Prairie dogs have been sold in the exotic pet trade for several decades; however, they are not your most commonly found exotic pet. Some capturers purely remove both adult and baby prairie dogs in excessive numbers from the wild for the sake of profit from the pet trade or to function as feeder specimens to raptor and reptile programs but do little to nothing toward conservation or preservation of this keystone species. Other capturers/translocators utilize various methods to remove baby prairie dogs from their burrows for limited sale in the pet trade while aiding in conservation efforts through wild-to-wild relocations and translocation projects to move adults to live elsewhere where they are wanted and protected for future colony growth. The need to remove unwanted, wild prairie dogs from public and private land where they are slated to be destroyed, while at the same time having enough protected suitable land available to sustain them and their future population growth and need for resources to maintain them over time presents a challenging predicament to balance. Having a limited pet trade by providing only LIMITED numbers of pups as pets helps in some instances to provide the balance needed to keep the population at wild release sites of suitable land manageable and capable for future growth and expansion without causing them harm by exhausting resources required for them to thrive. Appropriate and sustainable land is always in short supply for prairie dogs involved in relocation/translocation efforts. It is a continual struggle to find land and landowners that value this species and want to protect them. Prairie dogs are continually being displaced as pests or are viewed as being in the way of land development daily and are under constant threat. This situation has created a double-edged sword for the prairie dog and those people that help them. While many people may disagree with prairie dogs being removed from their homes in the wild, the threat of their extinction is a genuine possibility without the help of relocation/translocation providers, and there is no perfect solution. Although it isn't our preference, and we want all prairie dogs to be forever free in the wild, minimal numbers allowed in the pet trade provides a way to know that the species could still survive because overpopulation in the wild would be controlled or at least be somewhat managed to prevent their complete extermination as there is simply not enough suitable, dedicated land to absorb all unwanted or competing prairie dog populations when combined with humans need to develop land and expand removing them from their land and home.
Prairie dogs are very social creatures and can make a good pet for the right person that has done their due diligence and research and has the right home environment to help them thrive. However, due to their complex nature as a pet, some remain unsold sitting for extended periods unclaimed in pet shops in need of the love and attention they deserve. In pet shops, prairie dogs live in small confined cages, small because they were meant to temporarily house pups, not adult prairie dogs. With little to no calm and consistent social interaction, prairie dogs are left to spend their days with a pet shop owner that never intended to keep them permanently and isn't knowledgeable about their long-term needs. Over time, some pet shop owners turn to rescues for help in absorbing some of these adolescent or adult prairie dogs as they are now not as easy to sell as a pet due to the lack of daily interaction, making them less handleable by the general public and trickier to gentle down and sell.
Many prairie dogs come into rescue abused or neglected by previous owners. It is important to note that the number of unclaimed prairie dogs or those placed in prairie dog rescue situations does not amount to or compare to the number of more routinely kept domesticated pet species found at larger entities such as the Humane Society. Many people inaccurately believe that the amount of unwanted and rescue exotics is enormous. This is certainly NOT the case with prairie dogs. The amount of prairie dogs in a rescue situation is minimal by comparison to the ratio of dogs, cats, and other domesticated species at more prominent, public facilities. Thankfully, many people have done their homework before committing to this unique and special pet's particular needs.
One case of abuse, in particular, relates to one prairie dog that came into rescue that could only be out of the cage for a few minutes at a time before he would bite. He gave no warnings with his body language and didn't chirp; he gave no behavioral cues similar to what is read in books about prairie dogs as pets. Later, we found out that when this prairie dog had bitten people as a pup, he was thrown, thus making him fearful and on alert at all times. He was not held and did not have any of the recommended care in the pet section of this website. His food consisted of parrot mix (seeds and nuts) with no hay of any kind. The sad part was he wanted to be loved and enjoyed being pet through the cage bars. However, let him out, and he was fearful and distrustful of everything around him and would bite out of fear, perpetuating this cycle. It took years to work with this little prairie dog. There are worse stories to be told about abused prairie dogs that have come into rescue situations that have been savagely burned, electrocuted, or tortured. Still, the fact of the matter is that it happens and is not uncommon regardless of what species of animal we are talking about. Because of this special animal's social nature, this sort of abuse and neglect affects them long-term and constant work must be done to gain their trust again. Prairie dogs aren't just thrown into rescue and left to rot in a bigger cage. Prairie dog rescuers are dedicated, loving individuals that take time to help each prairie dog uniquely recover from past trauma to meet their long-term social and behavioral needs.
