Some people prefer to make their own cage and have done so successfully. If you choose to use a cage, small wire spacing is strongly recommended so that a Prairie Dog will not try to chew on the bars and cause damage to his teeth, nose and/or mouth and will not get its feet caught. Long term cage nose and repeated tooth trauma from cage bar chewing can possibly lead to devastating health problems such as fracture of a tooth or jaw, or even odontoma and should be avoided if at all possible. Sidewall dimensions of no more than 1” x ½” for outside walls and ½” x ½” floors of 14 gauge wire or less (the lesser the gauge the stronger the wire) is a preferred choice and will keep feet from slipping through while allowing fecal matter and other waste to drop into a slide-out or pullout litter pan below. Many people choose to go with galvanized wire due to cost but some people choose stainless steel to delay corrosion issues. Vinyl or wrapped wire should be avoided due to gnawing where the Prairie Dog may ingest pieces of the coating. Some people like powder-coated wire too, but if there is any risk that the material may break down over time and be ingested through gnawing activities, you may want to think twice and avoid it. Many hardware stores do not carry 14 gauge or smaller wire so a specialty store might need to be found to make the purchase. Sometimes animal feed stores are a good source for cage wire of this type but other specialty stores carry it too (see links for more caging info). Usually a wire store will also carry the necessary tools and attachment rings called J-Clips (there are other types too) to assist you in assembling your own cage. They may also carry door latches, several different types are on the market. Due to your Prairie Dog’s inherent desire to be with you, they will often work on doors and openings extensively to try to get out of their cage. Try to prevent this by really researching your door closures and realize that it may be necessary to reinforce corners of doors with additional security clips. Some people use carabineer style, or dog leash style clips that can be purchased at a local hardware store. When considering wire dimensions keep in mind that Prairie Dogs can brake or get a foot or nail caught on any floor spacing larger than ½” x ½” wire. Some people may complain about our recommended sidewall dimensions of no more than 1” x ½” because they want to be able to pet their Prairie Dog through the bars. We ask that you please consider your priorities here. Is it more important for you to pet your Prairie Dog through the cage bars or is it more important to prevent them from hurting their face and teeth from repeated gnawing on the bars? They have been known to break their teeth from applying too much leverage on the bars when they chew, over time this could lead to serious health concerns. Full floors are best as balconies can be dangerous to Prairie Dogs. Prairie dogs are not visually equipped to consistently manage navigating cages with balconies because they do not have the depth perception to notice the difference between 2 inches and 3 feet. You want to avoid putting them in a position where they could jump or fall off of a balcony at a bad angle which could potentially cause a very serious or life threatening injury. Ramps to bi- or tri- level cages can be dangerous for the same reason that a balcony can, always use caution and think of long term health. Even one slight accident at a wrong angle, despite the distance of the fall could result in a fracture. If your cage has wire ramps, try to remove the ramp and/or attach PVC pipe for access to different floors. PVC pipe can be found at a local hardware store and cut down to any length you desire. Larger sized PVC pipe can be found at just about any plumping store if you cannot find it at the hardware store. Replacing wire ramps can be helpful in preventing your Prairie Dog from catching their toes and nails where the ramps are hinged to the floor. If using wire caging materials, make sure that edges of doors are covered with rubber door guards (see photos) so that rough edges don’t cause a safety issue to your pet. You may also want to implement this stripping anywhere where two ends may meet where a Prairie Dog may work at getting your attentions such as where a cage lid on the top makes contact with the surrounding vertical sides. (Note: reacting by giving attention to a Prairie Dog when it is trying to work at a escaping from cage or enclosure only reinforces the behavior, do not give attention when your Prairie Dog is working at escaping from their habitat when you know that there is no safety issue to worry about). If you want to consider long term health in your cage design, it is best to use a pull out style litter pan to avoid having your Prairie Dog in direct contact with their litter and waste. Over time skin, coat and respiratory conditions have been known to develop in those Prairie Dogs where owners did not have a pull out style pan for waste to drop through. A metal pull out style pan makes daily cleaning easy, metal is preferred because it typically will last longer than plastic pull out trays and the metal isn’t permeated as much with urine odor over time when it is scrubbed down. When the waste is allowed to drop through to the bottom pan, the owner often only has to pull out the pan, dump it, wipe it down, fill with fresh litter and put it back in place for a quick clean-up. Some types of cages sit inside a bottom tray, where the Prairie Dog walks on its litter or bedding which they sometimes will use for a latrine; this is not a wise choice over time. This style cage requires you to lift it up which can be burdensome depending on its size and also requires more frequent cage cleanings because you don't want to have any food contaminated by urine and feces or for your pet to be in direct contact with their waste for long periods of time. Some people in caging situations with no pull out pan often require daily or even twice daily cleanings depending on the number of Prairie Dogs they have.
