By Rick Axelson, DVM
Care & Wellness, Nutrition, Pet Services
What do prairie dogs eat?
In the wild, prairie dogs tend to eat grasses, plants, and leaves. As captive pets, it is essential to feed a diet that approximates what they eat in the wild in order to prevent dietary-related diseases such as obesity, malnutrition, and gastrointestinal disorders, which are among the more common health disorders in captive prairie dogs.
“Similar to rabbits, prairie dogs require a diet high in fiber.”
Similar to rabbits, prairie dogs require a diet high in fiber. Also like rabbits, prairie dogs are “hindgut fermenters”, which means that the digestion of their food occurs by bacterial fermentation in the lower intestines, and which also means that they require a large amount of dietary roughage. Obesity is a common problem in pet prairie dogs due to improper diet and lack of exercise. Feeding mainly timothy or other grass hay, is essential. Avoid feeding large amounts of the richer alfalfa hay, except in the young, growing animal Timothy rabbit pellets or rodent chow (1-2 blocks per week) may be offered in small amounts to the young prairie dog, decreasing or even eliminating this after 1 year of age. Fresh vegetables (especially a VARIETY of dark green leafy vegetables such as parsley, cilantro, kale, collard greens, bok choy, clover, dandelion, carrot tops) should be offered.
How often should I feed my prairie dog?
Food should be freely available all day and night.
Do I need to give my prairie dog any supplements?
Supplements have not been developed for prairie dogs specifically, and no general recommendation can be made regarding supplementing the diet of a normal, healthy prairie dog that is fed as directed above.
Can I offer my prairie dog treats?
Yes, but they should constitute no more than 5% of the daily food intake. Acceptable treats include a variety of fruits. SMALL amounts of various fruits can be offered occasionally. To avoid obesity, dental disease, and fatty liver disease AVOID dog and cat food, nuts, raisins, animal protein, additional carbohydrates, and table scraps.
What are the water requirements of prairie dogs?
Fresh water should be available at all times. Water containers must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water. Most owners choose to offer water through a sipper bottle hung in the cage, as water bowls are easily soiled and are often spilled. Wash and rinse the bottle whenever you change the water (at least daily), and check to make sure the sipper tube has not become clogged with food.