counterintuitive, right.

Long-tailed chinchillas are those most commonly kept as pets.

Visually, chinchillas are known for their dense grey coat. Although, through breeding are now more commonly seen in beige, white, and ebony colors.

Chinchillas have a very fluffy tail, which is long and coarse. They also have fleshy foot pads.

Here is what they look like:

Chinchilla Size

Chinchillas will typically live for between 10-20 years.

What Are Degus Like As Pets?

Degus are very hands-on pets that require a lot of time, attention, and care. For degus, nothing makes them happier than when routinely playing and exploring.

And degus can become very tame; particularly with owners who routinely interact with them.

In time, owners can look to stroke and touch their degu. Some even become fond of belly rubs and may even resort to grooming their humans.

That being said, they need to be handled with care; or otherwise, they can quickly become stressed. They are especially sensitive to sudden movements.

This means that they should be picked up appropriately, never by the tail, and it should always be done so in a slow, calm and gentle manner.

As keen explorers; it’s a good idea to keep these pets engaged in foraging activities. They should also have sufficient toys to chew on.

Housing A Degu

Degus need to be kept in a sufficiently large cage, and one that has been designed with their activity and high energy in mind.

Experts generally recommend that they are kept in a cage that is at least 24″x24″x18″ in dimensions.

At the same time, degus appreciate being able to climb and run; so you should ensure that the cage you purchase has multiple levels, and even areas for them to dig too.

As they are prone to chewing (their teeth are constantly growing), it is advised to purchase a metal-based cage is strongly advised over plastic.

You’ll likely want double latches and locks too!

General Degu Care

Degus are known for being relatively simple to care for.

Diet is perhaps one of the main things to consider; but they can be fed a commercial feed that was designed for small rodents.

Fresh vegetables are also a great addition to the diet, and can be used as treats.

Dust baths are mandatory for these rodents as they have a keen desire to keep themselves clean and groom themselves regularly.

Costs Of Degu Ownership

The outright purchase of the degu is likely to cost you between $25-$100 – depending on where you get them from and availability.

The initial setup cost, including their cage, will also likely range from $150-$300.

Ongoing costs, such as food, ad-hoc purchase of toys, etc, can set you back between $10-$30 per month.

What Are Chinchillas Like As Pets?

Chinchillas are more hands-off pets that are generally quite shy and quiet. As nocturnal animals, they will spend the majority of the day sleeping – instead being more active around dusk and dawn.

And this means that generally, they will not want to be interrupted during the day.

This of course, can have its downsides – particularly if you have young children who want to interact with their pet!

At the same time, chinchillas are quite cautious, wary and skittish – not entirely keen to be held.

That being said, with time, patience and persistence they can become familiar of, and confident in their owners.

So, with careful handling from a young age, they can become more tame.

Housing A Chinchilla

Chinchillas also need a sufficiently large cage to exercise and roam. They are also very active rodents.

However, due to their larger size, they have a higher minimum cage requirements to degus.

Experts generally recommend that they are kept in a cage that is at least 36″x24″x24″ in dimensions.

Of course, this may need to be larger depending on how many chinchillas are to be kept.

While keeping one chinchilla is perfectly fine, they can be kept in same sex pairs.

More space can help to prevent, or limit, any risk of potential fighting in such instances.

The position of their cage is even more crucial; as they need to be able to sleep during the day and away from any consistent or loud noises.

At the same time, the room should be of sufficient temperature and not kept too cold or warm. Chinchillas can overheat at temperatures over 26.7°C (80°F).

General Chinchilla Care

Chinchillas should be a fairly similar diet to other rodents; hay, grasses, and pellets should be fed often, while fresh herbs and flowers make a good dietary addition.

Some vegetables and fruits can be offered as treats, along with small serving of nuts here and there.

Again, chinchillas will need to be able to routinely dust bath.

They should never be bathed in water, however, as this can lead to extensive stress and even illness.

Cost Of Chinchilla Ownership

The outright purchase of a chinchilla is likely to cost you between $100-$200- depending on where you get them from and availability.

The initial setup cost, including their cage, will also likely range from $150-$300.

Ongoing costs, such as food, ad-hoc purchase of toys, etc, can set you back between $10-$30 per month.

Chinchillas are therefore slightly more expensive than degus, on average.

Should You Get A Degu Or A Chinchilla?

Whether you decide to get a degu or a chinchilla will ultimately come down to personal preferences and circumstances. Neither rodent is best, nor right, for everyone.

That being said, there are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you to come to a decision, these are:

  • Do you have children? Degus are typically much more social and quicker to tame than chinchillas. Therefore, if you are looking for a pet that children can interact with, degus are generally more appropriate. This is certainly the case if you have younger children.
  • How much interaction do you want to, can you give? Degus are diurnal animals, which means that they tend to sleep/wake with the sun (much like humans). So, they will be active during the day. Chinchillas on the other hand are nocturnal, primarily sleeping during the day and being awake mostly during dusk and dawn. How much time you can afford to give, or how hands-on you want your ownership to be, is therefore influenced by these sleep patterns.
  • What is your home like, what space can you afford to give? Degus require a smaller cage which makes it easier to place in your home. At the same time, chinchillas require access to a quiet room that is temperature controlled. Can you, or are you willing to, offer this space?

These are of course, just a few starting questions.

You may want to purchase a chinchilla or a degu out of their appearance alone.

Or it may come down to availability.

Either way, it is generally advised to visit your nearest or local pet shop and see the animals for yourself.

This way, you may find that you naturally gravitate to one or the other.


On reflection, degus and chinchillas are actually very different.

Not in just how they look, but how they should be cared for and raised too.

The truth is, whether you decide to adopt a degu or a chinchilla, you’ll need to be mindful of their very unique needs and preferences, either way.

That being said, these rodents do share some key similarities.

Diet, multi-level cage requirements, dust-bathing – these are perhaps the most significant ones to consider.

All in all, choosing between them quite the challenge.

So visit your local pet store, take a look and be mindful of your preferences and circumstances.

Both make excellent pets, but one is likely going to be more suitable for you than the other.