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Prairie Dog Diseases

A prairie dog is susceptible to a number of diseases, the most notable being plague. Plague is an infectious disease transmitted by the bite of an infected flea. Plague can be devastating to prairie dog populations, wiping out entire colonies in some areas. This disease was known as "black death" in the 1 300s when about one-third of Europe's human population was lost. Although it can be transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected flea, plague has not been found in prairie dogs in Nebraska and is now treatable in humans.

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. 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 mal-positioned 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.

Alopecia: 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.

Obesity: 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.