Prairie Dogs: Feeding

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

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 these animals eat in the wild, in order to prevent dietary-related diseases such as obesity, malnutrition, and gastrointestinal disorders. Diet-associated conditions are the most 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 that is 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 intestinal tract. Hindgut fermentation means that these pets require a large amount of dietary roughage for the bacteria in the intestinal tract to work on.

Obesity is a common problem in pet prairie dogs, due to improper diet and lack of exercise. Feeding Timothy or other grass hay is essential. Avoid feeding large amounts of richer alfalfa hay, except in the young, growing animal. Alfalfa should be eliminated after one year of age. Timothy-based rabbit pellets or rodent chow (one to two blocks per week) may be offered in small amounts to the young prairie dog. Fresh vegetables (a variety of dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, parsley, cilantro, collard greens, bok choy, clover, dandelion, and carrot tops) should be offered on a limited basis as a treat.

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. 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 treats should constitute no more than 5% of the daily food intake. Acceptable treats include a variety of vegetables. Small amounts of various fruits can be offered one to two times a week. To avoid obesity, dental disease, and fatty liver disease, avoid feeding 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 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.

Be sure to discuss the diet of your prairie dog wth a veterinarian familiar with exotic animals.

Related Articles