Prairie Dog Tips for Veterinarians


Chewie was born with deformed incisors.
Dr. Gleason, through regular checkups has corrected his problem.
Chewie & Dr. Gleason

This section has been COMPLETELY updated on our Prairie Dog Pets on CD-ROM.

This material was assembled FOR VETERINARIANS and is offered by Pat Storer and Lynda Watson
If you are not a veterinarian, ask your veterinarian to help you understand information he/she feels you should know. Do NOT e-mail us for a 'translation'.

All medical information supplied by :
Jim Gleason, DVM, Levelland, Texas and Phillip Thiac, DVM, La Place, Louisiana

A veterinarian may reproduce a single copy of these tips but must keep them in their entirety.

Prairie dogs are rapidly becoming one of the hottest new pets in the world. In 1996 alone, thousands of baby prairie dogs will become loved members of households in the United States. Until now, little information has been available to the veterinary practitioner who has been presented with a first prairie dog to treat. We have received many calls from veterinarians who needed more information on their treatment. As a result, we asked two veterinarians experienced with prairie dogs to share their knowledge and wisdom. This information is being offered as suggestions only, by the two veterinarians listed in the heading. They have found these methods and dosages to be successful for the many prairie dogs they have treated. This work is not all inclusive of every prairie dog health concern. It covers problems and treatments encountered by these veterinarians to date. I am sure you will join us in thanking them for generously sharing their valuable time and expertise with us all. It goes without saying that every animal and case is individual and may respond differently. This is what has worked for these two doctors and is all the information we have to offer at this time. Veterinarians have our permission to copy and distribute these suggestions, but please distribute only to other practitioners.

Ambient & Body Temperatures
Black-Tailed prairie dogs are not true hibernators. Prairie dogs exposed to ambient temperatures of around 55 F. may enter a state of torpor or semi-hibernation. Warm with heating pads and apply supportive oxygen therapy. Exposure to lower temperatures may result in hypothermia. Ailing prairie dogs may also have a temperature drop and may not respond to treatments until warmed. The prairie dog's normal temperature is 98 - 99 F.

We usually roll our prairie dogs in a large towel folded lengthwise to restrain them for injections (normally in the thigh). This takes a little practice and must be done quickly, but it works well without having to squeeze any one area as the towel equalizes pressure on the body. Be sure to roll your 'prairie dog 'tamales' tightly!

A clinician experienced with prairie dogs may choose the following method of restraint for sedation. Grasp the prairie dog at the BASE of the tail with one hand. Lift the prairie dog off the table surface, maintaining your hold at the base of the tail and keeping the head pointed down. Allow the prairie dog to obtain footing in this position on something such as a cage door or your pant leg if you are very brave. (Prairie dogs rarely bite in this position but the possibility is there.) With the other hand, pin down at the back of the neck preventing the prairie dog from turning its head. Administer anesthetic IM in the thigh muscle at this point.

In my experience, anesthesia in prairie dogs can be difficult due to variable response to drugs. The most successful method for us has been induction with Ketamine at 10 to 20 mg/LB IM with Acepromazine at 0.25 mg/LB IM followed by maintenance with Metofane (methoxyflurane) via face mask. We make our face masks with cut down 20cc or 60cc syringe cases.

Telazole at 0.25 cc/LB IM has provided sedation within one minute followed by anesthesia for 10 to 15 minutes. A dose of 0.4 cc/LB IM likewise gave nearly instant immobilization but uneventful recovery.

Ketamine and Valium IM: Valium at 0.1-0.2 mg/lb with Ketamine 10-20 mg/lb. Sedation lasted 15-30 minutes.

Ketamine and Rompun IM: Listed in Zoo and Wild Animal Medicine by M. Fowler at rate of Ketamine at 100-150 mg/kg and Xylazine at 10-20 mg/kg. Not enough personal experience with this to evaluate.

Rompun alone has not worked for even mild sedation.

The prairie dog's body temperature drops from about 99 degrees F. at the beginning of surgery to 95-96 F. after 20 to 30 minutes, without supplemental heat. The dosages of anesthetic we have used successfully in prairie dogs are listed above. As I said, we have not found the combination of Ketamine and Acepromazine to provide acceptable anesthesia. We have used it only to sedate and follow with methoxyflurane. This method is suitable for dental procedures, etc.

Castration and Ovariectomy
Obese prairie dogs are poor candidates for castration or ovariectomy. These animals tend accumulate additional body fat in early fall through winter. The optimum period for these surgeries is May through the end of October, preferably in the year of the prairie dog's birth. Obese animals may need to be placed on a reducing diet prior to surgery. Any visible sutures will be chewed and removed by the prairie dog immediately after recovery from anesthesia. Elizabethan collars are not tolerated well. See notes for closures under each procedure.

Castration of male prairie dogs is best performed before the accumulation of excess abdominal fat. A midline excision extending anteriorly from the penis will expose the testes lateral to the incision and enclosed in the fat. On some individuals they may be difficult to locate because they are pinkish clear. Clamping and electrocautery are used to remove each testicle. Ligation may be used if preferred. Prairie dogs have open inguinal rings so we use a closed technique. Closure of the abdominal muscles with 4-0 monofilament nylon in a simple interrupted pattern. We have also used subcuticular patterns with 5-0 or 6-0 absorbable suture followed by surgical adhesive (Nexaband S/C). Surgical adhesive was used in an older prairie dog which had chewed skin sutures out within hours. The adhesive was well tolerated, and healing was uneventful.

Ovariectomy in a prairie dog does not deviate from normal procedures in other species, and using subcuticular absorbable sutures for closure followed with surgical adhesive (Nexaband S/C).

