We Love Prairie Dogs
Captive Prairie Dog Supplies, Habitat Items & Enrichment Ideas
© 2014 by Gena Seaberg, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved
Captive Prairie Dog Supplies, Habitat Items & Enrichment Ideas
© 2014 by Gena Seaberg, Ph.D., 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 cover themselves in non-lint bedding material entirely. This sleeping chamber style 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 the 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. A caretaker must 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 them.
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.
Do NOT use this type of terry cloth material found in bath or kitchen towels in their habitat! Fibers from their digging and chewing 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 choose to use it or other plastic tubing, make sure to monitor it closely to avoid potential cracked or splintered 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 unravel or floss with by tying it to the ceiling of your cage or mounting from a hook on the sidewall of your cage/habitat. Monitor and replace both as necessary if shredded excessively, if compromised with waste, or In the case of the floss, it is too frayed as it can pose a dental or another safety hazard for claws or teeth.
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, except for 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 the potential for dental abscesses 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.
Please routinely monitor the plastics and pieces on any cage or habitat toys for cracking, chipping, and other safety hazards, as this highly industrial species always finds a way to test all items in their environment to the maximum extent possible.
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 time to investigate it before gaining interest to use it. Some will ignore it for a very long time and then suddenly use it, and 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 set up in their habitat to harm their mouth, teeth, or other body parts. Please supervise your prairie dog's use of a wheel to when you are available to watch for overuse. An hour per day is sufficient for enrichment and 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 cannot monitor its use.
Wheels large enough in size with solid bottoms are recommended. Many prairie dogs have broken their legs, suffered foot and spinal cord injuries, or developed spinal problems from wire wheels, those with a central axis in the middle, those with too narrow of a running path, or those too narrow in diameter causing pronounced spinal curvature. Also, being available to supervise the 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 15 inches or 38 centimeters in diameter to prevent the improper curvature of an adult prairie dog's spine over time when it is running.
Below are pictures of what is recommended:
This is a Chin Spin from Quality Cage Crafters. For either mature full-size or pup-sized prairie dogs.
This wheel would only be suitable for small pups ONLY.
The wheel picture below is also acceptable ONLY if you only have one or two prairie dogs that aren't competing for simultaneous use. Note the central axis that could lead to injury if they both try to run on it at once.
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 essential 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 places to reinforce are corners or doors. Below are some examples of different clip types that work well.
Items to always have stored and available for routine care, maintenance, and EMERGENCIES.
Contact us for 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.
Probiotics should always be kept on hand just if your prairie dog receives antibiotics or anesthesia as part of their veterinary visit. Both antibiotics and anesthesia can often 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 duration of any medication received per veterinary instructions and an additional two-week period afterward. There is debate if probiotic use throughout a medication regimen is useful since many antibiotics often kill the majority of intestinal bacteria. However, the purpose in which I recommend it DURING medication use is to keep the digestive tract moving and to stimulate appetite, helping process the medication through their system when they aren't feeling their best, NOT for inoculating the digestive system with fresh flora. Proceed with guided use of BeneBac for an additional two weeks after medication is completed to restore healthy levels of beneficial intestinal flora to help boost their immune system that has 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 such as Amazon or by searching on Google. We prefer the gel tube form, as you see in the pictures above. It is important to note that this product should NOT be misused or administered freely without medical reason or cause. Many prairie dogs are known to develop a tolerance or reliance on interventions. You want to promote their body's natural healing abilities instead of promoting tolerance and dependence on unnecessary interventions if they are healthy. You want their bodies natural healing abilities to work for themselves as much as possible for as long as possible, only intervening if proven there is a justifiable medical reason to do so and we suggest use of this product under case-by-case guidance. http://www.petag.com/products/small-animals
Some prairie dogs with digestive tract issues or pseudo-odontodysplasia (what is also referred to as odontoma in prairie dogs) 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 sure 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. It is highly recommended to only use this product while working under professional guidance/consultation or under the care of a licensed exotic veterinarian.
You can store one or both of these items below, depending on what your prairie dog prefers. 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 Health Recovery 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 Health Recovery Powder above.
Timothy Hay Pellets
Store timothy-based hay pellets in dry, airtight containers for longer shelf life. Below you will note two of the most preferred pellet options at this time. Both have proven and extensive track records with prairie dogs reaching very long-life spans if used as recommended in the Captive Nutrition guidelines. If you find another pellet or item not shown here that you feel should be added, please reach out to let us know. We are open and receptive to any new, healthy item designed for a prairie dog's long-term health.
Organic sweet potato or carrot baby food by Gerber or other company. This is helpful to have on hand for syringe feedings (if used sparingly) and can help if you have a prairie dog with mild constipation. Please be careful in how much is provided as it can cause issues if used excessively and can cause diarrhea and other health issues due to sugar content with this species. Contact us for professional guidance through the contact page if your prairie dog requires syringe feeding or is suspected of symptoms of constipation.
Each person's living situation can vary from home to home and impact their pet prairie dog differently. Each prairie dog's individual characteristics, source, health history, and more are unique from animal to animal. They cannot be easily generalized without the potential for harm and liability to them by doing so. There are numerous variables from case-to-case to consider, so please consider reaching out for individualized consultation to help you keep your specific 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 consultation tips are also available to help prairie dog-proof your zoo, sanctuary, rescue, and more.
Questions? Call today for a free consultation!
Gena Seaberg, Ph.D.
Consultant for Prairie Dog Care Internationally Since 1994