Again, we will reiterate that you can build any size cage that you desire for your pet(s), but think about enough room for the total number of Prairie Dogs you have and their toys (including a 15”wheel that you can mount in a safe position), latrine, sleeping and eating areas in your design. Also think about allowing enough room to allow for building and nesting activities, ease of cleanup, and allowing them room to stand, perch, and guard and observe comfortably. Question your design if you have built in easy access to all areas of their cage? Is each access point built strongly and securely for their inevitable escape attempts? Are you able to periodically look for weak points and able to reinforce them as necessary?
Enclosures (Outdoor enclosure tips to follow, check back soon for more!)
Many people choose an enclosure over a cage because they want their Prairie Dog to experience what they perceive to be a less confined environment; the truth of this depends on the construction of both. The world is your oyster with what you create in both instances, so it is more a matter of your preference. If you choose to go with an enclosure instead of a cage many of the same issues and concerns from the caging section apply to your enclosure too but there are also other considerations to entertain. What materials will you use and what are the pros and cons of your choices? Some people convert whole rooms into “Prairie Dog” rooms where only their Prairie Dogs occupy the space. While having a whole entire room dedicated to your pet sounds like a terrific idea, there can be behavioral and health drawbacks to this option as well. Prairie dogs in the wild as well as in captive settings are still instinctually prey animals, in the wild they will sit and observe their surroundings and monitor all activities by those within their coterie and those actions by others and the coming and going of all that enter their environment. It is essential that the Prairie Dog(s) be able to see the activities around them and that their sight is not blocked by walls of a room, doors, or enclosure walls. For some Prairie Dogs if their site is blocked you may face behavioral problems because they feel anxious when they cannot observe properly and are surprised or caught off guard by their owners and other visitors. You can help address their visibility issue by using Plexiglas for a doorway or one entry way. Some people will use clear Plexiglas all around for their enclosure wall and have certain bedding sections where the Prairie Dogs can escape and hide when they feel the need. Having visibility is a critical element to your enclosure. Another crucial element has to do with cleaning and maintenance. Enclosures often mean that the Prairie Dog may have areas where they are in more direct contact with their waste; we’ve already mentioned that such contact can lead to long term health problems with their skin and respiratory system. Depending on construction, this often means more frequent cleanings are required in enclosure situations where there is no drop down pan to catch waste. Lastly, adequate ventilation can cause long term health concerns depending on what habitat you create, this is especially true in smaller box style enclosures where over time waste odor permeates the construction materials used, especially if the flooring becomes saturated over time. Again, carefully think through your material and construction choices and consider your options when faced with the challenges noted here. Preventing falls is another concern in your Prairie Dog(s) enclosure and what they are able to climb that could result in an injury as noted in the caging section must be considered here as well. If using a room, will you tile or laminate the whole room. If so, make sure to also do the surrounding walls up to the height of about 3 feet to keep your Prairie Dog from chewing through the drywall. You may also want to put a kicker plate on the door bottom to keep the Prairie Dog from chewing and destroying the door to the room.
Tips for both cages and enclosures
Location, location, location! For best long term health and behavioral response, keep your Prairie Dogs in the most commonly frequented areas of your home, not in garages, basements, breezeways, bedrooms or other areas where they are not easily able to see you from the confines of their cage or enclosure. They need to be able to see you easily even when they cannot be out with you. When they are easily able to see and visually interact with you from the safety of their habitat they often feel more at ease and feel as though they participate and contribute to the family dynamic similar to their social needs in the wild. If they can’t they will often spend lots of time stressing and working to find weaknesses in your design that will enable their escape so that they can interact with you and the family. This can lead to safety concerns and many costly repairs and changes to enclosure and cage design over time that they consistently work to get out. If they can see you easily, they are more at ease and will not focus on getting out as intensely.
