Plague Infection in Prairie Dogs

By PetMD Editorial on Sep. 14, 2010

Plague is a disease that can occur in several species of animals, including rodents and humans. The form of the plague that occurs in rodents is known as sylvatic plague, which is caused by the bacteria Yersinia pestis. This is, in fact, the same bacteria which causes plague in humans. It can be spread through flea bites, small droplets of fluid expelled in the air by coughing or sneezing in the air, and direct contact.

Plague may also be transmitted from prairie dogs to humans, though the risk is very low. It is, however, prudent to take appropriate precautions when handling any newly wild-caught prairie dog.


  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Swollen lymph nodes


Plague disease is caused by Yersinia pestis, the same bacteria that causes human plague. It can be spread through fleabites, droplets in the air, and direct contact.


The veterinarian will diagnose the plague infection when the prairie dog suffers from sudden general sickness. Laboratory tests, meanwhile, will be used to confirm the causative bacteria, Yersinia pestis.


Antibiotics such as tetracyclines or trimethoprim-sulfa are generally used to control the plague infection. However, since the bacterial disease can be transmitted from the infected prairie dogs to humans, it is generally advisable to euthanize any infected prairie dogs.

Living and Management

Isolate the infected prairie dog from other pets. Make sure that its living quarters are cleaned and sanitized. Be sure to wear gloves when cleaning the cage and disposing of contaminated mate­rials, and wash your hands and arms thor­oughly when done.


The risk of pet prai­rie dogs becoming infected and infecting their owners is very low; however, appro­priate precautions should be taken with any newly wild-caught prairie dog.

In addition, prairie dogs should not be kept in outside cages in areas where plague is known to be a problem. Taking steps to provide appropriate sanitation and disin­fection, wild rodent control, flea removal from all animal species present, isolation of sick prairie dogs and proper disposal of dead infected prairie dog is also useful in preventing transmission of plague disease to humans.

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