Black Tailed Prairie Dog

Prairie Dogs are special and so are the people who love them. Indeed, life with a prairie dog becomes a mutual addiction. Of all the exotic animals currently kept as pets worldwide, the prairie dog is one of the ultimate companions. A lost prairie dog does not “revert to the wild” as do so many exotic pets.  Instead it will search for its owner or beg for help from the first human it meets. If it encounters his former owner years later, its happiness knows no bounds. - Lynda Watson

What is a Prairie Dog?

Prairie Dogs are small rodents that are native to parts of the United States. They are diurnal (awake during the day) and live in very large colonies. Even in the wild a prairie dog will spend much of its youth playing with others as a social bonding technique.
 
General Personality

PDs can be affectionate and loving pets if cared for properly and acquired at the right age.  Hand feedings and daily handling is crucial in the first few weeks after you receive them to ensure proper bonding. It is relatively easy to bond with a new baby  but is very challenging if you receive an older adult who is not bonded to you. Each PD can have their own personality but generally they are attention seekers and affectionate with their humans. 

"PDs are so intelligent that behaviorists have yet to devise tests to determine just how bright they are. Your pet will come when called and will understand many words and phrases. PDs frequently live ten to twelve years in captivity and they bond to theirs owners so strongly that they will love you above life itself. A PD will fling itself on a pit bull in your defense. " Bringing a Prairie Dog Pup into Your Home",  2001
 

Prairie Dog Basics

 

Lifespan:  Up to 12 years

 

Diet: 90% Hay and grasses, 10% other miscellaneous fruit, veggies, grain, insects, etc. 

Size at Adulthood: Healthy adult prairie dogs are normally 2-2.5 pounds

 

Captive Environments: A strong wire cage such as the Ferret Nation or Critter Nation cage. Plastic, wood or coated wire are not suitable for any part of the cage.

Bonding: It is imperative that you receive a young, hand raised baby before the age of 10 weeks. Under 10 weeks is optimal, as it allows appropriate bonding time for your new baby. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time with your new baby for the first few weeks of their life and thereafter. 

Preparing for a Prairie Dog

 Before you bring your PD home, you should have its habitat ready, you should also baby proof your house if you plan on letting them have free range at times. They will chew on electrical wire, please keep them away from these. 

When you first bring your baby home, house them in a 15 gallon aquarium or plastic tote with a vented lid. Use your old cotton t-shorts as the bedding with some grassy hay.  Feed them timothy hay, PD pellets and dry puppy kibble.


Remember to locate a vet experienced with exotics and that is willing to see your baby BEFORE you get your baby. Before the big day, schedule an appointment for your baby be seen for an initial exam. Have your vet give a general examination and let them get familiar with you and your baby in case of an emergency or routine visits in the future. You should take your baby in yearly for annual checkups.


How much time does a Prairie Dog require?
The first few weeks are critical, and you must spend as much time as possible with your baby to bond with it.  Several hours a day of holding is required the first 2-3 weeks. After bonding is achieved, it would still be best to spend as much time as possible but at least an hour every day would be best.  They are very playful, social and time consuming. This is not the type of pet to leave in a cage alone all day long. 

Bonding
Bonding is a very special characteristic of the Prairie Dog. Bonding occurs during the first few weeks of ownership and can last for the life of your pup. Begin the bonding process by gaining your baby’s trust. Hand-feeding the babies will make them very sweet and love to be around you. Spend a lot of time with your baby and gain their trust. This will let your baby become familiar with your smell and voice.

Should I get one Prairie Dog or two?
Prairie dogs are extremely social animals and do much better in pairs. In the wild, they live in very large colonies sleeping, eating and playing together all day & all night long.  I highly recommend getting two babies, they seem to have much more outgoing personalities. Some people are concerned with the babies only bonding to each other and not to them, this is untrue unless you do not spend time with your babies. They WANT to be with their people. 

What sex(es) should I get?

All pet prairie dogs should be spayed or neutered the second fall season to prevent territorial and marking behaviors. Since the babies are spayed or neutered the differences in behaviors are not  determined by the sex. Each baby has a very distinct personality that is generally determined by the environment it is raised in. 

Spaying or Neutering babies
Babies should be spayed or neutered in the fall of their second year. Consult a vet before getting a baby to find one who is able to safely complete the surgery. This is not an option for keeping pet prairie dogs. During mating season PD's will become territorial and very aggressive. 

 

How to care for a Prairie Dog

 

Habitat: Keeping your baby safe and exercised is at the top of the list on needs for a habitat. There are many options to choose from, I suggest a strong wire cage with as much floor space as possible. 

 

Their bedding should consist of timothy hay, aspen or pine shavings and /or newspaper and must be changed at least every 5-7 days. Give them many things to destroy like non-toxic toys, bird toys, cardboard boxes to shred, blankets. 

 

Exercise is important, PD's can get overweight easily without proper balance of diet and exercise. I use large wheels in the cage but outside of the cage time is best. PD's also need activities, and enrichment. This is done by foraging, inspecting surroundings, making new burrows, and encountering new smells & objects. I like to set up their play area and cages different every week or when I clean it out. I change the placement of hide houses, scatter food and insects in different areas/corners, and also I move the actual cage area from time to time. Grab a couple twigs or leaves from outside and let them investigate the new smells.

 

PD's are very sociable and benefit greatly from other prairie dog companionship.  Two or more prairie dogs make the best situation. I find that they make better pets when they have a playmate, they understand that they are not a human but a prairie dog and will respect their human owners as masters, instead of equals. 

 

Food: Over 90% of a PD diet should consist of Timothy Hay and fresh grasses. Hay is important nutritionally as well as physically because it helps their teeth wear down the correct way. As rodents, their teeth grow continuously so they must wear them down daily. 

The other 10% consists of a variety of other foods, treats and protein such as veggies, fruit, grain, and insects. Avoid dried corn.

Handling:  PD's are very affectionate and playful. They will give you kisses and actively seek attention, enjoying any play time or snuggle time they get with their humans.

Do they need baths?

No, they will groom themselves. You should not bathe your PD with water. Occasional toe nail trimmings may be necessary but keeping toys and enrichment for them to wear their nails down naturally. 

Should I get two so my prairie dog will not be lonely?

It is highly recommended to have more than 1 prairie dog, they are very sociable and benefit greatly from having other prairie dog companionship. 

Do they require Vaccinations or shots?

No vaccinations are needed, however annual exams and routine checkups are beneficial with an experienced vet.

Can I take my prairie dog outside?

They should not be outside unless they have a harness on. 

Do they have an odor, or offensive smell?

They do have scent glands that they can release when they feel scared or threatened. They will also do minimal marking in their cage but typically during breeding season.

How are they with other pets?

They get along well with most other animals, however when introducing or allowing any two animals to play together you run the risk of injury. 

What is their general personality?

Very fun, energetic and loves attention and cuddles. 

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Negative aspects of owning a prairie dog

Cleaning their cage at least weekly can be time consuming but it must be done for health and happiness of your baby

They may urinate or deficate on you, but very rarely. Babies will do this more often than adults.

They have sharp claws and very sharp strong teeth. They will use these intentionally and unintentionally on you when they are happy, scared etc.

Some cities and states do not permit the possession of prairie dogs.

Finding a vet that will treat a PD can be challenging especially in smaller cities. They must be spayed or neutered so the vet must be capable of performing the surgery.

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