Captive Prairie Dog Supplies, Habitat Items & Enrichment Ideas
by Gena Seaberg, PhD
© 2014 All Rights Reserved
Lead-free terra cotta flower pots make an excellent choice for a sleeping chamber or bed for captive prairie dogs. Prairie dogs prefer to be surrounded on all sides with the ability to entirely cover themselves in non-lint bedding material. This style of sleeping chamber works well to enable a captive prairie dog to feel secure, protected, and not exposed as a prey species.
Terra cotta pots of this nature still allow plenty of light to penetrate their bed and allows for easy cleaning by using a scrub brush, water, and a small amount of dish soap. Rinse thoroughly and allow it to dry completely before putting back in habitat.
Suggested bedding is non-linting cotton t-shirt material as seen in the photo above. Two t-shirts are layered in this flower pot to provide ample cushioning and nesting capacity. Another idea is cotton baby receiving blankets. It is important that a caretaker ensure that they cannot make lint fibers that can cause nasal obstruction. Inexpensive cotton t-shirts or cotton baby receiving blankets can typically be found at thrift stores, garage sales, and other locations in bulk quantities. Denim is also suitable as long as it doesn’t fray into linting fibers. Make sure to wash and dry them thoroughly before using.
Replace bedding material during cage or habitat cleanings or as needed if compromised with urine or feces. Check their nesting chamber daily for moisture and put in new bedding material if damp.
This size flower pot comfortably supported three prairie dogs.
Although the lighting in this photo is poor, here is a picture of two geriatric prairie dogs asleep in the flower pot. They are both over 10 years old in this photo.
Do NOT use this type of terry cloth material found in bath or kitchen towels in their habitat! It can cause nasal obstruction and other respiratory issues.
Industrial cardboard tubes provide hours of enrichment as prairie dogs shred and chew on them safely. Consider hiding treats within hay stuffed inside these tubes. The cardboard is easily cut into any length you need. They can often be obtained inexpensively from carpet remnant stores. Other corrugated black plastic flexible tubing can also be used, but is not as preferred. If you do choose to use it or other plastic tubing make sure to monitor it closely to avoid potential cracked edges that can be sharp or that your prairie dog may accidentally ingest a piece of plastic. That is why the cardboard tubes often make a good choice.
This is one of my carpet tubes and a piece of cotton rope (see bird toy suppliers) that can be purchased in various lengths from a local hardware store. The rope provides another fun enrichment activity as a tool toy to floss with by tying it to the ceiling of your cage or mounting from a hook on the sidewall of your cage/habitat. Replace both as necessary if shredded excessively, if compromised with waste, or in the case of the floss, it is too frayed.
The food bowl and water bottle shown here are necessary additions to a captive prairie dog cage or habitat. Notice that the food bowl has two hooks on the rear to attach it to a cage, there are several mountable bowls of this nature that can also be affixed to the side walls of a habitat to prevent tipping. Or, you can consider a weighted treat bowl so that they don’t harm themselves or another prairie dogs within the habitat trying to move their dish to what they consider a more ideal location. In this picture are blood garnet yams, a prairie dog favorite treat. This bowl should be filled with high quality, long strand grass hay to overflowing a minimum of once or twice a day depending on how many prairie dogs are housed, more if the level runs low. Note that hay needs to be removed daily and replenished with fresh to keep the captive prairie dog stimulated to continue eating hay due to its selectively herbivorous nature.
Water bottles should be emptied, cleaned, and refilled with fresh water daily. To encourage a young captive prairie dog to drink from a water bottle, first obtain a bottle with a water bottle with a much smaller diameter sipper tube meant for mice, gerbils, or hamsters to avoid potential aspiration when they are learning to drink. Often young prairie dogs are initially overwhelmed and will avoid drinking water from larger, more routinely used rabbit bottles due to the volume of water flow. A sample of this type of bottle is pictured below.
Shredded paper is fun to make nests with along with shredded cardboard tubes.
Additionally, most newspapers, with the exception of colored advertisements are made of non-toxic soy based inks. You can allow them to shred this material if you are sure your newspaper is printed with this type of ink by contacting the specific publisher for details.
To avoid potential for dental abscess and misalignment of teeth throughout the mouth, avoid wood items in a cage. Wood items in a cage can also lead to respiratory problems because wood cannot be cleaned thoroughly and can grow harmful bacteria. Digestive issues also can occur from splinters that may embed within their stomach lining. Some ulcer-like conditions have been linked to wood use in habitats and cages.
