Could it be a hormonal issue? I don't know about degus, or females, but I believe male rats often have hormonal issues that result in them being unable to live with others. Once they're desexed, it seems to resolve most issues and they can live with others.
Again, not sure if this is something that could present in female degus.
I'm really sorry that you're dealing with this. Sounds like a difficult situation.
Yeah, that's my first thought, that she's got some serious hormonal issues, or some other chemical imbalance. It might be something that corrects itself after she gets out of puberty, or I sure hope it does, but it's really hard to say decisively, of course. It's clear that she's not behaving like the others, at least.
I'm at this point wondering if it would be less cruel to separate them in some way. I don't want anyone to have to be alone, but this situation is really nasty right now. I just really want Posso to be able to enjoy her days without having to be constantly tense about a really crazy sibling. I think Suti would get along with Limppu just fine if Posso was removed, so I'm thinking I should start trying to get Pulla and Posso behave together, again. I can't think of any other configuration that would really make things work out where I don't create more lonely degus.
I think Limppu is keenly aware that Posso is under a lot of distress. She's kind of immune to Suti's bullying like I've said, but after Suti's done with Posso, Limppu often goes to her and very gently hangs out with her. Posso seems to often be scared of even allowing Limppu nearby afterwards, but she hangs in the vicinity and looks like she's carefully making sure that Posso's alright.
An unpleasant thought that occurs is that there might be something wrong with the breeder I've gotten my degus from. I really don't know anything about the breeder, nothing at all, but it is possible that the girls are from the same one that Pulla and Munkki came from. And Munkki had weird social anxieties as well and eventually had to be separated from Pulla. Maybe it's the breeder, or maybe it's how they're packaged away and sent here in a carry box, and often stuck together with degus that are not their siblings, but something feels off about that...
It might be a good idea. I know that some female rabbits can be incredibly moody, and that they, at least, can be greatly helped by spaying, but I'm not even sure if degus can be operated on like that safely... but maybe she'd have some insight into the whole situation at least.
For now, I think I'll try to see whether Pulla and Posso would want to make things works again. I'm fairly sure that if I can get Posso away from Suti, things will stabilize a lot. As it is right now, I'm feeling really bad about the fact that I simply cannot provide Suti with the kind of care she needs. She's obviously unhappy with her situation, despite everything I try. And that then gets taken out on Posso, so multiple animals are suffering due to this right now.
Posso has started to cry in her sleep, which is just heartbreaking. Small cries that I'm powerless to ease. It's gotten really bad.
I'm going to make some suggestions, Teemu, that I think you may need to put into use as quickly as possible for the sake of Posso's health.
1. Where can you move Pulla's cage so that he is not near the girls cage? I think you need to make a good distance from the girls cage, and hopefully you will see why with the following suggestions. 2. Do you have a small cage that is large enough to meet our single degu cage size recommendations, into which you can put Posso by herself? 3. Place Posso's cage beside Pulla's cage, that is now in the new location, far enough removed from the cage Suti is in that she is no longer fixating on them. If possible, near/in some natural light would be great. 4. Do not do face to face meetings with Pulla until you see that Posso is truly relaxing, without fear, and showing interest in him. IF you do face to face intros while she is still in fear of repercussions from Suti, she will not bond with Pulla, and Pulla, sensing her fear, may not bond with her. You need to let them bond with each other without the shadow of Suti in their minds. 5. Work on building a bond with Posso so that she learns to be free with you again, and you can offer her companionship through this transition. Wash your hands so you do not smell of Suti when you interact with her, or put things in their cage, or touch anything that will have Suti's scent on it. 6. If you see Posso becoming more depressed, are you willing to put Limpu in with her? 7. Make sure that Suti can NOT come near their cages.
Be prepared to see things change again in the girls cage. Hopefully it will even out if it turns out that Suti just has a severe dislike for Posso . . . but it could be she will turn her anger onto someone else in the group. If you can get an appointment for her fairly quickly, I think it would at least help you know if the vet has any suggestions to look at.
Like I said, these are suggestions, but if Posso is getting as low as you fear, I think you need to jump on things quickly and this is what came to mind. What are your thoughts?
I think I might be able to swap things around in such a way as to give Posso a new cage. I had Pulla in a cage I jury-rigged together from rat cages for a long time, and he was fine in that one, so I could potentially return him to it for the time being, and Posso would get the girls' old cage again. The reason I don't want to put Posso in the rat cage is that it has a plastic base, and I don't know how she would react to it. Pulla, however, spent more than a year in that cage and never even attempted to break through the plastic (I think the shape is kind of awkward, so he just never really thought of it). I'd have to do some serious reordering to get everything fitted in, though. I think it would actually be better to move the girls' cage and put Posso's new cage in its place, rather than move Pulla's cage, since I don't really have other spaces where two cages could be side by side.
