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Prairie Dog Care

Prairie dogs may be born to be wild, but they are also happy to be your house pet. Once bonded to you, and acclimated to your home, they are quite content there. They have no desire to go back to the wild or outdoors. Although prairie dogs may be taken for a walk (with specially designed prairie dog harnesses), they don't need (or want) to be walked. What they want to do is to stay right in their own little environment. This makes them good pets for those who don't get out much, for those with small houses or apartments, and for people who live in big cities, where it can be tough keeping a pet that needs to be out in the sunshine.

Care of baby prairie dogs: Often, baby prairie dogs are captured before they are actually weaned so they are not eating solid foods enough to keep their layer of 'baby fat. These babies often lose this layer of fat from the time of capture until they get into your home. They get cold easily and can die quickly. Keep them warm, in an aquarium with a heating pad under a small portion of the aquarium. Keep the heating pad on 'low' and check it often. It must only be under PART of the aquarium, on the outside, so that the prairie dog can escape to a cooler part of the container if the heating pad setting is too high or malfunctions. Supplement babies with a plastic syringe. Small (5cc) syringes or bird feeding syringes can be purchased in apet store or from the vet. Mix 1/2 gatorade or pedialyte with 1/2 whole milk - Esbilac for puppies is actually best and feed the pup SLOWLY dripping it into the mouth. Be careful that it does not gasp and aspirate which will mean DEATH if the milk gets into the lungs. Take it slow and be patient. Do this every few hours. Be sure the milk is warm. Putting the baby under your shirt, next to your skin will also warm it but do give it time to be 'outside' and breathe normally. Feed a 6 oz. baby every 2-4 hours depending on its condition. A dehydrated baby will not last long so keep it full of fluids.

Ambient & Body Temperatures: Black-Tailed prairie dogs are not true hibernators. Prairie dogs exposed to ambient temperatures of around 55ø 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 - 99ø F.

Restraint: Roll the prairie dog in a large towel folded lengthwise to restrain it 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.

House Training: In the wild, each prairie dog family has only so many square feet of grass; if they were to do their business all over that grass, they would gradually poison their own food source. So each little family digs a latrine, and everybody goes to the bathroom there. When it gets too nasty, they either clean it out or bury it and dig another one. In your home, a prairie dog will actually want to find and use a litter pan, or some other such spot away from its principal stomping grounds.

Prairie dogs should be kept confined when you are not at home to watch them. If you let your prairie dog run around free in the house while you're gone, you are likely to discover a whole new world when you return. But a prairie dog will probably do none of this when you're home. It's you the animal really wants, not the chair leg. Even when you are there, however, you will have to triple-childproof your home if you're going to turn your prairie dog loose. You can't have drain cleaner or chemicals of any kind where the animal might get at them. You will have to disguise or cover electrical cords -- prairie dogs love to gnaw on them, especially those with Christmas lights. Prairie dogs are also terrible thieves, with a special fondness for socks. (They won't destroy your socks, but they will collect them.) Like most of us, though, prairie dogs tend to grow less destructive with the passing years.