RALEIGH, N.C. — Prairie dogs are growing more popular with pet owners in North Carolina.
With word of an outbreak of a virus called moneypox, which is believed transmitted by the animals and passed to humans, many people are concerned.
Monkeypox is not a natural disease in prairie dogs. Health officials suspect 200 prairie dogs shipped from an exotic pet distributor probably contracted monkeypox from a giant Gambian rat at a Chicago-area pet distributor. They are trying to trace anyone who bought a prairie dog at the store since mid-April.
"Yes. Anytime you hear about any kind of illness that can effect any of your children, [there is concern]," said Judy Dove, who has owned prairie dogs for several years.
The movement of exotic pets is regulated in North Carolina. They animals are supposed to have check-ups before coming into the state.
"All animals that come in have to come with what we call an official certificate of veterinary inspection or a health certificate," said Dr. David Marshall, state veterinarian.
The certificate is issued by a licensed veterinarian, but the inspection is only visual.
Animals can carry disease without showing symptoms, according to Dr. Dan Johnson, who runs an exotic pet clinic in Raleigh.
"Monday morning when we came in we had two messages waiting from people inquiring about if they should they get their prairie dog checked," he said.
Johnson said more exotic pets are popping up in the area these days.
"The most rapidly growing segment of that appears to be small exotic mammals like prairie dogs," Johnson said.
Although they are cute and sociable, Johnson recommends doing a lot of homework before buying any exotic pet.