Are prairie dogs suitable as pets?
Prairie dogs as pets are still relatively unknown in this country, but are enjoying increasing popularity. No wonder – the adorable rodents are not only incredibly cute, but also extremely social and trusting towards their owners. Whether they are suitable as pets depends, among other things, on the possibilities of species-appropriate husbandry.
Prairie dogs feel most comfortable in the great outdoors or in the prairies of North America – Shutterstock / Anna Levan
Prairie dogs are rodents that resemble marmots. They are distantly related to the local squirrels and convince us humans with their sweet exterior and lovable interior. The rodents come from the prairies of North America, where the very social animals live in large groups. Animals have also been on the market in Europe for a few years – these are mostly wild-caught animals from America, which are usually caught when they are six to eight weeks old and sold as pets. Of the five species in the prairie dog genus, the black-tailed prairie dog is the most common, both in the wild and as pets.
Prairie dogs as pets – a controversial issue
Species-appropriate – a term that has divided opinions. Many animal rights activists are of the opinion that wild animals such as prairie dogs cannot generally be kept as species-appropriate pets. Among other things, they lack the opportunity to fully pursue their natural behavior because they are in a limited space in apartments, for example. Prairie dogs also live in large groups in the wild – the community is very important to them. Unfortunately, it is hardly possible to keep prairie dogs as pets in large groups. Undoubtedly, the animals are more comfortable in the wild than in captivity.
On the other hand, as pets, prairie dogs can form a very close bond with their owners and then, at best, become absorbed in their role as pets. Important: prairie dogs should never be kept alone without conspecifics – at least two animals are necessary so that the chubby cheeks do not become lonely or die alone. If you decide to keep prairie dogs as pets, you should be aware of the responsibility towards the ball of fur and find out exactly what is important in terms of housing conditions and care.
The right enclosure for prairie dogs
Prairie dogs are diurnal animals and need a lot of attention from you. Although the squirrel relatives spend a lot of time with their fellow squirrels, you as the owner should invest at least three hours a day with the little ones. The enclosure should also be species-appropriate and large enough. In the wild, the pack animals live in so-called towns, which consist of many underground passages and caves. Since this can hardly be recreated in the apartment, keepers must at least ensure that the enclosure has a minimum size of more than one square meter per animal, preferably more.
In addition to a wooden house/shelter, the minimum equipment also includes branches for gnawing, small animal litter, hay, a feeding bowl and water bottle as well as climbing and digging opportunities. The animals should not only be kept in the enclosure, but should also be given enough exercise every day. You should know that rodents, as the name suggests, gnaw, so they nibble on everything that is not rivet and “gnaw-proof”.
Diet of prairie dogs
Prairie dogs primarily feed on various grasses, hay, herbs and dandelions. They also enjoy fresh food such as vegetables and fruit. Find out exactly what the rodents tolerate and what not. Dry food that is low in fat and protein but high in fiber is important for their digestion.
A sufficiently large enclosure with species-appropriate equipment, supervised exercise area, a prairie dog-proof apartment (without dangers such as freely accessible power cables that can be nibbled on), plenty of activity and the right food are the basis for a happy prairie dog life. If you are serious about getting prairie dogs as pets, you should invest your time and love. The wild animals are not suitable for children’s hands – adult supervision should be the responsibility of adults who are well versed in keeping and caring for them. In any case, you have to decide for yourself whether you want to support the wild capture of rodents – prairie dogs are definitely happier in the wild.
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