But yes, all in all, I think that rescuing Posso out of the group and giving her space away from Suti is doable and something that should be done, at this point. I really did not want to separate them, but at this point it's starting to be that she is actually, for real suffering due to Suti and is incapable of carrying out even basic activities. She is very lean, not the point of gauntness, but obviously she does not even eat as much as Suti (which might be partially due to being stressed out, rather than simply not being able to eat, since I've put in more food bowls that are always accessible).
And if it comes to that, whether because Posso is too miserable alone, or because Suti will start abusing Limppu, I will absolutely put Limppu in with Posso. Suti might have to be alone in that case, but for the moment, that just might have to occur if it starts looking like that.
I can't totally shake the feeling that I've done something wrong to end up at this point, but looking at things objectively, I've done everything I can to manage things, and it really does feel like these degus do not come from a good place, or at least the way they are delivered and how they're often forced to come into contact with other, unrelated degus might be really traumatizing to them...
Actually, now that I think about it, there's another possibility: the huge cage the girls have can be divided into two. I have a divider wall that can be slotted into place. I'm wondering whether or not that might be a good possibility, because then everyone could enjoy a fairly large bird cage space. Limppu and Suti would move into the cage Pulla is now in, and Pulla would move into one of the halves.
The only thing that I'm wondering about is whether it'd be too quick of a change, with just a wall dividing Pulla and Posso from each other. I could put in an actual sight blocker as well, I think, or a more secure divider, but I do think the idea dividing their cage has some merit right now. It'd be a lot easier than trying to juggle three big cages in our rather small apartment...
Not sure why, but I have been thinking you have four girls. Perhaps I am getting your girls confused with some other girls. LOL!
The difficulty with swapping everyone into new cages is that everyone will be out of sorts. I don't think that will work in your favor. It will make Pulla uncomfortable. The smell of Suti in the cage and the memory of that being Suti territory may not allow Posso to relax and reset, although you have indicated that initially when Suti was out for play time by herself, Posso would come out of her shell a bit. SO, maybe she would still, once Suti never returned. Suti and Limpu in Posso's cage will likely set off Suti in an even bigger way.
I'm not sure if I would do what you are thinking of, Teemu, but I don't live in your home either.
1 Bichon/Shi-t-zu Ollie (b'gollie), 1 Standard poodle, Indie
Mmh, I actually ended up doing just this, with Pulla and Posso now in the girls' big, now divided cage. One of the reasons for this was that after some serious considerations, we determined that there just wasn't enough space in the house to add a third large cage setup. I've been mostly scrubbing and cleaning and reorganizing things all day, so I think I got rid of most smells that might have been present at least.
It's been a couple of hours since I got things in good enough order to put everyone in the new cage setups, now. Everyone seems to be pretty curious and calm for now, but it remains to be seen whether or not this new setup was a good idea. One positive thing, though, is that Posso seems to be a lot more relaxed for the moment. She's going around, inspecting things and coming over to see me when I go to the cage. A part of it is likely the fact that it's a nonstandard situation right now, but she also genuinely seems relieved that Suti isn't there, even if things are pretty weird otherwise. There's a sight blocker between Pulla and Posso on the lowest floor for now, and the higher levels are arranged so that they can't get to touching range of each other. So we'll see how it goes.
Suti is, of course, totally amped up and runs around like crazy, and Limppu just sits and observes. Everyone has found their wheels, food and water at least.
After the first night, things certainly don't look bad. Everyone is of course curious about things, but no one seems to be scared or even trying to lay low. Pulla, who's gone through a couple of cage changes in his life, seems to have just figured that sometimes cages change, but at least he's got all his stuff, so whatever. He's been doing his regular stuff and finding ways to stuff toilet paper into for nesting. Limppu and Suti are of course very curious about their new surroundings and cage, but not in a bad way either, I think. They're exploring and observing and doing all the basic stuff.
Posso, meanwhile, really does seem relieved. She's spent a lot of time simply eating and running in the wheel without interruptions. Last night, she didn't huddle in her little house or some dark corner, but rather boldly climbed into the hammock I put in her cage and lazed around all luxurious, in the highest and most visible place of the cage. She's timid, like she has been, but certainly not more timid than before, and now she does not seem to think there's certain places in the cage she's not allowed to go in. She even comes to check up on me when I open the cage!
