Prairie Dog Health Page 2


Health "Exchange and Forum

Becca: Well the diagnosis is final for Tumbleweed now, but the cause is still uncertain.
The vet had to put him back under general anesthesia and they shaved his belly and used ultrasound to examine his internal organs. The "sack" she saw on the previous xray appears to have been normal for PDs. They found nothing restricting his bronchials and his lungs were clear. No sign of pulmonary edema. They did find that his heart was not functioning correctly. It had lost some ability to squeeze properly and the reason for his gasping was his body crying for oxygen although recovering from anesthesia his tongue stayed pink and not blue which was a good sign.
She has him on .09 cc of Digoxen twice a day. This is the lowend and since there was nothing in her vet book for PDs she is starting with a mild dose and assuming PDs could be very sensitive like felines. Since she knows I have been corresponding with you, she has asked me to ask you if there is any vets who have treated PDs for heart problems who can give her more info on the tolerance and doses of certain drugs they have tried.
He weighed in at 3 1/4 pounds and she checked his fat ratio and found him to not be overweight for his skeletal size (he is large in height for a PD). Blossom weighed in at 3 1/4 pounds as well but her fat ratio showed her to be a bit too plump, so the rodent blocks get cut down for a while for her. I think some of her weight gain is Fall related due to the season changing, because she doesn't usually look too plump and she is more active. Her skeletal size is much smaller than Tumbleweeds though.
The cause of Tumbleweed's heart condition according to the vet could be several things: 1) It could be his bad diet the first year of his life when he packed on upwards to 4 pounds. This diet possibly caused him to grow larger than a PD normally should in regards to skeletal size and she said similar things in canines sometimes happen due to too rich a diet or trying to breed too large a dog and an abnormality is common to crop up in these conditions where an animal grows larger than nature intended.
2) It could be a birth defect which is just now showing up. He has never been a "chewer" like Blossom is. His top incisors are "dead" and will never grow back which could be caused by an injury to the growth cells if he bit the cage wires the "wrong" way and damaged the cells or due to a birth defect. His sibling showed the same kind of tooth growth defect which raises the possibility of a birth defect in general for teeth and possibly the heart.
3) She said a percentage of pet opossums are known to develop the same type of heart problem Tumbleweed has and it could be a problem that shows up in a certain percentage of PDs in general, the cause of which can only be clearly determined by research.
4) It could be a mineral defeciency. She said this happens to mursupials sometimes, but only research can prove what might be lacking in a captive PDs diet to cause this.
5) It could be damage done to the heart by bacteria. She is concerned about this since she said Tumbleweed's breathing before and after general anesthesia was better yesterday for the ultrasound than when she put him under on Monday for general exam and xray. She had just switched him on Monday to Baytril and Cefadrops and she is wondering if the improvement in breathing means that the heart damage is bacteria related as this was the only thing that she changed in his treatment. If the damage is bacteria related than the only way I can think of this happening to him was from his end of June teeth clipping because he came away with no problem from that at the time and in humans, dentists will give antibiotics after some dental procedures to avoid heart damage. It also appeared that he had an infection on the 12th of this month and there is a spot in the back of his throat near his teeth where she took a culture which will be back in about 2 more days, so something infection related appears to have been going on. Due to the change in his breathing for the better, we are going to continue antibiotic therapy for 10 days.
We have decided that as long as he has a good quality of life and since I am agreeable to it, I will give him his heart medicine and let him live peacefully. He is still extremely strong and if the Digoxen helps his heart to beat properly, his gasping should diminish if not disappear. We will be going in for toxicity checks as needed. He has no pulmonary edema so hopefully we can correct the one heart problem in time to ward off others. If the time comes where the medication doesn't work than I will put him to sleep. She wants to autopsy him when he does die to help her in her new PD study. She said 10 years ago ferrets were as misunderstood as PDs are now, and over time if PDs will continue to be pets, the vets will become as knowledgable about them as they are ferrets. Since these vets are part of the NC State Vet School, there may be a better chance at substantial research happening for PDs. They have many PD patients, she is amazed at the number she has seen.

