Medications and topical treatments with products of all types with prairie dogs and Richardson Ground Squirrels (RGS) should generally be avoided unless there are absolutely no other conservative options available and all corrective measures relating to environment, habitat, and diet have been remedied and the caretaker is following all best practices for their pet. Use of medications and any topical products should only be used if all other methods have been exhausted and it is proven necessary. These products can stress their digestive tract movement and function, and frequent and repeated use also can tax other body systems. Prevention measures are most strongly recommended when it comes to exposure to internal and external parasites. Prevention by minimizing exposure risk can keep your pet healthy from internal and external parasites that they can acquire from outdoor settings or what other pets or humans bring inside from the outdoors. Every bit of prevention combined with the rare and conservative application of medications or other interventions can help your prairie dog or RGS live its longest lifespan.
Prevention measures consider the outdoors -
Start with the scheduled periodic treatment of the surrounding perimeter of your home, and various structures on your property, including all outdoor enclosures you might utilize at a safe distance with dust/powders that are recommended and in consultation with a specialist from pest control. Ensure that the application area is buffered by a safe distance away from any enclosure and does not come through the soil if it rains. This kind of strategy is used in the wild to help save colonies that may have been impacted by fleas that yersinia pestis, or plague may infect. You can put yourself on a schedule to do this as directed for your area while considering how rain and the elements can impact the treatment schedule.
Partner this outdoor ground treatment with the traditional application of flea, tick, and mite treatment on all other species that are in and out of your home and anything that might bring in pests that may be transmitted to your prairie dogs or RGS. If these initial measures of periodically scheduled dusting/spraying in safe distance perimeters around buildings and your home are combined with treatment of other pets that come in and out of your house, prove not ultimately to remedy the problem, then move to the following steps below if you’re sure you’ve observed a flea, tick, or mite on your prairie dog or RGS.
Conservative next steps if you’ve confirmed you’ve found a flea, tick, or mite on your prairie dog or RGS –
Assuming that flea, tick, or mite infestations would be very rare in occurrence or number if outdoor prevention measures are acted upon diligently, usually next steps aren’t necessary. Following a conservative stepped approach, and only if you have visually seen a flea, mite, or tick on your prairie dog or RGS, the first step would be to use a flea comb to remove individual fleas as they should be very low in number if all prevention measures are followed. More about mites and ticks can be found below. If the number of external parasites cannot be removed by flea combing alone, my recommendations for next steps would be to provide a bath in your unstopped/unplugged kitchen sink. (More can be found about proper bathing techniques on this website.)
Prepare for bathing in advance by following the steps below before touching your prairie dog or RGS. Have everything prepared and next to your kitchen sink before starting the bath to minimize stress to the prairie dog/RGS. Use a very mild infant/baby shampoo for sensitive skin and a flea comb and give the suspected prairie dogs or RGS a bath to flush the flea out, noting that fleas often migrate to their groin, neck, and armpit areas or surrounding their tail. When giving a bath, caretakers should ensure the room is warm (about 21 degrees Celsius, 70-72 degrees Fahrenheit) and draft-free. Have two warmed towels from the dryer ready, one for immediate drying and another placed in a pet carrier next to the sink with its door open to receive them for them to finish drying themselves completely while you attend to replacing all bedding and cleaning their cage with clean items that have had no parasite exposure. Have warm water running at a slow stream in an unplugged kitchen sink so that if they defecate, they will not be soaking in their fecal matter, and the fecal matter can easily wash down the drain. When bathing, make sure only to use a minimal dime-sized drop of baby shampoo and no more. Wet the prairie dog/RGS being careful to avoid eyes, nose, ears, and face overall. After wetting the prairie dog, apply the shampoo and begin to form a lather, concentrating on the areas noted. Fleas and other external parasites will often migrate from the water and soap and can be visually seen and removed by hand. I typically have a glass of water next to the sink and will squish and place any fleas or other parasites in the glass of water until I’m finished bathing. Once fleas are removed, use the small stream of fresh warm water from the faucet to rinse the shampoo entirely from their fur and begin to dry them, first using the warmed towel next to you, then place them in the crate with the other warmed towel to finish drying themselves.