Carefully consider your building materials and cage accessories. Are you using wood that can be easily compromised by chewing, water, and waste? There are many problems with using wood that could be avoided with different building materials. Wood can splinter and harbors lots of harmful fungus and bacteria that cannot safely be cleaned without impacting your pet’s health. Behaviorally, you also cannot expect that your Prairie Dog will not chew on other wood items around the household if you provide wooden-framed caging, wood toys, beds, and other items in their habitats. Wooden moldings and doors are frequently chewed upon by those with wood in their cage design, but it makes it much more difficult to curb these habits if you have wood in their habitat too. Almost like being upset with a puppy for chewing up your clothing when you gave it is sock or slipper to tug upon. It is hard for them to distinguish between what is permissible to nest and chew on from what is not depending on the materials you provide.
As Prairie Dogs age inconsistent exposure to lighting and varying temperatures can significantly impact their health. Sometimes the cumulative effect causes them to over sleep in a semi-hibernation pattern which in a captive setting can lead to a complete shutdown if not recognized in its beginning phases. Keeping the environment at a consistent temperature of around 70 degrees without a great deal of fluctuation is ideal as your prairie dog ages that way it doesn’t force their bodies to overcompensate to regulate between hot and cold. Again, this is a more pronounced problem as your Prairie Dog ages and occurs at different ages depending on your Prairie Dogs unique chemical makeup. Sometimes it begins to occur as early as the age of 5 to 6 while others might not have this matter creep up until they reach 10, it all depends on a multitude of factors. Areas of the country that have drastic changes in temperature must really watch their pets carefully and to recognize their pets daily patterns and any changes and intervene when necessary. Contact us if you have problem with “shut down” in your Prairie Dog, we can help with nutrition and habitat factors that may be impacting your pet. While some people recognize that drops in temperature can pose a health risk to their pet they often forget that heat can be just as threatening. Most people think that since it is seasonally hot in areas where wild Prairie Dogs are captured that they are able to handle the heat well in a captive setting. This is not the case as they often go down to cooler chambers underground to get out of the hot sun, so make sure to think about this during hot summer months in your captive habitat. Keeping temperatures consistent is essential to their long term health so that they can regulate themselves more easily.
This is another very important reason to evaluate your habitat choices carefully and to make sure to have your Prairie Dog’s habitat centrally located in a common area of your home. Many bedrooms that are used as a “Prairie Dog Room” often don’t allow for adequate lighting and temperature regulation, let alone the visibility issues already mentioned. Bedrooms, basements, and garages are often dimly lit and do not make for an optimal habitat location. Extra lighting, ventilation, heating and air conditioning sources have to be implemented in these habitat locations as well as lots of additional owner interaction because of the lack of stimulation they receive from not being in areas that get plenty of stimulus.
In the wild, Prairie Dogs get lots of light exposure during the day when their environment allows for it. It is important that you replicate that pattern in captivity. Adequate lighting can also help improve your pet’s mood and behavioral tendencies during rut season and it also helps them as they age and keeps them from shutting down (see more below). There are many different types of lighting you can incorporate into your habitat, just be careful of your choices and evaluate the potential safety hazards they might pose. You don’t want your Prairie Dog to be electrocuted from chewing any sort of cord or accessing any sort of electrical outlet. Even if unplugged a fan or other appliance can still hold enough charge or current to harm your pet. Ideally your Prairie Dog should have access to plenty of light 12-14 hours per day. Make sure however that there are areas within your habitat where your pet can escape the light. If your lighting source emits some heat, make sure your Prairie Dog is drinking enough to compensate its hydration that is lost from the added heat source. Fecal and urine output are ways to identify if your pet is losing fluids from the heat of your lighting choices. Ideally your lighting choices shouldn’t emit this amount of heat. For best results have your enclosure or cage located in a brightly lit room that is free from lots of drafts. Many (but not all) Prairie Dogs enjoy sitting near large window areas in a living or dining room where they enjoy the company of family from within their habitat and are also able to observe the outdoors. Sometimes ambient light from windows is not enough as your pet ages and an additional full spectrum light can be beneficial for light therapy needs. There are many types on the market and some can be quite expensive, do your homework here as there are very inexpensive options available. Vita-Lite is a popular brand people choose.