She said there is a possibility that after a year on Digoxen, he may live a good quality of life without it, that sometimes they can take animals off of it. Since not much is known about PDs, Tumbleweed is live research for her on heart treatment and longterm problems and prognosis based on his type of heart problem. I feel good about this, for at least his illness may save other PD lives in the future. I had Blossom checked and she received a clean bill of health. In fact the vet said both Tumbleweed and Blossom were the most healthy PDs she has seen (even with his heart problem which really concerns us why he has it, although the first year of his life when I fed him wrong, I could have caused this down the road if bacteria or a virus didn't damage his heart).
Anyway if you have any vets or info I can pass on to my vet in regards to drug info, I would appreciate it.

Becca: Yes, it is sad to see him suffer, but he still comes to me for belly rubs and seems in good spirits (he even tried to mate with Blossom!). I figured if he felt good enough for that, hopefully he is strong enough to live a while longer with treatment! Even an extra year of quality life is a blessing.
Thanks for the fungus info, I will pass that on as well!
Hopefully over time we can get to the bottom of these PD illnesses. Yes, it gets humid here in North Carolina (so much so the air is foggy looking) however my PDs aren't out in it, they are in an air conditioned room with an electro static filter.
Thanks for Kristen's email address. The more we network, the more we can hopefully find out and help the vet schools come up with some answers.
I'll let you know when I find out something.

Gosh, I thought you were in Washington state. You are in the area where I heard about it happening! Drats!! Hope you can get to the bottom of it. I'll bet it is the SAME thing! Definately keep me posted.
Gosh again! I am flabbergasted.

Reply: Had a phone call from a guy "Chris" in Michigan who has a similar problem also. He was a grown man and I could tell he was crying! I am so sad I don't have THE answer. Seems so strange that I have had three in the same month. He is going to contact me by e-mail so I can give him more info and maybe get everyone together who is having this problem. Let me know if you have any input.
I have had ANOTHER call today with the same problem from a man in New York.
I have decided that I MUST put up a page on prairie dog health with all the info everyone is sending. It will be for them to print out and take to their veterinarians.
If it is okay, I will begin with your e-mails if that is okay plus Iwill recopy the fax you received.
I will not put anyone's name or e-mail address and everyone can contact me for input and go to the page to read any additions.
address will be: (It will go up today -late)
Any input you have is welcome. If it is okay to use your name, let me know asap.

Kristen: I am very interested in ordering a copy of your books........
I am a first year veterinary student at UPenn and i have a 2 year old female prairie dog. Over the last month she has had difficulty breathing. She's been on different antibiotics (Baytril, gentocin) broncchio dialaters (Aminophylline) and prednisoenoe. She's had radiographs of her lungs and nasal cavity which have revealed nothing. Her blood prifine has also shown nothing. I'm having a very difficult time finding a veterinarian with any experience or information to help me.
I am wondering if you know of anyone that I could contact for help or information. I truly appreciate your help.

Reply: I am putting you in contact with Becca who has been having a similar problem and we are going to start a page on this health problem so we might get the veterinarians to network.
Please keep me posted.

Becca: If our PDs are the same age and have had similar environments, we may know what is happening. My vet does want all the case historys she can get to see if she can track it down.
I tell you, I have felt sad when putting pet dogs to sleep or losing a cat, but NEVER as sad as when feeling I will lose a PD! The only way I can explain it is that these little guys have such a magical hold unlike other pets, it really makes you sad to see them suffer or die.
If I can keep Tumbleweed from spitting out his Digoxen, we should be able to have a nice quality of life for him some time to come. I know the antibiotics have his tummy upset, but trying to get yogurt down is a fight as well! He is eating some fresh corn I sliced off the cob for him and drinking well. I can tell when he eats however that the tummy isn't back to normal.
I'll be glad to hear from all owners with the same problem. Hopefully future PDs will benefit.

