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Keeping A Prairie Dog As A Pet: What You Need To Know

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Prairie dog pet is a renowned wild dog but is becoming among the popular pets.

They are active, sturdy, and affectionate rodents that can make wonderful pets if given proper attention and socialized properly.

Have you ever asked yourself what you need to know to keep a prairie pet?

This article will define all that you need to know.

Prairie dogs are both omnivorous and herbivorous burrowing rodents that belong to kingdom Animalia and spend a lot of their time creating and demolishing their residents to get the best.

Their natural habitat is along shallow rivers, flat grasslands, or on sloppy hills, live in families mostly composed of a male, few females, and several young ones.

Table of Contents

What You Need To Know About Keeping A Prairie Dog As A Pet

They work together as a team to chase away other prairie dogs, look for food, and groom one another, the complexity of their needs will arise out of simulating their natural habitat.

Therefore, let’s dive into the life of the prairie and its way of life.

All You Need To Know About Prairies

In this article, we will explore issues such as their look, varieties, attack on humans, their friendly relationship, their food, communication, lifespan, health issues, social life, social life, price, etc.

You will also learn the legal conditions of owning a prairie as a pet and purchasing your first prairie.

The article will also cover the best way to domesticate a prairie dog to make the best pet out of it.

Prairie Dog Looks

It’s a small little herbivorous rodent, which barely grows over a foot tall, and it has a tail of about three or four inches.

Their weight is on average two to four pounds.

They have claws and short limbs, their eyes are black with brown fur.

Prairies have a canine name but they are members of the rodent family.

They have muscular short legs and long nails on the feet.

These long nails are ideal for burrowing and hole digging since that is what they do most of their time.

Prairie is derived from the highly-pitched, barking squeaks that they use to communicate and warn one another of any impending danger.

Prairies Species Varieties

The most known species of prairie dogs are of five types; black-tailed, white-tailed, Utah prairies, Mexican, and Gunnison’s as explained below.

Black-Tailed Prairies

Small rodents with a height of about 16 inches that has a black-tipped tail, which is one way of differentiating it from other prairies.

Lives in grasslands across plains, and they are very social and live in large colonies.

They share the responsibility of looking out for predators and enemies.

White-Tailed Prairies

Only found in North America.

Approximately 15 inches and weighs about one to three pounds.

Utah Prairies

The smallest species of the prairie dog, they are native to Utah country, a state of the USA.

Weighs between 0.77 kg for males, to 1.12 kgs for females.

Mexican Prairies

They are native of Mexico.

An adult weighs around 1kg, and has a lifespan of around three to five years.

Gunnison’s Prairies

Has a yellowish mix with black color that is about 13 inches tall and weighs around three pounds.

Mostly found in the northern part of America.

Attack On Humans

Studies show that prairies don’t attack humans, but they attach small rodents for food, to protect their carcass and defend their young ones.

When not handled properly, however, prairies can become violent.

In self-defense, they also bite with their sharp teeth.

In normal conditions, prairies are calm and playful harmful beings.

The white-tailed species can even attack smaller rodents without being provoked.

Friendly Relationship

Prairies are known to be affectionate and friendly.

However, they need a lot of attention during the daytime when they are most active.

During the night they are inactive.

An alternative to not having time for your young prairie pet is to have a whole colony to keep each other company.

However, this would be disadvantageous because the cost of maintaining them can be high, and they can have high rates of breeding.

Feeding Prairies

The natural prairie diet consists of grass, some roots.

You should also offer whole oats, dried Timothy hay, or hay cubes.

Baby prairies will require a high protein diet as compared to the adult ones, after six months they can easily fit into the normal adult prairie dog diet.

They rely heavily on cactus for water, so, when housing one you would consider planting cactus for the same.

Freshwater however should be available at all times, as their drinking vessels should be washed thoroughly and regularly to prevent the risk of diseases.

Most people opt for sipper bottles hung in the cage than huge tins placed on the floor since they can easily get dirty.

Always clean the sippers with soap and clean water after the change.

When domesticated you can offer a prairie exotic nutrition designed specifically for their diet.

Raw carrots, cassavas, and fresh raw sweet potatoes would make a good diet for them.

You could also feed them on specific grass and hay and other high fiber pellet diets, there are no known specific supplements for prairies.

Dog treats can be offered but they should not constitute more than 5 % of the total daily food intake.

Daily Activities

The native prairie is very vigilant during the day to keep away from attacks, and inactive during the night.

They spent most of their time burrowing into their residents and getting out to look for food.

They work as teams in their families, some could look for food as others stay alert on the watch for predators.