A note about baths: Prairie dogs/RGS should not routinely be given baths. Bathing too frequently strips their fur of natural oils, which should be avoided. For health reasons, do not compensate by feeding them items or applying topical products that contain extra oils to make up for their baths. This will cause long-term health problems such as fatty tumors or sebaceous cysts if the oil and fat content in food is too high. Baths should only be administered a couple of times per year at most and only if necessary due to accidental waste getting on their fur or trying to flush out a potential flea. You can give them a quick wipe down without a bath periodically with sensitive skin non-fragranced baby wipe, but please keep this to a minimum. Be careful not to rub their skin excessively when using this method to clean them.
More about some external parasites –
Demodex mites and other mites can be difficult to detect but can look like a powdery substance to the naked eye, and often, if the caretaker doesn’t know what they are looking for, they miss them. They like to inhabit the same areas noted about fleas above, but they also love their ears! With mites and ticks, the same flea, mite, and tick prevention techniques above can work well, but typically mites can be challenging to resolve and may require veterinary intervention.
It is worth noting that parasites can be brought in through hay, so it is important to check your hay supply routinely for mites and other parasites. Many hay suppliers will replace contaminated hay if you contact them with photographic proof of contamination.
If your prairie dogs/RGS acquire lice, please note that lice are species-specific and pose no threat to humans. They should, however, be treated, and veterinary treatment is recommended in those instances.
If you suspect a tick, take your prairie dog/RGS to a licensed exotic veterinarian for safe and proper removal, as removing them in this very dexterous and mobile exotic pet is more complicated.
PREVENTION IS KEY, BUT follow these steps if fleas and parasites are extensive and have infested your home, furniture, carpet, etc.
Suppose you find that fleas and other parasites are prolific in your home, and you’ve treated all of your animals and have done the steps above for your prairie dogs/RGS. In that case, treating all floors, crevices, carpets, rugs, furniture, beds, and any fabrics that could be compromised in your home is recommended. However, first, ensure that the prairie dogs/RGS are moved into a prairie dog-proof parasite-free room that can be closed off from the rest of the home you are treating for at least 72 hours (maybe longer, depending on the product you utilize – contact us if you need guidance). Some products to help kill fleas and other parasites would be diatomaceous earth powder or other pyrethrin flea powders; links are provided below.
Please apply the product according to the instructions and allow at least 48 hours for the product to take effect, longer if instructions dictate. After the recommended treatment period, THOROUGHLY AND COMPLETELY wash and rinse off the product and all residue from ALL SURFACES AND FABRIC areas you treated using soap and water, using a carpet and upholstery shampooer where appropriate. Be sure to DOUBLE RINSE all areas. YOUR ATTENTION TO DETAIL MATTERS FOR YOUR PRAIRIE DOGS/RGS HEALTH AND SAFETY.
The reason for being so thorough in your cleaning of walls, carpets, floors, rugs, etc., and all surfaces in the treatment areas is because of the industrious colony-building nature of the prairie dogs or RGS as they are much different than most pets where they put their mouths on your baseboards, doors, walls, furniture, carpet, and household items more than other any pets and risk of accidental ingestion is quite high. It is very important to take your time to clean and double rinse all treated areas they would come into contact with carefully and thoroughly.
If you choose to have a pest control company come out to “bomb” your home, it would be necessary to take the prairie dogs/RGS to temporary housing until the whole house can be cleaned, as described above. Skipping these steps can result in sickness to your pets as, again; they interact with household items more intensively than most species.
Once all is clean and dry, you can put the prairie dogs and RGS back in their normal living area.
If you’ve exhausted all prevention and self-help methods above –
If you’ve exhausted all prevention and self-help methods noted above and still have an external parasite issue, the best treatment for fleas, ticks, lice, and mites (demodex included) is to have your veterinarian administer ivermectin based on weight. Dilution, dosage, and treatment protocol can be obtained by having your veterinarian contact Gena Seaberg directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 425-870-1729.
