Prairie Dogs as Pets

 

Prairie Dogs are very intelligent social animals.  They can be affectionate but they can also bite.  The Prairie dog as a pet is for humans totally committed to them.  They are not the kind of animal you can normally share with your friends.  They tolerate strangers very well but they will even bite the hand of their caretaker.  And, they require a lot of attention.  Prairie dogs can be territorial which means he will protect his home from strangers.  The way they do that is by you guessed it - biting.  They need constant interaction with their family - you.  As with our little Prairie Dog Digger, you have to pet him every time you pass his cage. Digger came to us as a rescue.  We haven't had the pleasure of growing up with him.  He arrived as an adult.  Fortunately for us, he is a very affectionate little creature.

  Male P. Dogs tend to be more aggressive them females.  This is most likely due to the male's role as protector of the town and coterie in the wild.  Digger has been known to bite people before he arrived at Felids and Friends.  We have not been bitten by Digger - Yet......................... In other words, they are typically not a pet you can share with others. In many cases, once a male has reached sexual maturity, (neutered or not) his territorial behaviors may prevent him from being exposed to anyone who lives outside of your home. Subsequently, you can not trust him with strangers because he may bite.  So, Prairie Dogs are pets for people willing to go the extra mile.

Your pet Prairie Dog normally need to be caged.  They can be destructive such as chewing through walls, clothing and electrical wires.  Obviously, an unsupervised Prairie Dog can be injured by ingesting hazardous substances and biting through wiring. Prairie dogs are not "climbers" so therefore they have no fear of heights. You must not allow your prairie dog to climb because a fall can cause serious and even fatal injuries.  Shelving in cages should not be very high.  We actually have a hammock below a shelf to catch our little guy in a fall.  Digger has been known to fall head first into the hammock and then fall asleep.  Needless to say, they can be entertaining.

Prairie Dogs have special health issues.  For instance, Prairie dog's toenails need to be trimmed. You may choose to ask your Vet to show you how to do this simple procedure. Clipping the very tip is all that is required. Their front teeth (incisors) continue to grow throughout their lives. You will need to make provisions for this by including proper gnawing materials so that their teeth wear down naturally.  Otherwise serious medical problems can occur that can cause death. Prairie dogs are prone to respiratory disease, which may be a result of (or exacerbated by) inappropriate humidity levels, dust and/or lint, soiled bedding (and high ammonia levels), incisor teeth abnormalities (which may be related to tooth trauma from a fall), or infectious disease. Keeping the air in your home free of smoke, aerosols or perfume is imperative.

As we mentioned previously, Prairie Dogs need to be caged. Cages should be large enough to allow room to play.  Include an untreated wooden nesting box for sleeping and a litter box filled with 2" of newspaper pellets. An ideal cage should be at least 24"x24"x36" and should have 2 floors. In order to prevent leg or foot injuries, wire mesh spacing should be no more than inch on flooring. A pan that catches droppings under the cage will help in cleaning. Prairie dogs like to dig, so a sand box with play sand is ideal fun for your pet. You can add a cinder block, brick or rough rock to aid in natural wearing of nails. Prairie dogs love tunnels for exploring. Large PVC pipes work great as synthetic tunnels.  A rope dog chew or parrot toys made with rope and wood make excellent toys for chewing needs. In all instances wood must be untreated. Grass hay can be piled deep in the cage for bedding. The prairie dogs will also play and nest in it.  Plus, it is safe and healthy to eat! Avoid cedar, aromatic pine and certain other wood shavings, because they contain resins that can be irritating to your prairie dog's skin, eyes, and mucous membranes. Don't place the cage in an area that has direct sun contact at any time of the day.  In addition, avoid placing the P. Dog's cage in the path of any flow of air from heater or air conditioner vents. Finally, the cage should be situated in an area that has normal flow of traffic, so that he feels he is a part of the "family" and not isolated.

In regard to nutrition, the main staple in their diet should be unlimited quantities of grass hay such as timothy, oat, orchard, or brome. Chewing on hay also aids in the normal wear of teeth and provides the essential fiber needed to maintain intestinal health. There is a wide variety of vegetables and other items that can be added to their diet. Fresh, clean water is a must for your prairie dog in a water bottle with a sipper tube. Water needs to be changed daily, and the sipper tube should be cleaned weekly. Never let algae build up in the bottle.

Timothy hay cubes, certain dried or fresh herbs, leafy greens and some vegetables can be offered to your prairie dog. In order to prevent digestive upset, feed the same treats consistently, and avoid gas forming vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower. Chemical-free branches and leaves from maple, willow, thorn less rose, mulberry, etc. are good to aid in needed tooth wear and to satisfy gnawing needs.

Choosing a proper veterinarian is very important. They should be selected according to their experience with prairie dogs or they should at least be willing to consult with a vet who is more experienced with this species. A fecal flotation test is generally recommended to check for intestinal parasites during your initial visit to the Vet.

Altering your pet should be considered. Some experts feel that you may be able to ease the symptoms of seasonal aggressive behavior which accompanies the onset of mating season.  You can neuter or spay your prairie dog during the fall of their first year or the following spring. If you wait longer, the prairie dog may develop undesirable and ingrained territorial and hormone driven habits.  These habits may be curbed or eliminated by neutering at an early age.