Limb fractures may need amputation. Prairie dogs will not tolerate bandages, casts or splints and will chew them and the affected leg to the point of self-amputation. Fractures that are set will take 3 to 6 weeks to heal. The prairie dog must be restrained during this healing period.

Pelvic fractures are common in 3 to 9 month prairie dogs and will usually self-heal if the animal restrained in a container in which they cannot climb such as an aquarium or another type of container with smooth sides of restrictive height.

Intestinal Disorders
Symptomatic dietary diarrhea can be the result of overeating or rapid diet change. The owner must identify and correct the eating habits. Discomfort may be relieved by orally administering bismuth subsalicylate liquid (Pepto Bismol) at the rate of 0.2 to .5 ml/LB every 6 to 8 hours.

Coccidia has been treated in prairie dogs with sulfadimethoxine. See dosage under medications.

During surgical recovery or after antibiotic therapy, lactobacillus acidophilus and other beneficial microorganisms should be reintroduced to the gastrointestinal system to reestablish microflora that may have been affected. (Bene-bac, pet gels, yogurt, etc.)

Common Respiratory Disorder
Nasal discharge or blockage may be the result of inhalation of foreign materials into the nasal passages or dental problems. Foreign materials include terry cloth fragments, lint and dust from cat litter. Volatile oils in cedar bedding can cause respiratory difficulty and allergies. Non-infectious Rhinitis or other allergic discharges have responded to oral Orange Triaminicr 2/10 cc/lb. 2-3 times daily.

Prepuce Blockage
Captive adult males that have not been castrated and are not mating may develop an accumulation of urine, secretions and debris in the prepuce. This material can concentrate and harden causing discomfort, bacterial infection and/or necrosis of the penis. This is most common during and after the annual reproductive season - October through January. Symptoms are a purulent discharge at the preputial orifice and a variable degree of urinary incontinence. Sedation is necessary to manually remove the preputial debris followed with thorough cleansing and douche of 10% providine-iodine. Culture and sensitivity testing may be indicated to determine treatment of bacterial infection if any.

Malocclusion can occur by excessive or malpositioned growth of the incisors and occasionally the molars. The prairie dog with this problem may eat less or be unable to eat at all. Indications may be weight loss, moist muzzle and chest, and partially eaten food. Incorrectly growing incisors can cause trauma to tissues they contact.

Overgrown teeth should be clipped back to normal length or less if necessary. Sedation is recommended. Bone forceps or nail trimmers have worked. Dietary inadequacies may precipitate tooth fractures during clipping. In this case, a high-speed hand tool with a flat cutting head may prove satisfactory. Mouth should be held open with a speculum and will provide access to cheek teeth. Malocclusion from hereditary causes may be impossible to correct. Those teeth may need to be clipped very short and need regular follow-up care to check regrowth patterns.

The most frequent origin of hair loss in prairie dogs that have been treated has been caused by frantic and repeated rubbing on cage wires, unsanitary cage conditions, poor diet, ectoparasites and dermatophytes. Usual diagnostic procedures are used.

The prairie dog's diet should be high fiber but not high in fat. Prairie dogs should not be fed diets or treats like high-fat cookies, peanuts, dog foods, buttered popcorn and crackers. Gall bladder disease has been diagnosed in some prairie dogs that have consumed high-fat diets. Grossly overweight prairie dogs are at health risk and may develop other secondary health problems. However, healthy prairie dogs often have moderate natural weight gain prior to winter but return to normal body weight by spring.

Blood Samples
Small samples are easily obtained by clipping a claw or toenail. Larger volumes may be drawn by using lateral or medial saphenous veins. This may prove difficult without sedation.

Oral support - Medication and Nutrition
Prairie dogs that will take food may be offered palatable oral medication in a food treat. Administration of liquids can also be accomplished by use of a stomach tube. A flexible tube inserted through a mouth speculum is recommended instead of a metal feeding tube which can cause internal damage due to action of an excited prairie dog. Caution must be exercised to ensure proper placement.

IM barbiturate injection alone is not recommended for prairie dogs. IC seems to work better but takes longer than the following: Overdose of an inhalant anesthesia alone or in combination with a subsequent dose of barbiturate is recommended.

This section lists medications and anthelmintics we have found to be safe on our prairie dog patients. Others may work as well.

Topical medications are not recommended due to the prairie dog's propensity for chewing wounds.

The following oral medications have been used successfully with prairie dogs:
  • Lincomycin- 10 mg/LB
  • Clindamycin- 2.5 mg/LB
  • Albon (sulfadimethoxine) - initial dose at 25 mg/LB followed by 12.5 mg/LB
  • Amoxicillin - 5-10 mg/LB
  • Neomycin is dosed as per manufacturers label

  • The following injectable medications have been used successfully with prairie dogs:
  • Amiglyde-V (amikacin sulfate)- 12 mg/kg
  • Gentamicin sulfate - 2.2 mg/kg
  • Naxcel (ceftiofur sodium) - .25 to 1.0 mg/lb.

  • The following Anthelmintics have been successfully used with prairie dogs:
  • Fenbendazol- 5 to 10 mg/kg
  • Pyrantel pamoate - 3-5 mg/kg
  • Niclosamide - 100 mg/kg
  • Ectoparasites
  • Pyrethrin powders or sprays
  • Dichlorvos strips (must be in chew proof container prairie dog cannot reach.)
  • 5% Carbaryl powder
  • Cat or Ferret commercial products have proven to be generally safe for prairie dogs.
  • Ivermectin- Mites

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