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Pet Mouse Care Guide

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Is there a mouse-shaped hole in your life?

Maybe you have a child who is desperate for a first pet. Perhaps you crave the companionship of a pet, and yet work long hours or live in a bedsit. If this sounds like you then mice may be your ideal pet.

Let’s find out more about these small, inquisitive creatures cute enough to inspire Tom & Jerry and Mickey Mouse.

 

Who are Mice NOT Suited to?

Turning things on their head, who should cross mice off the list of potential pets?

The biggest no-no is those who own pets of a species that predate on mice, such as cats (Think Tom & Jerry!), dogs, ferrets, reptiles, snakes, and rats. Even if you can keep the mice safe, the scent of predators in close proximity will be a constant source of stress for them.

Also, if you rent accommodation, before becoming a mouse-parent always check with the landlord that pets (regardless of size) are allowed.

Whilst mice make great pets and teach children a lot about caring for living creatures, be sure the child is up to the job. Also, the average lifespan of a mouse is around two years, so be aware at some point you’ll need to counsel your child about pet loss.

Heavy handed children may injure or scare a mouse, which could lead to a painful nip. Likewise, young children should always be supervised around mice and be taught to wash their hands thoroughly after handling.

 

Pet Mouse Practicalities

Pet mice are widely available to buy but where possible, avoid the pet store. The latter purchase their livestock from ‘mouse mills’ which are the mouse equivalent of a puppy mill. The main issues here are interbreeding (leading to poor long term health, especially cancer) and disease. You are much wiser to seek out a bona fide mouse breeder, who you can visit and see their breeding stock.

Also, as a starter pet consider getting three female mice. Mice like each other’s company and will play together. Putting a male into the mix makes for a population explosion, whilst groups of males may fight…even to the death.

 

Mice Keeping Must-haves

Mice are notorious gnawers and escape artists, and to keep them safe takes a secure cage. The minimum size of that container should be 30cm tall by 30 cm wide and 45 cm long, but the bigger the better.

Ideally, look for a cage that is well ventilated, which crosses fish tanks off the list. Also, go for a unit that has a side opening so that you can avoid scooping up the mouse from above, which is how a predator would attack.

Other essentials include:

  • A secure carrier: To put the mice in whilst you clean their cage
  • Food dishes: Ceramic dishes are best as they are heavy and hard to knock over
  • Sipper bottle: Water sipper bottles work well as they don’t get contaminated with food
  • Hidey hole: Mice need a nest to sleep in and somewhere to hide when uncertain
  • Toys: Change these regularly so they remain new and exciting
  • Solid plastic wheel: Mice need exercise and a wheel is a neat answer. Chose a solid wheel rather than wire as the latter can trap their feet. Also, select a wheel that is large enough for the mouse to run in with a flat back
  • Shredded paper bedding: Be careful about your selection of bedding. Some bedding sold as suitable for mice can pose a hazard, such as getting caught round legs. Shredded paper is both safe and cheap.

Keeping the cage hygienically clean is essential. Mouse urine gives off ammonia, which is extremely damaging to the mouse’s respiratory tract. Leave a cage from one week to the next between cleaning and you risk an ammonia buildup that could cause pneumonia.

Instead, spot clean on a daily basis. This means scooping out soiled bedding (using a fish or reptile scoop) and replacing it with clean. Then once a week clean out all the bedding and disinfect the cage with a pet-safe disinfectant or diluted vinegar. Rinse the cage well and dry it before putting the mice back.

 

Food for Thought

It’s difficult to think of mice without ‘cheese’ popping into your head. However, cheese is not an ideal food for mice as it is high fat and calorific. Indeed, mice are not as keen on cheese as you may have been led to believe, and if you do have a cheese-loving rodent then restrict their indulgence to a tiny cube as a treat once a week.

Much more appropriate is to feed a good quality hamster food; ironically, this is more likely to contain adequate levels of folic acid, vitamin A, choline, and magnesium than some commercial mouse diets. In addition, for a treat give small cubes of apple or carrot. Scatter these in the bottom of the cage to encourage foraging, which is a natural behavior for mice.

Another good idea is to give a hard dog biscuit as a treat once a week. Chewing on the hard biscuit helps to wear down teeth and keep them in good condition, whilst the extra calcium contributes towards strong bones and teeth.

Be cautious about what human foods you give to mice, as some are toxic to our little friends. On the unsafe list are grapes, raisins, and walnuts, whilst lettuce can cause diarrhea and is best avoided.

 

Mice will be Mice

And finally, make sure you meet the behavioral needs of your mouse to play and explore. Toys needn’t be expensive and you can improvise with waste objects from around the home such as the cardboard inner from toilet tissue. Put a treat at the center of the tube and stuff bedding in either end so the mouse has to forage to find it.

Mice like to climb so suspend a hemp rope swing across the cage, also put a fruit wood toy (from the bird section of pet stores) into the cage.

And last but not least, don’t forget to play with your mouse. They are intelligent creatures and love companionship. It’s possible to clicker train mice to do simple tricks like climb onto a hand, sit up, go through a maze or climb a mini-ladder. Not only is this good exercise for the mouse but it stimulates them mentally and prevents boredom.

 

References:

Diseases and Disorders of Mice  Merck Veterinary Manual

A Healthy Diet for Mice. RSPCA

What Mice can Eat. Pet Mice.org

Providing a Home for a Mouse. Merck Veterinary Manual