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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

Routine Health Care of Prairie Dogs

By Katherine E. Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian) ; Kenneth R. Boschert, DVM, DACLAM, Associate Director, Division of Comparative Medicine, Washington University

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A proper enclosure and a suitable diet will help maintain your prairie dog’s health. Routine visits to the veterinarian can also help assure that your pet is in good condition.

Signs of Illness

The prairie dog’s overall appearance and behavior, particularly in relation to its cage mates, should be noted. Early signs of illness involve changes in the color, consistency, odor, and amount of urine and feces (firm pellets are normal). The hind end should be checked for stains that might indicate diarrhea, and females should be checked for vaginal discharges. The fur and skin should be examined for loss of hair, fight wounds or other trauma, fleas or mites, and elasticity for evidence of dehydration. If you gently pinch the skin, it should return to normal quickly; if not, your animal is dehydrated. Feet should be examined for sores and overgrown or broken nails. The body temperature of a healthy prairie dog is normally 96 to 102°F (35 to 39°C). If you notice any of these signs of illness, or if your prairie dog shows a lack of activity or responsiveness, you should contact your veterinarian.

A regular veterinary checkup will help keep your pet healthy. The veterinarian will check the mouth for overgrown teeth or impacted cheek pouches (food tightly wedged in the cheek pouches). Ears should be examined for discharges or inflammation and eyes for discharges or other evidence of illness. A sample of fecal pellets may be requested by your veterinarian in order to test for the presence of parasites or bacteria. Using a stethoscope designed for small animals, your veterinarian can listen to the heart and lungs. Spaying females and neutering males will help prevent related health problems.

Giving Medication

Medicines can be given to prairie dogs by mouth and by injection. Certain antibiotics can cause an imbalance in the prairie dog’s naturally occurring intestinal bacteria, which can rapidly lead to blood poisoning and other serious problems as bacteria break down. Supplemental Lactobacillus in the diet may help offset the adverse effects of longterm use of antibiotics. Although feeding Lactobacillus in the form of yogurt with active cultures is often recommended to help reestablish normal bacterial flora, the active cultures generally do not survive in the digestive tract. Instead, it may be beneficial to use probiotics with Lactobacillus. Several are readily available and can be added to the food or water. Follow your veterinarian’s advice as to what, if any, supplements to use in connection with antibiotic treatment. Medications or other fluids given by mouth can be given using an eyedropper. If necessary, a veterinarian can use a stomach tube to deliver medication directly into the stomach.

It may be necessary to give your pet anesthesia if intravenous injections or blood collection is necessary. Smaller amounts of blood can be collected by doing a toenail clip or puncturing a footpad or the outside of the ear.

Dehydration may occur with diarrhea or other illnesses. Your veterinarian will be able to determine the appropriate fluid treatment that should be used based on your pet’s condition.