Myth: Prairie dogs carry diseases.
Mythbuster: All animals, including humans, harbor a suite of bacteria. Some are pathogenic, some are usually harmless but cause illness when an individual’s immune system is weakened, and most bacteria are actually helpful (e.g. help digest food, fight off pathogens, etc). Prairie dogs, like dogs and cattle, do carry bacteria known as Bartonella that may cause illnesses. Prairie dogs are also known to contract sylvatic plague (the same as bubonic plague), caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. However, they are not carriers of the disease; they are highly susceptible to it and die within a few days of contracting it. Once plague enters a colony, almost all individuals are exposed and the entire colony will die out within a matter of weeks. Thus, similar to humans, prairie dogs do not carry plague, they just contract it. Plague is transmitted to prairie dogs by fleas, which do carry the disease.