Pet prairies will spend most of their time playing during the day and burrowing in the sand if their cages have sandboxes.

It’s important to consider a good housing cage for a prairie to maximize its playing during the day, hanging sway ropes are also ideal for playing in their cages.

If you want to properly train your prairie dog as a pet it’s recommended that you get sufficient time with them during the day.


Have you ever wondered whether prairies communicate?

Well, yes, they do.

They even talk about humans, scientists have been learning to decode prairie dog language and discovered that they’ve been talking about us.

Interestingly, prairies communicate with each other not just through vocals but other physical interactions like kissing and clinging their claws together.

Just as a human being is determined by fundamental frequency, prairies also have different tones to indicate alert calls, distress calls, and excitement as they greet the members of a family.

Prairie pets with socialization also learn to make sounds to their owners.

This language can be developed between the two by spending substantial time together.

Research shows that of all animals decoded language, for prairies is the most developed.

Lifespan Of Prairies

The maturity of a prairie is complete at one year and three months.

The lifespan of the black-tailed prairie is not known but research shows that males that are more than three years old have a high mortality rate.

Female prairies often live longer than the male.

Hoogland states that the lifespan of prairies is about five years for males and seven years for females and their gestation takes around 35 days.

If properly cared for, the lifespan increases to between 8-10 years.

Threats to the survival of prairies have become very rampant since the great plains have been converted either to pastoralism or farming.

Legal Ownership

Every state has exotic animal laws that allow or restrict ownership of exotic animals, prairie pets included.

Prairie dogs were one of the main causes that were implicated in a monkeypox outbreak in the US in 2003 and were thus banned as pets for close to five years in the US.

Since 2008, The FDS has lifted restrictions on keeping prairie pets.

However, claims of prairies carrying plague became an issue again so it’s always proper to check with your state to ensure it’s allowed in your locality.

There are licensed USDA dealers that sell prairies to the public.

The seller should issue you with a certificate and proper papers that allow you to legally own the dog.

Some states require the prairie to have its license tag chained on the neck when out of its premises.

Purchasing Your First Prairie

When selecting your first pet, you should ideally go for a young one, an ideal prairie would be around 8 weeks to 6 months or about.

It’s easier to train and tame a baby prairie than an adult one, however, they need more care and attention than the adult ones do.

Most people consider the young ones more affectionate, it’s easy to bond with them and help them adapt to human nature than they would bond with their fellow rodents in the natural habitats.

In the United States, the ideal time to look for a baby prairie is between April and July since that’s when they breed mostly and pups collected.

That is the only time when mating takes place and it’s closely related to latitude.

Things To Check Out When Purchasing Your First Prairie

Always ensure the eyes and nose are free from any discharge since this may pose a respiratory issue.

It should not be thin and should be free from external parasites like ticks.

Whenever possible do a mouth examination on the pet to ascertain any broken tooth, mouth, or tongue sores that could be an indicator of a disease.

It’s good to confirm whether the prairie has been altered surgically to increase your awareness of its health status.

An overweight prairie is likely to develop issues like heart, liver, and pancreatic problems.

Dental diseases as a result of overgrown teeth.

Health Issues

Prairies are known to pose serious health and safety issues as the following ones.

Susceptibility to plague in prairie colonies is extremely high, as plagues spread so fast that within a week when a colony is affected the whole population can die off.

Their mounds can house dangerous animals for instance snakes and this is dangerous for those around.

When infected with ticks and lice, they can easily spread in homes and increase the risk of humans being infected with the same.

Their main source of food is vegetation and this means that in areas they will reside they’ll be a drastic reduction in the vegetation.

Prairie mounds can harm livestock that steps on them, this makes it difficult to maintain beneficial animals along.

They are capable of deep and painful bites when they feel threatened.

The Social Life Of Prairies In The Wild

To make a pet out of a prairie dog you need first to understand their social ways of life in their natural habitats.

Prairies are very social animals, they are grouped in families and the prairie dog family is the basic unit of its society.

They spend most of their time in groups and they do their activities together.

They often greet each other with a kind of kiss and crossed hugs at times.

A cling on each other’s claws would mean a prairie is greeting a member of its family since they know each other.

However, they will resist members of external families because they are often thought of as competitors.

Their families are mostly composed of a male, few females, and young ones.

When domesticated, one can house a male and a female separately.

If a male prairie is housed with a female, neutering is important as this prevents unwanted pregnancies and breeding.

However, they only breed once a year, since they are burrowing animals, their shelters should also have a provision for this activity.

Your First Veterinary Visit

Your young prairie after purchase should be examined by an expert veterinary officer within at least 48 hours.

