a Prairie Dog the Right Pet for You?
Prairie dogs make endearing and unforgettable pets. Kristi and Minnie share
that SPECIAL bond.
When I was a little girl - a gazillion years ago - my grandfather would pick
up the old unpainted wooden chair in his neighborhood grocery store and place
it in front of the 'ice box' that held the milk in clear glass bottles. I could
not have been more than a year or two old, but I can remember his bean bins
and pickle barrels as if it was yesterday. He'd pick me up and put me on his
lap, open the door and take out one of the bottles of milk. Homogenized milk
was unheard of yet and he would grasp the tab on the paper stopper and lift
it off. "Taste da crem, Patty", he would say in broken English, as he put the
edge of the bottle to my lips. The velvety cream that had risen to the top of
the bottle would slide over my tongue and down my throat. It was rich, and delicious.
But the best part was that I was the special one that got to taste it and then
lick the thicker cream that stuck to the bottom of the paper cap.
Grampa was a loving, jolly, round person. He was always smiling when gramma
wasn't bugging him about something - anything! Grampa always had a way of making
each grandchild feel special. He loved to be around his family and was affectionate
and generous to a fault. He was uninhibited about showing his love for his children
and grandkids and when we visited, I knew as we headed that way, grampa would
be in the doorway to welcome us and herald our arrival - his arms outstretched
to hug us all.
Why did I tell you all that about my grandfather? You be the judge.
Well, when I encountered my first pet prairie dog, there was something familiar
about him. I just could not put my finger on it. Buddy was sweet and lovable
and always wanted to be around us. He was jolly and round. When he had free-time
out of his cage, he followed us everywhere. He was such a happy prairie dog.
One day, he was mistakenly left out of his cage when we were gone. When we returned,
there he was, standing in the doorway, arms outstretched to welcome us home,
herald our arrival, and give us all a hug. It was a very humbling experience,
and I had a fleeting thought about grampa and reincarnation. Naw, it couldn't
be. Naw. Hmmmmmmmmm.
If you like interacting with a species of animal that is affectionate, loving
and cuddly, then a prairie dog might be the right pet for you. You might not
get to lick the cream off the cap, but there will be other rewards.
In order to end up with an animal that fits that description, it is first important
that you understand the following three basics:
What prairie dogs are about
How to choose the best one for you
How to take care of it properly, both physically and mentally
That is all you have to do. If you read this FAQs thoroughly, you will have
the great beginning of understanding this complex and wonderful little animal
- the one that can be the most unforgettable pet in your entire life.
What they are about - Their natural instincts/desires
The big three: Affection, Cleanliness, Chewing
Prairie dogs are ground squirrels, but differ from their wild ground squirrel
or tree squirrel 'cousins' who live alone, in couples, or loose groups. Unless
you just arrived from Pluto (pardon the dog pun), you already know that wild
prairie dogs live in huge towns and have an intense and complex social life
with their families in the wild. They kiss, hug, groom, pat and play with each
other continually. They never tire of being with their families. They need this
touching, feeling lifestyle to remain mentally healthy. When we bring them into
'captivity' we MUST simulate this behavior and give the prairie dog the feeling
of 'belonging'. If you are an affectionate person, that enjoys holding, petting
and loving a creature that will return it ten fold - one that will pat your
face with its little hands, give gentle love nibbles, snuggle in your arms and
give you sleepy smiles when you wake it up, you will adore having a prairie
dog. If you do not have time to spend with a good amount of time with it, you
might be better off with some beautiful tropical fish who do not need the same
stimulation. Because of the prairie dogs' need for this body contact, they will
- without losing a breath - accept you totally, unconditionally and whole heartedly
as their 'family'.
They won't care what your measurements are, if you need a haircut, just got
fired or have three new zits on the very end of your nose. They won't be impressed
if you drive a Porsche, make 90K a year, have both nipples pierced or can play
the harmonica and guitar at the same time. If you are good to them, and love
them, they will love you to their last breath. It will be up to you to see that
they are taken care of and fed properly so that this last breath will be far
into the future.
Before I go into nutrition/housing, etc. I do need to explain the down side
of prairie dogs so you are fully aware and there are no surprises.
Prairie dogs must chew. Here is where you might need a sense of humor or it
could help if you are slightly demented or into an interesting form of animal
art. Their incisors (the big ones right smack in the front of their cute little
mouths) will grow forever. They must chew to wear them down. If they are not
provided with interesting and wonderful things to chew, one of two things will
Their teeth will grow to great length, become deformed and the bottom
two can grow up into the roof of the mouth, into the nasal cavity and cause
irreparable damage to the prairie dog.
They can turn your antique rocker into a roller, dad's favorite chair
into milking stool and sister's rag doll into rags. They can eat the taillights
and rearview mirrors off brother's $160 sneakers and turn gramma's false
teeth into an indistinguishable work of prairie dog sculpture.