From Chuck to Becca
About the teeth clipping. We don't like to do this unles it really has to be done. Sounds like your pup really got his teeth clipped too short. If he is still able to eat, they will probably grow out again. I would watch him and see.
Stuffy nose could be just that...or something bad with his teeth. The upper teeth affect their nasal tract (but they also get little colds in their heads sometimes) We use Triaminic Infant oral decongestant (ours like grape flavor). 1cc at a time seems to do the trick (use a 3cc syringe and squirt it in. Our guys have no problem with this). Next time you go to grocery store, check in "Baby Section" and get some "KAO LECTROLYTE". It's a powder. Mixes a cup at a time. Add to his water or use baby bottle or syringe. Will help keep him from drying out from the Triaminic. Comes in diff. flavors too (ours like the grape in that too).
When you feed "fresh stuff" to your fuzzy, try a piece of orange and pieces of sweet potato. (our guys like this too) Gives him vitamins that way.
The 1/2 drp in nostril is too hard to handle. Do one drop in ONE nortril then wait 4 hrs and do the other nostril. A lot easier for both of you.
We lost 3 PDs this last yr. One to Cancer...very fast. The others to upper teeth problems. Upper teeth wore down to gums and their roots grew up into nasal track. Have your vet contact Dr. Fricke, our vet. He was w/Wild Life Safari as vet so he know "Exotics". He did a lot a research on PDs and has techniques that work well. His phone is (541) 747-3859 in Springfield, OR. (I can't remember his e-mail). He'll be more than happy to help. Used "gas" on our Austin and it worked. Kelly was too far gone and died on the table.
Hope this is of help. I really love these guys! Of all the animals around our Funny Farm (and we have a lot) favorite is the prairie dog. Even when they are in their "mean" state.
Chuck & Sharon on the Funny Farm in Walterville, OR

My vet is going to take an ultrasound of her receptionist's male PD since he is not sick. She wants a baseline to use.
The food maker of "Creature Crunch" talked to me Friday, and she said exotics are dropping dead all over the place. She thinks it is due to a lack of an essential nutrient they aren't getting in captivity.
The owner of the company works with a professor of wildlife nutrition at the Wildlife Conversatory Nutrition Center who is working on formulations for different species. She is willing to look into making a pet food for PDs which contain their native grasses and such and make sure they get all the nutrients their wild cousins do! I was thrilled, I told her it would be a help to PD parents, especially those not living in the prairies!

Reply: About the creature crunch. There are so-called formulated diets out there now for some exotics and I wonder if they are just hype or not. I will believe it when I see their research. There are prairie dogs who live to 8-10 years on the proper diet that we list. It is not difficult.

Becca: Well Tumbleweed's culture test came back as a staph infection. I was floored as I take great care in cage cleanliness! I am now taking a butane lighter and each week running the flame up and down each cage wire. Time consuming but worth it. His sister who lives with him in the same cage is still fine.
He almost died on me Wednesday. He suddenly dipped in strength like a deep sudden plunge. He could hardly climb to the second floor of his cage without "passing out" and he wouldn't eat or drink. He only breathed real hard.
I spent 2 hours telling him goodbye and was going to have my vet euthanize him but something in me "clicked" and I decided I hadn't tried everything I could do, so I asked the "Great Veternarian" to intervene. I prayed like I have never prayed before, and when I got home from work, I honestly expected to see him dead or worse. He barked at me and was lively! He still had trouble eating (his breathing was so hard he almost choked on his food) and I prayed even harder. Friday I came home to find him eating and drinking like he had never ate or drank before! His breathing is better (enough so he can eat solids and drink) and he almost acts like his old self! He sneezes a lot and I will need to clip his lower teeth down some, but he is improving. I can only credit a Higher Power Who definitely cares about His creation. Tumbleweed quit taking the Digoxen (slapped my hand and the syringe away forcefully and spit out what I could get in his mouth) and I know that isn't why he's better. I can only credit God, there is no human or technical reason he has improved from death's door. My fiance saw him Wednesday and told me he wouldn't make it for long, and even he is amazed at the sudden turnaround. There is definitely Someone Up There who is intervening. I had to sit down and take it all in!
What is this Osteochondroma? I think it is a tumor of the bone, but has this vet found that the tumor interferes with breathing? Humans can get this can't they, and it is usually benign but can be malignant.
I still question (even before Tumbleweed's improvement) the heart failure diagnosis. He never acted weak (in fact it took 2 to force medicine down) and he didn't act like something with heart failure. He breathed hard, but he had his usual strength. The ultrasound showed his heart not constricting totally, but without a PD baseline, who knows how bad this was. My vet told me she first suspected something was interfering with his breathing the way he acted even though the ultrsound specialist said "no, it's the heart". They did see the heart not constricting totally, but something still doesn't sound right. His breathing is not so hard, and he sneezes a lot, but he has been off antibiotics for about 2 weeks.
I find this whole thing puzzling. It still seems to me like "something" was causing the closure of his air passages either up top in the sinuses or down below (where my vet thought it was).

