The disadvantages of keeping prairie dogs as pets far outweigh the advantages. But the cuteness factor of these unique creatures keep the pet trade moving along with more and more people wanting prairie dogs as pets. Before you take on one of these animals into your care, you should weigh all of the factors of ownership so there will be no surprises once the prairie dog is in your home.
Advantages Without a doubt, the cuteness and uniqueness factors of the prairie dog are what interest people the most.
Not very many people have prairie dogs so some individuals might get the thrill of having the only prairie dog or dogs in the neighborhood. Their sweet faces and rounded bodies are adorable which attract many to wanting to own one of these animals. Their compact size also means they don’t take up a lot of space unlike larger animals such as dogs. Besides their constant need for companionship, care for the prairie dog is minimal. They require a clean cage, food and water, and toys for play and exercise. They can be litter box trained and can be fed a high-quality rabbit pellet along with other vegetation.
Disadvantages Some prairie dogs do adapt to captivity but not very often. They can become friendly and sociable with humans but when they don’t bond with their owner, they can become stressed and bite. Because these are social creatures, they require a lot of attention from their owner. When left alone, prairie dogs can become depressed leading to behavioral problems. When prairie dogs are handled properly when young, they can socialize and become unique pets. However, many of these animals have been taken from their wild habitat and do not adjust to captivity.
This causes many behavior issues such as depression and biting. Because prairie dogs chew, they can escape many types of cages and when loose in the house, they can cause quite a bit of damage. Prairie dogs can also carry diseases. An outbreak of monkeypox was noted in pet prairie dogs in 2003. Plague can also be transmitted to humans through prairie dogs. The chance of this occurring is low however; cases of human plague have been reported to the CDC as a result of contact with prairie dogs. Finding a veterinarian that is knowledgeable with these animals can be difficult.
If an owner is faced with a sick prairie dog, they may not have anyone who can diagnose the problem until it is too late. One of the biggest disadvantages of owning prairie dogs is the legality issue. Following the reported cases of monkeypox in 2003, laws were specifically made to ban the capture of wild prairie dogs and restrict the travel of existing captive prairie dogs. The new laws have made it illegal to move prairie dogs from one state to another or even within a state. Some states have made it illegal to own these animals. If you are planning on relocating, you have to receive special permission to do so.
The law does allow owners to transport prairie dogs only in the case of seeking veterinary care or movement to a shelter to be euthanized. Overall, prairie dogs are not the best choices for pets. They should not be owned by someone who does not have the time to devote to their care and more importantly, they should not be purchased for children. The numbers of prairie dogs in the wild have steadily been declining in recent years. Many believe that should the promotion of prairie dogs as pets continue, their future could end up like the black-footed ferret – an animal which has reached near extinction in the wild.