What Do Prairie Dogs Eat? A Complete Guide To Feeding Them

Oluniyi Akande
Feb 20, 2024 By Oluniyi Akande
Originally Published on Nov 24, 2021
Adult prairie dog and a baby sharing their food.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 5.1 Min

Prairie dogs are herbivores that belong to the Sciuridae family and Cynomys genus.

According to ecologists, prairie dogs are keystone species. This species has an upper hand in the ecosystem as several other animals are dependent on them for food and shelter.

They support at least 136 species. Prairie dogs are found in the Great Plains from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They were initially known as little dogs due to the noise they make. Prairie dogs live in family groups called coteries, with each coterie consisting of three adult females, one adult male, and their offspring. Prairies mate once a year and have three to eight pups. The underground colonies of prairie dogs in the grasslands of the United States are called prairie dog towns. Their population has reduced greatly due to the exotic pet trade Prairie dogs share the same land with other grazing species like deer and bison. Keep reading to learn more about prairie dogs. You can also check out other articles on what parrots eat and what seals eat.

What do prairie dogs eat in the grasslands?

In the grasslands of North America, there are five prairie species. Prairie dogs are herbivores. Depending on the species, there is a slight variation in the diet.

One species is the black tailed prairie dog. Seeds, stalks, roots, grasses, weeds, and blooming plant leaves are all eaten by the black tailed prairie dog. In South Dakota, black tailed prairie dogs eat Bluegrass, buffalo grass, tumble grass, and blue grama. They consume insects very rarely.

Another species is the white tailed prairie dog. White tailed prairie dogs love grass, bushes, and reeds. Ground squirrels have been reported to be killed by this species. White tailed prairie dogs kill ground squirrels as their existence raises food competition.

For the Gunnison prairie dog, foliage, grass, and herbs are the primary sources of energy. These prairie dogs eat blue grama, rabbitbrush, salt brush, dandelions, and buffalo grass along with seeds in summer and feed on freshly sprouted plants in spring.

The Utah prairie dog is the fourth species. These prairie dogs feed primarily on flowers, seeds, and grass. They also eat roots and insects.

For the Mexican priarie dog, grass and tiny seeds are a major part of their diet. Mexican prairie dogs consume herbaceous flowering plants in the fall. Female prairie dogs that are pregnant augment their meals by adding snow in the winter to get more water.

Prairie dogs loiter in grasslands to boost their capacity to detect predators. They have a dichromatic color vision which helps them detect predators over a long distance. Once a prairie dog has spotted a predator it will seek shelter and give signals to other prairie dogs of the same family group.

What do prairie dogs eat in captivity?

What prairie dogs eat in captivity is one of the most popular questions in recent times as prairie dogs are widely accepted as pets.

The nutritional requirements of all prairie dogs, regardless of where they stay remain the same. Prairie dogs eat simple foods that are easily available. Experts say the diet of a prairie dog is similar to that of a rabbit. A major part of a prairie dog's diet must consist of grass and hay. Other nutrient-dense grass such as alfalfa must only be given in small portions. Young pups will need large amounts of alfalfa grass. Rodent chow or rabbit pellets can also be given to your pet prairie dog. But make sure you only add them in small portions. Fresh vegetables and rabbit pellets can be a great combination. Prairie dogs consume fruits rarely in the wild, but they will become accustomed to them and even like them in captivity. As a reward, berries, apples, and melons can be utilized. Keep in mind that such items should account for no more than 5% of their diet. Cherries, apricots, and peaches are some of the fruits that are poisonous to prairie dogs.

Prairie dogs in park.

Do prairie dogs eat ferrets?

Prairie dogs are herbivores, so they do not eat ferrets. It is actually the other way round. Ferrets eat prairie dogs.

Apart from creating shelter for ferrets prairie dogs also become a part of a ferret's diet. Black footed ferrets consume prairie dogs in large amounts that it makes up 90% of their diet. Every three days, a ferret consumes one prairie dog. Prairie dogs are also hunted by other predators like the burrowing owl and mountain plover.

Do prairie dogs eat other prairie dogs? Cannibalism has been seen in individuals of the black tailed prairie dog species. However, this does not prove that all prairie dogs are cannibals. According to experts, this behavior is a part of natural selection. In an attempt to increase the survival rate of their young ones female prairie dogs kill the offspring of other distantly related female prairie dogs.

Can prairie dogs eat bread?

Prairie dogs should not eat bread.

Bread, nuts, and other snack items must be avoided for prairie dogs as they speed up unhealthy weight gain.

Did You Know...

Within the same family group, members communicate with one another by grooming and kissing. This behavior is not used with prairie dogs from other family groups.

Males tend to be aggressive throughout the breeding season when they have not been castrated.

Another interesting fact about this animal is that the ones in the wild do not drink water at all. They get their hydration from the foods they eat. This might not be the case for your pet prairie dog. In captivity, prairie dogs need clean water to survive.

There is a term called prairie dogging. When workers in an open office raise their heads over the walls enclosing their desks when they hear loud noises it is called prairie dogging. Similar behavior is observed in prairie dogs hence the name.

Prairie dogs tend to treat humans as members of the prairie dog colonies.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for what do prairie dogs eat then why not take a look at what sea urchins eat, or prairie dog facts?

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Written by Oluniyi Akande

Doctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

Oluniyi Akande picture

Oluniyi AkandeDoctorate specializing in Veterinary Medicine

With an accomplished background as a Veterinarian, SEO content writer, and public speaker, Oluniyi brings a wealth of skills and experience to his work. Holding a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Ibadan, he provides exceptional consulting services to pet owners, animal farms, and agricultural establishments. Oluniyi's impressive writing career spans over five years, during which he has produced over 5000 high-quality short- and long-form pieces of content. His versatility shines through as he tackles a diverse array of topics, including pets, real estate, sports, games, technology, landscaping, healthcare, cosmetics, personal loans, debt management, construction, and agriculture.

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