Only use as an ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT if you’ve done all that has been referenced above -
Suppose you choose to use flea and tick products. In that case, they must be approached very carefully with prairie dogs/RGS due to their extensive grooming behaviors, grass-based diet, and digestive tract processes that make chemical use hard on their system. The residual components left on their coat and skin from using sprays, dips, and powder types of flea products means that some residue lingers that they can ingest while grooming themselves or others. Depending on the level of application and how much is ingested, ingestion levels can become toxic if not used properly, used too often, or if using too strong of a product.
If someone must use a product on this species, conservative application of only PYRETHRIN-based products is acceptable. DO NOT USE PERMETHRIN (a synthetic higher in toxicity) products on either prairie dogs or RGS. One product to consider would be a conservative application of Zodiac Flea and Tick Spray for Dogs, Cats, Puppies, and Kittens which can be found at the link below. Dilute it with water, spray it on damp skin, then let the prairie dog/RGD dry itself with towels in a warm, draft-free room. It is strongly recommended to have your veterinarian treat your prairie dog or RGS to get accurate dosages based on weight.
The use of DAWN dish soap should be AVOIDED with prairie dogs and RGS when bathing them. Why? What is the number one thing this brand is famous for doing? Combating oil and grease! If one remembers the first use of this product with animals, it was for extreme oil spill cases in the Gulf of Mexico, where the petroleum product was killing many species of animals due to suffocation from being entirely coated in oil. Dawn is a very extreme cleaning agent to break through grease; its extreme nature is far too excessive for use in species that are herbivores and eat grass-based diets that don’t produce a lot of natural emollients to the skin. Dawn will completely strip all essential oils from your prairie dogs’ or RGS’s skin and coat. This is why milder, sensitive-skin infant/baby shampoos are recommended instead, and not using something so powerful that can have a more significant negative impact on skin and coat causing additional issues for your pet.
While this product has been used and recommended by many wildlife rehabbers over the years, it may be acceptable in some species where oils and fats are highly prevalent in daily diet, but it causes a host of issues in those species that are grass-based in their nutrition and digestive tract processes.
SECOND IMPORTANT WORD OF CAUTION
Many wildlife rehabbers swear by the use of Revolution for purposes of external parasite treatment in many species. It is important to note that many prairie dogs and RGS have had adverse reactions to Revolution and many other kitten/puppy flea prevention/treatment products. This is why the treatment protocol above is recommended above to avoid a potential reaction.
INTERNAL PARASITES – AGAIN, PREVENTION IS KEY
Internal parasite exposure is relatively easy to prevent, keeping potential veterinary costs down, by keeping your prairie dog or RGS indoors to run in prairie dog-proofed areas of your home where they are not exposed to unknown contaminants they could encounter outdoors by putting things in their mouth.
Many caretakers don’t consider that this species works and puts its mouth on many things, and because you have no idea what may have come into contact with the grass in your yard, the park, or other areas, the internal parasite risk increases when they are taken outdoors and investigate and “taste” things. You don’t know if a sick animal, infected insect, or sick animal waste residue is on what they are interacting with and potentially ingesting that can make them ill. Keeping them in the safety of their indoor colony where things are known, prairie dog-proofed, and able to be safely explored keeps vet costs down and helps with a long lifespan from not getting them sick unknowingly.
Plus, there are many plants that, while they can eat them, there may be toxic compounds that can make them sick later, where you aren’t sure of exactly what they may have ingested, making their treatment tricky.
If you suspect that your prairie dogs/RGS may have ingested something to cause an internal parasite or that potentially contains a toxic compound, please take your prairie dogs/RGS to the veterinarian for treatment. Fecal flots, cultures (skin, fur, sinus smear, etc.), or blood panels can help establish if there are any treatable concerns and can help also identify the best treatment path.
If you are proactive in taking outdoor and other pet prevention measures noted here to lower potential exposure by keeping your prairie dog/RGS indoors to minimize exposure risk, external and internal parasites should be a rare problem, and it is key in keeping this species much healthier and veterinary costs minimal.