Reply: Reply: Before I post this to the sheet:
What did you treat the staph with? How much, how often?
The osteochondroma was what a vet called and told me and gave me the info on a vet at Texas A and M that is doing research on pd's.
I will be doing a lecture there to the vet students on exotics on 11/11 and will see if I can find anything out.
It is amazing how these little creatures bring us close to our spirituality also.

Becca: We treated his staph infection with Baytril IM (the kind you give canines injections with but gave to Tumbleweed orally) .60 cc twice a day and Cefadrops .60 cc twice a day for 10 days. My vet didn't know it was staph at the time and gave a full range antibiotic treatment. This caused no diarrhea but did seem to upset his stomach a little. I forced some yogurt down to replace the flora.
She also gave him Predisone .15 cc once a day to help with breathing. She didn't want to do this with an infection to suppress his immune system, however he needed some assistance breathing, so she gave once a day.
He is still improved and eating fresh veges and rodent block I cut up for him in bite size pieces (due to his top teeth not at normal length). He must be getting his water requirements out of the veges because he has slowed down on the amount he drinks. I have put rodent vitamens in his water supply.
Blossom still is fine with no sign of infection and they lived together through much of this crisis.
I am wondering if his teeth clipping contributed to the staph infection since he was put to sleep for it (i.e. like humans get in hospitals) since Blossom has shown no sign of sickness.
Oh, if you get to see the A&M researcher, please give him my deepest thanks for his work and taking the time to research the little fellows!
Phone call received from pd owner with similar symptoms. Vet did culture and found it had pseudomona and klebisella which were both sensitive to Baytril amoung other drugs. Pd was treated with Baytril and seems to be improving.

A recent email received as follows:
From: "Peter Bonadonna, EMT-P"
Organization: Faculty, Monroe Community College
Subject: Prairie Dogs with breathing disorder
I read with interest your article on prairie dog illness. I am a paramedic educator and an avid prairie dog fan. I have raised prairie dogs since 1982. I have lost several animals to a "nasal obstruction illness" that has a slow and rocky course. Antibiotics and prednisone appeared to improve the course for a short time, only to have it reoccur. The respiratory difficulty requires the animal to devote constant effort in breathing. This stresses the prairie dog further. The animal gradually loses weight and dies some months later. The last two animals I performed a detailed necropsy. Both had a nasal abcess that grew Proteus, Staph coag (-), and yeast on culture. I would advise Vets to provide antibiotics that cover bacteria but also cover fungus. Most of the antibiotics on your list have no antifungal properties. Prednisone may not be a good choice here as it supresses the immune response.
Peter Bonadonna, EMT-P

From Rebecca Troxell:
Got back Tumbleweed's necropsy. He basically died from teeth problems which caused him to slowly starve to death. He had pneumonia starting in one lung which my vet said was probably due to his weakened system. His liver was slightly enlarged, probably due to the diet of Ensure to help fatten him up. They found Ensure in his system, but very little fecal matter, so he wasn't getting the nutrition he needed.
They found his upper incisor roots to be very much like the abnormal one's Dr. Frickie talked about in his findings. The abnormalities were blocking his breathing passages, therefore causing him to mouth breath. The mouth breathing caused him to not eat like he should, even if I cut it up. He couldn't keep up with his metabolism, and slowly went downhill.
My vet said to get Blossom and Grasshopper (my new little male) out of the ferret cage ASAP. She attributes Tumbleweed's problems to the ferret cage, however he did have his incisors trimmed to the gumline 6 weeks before showing symptoms, and it is possible that the clipping damaged them (some vets believe this).
I was so worried about diet, I never thought a cage would do him in!
My vet said PDs kept in zoos rarely show these teeth problems, so she wants me to find a different living arrangement!
I have my PDs on the new Brisky PD food, which Blossom didn't like at first. Blossom still prefers hay. I do like this new food. It gets powdery, and if I had it in the early days of Tumbleweed's problems, I might could have made him a liquid food from it. I tried the hay in a blender, even cut up it didn't do well.
Oh, and that little Richardson's ground squirrel I bought is a real joy! He is very close to a PD, so I have him on a similar diet with the addition of more protien and fruit. He likes the Brisky PD food. He tamed easily, and loves being cuddled.


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