When feeding a prairie dog, it seems as if there’s two considerations: can they feed themselves, and is what I have to feed them available on the prairie?
This means that, as a rule of thumb, they should not be eating fruit, and, as a ground squirrel (not a tree squirrel), they should not be eating nuts or seeds. They might eat sweet potatoes (without the skins), baby carrots, squashes, or other similar vegetables. Whether or not you feed them this depends on whether you want to. It’s optional. Keep reading.
The most important thing that your prairie dog can eat, at any age, is Timothy hay. As a pup, 80% of their diet should be this. As an adult, they should get as much as they can eat. One of the more important things that you can learn about this, is that, prairie dogs, who are “selectively herbivorous” in nature, will never eat all of the hay. In fact, they will only eat the parts of it that they detect to be of optimal nutrition, and will leave the rest. This means that the hay should be replaced with new hay -every day-. Extra hay in the cage doesn’t mean that they’re not starving. You also might be tempted to simply add new hay to the cage without removing the old stuff. While this might be fine for more mature dogs, be aware that old hay presents the risk of mold, which can be very toxic to pups.
Make sure that, whatever you give your dog (hay, or hay-like foods such as pellets), check that it is not based off of alfalfa (commonly found in many rabbit foods) which is too high in protein content. Prairie dogs thrive on “grass” types of hay. Alfalfa is -not- a grass hay but is a legume hay and far too rich (high protein levels) and, over time, will cause them harm. All pellets, cubes, vegetables, and such should be considered supplemental feed, while quality grass hay is considered their primary diet.
All of this means nothing if the PD can not feed itself (if it is less than six to eight weeks old and hasn’t successfully transitioned to a solid diet). You will need to hand-feed it with a syringe. Timing and amounts per feeding will vary case by case, and you should seek independent consultation to make sure you have the proper instruction for your pup. Syringe feedings will consist primarily of goat’s milk, water, Gerber sweet potato baby food, powdered timothy hay pellets or finely minced hay (think pesto), and powdered non-sugared cheerios. It should be of the consistency to pass smoothly through the syringe and not clog. The more hay powder you can get in the mixture, the more beneficial it can be to helping the pup transition to a solid diet.
Dr. Seaberg recommends that any supplemental pellet you choose should contain timothy hay or another grass hay as its primary or first listed ingredient. If the first ingredient is not timothy hay or another grass based hay, I’d stay away. Read the ingredient list to be sure. The pellets also should not contain any dried corn whatsoever. Her preference and first choices are American Pet Diner’s Prairie Dog Natural (Dr. Seaberg served as nutritional consultant in the development of this pellet) or Oxbow Animal Health’s Essentials Adult Rabbit Food. Both companies also offer excellent grass hays.
As a footnote, the previous, primary source for our dogs’ food was Exotic Nutrition, until we learned that they’re simply relabeling a lot of their food as “prairie dog food”, and that their food is not specialized for the diet of a prairie dog. Stay away.
Much of the credit for this page goes to Dr. Seaberg.