Mice as pets
Mice make brilliant pets. They are intelligent, friendly and relatively easy and cheap to keep. They make an excellent first pet since they are easily tamed and if handled properly very rarely, if ever, bite! Mice are very sociable animals and a pair or small group of them will keep you constantly amused as they play, eat, groom and sleep together. Mice come in a surprising range of colours and varieties and can be extremely pretty to look at, especially if you have several different types living together.
The basic requirements for keeping mice is similar to that of any small pet. They need a good sized cage for housing, toys to keep them occupied, a healthy diet, access to health care and a bit of time each day for you to play with them, clean and feed them.
Whether you plan to keep male or female mice, it is always a good idea to get more than one as mice are very sociable, like rats, and will be much happier with the company of other mice. Mice kept in same-sex groups will be much more active and confident and therefore will be easier to tame. Male mice are usually easier to handle, although when kept in groups they can fight. They also smell much more than females, which is something to consider! Female mice get along better in a group, although they are often very active and don’t sit still for very long! Female mice are probably a better option as a first pet. Mice can live for up to 2 years if kept well and are healthy.
The safest way to pick up your mouse is to cup it gently in both hands. Always approach a mouse from the front and when the mouse is awake and alert, because if you surprise a mouse it is more likely to bite. It is also OK to pick up a mouse firmly by the base of its tail with one hand and then quickly moving your other hand under its body to support its weight. Never hold a mouse unsupported by the tail for any length of time or pick it up by the tip of the tail as this could cause pain and permanent injury.
Housing for mice:
Pet mice should be kept in a glass or plastic tank or a cage/cage system, but it is very important to make sure that there is enough ventilation to prevent condensation and the build up of ammonia. If the cage has a glass front then make sure that there is a gap to let air in, or drill little holes in the roof of the cage. If using a cage, make sure the gaps between the wires are not too big otherwise it will be very easy for your mice to escape. Mice can squeeze through surprisingly small gaps! The cage should be placed in a warm, non-draughty part of the house.
Paper or card based litters are best to use for the base of the cage. Many people use wood shavings, and even though this is suitable for rats, this can sometimes cause respiratory problems in mice. Straw and hay can cause injury so should ideally not be used. Shredded paper makes ideal bedding, and can be placed in a corner of the cage or in a nestbox. This is a place to hide or sleep in which allows the mice to feel secure, and to build a warm nest. A small cardboard box, cardboard tube, glass jar or plastic cup makes an ideal nest box.
Mice are very active and they love fun, and an old toilet roll tube or kitchen towel tube can amuse them for a long time. Mice wheels are also very popular, but it is usually better to get the solid type, not the ones with wire spokes because mice can trap their tails in these causing injury.
Mice will eat almost anything, as anybody who has ever had unwanted mice in their house will know! To ensure a balanced diet, it is best to feed a complete mouse or rat pellet, available from pet stores.
You can treat your mice with small amounts of vegetables, fruit and nuts, but these should make up no more than 20% of the diet, and make sure the treats are not high fat, to avoid obesity. Avoid citrus fruits and those with a very high water content, since these can cause diarrhoea.
Food should be always fresh and there should be a clean, fresh supply of drinking water always available.
To keep your mice healthy, it is a good idea to clean out your mouse house every week, and use a pet-safe disinfectant to clean the enclosure. It may be necessary to clean out the toilet area more frequently, even daily, since this helps to reduce ammonia levels. Using small litter trays with rat/mouse litter can help with this. It is a good idea to not change the bedding and the litter at the same time, because this will remove all familiar scent from the cage and can be stressful for your mice.
Signs that your mouse might be unwell:
Getting to know your mice and their normal behaviour will make it much easier to tell when they are not feeling well. As a guide, a sick mouse may show one or even all of the following symptoms:
Looking hunched up
Squeaky, laboured or noisy breathing
Porphyrin (a red discharge often mistaken for blood) round the eyes and/or nose
Diarrhoea or constipation
Unusual lumps or swellings
If your mouse are showing any of these signs, it is always best to get a Vet to check them as soon as possible. Mice can get respiratory disease, diarrhoea, over-grown teeth, skin problems and cancers, and these all need treatment. If you have any concerns, always ask your Vet for advice. Quick treatment is very important.
Keeping your mouse cage clean, feeding a good diet, checking your rat regularly and providing toys for gnawing can help keep your mice healthy throughout their life. Always wash your hands before and after handling your mice too!
What you need when keeping pet mice:
Ceramic food bowl
Water bowl or bottle