Prairie Dogs - Diseases

What are some of the common diseases of pet prairie dogs?

Common conditions of pet prairie dogs include obesity, dental disease, respiratory disease, heart disease, and parasites. Prairie dogs can also be afflicted with cancer and ringworm.


What are the signs of these diseases?prairie_dogs-diseases-1

"Signs of illness, regardless of the cause, are often non-specific."

Signs of illness, regardless of the cause, are often non-specific. For this reason, ANY deviation from normal in your pet should be immediately evaluated by a veterinarian who treats exotic pets.

An overweight prairie dog may suffer from secondary heart, liver, or pancreatic problems. Obesity results from feeding the wrong diet and from lack of exercise. Obesity is easily prevented and somewhat difficult to treat as prairie dogs often become "hooked" on the diet which predisposed them to obesity. See the Prairie Dogs-feeding handout.

Parasites may be seen in and on prairie dogs. These include fleas, ticks, and various intestinal parasites (worms and protozoa such as coccidia.) Prairie dogs bred in captivity have fewer parasite problems than wild-caught animals. A thorough veterinary examination, including microscopic analysis of the feces and prophylactic deworming, are critical upon purchase of your new pet.

"Prairie dogs bred in captivity have fewer parasite problems than wild-caught animals."

prairie_dogs-diseases-2Fleas can carry plague; prairie dogs should be treated for fleas before purchase!

Wild-caught prairie dogs can harbor the intestinal parasite Balisascaris procyonis, which can be transmitted to other pets and people. There is currently no known effective treatment for this parasite.

Dental disease can occur from overgrown teeth or from malocclusion of the teeth. Damage to the teeth can result from trauma, chewing on the cage, or feeding the improper diet (one too low in fibrous grass hay.) Signs of dental disease can include decreased appetite, weight loss, and excessive salivation from the mouth. Treatment, which usually necessitates filing the teeth under anesthesia, is usually curative if done in time. The problem may recur.

Respiratory disease may be secondary to obesity, or may be the result of an infection with bacteria or fungi, or a tumor in the chest or lungs. Diagnosis is through radiography, ultrasonography, or cultures of discharges from the respiratory system when indicated. Treatment depends upon the cause, but the prognosis is always guarded as many of these cases are diagnosed later in the course of the disease.prairie_dogs-diseases-3

As with respiratory disease, cardiac disease is also seen in prairie dogs. Dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart disease also seen in people, dogs, and cats, occurs in prairie dogs. Clinical signs include difficulty breathing, weight loss, and lack of appetite. Diagnosis is the same as for respiratory disease. Treatment using cardiac medications can be attempted. As with respiratory disease, the prognosis is always guarded as many of these cases are diagnosed later in the course of the disease.

Monkey pox, which is transmissible to people, was reported in some prairie dogs in 2003. Due to an outbreak of monkey pox in the USA, a joint order was issued that banned the import of several African rodents and also the transport, sale or release of pet prairie dogs.


How can I tell if my prairie dog is sick?

Although symptoms of certain diseases may be relatively specific, most of the common signs are vague and non-specific. Common non-specific signs include anorexia (lack of appetite) and lethargy, which can be seen with many diseases. Therefore, ANY deviation from normal should be a cause for concern, and you should take your prairie dog to your veterinarian for an immediate evaluation.


How are prairie dog diseases diagnosed?prairie_dogs-diseases-4

Sometimes the history and physical examination will give the veterinarian clues as to the underlying problem (obesity, dental disease.) Often, diagnostic testing (fecal examination for parasites, aspiration of lumps and bumps to check for abscesses and cancers, X-rays and blood tests to determine if organ disease is present) must be done. Due to the nature of prairie dogs, most testing is done under gas (usually isoflurane) anesthesia.

"History and physical examination will give the veterinarian clues as to the underlying problem"


How are prairie dog diseases treated?

Diseases related to diet are treated with dietary correction. Truly sick pets may require hospitalization with force-feeding and fluid administration. Bacterial and parasitic diseases are treated with the appropriate medication. Prairie dogs with serious disorders of the internal organs are treated with supportive therapy, including drug therapy as indicated. Unfortunately, many do not survive due to the advanced stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis.

This client information sheet is based on material written by: Rick Axelson, DVM

© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

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Kimberly Crest Veterinary Hospital
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