Rescued prairie dogs also often come in with terrible dietary habits, fed regular canine dog food, seeds, nuts, parrot mixes, all kinds of fruits, and sugary treats. Pelleted prairie dog food in the pet trade is not nutritionally balanced or appropriate to function as a complete diet for a pet prairie dog but is geared as a treat or dietary supplement, not a staple. Trying to convert a prairie dog's diet safely and responsibly for each one's unique needs can be a very slow and gradual process. They have special dietary requirements, and the process can take months to switch them over to a diet that best meets their needs for long-term health. You can't just immediately change their diet because doing so can cause an intestinal blockage, lack of appetite, and the possibility that their digestive system will shut down.
Unique case-by-case histories of past health, habitat, nutrition, and husbandry conditions that also respect each prairie dog uniquely are all just a part of what a prairie dog rescue takes into consideration for those under their care. Then you add that there are MANY prairie dogs to care for, not only two or four in a more easily manageable pet care situation.
Prairie dogs have also come into rescue from translocation/relocation efforts that have survived from being poisoned, shot, or have injuries but had to be removed before their land was due to be destroyed for development projects. These prairie dogs come into rescue and/or a relocators facility and, due to their individual health concerns, need to stay at the rescue for the remainder of their lives. These animals are in need of constant vet care or have special care needs, some requiring particular ongoing treatment and medications. What would it be like to see a prairie dog with half of his face or limbs missing? Imagine if you will the special care that a prairie dog in this condition would need over time to live a comfortable and quality life. Imagine the kind of individual that would take on such a task. Need I say more? These are the unsung heroes, the rescuers that need our help and support.
The price of taking care of all these prairie dogs is not cheap. Any type of rescue spends hundreds and even thousands of dollars annually, primarily out of pocket, unless the rescue is a huge organization with lots of charitable support and recognition. Most prairie dog rescues are not large organizations since they typically maintain only prairie dogs and provide specialized, attentive care. Many prairie dog-specific rescues are not opened to the public because of the prairie dog's nature as a prey species and out of respect for their needs.
Costs for caging and caging maintenance for the rescue are often high, with several different types of cages needed for various needs, including their initial intake and quarantine and what becomes their normal caging habitat once out of their initial intake/quarantine period. Some rescues go a different route that is no less expensive by building large prairie dog-proof, safe habitat enclosures without cages that cost lots of money in construction materials to build.
Expenses for travel and gas to retrieve a prairie dog from an abusive or neglectful owner are also not uncommon and can be high for a rescue to absorb. Sometimes a rescuer has to pay to save an unwanted prairie dog from a bad situation. New owners that decide they no longer are able to keep their prairie dog, for whatever reason, and often wish to try and recover some of the costs from the rescuer that they initially paid for the prairie dog and its cage or habitat set up or when vet bills for an ailing prairie dog became unmanageable. The initial costs the pet owner tries to recoup often include the price they paid to obtain their pet prairie dog, their caging and materials, and any veterinary costs. The owner sometimes asks for a good portion of their expenses back to help a troubled relationship when one family member wanted the pet prairie dog. The rest of the family did not appreciate the costs of getting that wonderful but demanding and unique pet. Many owners know that a rescue organization will often be willing to pay the fee to get the prairie dog out of a home where they are no longer wanted, abused, neglected, or kept in poor conditions. Depending on the situation, these costs could be high. Still, it is not considered a selling or buying action by the pet owner or rescue; if this was a life-threatening, abusive situation for the prairie dog, this would be a necessary part of being a rescuer. In dealings with cats and dogs, rescues must pay a fee to get animals out of a shelter that might be on the euthanizing list; they do not release animals for free.
Much time and dedication is put into helping the prairie dogs in any rescue situation. The costs mount up because of long-term care of some who find themselves unable to be placed or are in long-term palliative care situations.
Here is a list of some of the types of expenses rescues pay on an ongoing basis:
Includes costs for the geriatric, injured and medically challenged prairie dogs that require constant and ongoing care.
Annual examinations and x-rays for dental issues.
Rescues will spay and neuter prairie dogs when they come in if the procedure was not completed before their intake.
Rescues will have a vet perform labs and fecal exams to check for parasites and abnormal blood values.
Vet cost is usually the most considerable expense.
Sweet potatoes, carrots, greens, fresh grasses, and more.
Fresh Timothy Hay and other grass hays.
Cages for intake/quarantine and to serve as their daily habitat.
Bedding, litter, toys, exercise wheels, beds, bowls, water bottles, and other related items.
Cage clips, J-clip clamps, J-clips
Transport and temporary crating for veterinary trips and prairie dog intake.
Barley grass, wheatgrass, Critical Care, Critter Be Better, BeneBac, prairie dog-related treats, and other emergency supplies
Monthly heating and air conditioning costs
Special lighting and ventilation systems
Depending on the nature of their enclosures, full-spectrum lighting setups, periodic humidifiers, and air purification systems.
Construction materials and tools to repair cages, habitats, and enclosures.