Monitor the plastics on cage or habitat toys for cracking and chipping.
Wheels: are they recommended for prairie dogs or not?
Yes, monitored and limited use of an approved type of rodent wheel for prairie dogs can provide a wonderful additional enrichment activity. Why not give them unrestricted use? Limited use of a wheel is recommended because some prairie dogs will run in a wheel obsessively, if not monitored, leading to health concerns relating to significant weight loss. Some prairie dogs readily take to a wheel as though they just know what to do with it. Others take a long period of time to investigate it before gaining interest to use it. Some will ignore it for a very long time and then suddenly use it, it depends on their mood. Often overuse is mainly observed during rut season. Don’t be surprised or worried if the prairie dog wants to use the wheel obsessively for a period of time and then loses interest, they often will come back to it later. It isn’t uncommon for a prairie dog to want to chew or dismantle the wheel initially. Make sure to monitor that no safety issues are present with how it is setup in their habitat to harm their mouth, teeth, or other body part. Please supervise your prairie dog’s use of a wheel to when you are available to watch for overuse. A couple of hours per day are sufficient for enrichment and for good exercise. Any more than that per day can lead to health problems. Many caretakers find a way to block the wheel’s rotation when they are not available to monitor its use.
Wheels large enough in size with solid bottoms are recommended. Many prairie dogs have broken their legs and suffered foot and spinal cord injuries from wire wheels or those with a central axis in the middle. Also being available to supervise use of a wheel when many prairie dogs are vying to use the same one is important to avoid injury.
All wheels should be a minimum of 38 centimeters in diameter to prevent the improper curvature of an adult prairie dogs spine over time when it is running.
Below are pictures of what is recommended:
The picture below is also acceptable if you only have one or two prairie dogs that aren’t competing for use, note the central axis that could lead to injury if they both try to run on it at once:
DO NOT USE THE TYPES OF WHEELS BELOW DUE TO RISK OF INJURY! Injury from the spokes and getting their feet or legs caught, or spinal injury from entering where the holes are located while in motion from another prairie dog.
Cage reinforcement clips…..for those prairie dog escape artists…
Some prairie dogs make it their special mission to find ways to test any habitat or cage they live in, so it is important to have on hand some clips that reinforce doors in areas where the prairie dog may work to find a gap to get out. Most of the time the best areas to reinforce are corners or doors. Below are some examples of different clip types that work well.
Dog leash latch
Items to always have stored and available for routine care, maintenance, and EMERGENCIES.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more assistance with any of the items below if you question whether an item is of benefit to use in an individual circumstance coupled with quality, licensed exotic veterinary care.
Always maintain an accessible and secure pet carrier that your prairie dog cannot chew through ready. Make sure to clean for initial use with warm water and dish soap, rinse thoroughly and ensure that it is completely dry before using. Use these sorts of carriers for trips to the veterinarian or to temporarily separate prairie dogs for a time out. We strongly recommend using the same non-lint bedding as you would above for inside the carrier so that it is a known material that provides comfort, similar to a child with a blanket.
Probiotics should always be kept on hand just in case your prairie dog receives antibiotics or anesthesia as part of their veterinary visit. Often both antibiotics and anesthesia can throw off digestive motility and proper intestinal flora to help the digestive tract work as efficiently as usual. I highly recommend using BeneBac throughout the course of any medication received per veterinary instructions and an additional two week period afterwards. There is debate if probiotic throughout a medication regimen is useful since many antibiotics often kill the majority of intestinal bacteria. However, the purpose I recommend it for DURING medication use is more to do with keeping the digestive tract moving and to stimulate appetite, helping process the medication through their system when they aren’t feeling their best, NOT inoculating the digestive system with fresh flora. The reason we proceed with BeneBac for the additional two weeks after medication is completed is to restore healthy levels of beneficial intestinal flora to help boost their immune system that have been depleted from medication use. BeneBac Plus for Small Animals is made by PetAg and can be purchased in gel or powdered form for small animals from many retailers (AMAZON) by searching on Google, we prefer the gel form as you see in the tubes above. It is important to note that this product should not be misused and administered without reason or cause to do so as prairie dogs are known to develop reliance on interventions and you want to promote their body’s natural healing abilities instead of promoting tolerance and reliance on unnecessary interventions if they are healthy. You want their bodies to work for themselves as much as possible for as long as possible, only intervening if proven there is justifiable need to do so. http://www.petag.com/products/small-animals
Some prairie dogs with digestive tract or pseudo-odontodysplasia (what is referred to as odontoma in a prairie dog), often develop secondary symptoms of gas, bloating, and distended bellies that impact their appetite and ability to eat. Providing ONE drop of Mylicon gas drop every six hours can be helpful ONLY IF you are certain your prairie dogs exhibit these symptoms. There are other brands of simethicone on the market that are comparable to Mylicon, just be sure it is 20mg simethicone only and not any other medication.
