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Special Considerations for Prairie Dogs

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

In June 2003, after pet prairie dogs were involved in an outbreak of monkeypox disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services issued a joint order that banned the transport, sale, or release of pet prairie dogs. On November 4, 2003, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration issued a joint Interim Final Rule that makes this order permanent and includes some new restrictions. The new order specifically bans the capture of wild prairie dogs, as well as the trade of prairie dogs within states and between states. In short, it is illegal to transport, sell, capture, release, or relocate any prairie dog, even one that may be a healthy pet.

If you are moving to a new home and moving a pet prairie dog with you within the US, you must get permission from the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the Food and Drug Administration (see FDA and CDC Contact Information). In most cases, this permission is given. However, it should be noted that some states do not allow prairie dogs as pets. The Center for Veterinary Medicine can provide you with the contact information of the state veterinarian for your state and that veterinarian will be able to tell you if prairie dogs are allowed.

The only time you can transport your prairie dog without permission is if it requires veterinary care due to illness or for a checkup, or if you are taking it to a shelter to be euthanized. If your prairie dog becomes ill, you should contact your veterinarian in advance to be sure they can provide care for your pet and to prepare for its arrival. They will want to reduce any potential risk to themselves as well as waiting room patients. To transport your ill prairie dog, you should wear heavy gloves and long sleeves as protection against scratches, bites, or any body fluids. The animal should be contained securely in a portable cage or box during transport.

If your veterinarian determines that your prairie dog has monkeypox or any other disease that can be transmitted to humans, you should clean and disinfect anything that came into contact with the animal, including the area of the vehicle in which it was transported, the gloves and clothing worn when handling the animal, and its housing environment at your home. A suitable disinfectant can be created by adding ¼ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. If you want to discard the items, they should be disinfected and placed in a sealed plastic bag before being thrown away.

In general, prairie dogs should be handled with utmost care and housed and maintained separately from other wild rodent species. There is great potential for crossover of infectious diseases to this very susceptible host.

As with any animal that has the potential for transmitting diseases to humans, hands should be washed and disinfected before and after handling your pet and items in its environment.

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