Toys can be a little tricky when it comes to Prairie Dogs. Lots have been said and discussed about the use of wood, plastics, etc. for caging and the same can be said for toys. So this will be the pros and cons and keep in mind that what may be good for one is not good for all because just like children Prairie Dog behavior and personalities vary.
Many people mistakenly feel they need wood in their habitat for tooth maintenance with prairie dogs and this is NOT the case. In the wild there are no trees that prairie dogs chew. In captivity they simply work/chew/construct/build with anything you provide them. Knowing whether those items are safe to your pet to provide is the owner's responsibility. The prairie dog will simply use what's there, even if it could harm them. Safety is always up to the owner to think though.
Prairie dogs have no trouble with self-maintenance of their own teeth from birth to death in both wild and captive settings through what is called bruxing behavior if fed an ideal diet and maintained in dry and clean conditions in a proper and safe habitat. Humans mistakenly feel that the prairie dogs need something to chew and incorrectly provide wood for this purpose not understanding the harm they are causing over time. PRAIRIE DOGS ARE NOT BEAVERS!!! (Note that bruxing in some rodent species is a sign of stress, but in prairie dogs it is not and it is actually something you want to see them do often. You notice it most when they are sitting comfortably and relaxed that they grind their teeth together, the more they do this, the better their dental care presuming that they have not caused any dental issues from cage bar chewing, taking a fall that causes an incisor break or other dental trauma, or have been chewing wood).
Risks associated with wood use around prairie dogs:
1) Chewing on the wood can create a dental misalignment/malocclusion which can cause improper dental alignment which can cause problems with alignment throughout their entire mouth which can lead to malnutrition, potential odontoma, and a poor overall bite. If you think about how you chew your own food and what it feels like to bite down and the contact made with your teeth while chewing, then if I asked you to go and repeatedly chew your wooden table leg, it eventually would create problems with your bite and chewing your food creating alignment problems. This is the case when this wood or other industrial item chewing behavior is allowed repeatedly in their living environment. Cardboard boxes, shredded paper, cotton t-shirts, are all safe items to build and work with.
2) They are prone to dental abscess and esophageal abscess from splinters of wood fiber in their gingiva and esophagus. I've also had several cases where their is splintering in the stomach lining that forms into ulcerous masses that cause serious problems, again, some immediately, some later in life.
3) You cannot truly clean wood items in their cage or in your home safely to remove bacteria that can cause them to get sick.
There are lots of rope on the market, dog toys, buy in bulk at the hardware store, some bird toys. Usually pretty safe and as the same with the hanging theory, fun for a PD to pull on, just watch the stress on your cage. Prairie Dogs can pull pretty hard a wire cage with plastic coating, will probably not withstand the pulling..
Lots of Prairie Dog owners like the use of DENIM. Yep, cut up your old jean legs and give it to the PD, they love to pull it around, get inside and nest with it. I have also put the denim on the sides of a cage with a little clip. Denim is a rugged fabric and can be used a long long time. Alway be careful of the strings of anything, but the nice thing about denim is that those sting usually soften and break off instead of making a long string that you might get worried a PD will get caught it. Always use common sense, there is always that exception. Baby Blankets are soft and they love to nest in though, pull them around the cage. Fleece is nice and you can get it by the yard in a fabric store cut up small pieces without any string at all, just make sure you wash it regularly. Of course the old stand by T-shirt is a staple, usually pretty durable as well. Anything stringy I would stay away from.
Nowadays they seem to be doing away with phone books, but if you can find a grocery store that has them or you have some old ones, they are a favorite to make a HUGE mess around the cage for a Prairie Dog. This is fun for them, they love it. The objective here is for them to have things to do, and NOT CHEW ON THE CAGE. The more things they have to play with the better off their teeth are. Though hay will wear the teeth down normally, they need something to do, even if it's making a mess. Nothing is better than a happy Prairie Dog making a mess. It's not dirt, though we'll get to that. Cardboard tubing can be expensive the thin kind at the pet store, unless you're crafty. Hit the carpet stores for their long cardboard tubes, take them home cut them down for a chewable time and they should last longer, because usually they are thicker. The hardware store also has CONCRETE cardboard tubing, that can be used if you are able to pull out the wax center. Those are large enough for a PD to fit in and have lots of fun playing in, those you will also want to cut down, unless your cage is 5 feet wide and you have that much space or when the PD's are out in play time you might want to put one down for hiding, instead of them going into a corner or into your drywall.
A lot of times I also throw in the old cereal box, put a little hay in it or a treat and they have fun going to town in that.
Just remember to check for a coating, make sure that is something safe or that the will not ingest any coatings of any kind.
The use of PVC pipe from a plumbers supply or harware store is what a lot of people use as tunneling for PD's in their cage as well as out for play time and it's THICK, so it's not really something that can be chewed down to a nub in a short period of time. Many people use this, however mine never liked it, that may be the exception to the rule of thumb as I said they all have different personalites, but it is widely used and most PD's have no problem. I've not heard of anything else plastic used other than a Plastic Rodent Wheel but they do chew on those and can wear those down quickly. Metal for a wheel is always better.
We are still adding here, if you have suggestions we'd love to hear them. What works for you? Send us photo's and comments anytime !