You can store one or both of these items below depending on what your prairie dog likes best. Be sure to store in a dry airtight container in your freezer to extend shelf life. Both products can come in handy when you must syringe feed a sick prairie dog.
From American Pet Diner (www.americanpetdiner.com) is Digestive Health Powder Critter Be Better. It is a probiotic timothy based supplement to benefit the digestive health of convalescing prairie dogs. Have on hand for prairie dogs that are in geriatric phases of life, recovering from medical procedures or illness, suffering from digestive issues where intestinal flora and gut motility is NOT optimal, or having appetite issues relating to pseudo-odontodysplasia.
From Oxbow Animal Health (www.oxbowanimalhealth.com) is Critical Care, pictured here is the fine grind formula. It works in the same manner as the Digestive Health Powder above.
You can also store timothy based hay pellets in dry, airtight containers for a longer shelf life. Here you will note our preferred pellets at this time. If you find another pellet or item not shown here that you feel we should add, please let us know. We are open and receptive to any new, healthy item designed for a prairie dog’s long term health.
From American Pet Diner (www.americanpetdiner.com) is Prairie Dog Natural. Prairie Dog Natural is a timothy hay based supplemental pellet designed to be used in combination with an unlimited amount of long strand grass hay daily per the nutritional recommendations provided under the Resource and Companies links in our website.
From Oxbow Animal Health (www.oxbowanimalhealth.com) is Essentials Adult Rabbit Food. Again, read more about Oxbow’s products under our Resource and Companies links on our website.
Organic barley or wheat grass powders can be obtained through various online retailers, but they are useful when mixed with Digestive Health Powder by American Pet Diner or Critical Care by Oxbow for syringe feedings for prairie dogs that will not eat for a variety of reasons. If you need assistance in this area, contact us at email@example.com immediately.
Organic sweet potato baby food by Gerber or other company. This is helpful to have on hand for syringe feedings as well or also to help if you have a prairie dog with mild constipation. Contact us at the email address above for more guidance here.
Organic carrot baby food by Gerber or other company.
Pedialyte or other electrolyte replacer is helpful to have on hand for those prairie dogs with only mild dehydration. If you are suspect that your prairie dog is severely dehydrated, electrolytes will only get you so far and will not hydrate your prairie dog thoroughly enough to be of significant benefit, so it is VERY IMPORTANT that you visit your licensed exotic veterinarian for them to administer subcutaneous fluids that will ensure proper tissue hydration is achieved and that you aren’t teasing the problem. Do NOT use sports drinks that often are too high in sodium content when compared with children’s electrolyte replacement formulas as seen above.
The Snugglesafe disc and cover are useful within a cage for prairie dogs that are having challenges self-regulating their own temperature due to illness, old age, or as the recover from a procedure. The heating pad on the right is best used underneath a carrier, cage, or aquarium where they are unable to access the cord which poses a safety hazard. Be sure to wrap the heating pad in a towel so that it doesn’t compromise a plastic carrier.
Here are some sample tools for inevitable nail trims. The first is a scissors type trimmer, the other is a pliers type. Do not use conventional human nail clippers to trim their nails as you risk fracturing their nail bed.
It is always important to have syringes on hand for emergency feedings as needed.
Each person’s living situation can vary from home to home, and there are numerous variables to consider, so please consider contacting me for individualized consultation to help you keep your prairie dog(s) safe and well managed over their life span. The steps you take in this area can make a world of difference to helping your prairie dog enjoy a long and healthy life. Specific tips are also available to help prairie dog proof your zoo, sanctuary, rescue, and more.