Posso's reactions are honestly pretty relieving. The way she's using her new freedom to do all the things she regularly can't is making me think that she really wanted to be separated from Suti. It's a shame she has to be alone for now, though. But at least Pulla is close by. They've been observing each other quite a bit, and going down to the sight-blocked first floor when they don't want to be observed.
Sounds like you have done the right thing, Teemu, I'm glad it's going well so far.
If Suti's issue is hormone related, I wonder if there are any hormone based drugs she could try, I think hormone contraceptives exist for many animals, so I wonder if something could be figured out to try for Suti? Possibly something to ask the vet about if she doesn't calm down with the new cage arrangements.
Yeah, looking at Posso's reactions, it kind of feels like the situation was even worse between her and Suti than I realized. Suti hasn't been really bothered either. It feels like the kind of a situation that if it happened in the wild, Posso would already have been exiled or had stopped associating with Suti completely. She's almost behaving like this is a reprieve she's been waiting for, and Suti's reactions are nonchalant. Limppu is a bit hard to read, but she just seems to go along with things regardless.
There has been some more social interaction and chirping from Suti and Limppu, but it does not seem like things are threatening to go in a bad direction in any way, at least yet. It's more like Suti and Limppu are just checking up on each other, making sure they know where things stand and all that. So grooming, those social chirping noises, sniffing each other etc. Limppu is as unintrested in posturing as ever, and Suti seems to accept this without any issue. Can't say for sure until some time has passed, of course.
Posso and Pulla have been kind of wary of each other for now, mostly trying to figure out what this new setup means, and Pulla has had a couple of freakout situations similar to the social anxiety attacks he had in the kitchen, but I'm hoping these will pass as they settle in and everyone realizes that this doesn't mean anything bad. For the most part they're giving each other distance and remaining cordial, in any case.
Well, day has turned to early night here, and it does seem like this is going to work out. Limppu and Suti have bene calm and steady today. I blew their mind by closing off the kitchen and just letting them climb in and out of the cage freely for their play period instead of having to take them out to play and then back. And it really does seem like Suti has also been very agitated by Posso's presence; she's totally different now, and is a lot calmer and less tyrannical. There was absolutely no fuss after I closed the cage again, and I haven't seen her breaking anything at all. That might of course change as she gets bolder (though they don't seem scared at all, and most of their day was spent lounging or running in the wheel or doing other regular things), but the effect is rather noticeable already. I guess neither Posso nor Suti wanted to be in the same cage any more.
(And Limppu is doing just fine, of course. It's very fortunate that she's such a level-headed little lady.)
Posso has also been mostly calm, and she honestly feels a lot more like a personality now. She's been coming over to meet me when I open the cage, she climbs on me, she explores around... it's rather notable how different she is as well. She's been lounging out in the open and enjoying how nobody can come harass her for it. And Pulla's got it all figured out and is back to his old routines, though he has picked a place from where he can observe Posso easily.
I actually took off the sight blocker for a short while because everyone was doing so well, to gauge how Posso and Pulla would react. It was a bit surprising, in that Posso was the one who got really agitated (though not scared) and made a big fuss and pawed through the bars. Pulla kind of freaked out initially, but surprisingly after he ran a lap around his cage, he seemed to realize that the girl couldn't actually get through... at which point he just walked over, sat down right next to Posso and just stared at her calmly and observed her. Even when she managed to slap him in the face a couple of times (when she was pawing through the cage and all that), he just slightly turned his head and then scratched his butt a bit. I won't be doing this again for now, since Posso obviously did not like it and it'll be better to use a neutral location after she's had some time to get used to her new home, but it was actually rather encouraging to see Pulla being so calm about it, since it has normally been him that's causing a lot of the friction when I've tried to do intros.
The most surprising thing, to me, is that Suti's personality is totally different as well. She's much more laid-back now, lounges around, does not fight with my hands and just seems like a totally regular degu suddenly. I guess most of her aggression and hyperactivity was due to being constantly on the edge due to a competitor in the same limited space. It's sad that they could not get along at all, but I'm honestly really relieved now.
Posso has changed totally as well. She's no longer meek at all, she wants to be held and is intrested in what's happening and clearly does not feel shackled by the previous dynamics. It honestly feels like separating Posso and Suti has helped them both be simply more well-adjusted degus. Obviously this was a good call. Thanks in particular to Deguconvert for the suggestion!
This shared cage situation also seems to be really good aclimatization therapy for Pulla. He's already a lot less spooked about Posso's antics. I see that tail wiggling sometimes, but even when Posso gets right up to the shared wall and does whatever, he no longer freaks or gets provoked. He just observes.
I'm honestly really surprised how drastic the change is, in all regards.