Care of Baby Prairie Dogs

Baby prairie dogs make better pets than captured adults since they are more easily trained. Ideally, you’ll want to acquire your prairie dog from a USDA-licensed breeder. The vast majority of pet prairie dogs are black-tailed. When selecting your pet the eyes and nose should be clear and free of any discharge that might indicate a respiratory infection. The pet should be curious and inquisitive and easily handled; it should not be thin and emaciated. Check for the presence of external parasites such as fleas and ticks. If possible, examine the animal’s mouth for broken teeth or any obvious sores, any of which could suggest disease. Inquire as to whether the prairie dog has been surgically altered (spayed or neutered). 

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.

Baby Prairie dogs (8 weeks-6 months) require a diet higher in protein than adult counterparts; we feed all our baby Prairie dogs Prairie Dog Pup Diet along with Timothy Pellets until they are 6 months of age, then we switch them to the standard Prairie Dog Diet along with Timothy Pellets. Prairie dog pups (under 8 weeks old) may need a milk supplement until they are weaned. We offer a powdered Specialty Milk Replacer, a recommended formula for baby Prairie dogs (available on our web site). Check the Baby Prairie Dogs Department for the Milk Replacer and Nursing Kit.

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 our Nursing Supplies department or from the vet.

Mix 1/2 Gatorade or Pedialyte with 1/2 Specialty Milk Replacer ... 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. You must stimulate the genital area after each feeding in order to help the 'pup' eliminate his/her waste matter. One thing to watch out for in feeding baby Prairie dogs is that after each feeding you must stimulate them to defecate and urinate, otherwise their bladder and bowel will swell up and can even burst. Do this, simply stroke along their tummy towards the anus, which simulates a mother licking and grooming her babies. You can also do this with a warm damp tissue or cloth. The idea isn't to squeeze anything out, just to stimulate the baby to do its business.

Once your baby is ready to take solid foods, offer Exotic Nutrition's Prairie Dog Pup Diet. This food should be fed for the first 4-6 months of age along with Timothy Pellets, then switch to Exotic Nutrition's Prairie Dog Diet (formulated for adults) combined with Timothy Pellets.

As far as housing your baby goes, the best cage for prairie dogs is a multi-level metal cage. The multi-level cage is closest to a burrow and gives the prairie dog adequate room to move around and stand up. Prairie dogs may move between different levels to keep them from becoming bored. It is also important to select a durable cage, as prairie dogs like to chew on things. For this reason, a metal cage is the best choice. Exotic Nutrition's 4-Level Mansion cage is a popular choice. Also, be ready to provide burrowing and nesting material for your prairie dog. Hay or wood shavings deep enough to allow your pet to burrow work well; however, cedar shavings should be avoided as they can irritate the respiratory tract. Bedding materials should be replaced regularly, and enclosures cleaned and sanitized weekly to prevent disease. Prairie dogs can be trained to use a litter pan or box. Adding chew toys and tubing (to simulate tunnels) can help keep your pet active and curious. Providing access to nest boxes is a good idea, as it simulates natural burrowing behavior. 

In the wild, prairie dogs spend a lot of time in groups as they are social animals. Unless you can spend a large amount of time with your pet, keeping only 1 prairie dog is not recommended. Males can be housed together if neutered; females can be housed together with or without spaying. If a male is housed with a female, neutering is essential to prevent breeding and unplanned pregnancies. When you first bring your prairie dog home, hold it even if it protests. You may use gloves if necessary and you must not let the prairie dog loose. If the prairie dog bites, discipline it. Be consistent with your pup. An owner must handle and socialize with their prairie dog often or else they will become prone to biting and become more aggressive over time. Prairie dogs can make a number of different sounds, and owners may come to recognize particular calls that indicate excitement, greeting, aggression, and others. If left alone, prairie dogs can become depressed and develop behavior problems. It is highly recommended that your pet be neutered; otherwise your prairie dog can become irritable and aggressive during breeding season. 

Daily handling as well as hand feeding is very important in the initial days after you get your prairie dog. This will also encourage proper bonding between the owner and pet. If properly cared for, prairie dogs have a lifespan of about 8-10 years. Males are usually larger than females. The average weight of an adult male or female prairie dog ranges from about 1.5 pounds to 3.5 pounds. Obesity is a common problem in pet prairie dogs due to diet and lack of exercise. Properly feeding your pet and allowing for adequate exercise can prevent this problem. One way to allow for adequate exercise is to walk your prairie dog. Leash training can be a simple matter. Make sure you obtain a good quality figure-H harness for your pet. These harnesses usually have easy to adjust snaps to fit most Prairie dogs. When you first attach the harness to your Prairie dog give it a little time to get used to the harness. Attach it for a few hours each day when your Prairie dog is in his cage and keep watch on your animal so the harness doesn't get snagged. After a few days when the animal is comfortable with the harness on, take him out for his first walk.


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Please Note: Exotic Nutrition is not in a position to provide specific health and care guidelines on an individual basis. Please visit our animal info tabs or consider purchasing a care guide book for additional information. If you have a health or pet emergency issue, please notify your veterinarian or a specialized technician.


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