What Do Prairie Dogs Eat? [A Look At Their Diet]

what do prairie dogs eat

Prairie dogs are small, reclusive rodents that are challenging to observe. The fact that these rodents try to avoid humans means that not everyone knows much about them. This leads many to wonder what these animals eat and what they can be fed in captivity. 

Prairie dogs primarily eat nutrient and moisture-rich grasses and smaller seeds. These rodents will eat some fruits, plant roots, flowers, stems, stalks, and plant bulbs. Prairie dogs are seen eating insects when other food items are sparse. 

Prairie dogs are similar to other rodents in many ways, but they also have many unique features. The prairie dog’s diet can be confusing if you know anything about other ground squirrels. Let’s take a closer look at what these animals eat to help you better understand them. 

What Do Prairie Dogs Eat?

Prairie dogs are a species of ground squirrel, but these animals are unique among this rodent family. The prairie dog’s diet sets this animal apart from other ground squirrels and makes it something special among these rodents. 

These rodents are primarily vegetarian. Prairie dogs almost exclusively eat plants, and they will only deviate from this diet in very rare circumstances when they have been known to eat some small insects. 

Prairie dogs mainly eat various grass and seeds, but their diet includes plant roots, shoots, some fruits, flowers, and some plant stems and leaves. 

The prairie dog’s diet sets it apart from other ground squirrels, as the other rodents in this animal family are omnivorous and eat a vast range of food items, including smaller mammals. 

Prairie dogs will only eat plants and very few insects as they are hindgut fermenters and draw all of the nutrition and fiber they require from leafy plants, broadleaf forbs, and seeds. 

This grass-fed diet allows them to receive most of their water requirements from the moisture-rich grasses. 

These animals have a surprisingly narrow diet in comparison to other rodents. 

Still, the environments in which they live have an abundance of these food items, and prairie dogs are rarely without a significant food source due to their diet. 

Do All Prairie Dogs Eat The Same Things?

Prairie dogs, like most rodents, have a few different species. There are five main species of prairie dog: 

  1. Mexican Prairie Dog 
  2. Utah Prairie Dog 
  3. Black-Tailed Prairie Dog 
  4. White-Tailed Prairie Dog
  5. Gunnison’s Prairie Dog 

Unfortunately, their numbers are dwindling because of global climate, shootings, conversion of habitat, and shootings. 

In some states, they are listed as threatened and endangered.

Do All Prairie Dog Species Have The Same Diet?

Yes, all prairie dogs are chiefly herbivorous and eat the same diet. 

There are slight differences in the diet of these five prairie dog species based on where they live geographically. 

The areas where these animals are found have different indigenous plant species not found in each other’s regions. 

For example, Gunnison’s prairie dogs eat rabbit bush, dandelions, tumbleweeds, cacti, buffalo grass, and saltbush. 

In contrast, black-tailed prairie dogs eat blue grama, buffalo grass, fescue, and tumble grass simply because these plants grow in South Dakota, where the prairie dog is native. 

This shows that these animals eat roughly the same diet, but the specific plants they eat vary depending on where they live. These animals always eat the same general plant types that provide similar nutrients. 

The more sparse winter months see prairie dogs rely more on broadleaf forbs and less on grasses, and female prairie dogs have been known to eat snow when water is unavailable, especially when pregnant or nursing. 

If you feed a prairie dog or have one in captivity, they have a similar diet to pet rabbits.  

How Often Do Prairie Dogs Eat?

Prairie dogs eat roughly similar diets regardless of where they live, but how often do they eat? If you keep a prairie dog in captivity, how often should it be fed?

The type of food that prairie dogs eat and the abundance of this food in their natural environments means that they eat continuously. 

Prairie dogs are diurnal animals, meaning they are active during the day and sleep at night. They spend most of their day hunting for food. Unlike squirrels, they don’t store food in their tunnels. 

Prairie dogs will eat small amounts continuously throughout the day and eat food whenever they come across it. 

For this reason, if you have a prairie dog in captivity or as a pet, it is a good idea to ensure that they always have food available. 

These animals require a lot of food for their size, as they only eat small amounts at a time and have a relatively inefficient digestive system. The food they eat is also not exceptionally nutritious, which requires them to eat all the time to maintain their health. 

Do Prairie Dogs Eat The Same Food All Year?

Prairie dogs in captivity can eat the same foods all year, as this food is always available, but they must have a varied plant-based diet. 

However, prairie dogs in the wild may eat different foods during different seasons, depending on availability. The summer months usually provide more grasses for prairie dogs, their primary source of food, but the other months of the year yield different foods and are usually more scarce. 

Spring yields shoots, roots, flowers, and some fruit that prairie dogs enjoy. 

The autumn months still have grasses from summer, but the animals begin to rely more heavily on broadleaf plants during these months. 

Winter is the harshest season for prairie dogs, but these animals are known to keep small stockpiles of food for these months that help them survive. 

They become significantly less active during the colder months, especially in areas with cold climates. 

These animals rely on broadleaf plants and roots during winter and may eat insects to help sustain themselves in the lean months. 

Final Word

Prairie dogs are a strange type of ground squirrel, and their diet is closer to that of a rabbit than it is to other squirrels. These animals are interesting and fun to observe. They generally eat the same things wherever they are found, even though their diet is narrow compared to other squirrels. 

These rodents love their grass and seeds and primarily live on these food items, but they will eat almost any nutrient-rich plants they can find, wherever they can find them. 

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