Small Animal Information from

SMALL ANIMALS

PRAIRIE DOGS : GENERAL CARE & FEEDING

   Prairie dogs make good pets, and being social animals, tame easily when young. They enjoy human contact, and are very similar to rabbits in diet and living quarters. They are hardy and accustomed to wide fluctuations in temperature and humidity. 

   These animals like to be held, cuddled, petted, rub noses, and be held close to your body. The easiest way to bond with your prairie dog is to make a kangaroo-style pouch or pocket in the front of a tee shirt, sweat shirt, fanny pack, or something similar, and carry the animal around in it. Frequently rub and pet it. Bonding should take only a matter of hours. They do not like to be held up, suspended or out of contact with the ground or other firm surface. They do not necessarily need baths since they have little contact with water other than rain, but if you need to spray them for fleas, pick them up by the tail. Use a product that is safe for cats, as prairie dogs groom themselves by licking. 

   Prairie dogs have personalities, and can develop a dislike for certain things, including people and other pets. If your prairie dog displays an aggressive tendency or temper toward someone or something, do not discipline it; pick it up by the tail and put it back in its own home. Generally if they show dislike for something, they will continue to dislike it. Don't count on them getting over it. Physical discipline generally does not work, as these are stubborn animals. 

   Prairie dogs display displeasure by brushing their tail and chattering their teeth. They can get very protective of their masters and if they do, they should be put away when strangers come onto their territory. 

   During the breeding season, some domestic males will go through a period very similar to the rut found in wild male prairie dogs. This usually lasts only a couple of months, but they can become moody and will mark territory. While this causes only minor inconvenience, it can be eliminated by neutering. This is recommended any time a male prairie dog's temperament changes for more than several days. Prairie dogs can be leash trained, but training needs to be started early when they are young. 

Diet: A good quality low fat dog food, a little alfalfa, dry grass hay and fresh vegetables in moderation provides an adequate diet. As these are very hardy animals, most unprocessed fresh vegetables will not make them sick. They love all dried cereals like Fruit Loops and Cheerios, plus peanuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, and all types

of hard grains. As with any animal, they are not accustomed to excessive salt, sugar or spices. Do not feed them chocolate, and the diet should be low in fat. In the wild, prairie dogs do not drink water. They derive the moisture they need from the roots and vegetation they consume. However, they readily accept and need a water bottle or other source of water in captivity. 

Living Quarters: Prairie dogs can be kept in cages much like rabbits. A 24 inch by 24 inch wire cage is adequate for one or two animals. The cage should not be made of wood, since they can chew through it. It should include a nest box similar to the one used for rabbits, using a material of grass hay, newspaper, or aspen bedding. You can allow them to roam around the house, but remember, they love to chew and dig, so never leave them unattended. It is a good idea to provide a chew block for this reason. They do not need a lot of space as long as they have an area they can consider their own. They generally defecate in one spot and can be litter box trained. Corn cob is recommended as cat litter is very dusty and prairie dogs can be allergic to cedar. 

Diseases and Illnesses: Because prairie dogs are rodents, they carry very few diseases. Our supplier is very careful not to ship diseased or sick animals. All have been treated for fleas and internal parasites prior to shipment and been inspected by a vet. It is not necessary to vaccinate prairie dogs for rabies because like hamsters and mice, they do not carry it and will not contract the disease unless bitten by a rabid animal. There has never been a reported case of rabies in a prairie dog, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia.

    Prairie dogs can contract pneumonia and dysentery, and respond to treatments similar to those used for rodents. You can use pet flea powder to dust them and their living quarters for fleas. Diarrhea is most commonly caused by improper diet, and can be treated with a 1/4 teaspoon of Pepto-Bismol, in a syringe or eye dropper, squirted down their throat. Their teeth will continue to grow throughout their lives, and they need to be checked periodically. If their teeth do get too long, a chew block can help keep the teeth worn down, or clipping will be needed. You do not have to trim their nails, since they regrow to the same length quickly. 

   With proper care and love, you can enjoy your prairie dog for many years to come. 

-Thanks to Bill Rogers for this information.

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