Wild prairie dog being held

Pneumonic Plague Protection

A few weeks ago a dog contracted pneumonic plague and was euthanized at CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital after being hospitalized and treated for four days. It was noted that the dog “sniffed” a prairie dog a couple days before displaying symptoms. While dogs are relatively resistant to developing clinical signs of pneumonic plague, this story reminds us that you can never be too cautious when dealing with plague.

Where does the plague come from?

Wild prairie dog being held

Pictured is a wild prairie dog being held and treated. This little guy was apparently picked up by a hawk but he was so feisty that the hawk dropped him! Someone found him and brought him in for treatment. Beware as most of them carry fleas as did this one!

While plague is most commonly associated with rodents, it is in fact spread by the fleas that live on the rodents. This is one important reason to use a flea control and/or repellent on your pets, especially if they have the potential of encountering wildlife such as prairie dogs or rabbits. It used to be very rare to see plague infections in December, with its peak occurrence usually in the mid to late summer months. It is likely that with the increasing warmth we have seen in the last few years, fleas are remaining active well into the winter months. Those with pets that are likely to encounter wildlife should strongly consider using flea and tick control in the winter months as well.

What are the symptoms of the Pneumonic Plague?

While prevention is always the best method, it is also important to recognize a possible exposure and subsequent signs of plague infection. If your dog has come into contact with a prairie dog, rabbit, or rodent, it may be wise to monitor their body temperature and overall activity for abnormalities. Fever is usually the first clinical sign. Fleas may or may not be seen on your dog, as most flea species prefer a certain animals (in this case, rodents) and will leave the dog after taking a bite or two. While dogs can be relatively resistant to plague, cats are extremely susceptible and any possible infection should be dealt with very quickly and decisively as they can easily spread it to people. The bottom line is, if your pet becomes sick after having contact wildlife contact your veterinarian immediately! The earlier treatment is started, the more successful it will be and with less likelihood to be spread to others.


The number one thing you can do to prevent exposing your animal to plague is not allowing them to come into contact with wildlife. If that is simply not possible, then flea prevention and control is your next best bet. While the word “plague” strikes fear into most people, it can easily be avoided with a few simple steps.

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