Prairie dog FAQ

I know a lot of people who visit the blog are curious about our Prairie dogs, they are an unusual pet after all. We got our first Prairie dogs in 2007. While they are no longer a pet you can acquire in Canada,(and most of the United States)  many of them are still alive from when the pet trade was booming, although they are getting older.

Our first three Prairie dogs came to us in 2007 from Toronto. A woman there had them and could no longer keep them. They were about 8-9 years old then.

I did a tremendous amount of research and I was scared. I'd fallen in love with Prairie dogs in the wild the first time I saw them in South Dakota, but how would they be in captivity as a pet? I put my fears aside and we decided to bring these guys into our family. Our first three Prairie dogs were so special, they were gentle, loving, and full of personality.

Snuggles, the oldest, loved cookies and treats, and to be held. Chip, who was the biggest was the most loving, he loved running around the house, playing with the dogs and rabbits, and always enjoyed a good snuggle. Dale, the female, had the feisty personality of all three of them and a couple times she bit me so bad my hand turned black and bled. But once I learned to speak her language, it never happened again, and we had no further problems. We grew very close. She loved being held upside down in my arms and getting her belly rubbed, and she loved her wheel. I found the best wheels for small animals there are in Oregon for them. They were excellent pets and very loved family members.

But Prairie dogs do not make good pets for everyone. They can bite very badly if you don't listen to their warnings. They smell - they have a strong musky smell. They need a lot of space and they need a lot of attention, they are not a pet that can be left alone for long periods and they get depressed very easily if not getting enough emotional attention from you. They are extremely smart, and require a lot of mental stimulation.

All three of our first Prairie dogs have passed away. Dale was the last of three and she passed away December of 2010.

In December of 2009 we got a request from another woman who was looking to re home her four Prairie dogs, she had been referred to us from the first lady we adopted our original three from. She couldn't keep her four dogs any longer because her son was allergic to hay.

We didn't really think twice about taking them, there is a huge spot in both of our hearts for Prairie dogs now. So four more Prairie dogs joined our family and still currently live with us. Our current four have very different personalities, one is nervous, one is mean, one is very sweet, and the last one is somewhere in between the three!

Prairie dogs have a very complex language and scientists have discovered dozens of different calls... They can identify if a person is wearing blue, or green, or if it's a male or female. They yell "yahoo!" and raise their hands into the air when greeting each other, when excited... ours do it when we come home and walk in the door. They have many calls I've gotten to recognize living with them over the years.

They are highly intelligent animals and integral to the ecosystem of the prairies. Having had them as pets, I love them and I know from experience they can make amazing pets -for the right person. I have found myself saddened by the thought of more of them being caught and put into captivity however, in my heart I know they belong in the wild.

A lot of people living in the West consider them pests and I understand why, just as I'd think of a Ground hog here, digging holes, eating my garden... But all animals have a purpose, even if they do get in our way sometimes, and getting in our way is not their purpose. There are many groups working to make the relationship between ranchers/Prairie dogs a better one, and a healthy one. We support their efforts to help ranchers and also Prairie dogs coexist and both enjoy their lives!
You can read a post about the Prairie dogs here with pictures of our cage set up. You'll find pictures and stories of them on my blog. If you have Prairie dogs or stories about them, I'd love for you to share with me!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How old are your current Prairie dogs?

A: We currently only have two Prairie dogs out of the 6 we have adopted over the years. Our two girls now are both 13 years old. 

All of our other Prairie dogs have passed on at 14 and 15 years of age. Our females have always out lived our males by 1-2 years. 

Q: What do they eat?

A: Their staples are timothy hay and pellets, but they also enjoy fresh grass, sweet potatoes, carrots, apples, bananas, and other fruits and vegetables.

Q: How long do Prairie dogs live in captivity?

A: Generally 10-14 years.

Q: Do they let you hold them?

A: They all have different personalities but yes, some of them like to be held, and some of them don't!

Q: Do they come out of their cage?

A: Yes! Under supervision only because they have no fear and like to climb things and then just let go and free fall... I have no idea why, but it's well known they do it and I've seen it happen but thankfully I was there to catch them. I've heard many stories of Prairie dogs in captivity being left to free run in a house and hurting or killing themselves. They don't think twice about climbing furniture, drapes, beds, you name it. Mine particularly enjoy spending time in my bathrooms, bedroom, and kitchen.

Q: Do you trim their nails?

A: No. Prairie dog nails are long for a reason, in the wild they use them for digging. They are always the same length because they keep them trimmed themselves by using them. Prairie dogs use their hands almost as we do, to hold things, pick things up, move things.

Q: What they do they use for bedding?

A: My first three always used paper and hay, which Dale would shred daily to build a big nest. She was the mother hen. Our current four do not build nests for some reason. They sleep on rags which I change every couple of days, pieces of shredded clothing I buy in bulk for them. They sometimes shred paper, but usually only in the winter.

Q: Do they hibernate?

A: No. Even in the wild Prairie dogs do not hibernate, they do go into a mild hibernation called 'torpor." One of our Prairie dogs, Chip, went into torpor when he was passing away, twice. It's very strange to see them unable to move but breathing and sitting up.. It's an odd thing to experience. But Prairie dogs in captivity do not go into torpor, they need to be kept warm in the winter. Ours live in the house near the woodstove.

Q: Do they need to keep their teeth down like rabbits?

A: They do need to chew. We give them sticks, logs, and, antlers to gnaw on.

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