Those are the probabilities if you do not provide interesting and plentiful
things to chew. These 'things' can be branches from non-toxic trees and shrubs
like willow, aspen, rose, etc. carrots, sweet potatoes, hay cubes, rodent block,
grasses with roots, and the like. Add a few pieces of clay pottery (be sure
it was not fired with lead), brick, rough rocks, etc. Give them plenty of this
legal stuff in their cage and when they come out, lay some of the less offensive
ones around. When they begin to chew the table leg, redirect their energies
to the legal chew toys. Certain hard rubber, nylon bones, and new nubby chewies
for dogs work well. They usually do not seem to like rawhide - quite understandably
since they are vegetarians.
You should prairie-dog proof your house. They can get into cupboards that contain
dangerous chemicals, foods they should not eat, or the door might shut and they
will be locked in. They could get into or under appliances that have fans, heating
coils, etc. Some problem areas could be under a refrigerator, the back of a
television set, a stove, heater, etc. Notorious chewers, they could become electrocuted
if they chew through an electrical cord.
They are neat animals and can be house-trained or actually, will house-train
themselves if given the right circumstances. Set their cage up with two flower
pots. One for sleeping and one for a potty chamber. In the wild, their burrows
contain chambers for both of these activities. The sleeping chamber contains
leaves, grasses and the like. You can simulate this by proving non-linting material
for bedding (no flannel or terry cloth) like cut up tee shirts, polyester batting,
etc. The other flower pot can be made inviting as a potty hole by simply adding
1 to 2 inches of sand. Place its cage in a central location, out of the direct
path of sun, vents, etc. Have it a floor level and leave the door open when
the prairie dog is out and about. It will return to the potty chamber when needed,
sort of an 'inhouse' outhouse. The droppings are small dry pellets if you are
feeding it properly and occasionally you'll find a little raisin or two here
or there when it just cannot! make it back in time because it is too interested
in something else. The sleeping chamber is revered by the prairie dog. They
retire early and it is not uncommon for pet prairie dogs to climb into their
cage at 7:30pm, barrel into their flower pot, pull the blankies over them and
snooze their way to slumberland. In the morning, they are like a golden spring
flower, rising after dawn, sleepy-eyed, arms outstretched, heralding the morning
with a Wheeeep-ah! Wheeeep-ah! Wheeeep-ah!
Prairie dogs MUST be neutered during the fall of the year they are born. Prairie
dogs are seasonal breeders with huge hormonal surges that can begin as early
as October and last until March. They can develop a major case of PMS and a
strong urge for territorial protection. This means that your sweet loveable
little friend can become irritable, uncomfortable and crabby. Females may begin
'nesting' behavior, collecting 'stuff' from everywhere to make their nest. Males
may become fiercely protective of their cage and areas they consider to be theirs.
They may be especially defensive against males of all species including you
of you are male. Males can swell (they do not have an external scrotum) in the
rear between the anus and navel and even the prepuce (penis sheath) can become
impacted with secretions and debris. The simple solution? Neuter. If you don't
do it, don't e-mail me. I will have NO sympathy. No matter how bonded, they
can exhibit this behavior. Some never do or do not for several years, but, as
my mom use to say: "Mark My Words!" If you 'forget' to neuter or decide to ignore
this adament plea, you will not be able to interact with the prairie dog until
it is 'through' this period. Do not, under any circumstances, push the animal
or try to discipline it by hitting, etc. Ain't gonna work! It will only become
more defensive. Once the period is over, it should return to normal (there are
no guarantees) if you have not let it establish aggressive behavior to you.
Established behaviors are often impossible to correct.
Neutering is inexpensive and directions written by two veterinarians are on
this site for your veterinarian if they wish to use them. One final note here:
YOUR PRAIRIE DOG MUST BE IN NORMAL - not FAT - condition for anesthetic to work
properly and recovery from anesthesia to be uneventful. Fat prairie dogs require
more anesthesia and may not survive the surgery!
Nutrition is about the easiest to administer of any animal I have ever known.
To keep them healthy, and to ward off potential problems with HEART DISEASE
AND RESPIRATORY DISEASE all you have to do is think about what they eat in the
wild. Read and weep - but more pet prairie dogs are lost every year at 2-3 years
of age to heart and respiratory disease because of improper nutrition. You too
can prevent forest fires! How?
Have you ever seen a prairie dog town in the middle of a sunflower field, a
chocolate chip cookie factory, an apple orchard or a peanut field? I think NOT!
Then lets not feed them those foods.
Nature does not make many mistakes. And prairie dogs are not a mistake! Prairie
dogs evolved to fill the niche in nature that could utilize plants other creatures
In the wild, they eat marginal foods, that are high in fiber, low in fat. But
it makes us feel like cheapskates if all we need to feed an adorable animal
like a prairie dog is a fist full of grass and a couple of branches. So we buy
parrot food and rabbit food and peanuts, sunflower seeds, crackers, cookies,
pizza, - yes, that is right - prairie dogs have been fed pizza! Now when is
the last time Domino's delivered to a prairie dog town?
