Prairie dogs have precious few ways to tell you when they’re in desperate need of something. Pups have even less. If they start gnashing their teeth, there is something seriously wrong, and you need to respond immediately.
This is something I missed when I had my first prairie dog. She started making the sound with her teeth, and I just thought it was something that prairie dogs did since I didn’t know to identify it as “gnashing”. I lost her within a couple of weeks of getting her. It was heartbreaking to lose her, but even more so to realize that she had been asking for help, all the while.
Not too long ago, I picked-up another prematurely-young pup (less than ten-weeks old) who began to gnash the first or second day. It turns out that it was definitely a hunger (probably involving some thirst) and a temperature thing, as she couldn’t feed herself, and couldn’t regulate her own temperature. Plus, the industry in SE Florida leads to some very traumatic “sucking and trucking” to get the dogs here, and they have no desire to eat for a day or two, even if they could.
Jen and I had to start making our own formula, and feed her by hand with an infant syringe available from CVS. We also hand-fed the other ones that we got, just in case. The little one often acted as if she didn’t want to eat, but by forcing a little into her mouth, we were able to get her started. She’d then eat until she was full. As a very young pup, she should eat eight or ten CCs (cubic centimeters, which, I think, are comparable to the teaspoons marked on the syringe) three times a day. As an older pup (six- to ten-weeks), there should be two sittings. After this, they can obviously feed themselves. We’re still hand-feeding at least three pups on a regular basis, a week-and-a-half later. We’ve also placed some Oxbow adult rabbit pure-hay pellets (-no- alfalfa, for emphasis), Cheerios, some Nature’s Recipe “healthy skin vegetarian allergy” dog kibble, and some water-saturated kibble on a small plate, as well as a healthy amount of hay. The dogs are all old enough to chew on the hay and the food at this point, but I can’t be sure if they’re getting enough from it until they’re not as hungry when being fed by hand. Dr. Gena Seaberg was kind enough to give us the information about the portions and the food items to put in the cage.
Fortunately, the little one had the other prairie dogs to help her with the body temperature problem, but I placed a space heater next to the cage for an hour or two in the morning, and the same in the evening night. I made sure not to point the heater directly at the cage, but placed it at floor level (so it’s half covered by the basin of the cage), and faced it at an angle, so that it’s not flooding the cage with heat. This way, the sides and bedding were made to be warm, but the prairie dogs could relocate to a cooler part of the cage if it was too much (just in case). The more heat there is, the more dehydrated they can get. Since she was solely relying on the formula for dehydration and I was gone during the middle of the day, I didn’t want to add stress.
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Love this picture!