Things to Consider Before Getting a Prairie Dog as a Pet
When you hear the name prairie dog you may think it’s some type of dog. However, prairie dogs are actually large rodents. The black-tailed prairie dog is one of the most common species kept as pets. In the wild, prairie dogs live in huge colonies that can cover up to 100 acres of land in interconnected underground burrows called towns.
In captivity, simulating their natural habitat can be a challenge. Keeping prairie dogs as pets requires an advanced level of special care in order to keep them happy and healthy.
ADULT SIZE: 11-13″ LONG
LIFE EXPECTANCY: UP TO 8 – 10 YEARS IN CAPTIVITY
Behavior and Temperament
Prairie dogs are diurnal; they are active during the day and sleep at night. When first acquired, they can be a bit aggressive, but once tamed, they are extremely social and affectionate. They love to cuddle and get lots attention. However, if left by themselves for long hours every day, they can develop behavioral symptoms, get depressed and become sick due to stress. You want to set aside at least six hours per day to spend with your prairie dog, or plan on adopting more prairie dogs so they can keep each other company. Prairie dogs can be harness trained and even learn to come when called.
Normally, prairie dogs experience “rut” during the months of October through March but this varies depending on the country and weather conditions. During this period, their behavior can change drastically to become defensive and temperamental due to their hormone changes. This behavior change is normal and even tame prairie dogs can become aggressive, to the point of biting. We strongly recommend that both sexes be either spayed or neutered at a young age to avoid health issues later in life and to soften the effect of aggression when they enter the “rut” period.
Food and Diet
Prairie dogs are herbivores who can adapt to variety of foods. In captivity, prairie dogs should be fed a high fiber pellet diet such as Exotic Nutrition’s Prairie Dog Diet, formulated specifically for the nutritional requirements of captive prairie dogs. In addition to the pellets, we recommend also providing timothy hay or timothy hay cubes, whole oat, fresh organic raw sweet potatoes, carrots, fruits, seeds & nuts, as well as the occasional insects. Make sure to have clean freshwater accessible at all times.
Habitat and Enclosure
Providing a natural outdoor enclosure where a prairie dog can burrow deep underground is ideal. If you want to keep your prairie dog indoors, it is recommended to get the largest all-metal cage that you can possibly get, with narrow spacing between the bars so that the prairie dogs don’t hurt their noses (as they will try to chew through the bars). [Recommend good size cage 24x24x36 or so, and safe toys]
Common Health Problems
Common health problems of pet prairie dogs include obesity, dental disease, respiratory disease, heart disease, and parasites. Prairie dogs can also be afflicted with cancer and ringworm. A lot of these health issues are due to a mismanaged habitat and/or diet. Another thing to keep an eye on is their front teeth. These teeth will continue to grow throughout their life. Therefore, it is important to keep things for them to gnaw on within their cage. [Recommend organic untreated wood brand toys]
Before you take in a prairie dog, you should look for a local exotic animal veterinarian who can examine your animal for any health issues. Many systemic diseases are hard to diagnose, so any sign of irregularity in your prairie dog such as their behavior, appetite or energy level should not be taken lightly.
Is it legal to have a prairie dog as a pet?
Prairie dogs are one of the main culprits implicated in a monkeypox outbreak in 2003; the trade and selling of prairie dogs in the United States and Europe was subsequently banned for several years. In September 2008, the ban was lifted, however, there are still some states that consider keeping a prairie dog as pet to be an illegal activity. Therefore, you should check with your state authorities to see if you are allowed to keep prairie dogs before bringing these cuddly creatures home.
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