Actually, we can give a few other foods, and here is a good diet for a prairie
A prairie dog fed an incorrect diet, high in fat will become obese and die
at a young age.
A prairie dog's nutritional requirements depend on its age, activity level for
that particular prairie dog, its individual metabolic rate and health condition.
An average adult prairie dog, in good health, should have the following foods
in its diet to promote good health and prevent obesity: (Newly weaned babies
are usually fed 25% of this daily ration.)
Fresh grass, roots and all, with the dirt shaken off, but not washed off
is the best staple in their diet. Be sure no chemicals have been used on
or near the grass such as fertilizer, weed killer, insecticides, gasoline,
oil, antifreeze, etc.
Grass hay, hay blocks and/or chemical-free grass fed free choice Hay blocks
or products with more than 25% alfalfa are not recommended for prairie dogs.
Rodent lab block or monkey biscuits - a few
Seeds and nuts for treats - 1 teaspoon
Maintenance-type dry dog food - 1 tablespoon (can be used for treats)
Leafy dark green vegetables - 1/2 cup, packed
Other vegetables and fruits - 2 teaspoons (favorites are sweet potatoes,
carrots, broccoli, green beans)
Small animal vitamins
Water - free choice
If you decide to add a prairie dog pup to your family, get everything set up
before you bring it home. It needs to go straight into its new environment when
it leaves the pet shop.
Prairie dogs need a place of their own including a bed and potty chamber.
Clay flower pots work well for both of these.
A cage at least 24" x 24" and a minimum of 30" high, with a double wire
floor, between which is a removable litter pan. The mesh the prairie dog
stands on should be no more than 1/2" square to prevent broken legs. If
the mesh openings are larger, insert a piece of 1/2" mesh to fit the floor.
Two metal or crockery feed dishes (One each for dry food, and veggies)
An outside water bottle (and crock dish if not trained yet to bottle)
Two clay flower pots (one for sleeping, one for a potty chamber)
Bedding material for sleeping chamber - cut up tee-shirts - never terry
cloth or other materials that produce lint!!!
A nylon floss string or nylon rope toy
A hay rack and hay
Cat or dog figure-8 or adjustable figure-H harness and a leash
Non-toxic, tough toys and play objects
Tunnel system (optional) (PVC non-perforated sewer pipe works well)
A ferret wheel
Gnawing toys-sticks, blocks, etc.
Gnawing foods - dog biscuits, monkey biscuits, rodent block
Pine shavings - never, never cedar
Food items as listed in nutrition section
Treats (seeds, dried fruits and vegetables as found in some parrot mixes)
Cat or ferret flea spray or powder
Care sheet from the supplier or Book, Prairie Dog Pets or Prairie Dog
Primer by Pat Storer
Leash-training is pleasant and easy if the baby is introduced to a figure-8
or adjustable figure-H harness as soon as possible. Once it is familiar with
the harness, clip on a leash and let it go where it wants to go, with you exerting
little or no pressure on the leash. Keep an eye on the prairie dog in case the
leash gets caught on something. Gradual restraint when it ventures in the wrong
direction will teach it to maintain slack on the leash. Always make training
sessions positive for your companion. Treats are a positive reinforcement when
it moving in the proper direction.
If your prairie dog is chewing on something, a sharp 'clap' with your hands
AND a strong verbal 'No!' will distract it. Immediately give it something legal
to chew. Corporal punishment does not work with a prairie dog and will only
teach the it to mistrust you. Returning it to the cage for a 'time-out' also
works well if it ignores the verbal correction. In other instances, never pick
your prairie dog up and put it directly into the cage without some cuddling
and petting first or it may begin to refuse to be picked up. It will want to
be out with you whenever it can be unless it is ready for bed.
Prairie dogs thrive on attention and affection and give back so much more than
they take. They have an innocent, unreserved way of making you feel special
and needed. Return the favor and you too shall reap the rewards of this special
More Prairie Dog Pictures
Prairie Dog Babies - 26 days old
Children should be taught to treat all animals with respect
and love. Matthew and Daisy
Lynda and Chewie - A bond only other PD lovers will ever
The Mexican Ground Squirrel - Grady
- Relative to The PD
A collage of newly caught babies. In
two days they will be clammoring for human attention!
A 16 day Old Baby Prairie dog
Prairie dogs love to groom you. Here Vermin must remove
Bullet's nose hairs, one by one.
Hey, a Dog is a Dog, Prairie or not. I'll settle for a drink
from this one!
Wilma is happy to see a dog - any dog - and this puppy
will do for her to mother.
Wilma grooms Jilogo's ears and teeth, & settle down for
a snooze between his paws.
Here is a rare white prairie dog. We have a few availabl
each year at an astronomical cost.
Kyle and Wila are really good friends.
R-Zu-2-U Animal "Terms"
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