Usually, this is a requirement by the seller or the pets protection board.

The veterinary officer will also give proper advice on diet, housing, and general care.

As with most pets prairies require a minimum of one annual veterinary visit, and for older dogs, it’s recommended at least twice a year.

It’s important to note that not all veterinarians treat exotic animals.

It’s therefore important to consider one that has experience on the same.

Vaccines are not recommended for prairies.

Behaviour And Temperament

Prairies are diurnal i.e they are active during the day and sleep during the night.

If not given enough attention they tend to be sick.

Parenting and Reproduction

Copulation in prairies occurs in the burrows.

This reduces the risk of competition by another competing male and predation.

A female prairie that is in the estrus cycle shows some symptoms such as coming into the burrow at night, dust bathing, and licking its genitals that also prevent the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

To increase the chances of reproduction females go out of their families to get males there.

Prairies Health Problems

During the rutting period, they become aggressive and defensive.

They are susceptible to obesity when fed the wrong foods.

Can develop respiratory issues due to burrowing, and they can also be afflicted with cancer and ringworms.

Intestinal disorders can is a result of a rapid diet change or overeating.

Malocclusion – can be a result of a malpositioned growth of incisors and at times molars, and Alopecia that is hair loss caused by repeated rubbing on wires.

They can also have obesity, that is the prairie diet should be more fiber than fat, and if this is not considered the dogs might become obese.

Their Living Area

Prairies need a very spacious cage, an ideal room should have a lot of free playing space.

If you want to make prairies feel at home it’s good to add a large box of sand in the cage since they love burrowing.

Shelves and climbing equipment are not allowed in prairies rooms.

Including chewable toys and long chewable ropes would be an excellent idea to keep them active throughout the day.

Build the cage away from direct sunlight.

The cage should be designed in such a way that it keeps your dog safe and entertained when you are away from home.

Prairies are great escape artists and a secure cage is a critical component that should be carefully considered.

Price Cost

If you choose to purchase your prairie at a store, it will cost you roughly around $150.

Most stores will also offer you a health guarantee or insurance.

The price however depends on the location too.

For instance, in Japan, a very healthy prairie dog can sell for around a thousand dollars.

The Importance of Prairies

They are becoming an endangered species, research shows that the general population of prairies has shrunk over time by 95%.

This means that if action is not taken they may be wiped out of the universe.

They play a very important role in the ecosystem, a source of food for predators, and provide shelter for other burrowing animals.

Their habitats have decreased tremendously thus left with no homes.

Their digging makes the soils very fertile and thus helps in the germination, so their burrows help drain the soil preventing erosion.

Drawbacks Of Keeping Prairies

Prairie dog pet is known for damaging crops, also creating hazards for livestock and people.

They need a lot of attention and sufficient space.

Sometimes they stink and this can be uncomfortable for the entire home.

They can be difficult and aggressive and are not regularly handled.

They are very nippy and this becomes tricky when there are small children around.

Interesting Facts About Prairie Dogs

They communicate in the form of alarm calls, distress calls by screaming and threats, snarls, tooth chatters.

Their entire mating season lasts only an hour long.

In contrast, these little creatures are known to be fast multiplying, but they just mate once a year, nearly winter.

Their vocabulary is more advanced than that of any other animal, their quirky calls sound simple to humans but they convey descriptive details.

Over time prairies have shrunk by 95%, this is due to pressures and natural habitats being encroached by human beings.

During winter when food is scarce, prairies don’t hibernate, and they remain in burrows for long periods without food or water.

During this time they use physiological adaptations to control and regulate their metabolism.

They are cousins of the squirrels, all five species of prairies belong to the squirrel family together with groundhogs, woodchucks, and marmots.

Final Thoughts

Prairie dog pet is becoming not just popular but also exciting pet all over the world.

If you are a lover of pets or trying to be one you can opt for adopting a prairie.

It’s good to understand that prairies are ideal pets for active people since they need a lot of energy in taking care and taming them to live with humans.

On the other hand, prairies don’t make good pets for everyone, some people say they stink and can’t tolerate their smell.

They can be notorious when let out of their cages by roaming into houses and making humans susceptible to diseases if they are infected.

The positivity of owning a prairie however outweighs the negatives so anyone willing can adopt a prairie dog.

Remember always to ensure first if it’s legal to own one in your state, make sure they are checked annually, feed them on a good diet, and give them sufficient space.

Above all ensure you spend a lot of time during the day with your prairie to ensure it’s well tamed.

Based on the above information it’s important to conclude that prairie dogs are wonderful creatures worth adopting and giving a home.

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