Make a checklist in advance before you choose to identify pros and cons of your habitat choices. While cost can often be a driving factor, remember that with some things, you get what you pay for; this is an area where that saying definitely applies. Make sure to evaluate the materials you choose and the strengths and weaknesses overall of your finished product, regardless if you bought a cage from a store or built your cage or enclosure from scratch. Consider overall safety, durability, strength (weight both empty and full), possibilities of degradation (rust, gnawing, chewing, digging, moisture, odor problems due to permeation by waste), amount of maintenance required both for cleanings and for upkeep over time, possible weak points requiring future reinforcement or repair, ventilation, visibility, mobility, convenient access for both cleaning and to your Prairie Dog(s), size (should be adequate amount of standing (to their full height) and running room for each Prairie Dog) and yes, cost. Again, cutting corners to save money with this aspect of Prairie Dog care can cost you a great deal of monies in the long run if you have to replace materials or have veterinary costs from health complications that arise due to poor maintenance, materials, plans and construction.
Search the internet for different cage and enclosure setups and what door closures they utilize because there are many ideas to think about to reach a style that works well for you. We have included links to a few companies that have been known to make great custom cages and enclosures that are geared toward a pet owner and a Prairie Dog’s needs. Check our links to see some pictures of cages and enclosures people have used as well to help get your creative ideas started. Again, make note of all the pros and cons when you are looking at these pictures for when you purchase or design your own. If you do not find something that exactly fits your needs from one of the companies listed in our links, always make sure to ask, because many companies are happy to help meet any of your special needs but only if you ask for what you are looking for specifically.
Regardless of your choice of cage or enclosure, the frequency of cleaning is determined by its size, the number of Prairie Dogs that inhabit it, and the materials you use as litter and bedding. It also helps for the pet owner to step back and think about the “big picture” about Prairie Dogs in the wild and their habitat. Prairie Dogs are some of the most sophisticated architects in the animal kingdom and build quite elaborate burrow and tunnel systems. In fact, they are such advanced builders that engineering students at some universities have even studied their construction techniques in the wild. Prairie Dogs take into account weather, air and water flow and adjust their construction accordingly. Their underground chambers are warm, airy, and removed from the impact of inclement weather. Only very severe storms and extreme flooding impact their construction. So, what does this have to do with cages, enclosures and cleaning? Well, in a wild Prairie Dog town Prairie Dogs often build separate bathroom chambers from their nesting and nursery chambers. When a bathroom becomes too contaminated with waste and odor they collapse the chamber upon itself which suffocates the smell and then they begin using a newly constructed chamber. This process repeats itself. Waste in the collapsed chamber is broken down and absorbed into the ground and may be redeveloped at a future date when needed. Again, latrines are not located where they sleep; this should also be part of your thought process in a captive setting. Potty locations should not be near where they are sleeping and they should not be in continual contact with their litter and waste. A pullout style litter pan in a cage is a good choice to allow for waste to drop through and it virtually eliminates direct contact with waste and provides a bit more ventilation. When thinking of how often to clean and if your environment allows for adequate ventilation for your Prairie Dog is to take time to put your head inside their habitat and breathe for at least one full minute (most people don’t accurately measure how long a full minute is, so bring a timer if there is any doubt), if you can smell urine and waste, so can your pet. Repeated incidents of over exposure to these odors over time may lead to respiratory concerns for your pet over time.
Despite your choice of cage or enclosure it is vital that you consider the location of the enclosure or cage in your home the amount of lighting it receives, its exposure to varying temperatures, ventilation, sight restrictions, and protection from excessive heat or cold, access to other household pets, etc. Prairie Dogs do not have any depth perception; they are not visually equipped to tell the distance between two inches or a six foot drop. Many people note that they are great climbers and while this is true you once again have to consider in the wild what they typically are climbing; they climb a gradual incline from their tunnel to the flattened or mounded area of their burrow. There is not a drop or anything to jump from once they have climbed out of their hole. So, just because they can climb, doesn’t mean that they can jump safely or know how to manage falling from any distance. Many broken backs, teeth, head trauma and other serious accidents have occurred. It is paramount that whatever habitat option you choose that you evaluate if they could fall any distance that might result in injury and try to prevent it.
If you have a picture of a cage or enclosure that you have made or that works well with your Prairie Dog(s) please email them to us, we’d love to create a network to share information by adding them to this site for others to get ideas from to benefit their pets.
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