Prairie Dogs: Housing

By Gregory Rich, DVM; Rick Axelson, DVM

What type of cage does my prairie dog require?

Prairie dogs should be housed in as large a cage as is possible, as they require room to move around and explore, as well as adequate substrate for digging and burying. The biggest cage you can afford is probably too small.

"The biggest cage you can afford is probably too small."

Space must be allowed for exercise. Prairie dogs do not need to climb, so shelves and other climbing equipment are not recommended. Prairie dogs love to chew, so they should not be housed in wooden cages. Cages made of stainless steel or plexiglass are preferred. To prevent odor buildup and respiratory disease, at least one (and preferable all) sides of the cage should have openings to allow adequate ventilation.

Cage sides should be high because prairie dogs love to dig and burrow. They will often dig and hide under cage bedding. Therefore, they can be messy as the bedding is flung around. Preferred bedding materials include wood shavings, commercial pellets, or shredded/recycled paper. The bedding should be deep enough to allow for adequate digging. Avoid sand, mud, and cedar shavings (cedar fumes may be toxic). Provide tunnels, dark areas, and boxes to allow for exploration. The floor of the cage can be solid or it can be wire, with an under-the-cage pan to allow for bedding and excrement accumulation.

Due to their reputation as curious creatures and escape artists, prairie dogs should be housed in a cage that can be securely closed and locked. The cage must be escape-proof.

The preferred temperature for prairie dogs is about 70°F (21°C) with about 30-70% humidity. Extremes in temperature should be avoided. High temperatures may cause heat stroke, and cold temperatures may cause sluggish behavior (called pseudo-hibernation). A stress-free environment is preferred by prairie dogs. Place the cage away from inquisitive cats and hunting breed dogs. Young children should only be allowed to play with your prairie dog under close supervision.

Does my prairie dog need bedding in his cage?

Prairie dogs like to hide. Bedding provides a hiding place and allows for a cleaner cage. Bedding should be changed at least weekly and preferably more often as waste material accumulates. Clean up all fecal matter and urine daily, as it accumulates, to help maintain a hygienic environment.

What else do I need in the cage?

"Supervised exercise, out of the cage, should be provided daily."

As mentioned, hiding places (nest boxes, tunnels, etc.) mimic the outside environment and let prairie dogs exhibit normal behavior. Toys are not needed, but blocks of untreated wood or non-toxic material should be provided for your prairie dog to chew. Your prairie dog will appreciate daily supervised exercise outside of their cage. Be careful, though! Prairie dogs are very fast and can fit under most types of heavy furniture.

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