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Mice as Pets

If your home has no room for pets but the kids just won’t stop asking for one, a mouse might be just the thing.  It is small, doesn’t make a lot of mess, can be handled by little hands and is, after all, as quiet as a ……mouse!  Some adults can be quite squeamish about the thought of a mouse in the house but today, pet mice and fancy mice are popular pets that suit any home and teach a young child about the joys and the responsibilities of pet ownership.

Mice have been domesticated for thousands of years and a great deal of work has been undertaken on breeding new coat colours and appearance.  In fact, mouse breeding clubs exist all over the world with enthusiasts showing their mice to be judged on appearance and health.

The most common pet mouse has a smooth coat and comes in a variety of plain colours but fancy mice are available which have unusual colours, patterns and coat types.  Their colours include white, brown, black, grey, Siamese, colourpoint and bluey grey and their coat length can be short, roan, ticked, long and even hairless.  Some mice called Manx can even be tail-less.

Two female mice are the best way to start as they are less territorial and don’t smell as much as males.  Choose mice with a clean, shiny coat and with no bald patches.  Their eyes should be bright and they should not look hunched or fearful.  If they have a sad look, it is possible that they are unwell and should be avoided.

Pet mice are curious creatures and seem to enjoy the company of humans.  They are not particularly timid, can be trained and will form a bond with people over time.  They do bite but usually only because they are scared or handled incorrectly.  Mice make excellent pets and will show their little personalities and provide lots of laughs.

Children need to be taught to handle mice correctly and those under 5 years should be supervised to make sure that they always follow the correct procedure.  Children should be sitting on the floor when first learning to handle a mouse because even the shortest fall out of their hands can cause an injury.  A mouse should not be picked up by its tail as it can be broken.  It is best to scoop the mouse up by cupping the hands under the body but, if a mouse is skittish, it can be held at the base of the tail and its feet raised slightly allowing the other hand to quickly pick the mouse up.  Mice are happy to sit on their owner’s shoulder or even in a pocket and can be trained to do this with special treats.

Mice do not require bathing or grooming.  They are fastidious groomers and will keep their coats shiny and clean if they are kept in healthy surroundings.

Mice can be kept in a glass tank with a wire top for ventilation or a clear plastic mouse container but there must be a secure lid in place.  Just like in the cartoons, they are great at escaping through the tiniest space so it is important to teach everyone in the family to close the lid securely.  Place the cage in an area out of drafts and direct sunshine, away from other household pets but in a place where the mice get a lot of human contact.

Line the enclosure with a non-toxic material such as recycled paper (often sold for cat litter) or sawdust and add a drip feeder for water and a small dish for food.  Include a nesting box which they will line themselves if you throw in a piece of paper towel.

Mice will always use one corner of their enclosure as a toilet and if this is not removed every week, it will smell.  The material on the floor should be removed and replaced and any waste in the corner wiped up carefully.  The whole enclosure should be thoroughly washed out with warm water every month.

Mice are active and need toys to help them exercise and burn off energy.  Wheels are terrific for mice but since they are active at night, choose one that is silent so that the household isn’t woken by their daily exercise.  Munch balls, small cat toys and play tubes are fun for them to chew on and play with and double storey mouse houses give them a trail to run and explore.

Hang a piece of sisal or other natural fibre rope or cord from the top of the cage to give the mice something to climb but replace it every week and make sure the lid is well secured.  Bury some mouse treats amongst their bedding as a fun game of ‘buried treasure’ and throw in wadded up balls of paper and cardboard egg cartons for them to tear apart.  A toilet roll with a treat inside is another fun toy for mice to play with.

If pet mice are allowed out of the cage to explore the room, make sure that they can’t chew telephone or electrical cables.  A ‘kritter krawler’ is a great solution.  The mouse simply runs around the room inside the ventilated sphere where it is safe and can’t escape behind the furniture.

Mice are constant eaters so food and water should always be available.  They can be fed commercial mouse pellets or cubes which contain the minerals and vitamins that they need.  This can be supplemented with a few seeds, oats or wholemeal bread, fruit and vegetables and herbs every now and then.  Mice will eat anything whether it is good for them or not so be very careful to avoid lettuce, celery, raw onion, peanut butter, human chocolate and dairy products.

The teeth of mice continue to grow and so they need to gnaw to keep them worn down.  Mouse pellets will help with this but adding a non-toxic chew toy will help them to keep their teeth at the ideal length.  Carrot sticks to chew on are also helpful.

Mice are affected by very few ailments but can get respiratory problems if left in a cool draught or when their cage has become damp.  An untidy or dull coat or skin could be a sign of disease – consult a veterinarian for advice.

Just like other members of the rodent family, a mouse’s two front teeth will continue to grow and if they can’t wear down through chewing, will need to be clipped to prevent mouth damage and possible starvation.  In general, a mouse will only live 2 to 3 years.

Mice are ready to breed at just 8 weeks old and can deliver a litter of up to twelve babies in three weeks.  The babies are born pink and blind and should not be disturbed whilst they are still in the nest.  If it is essential to handle a new born, remove the mother and press the palm of your hand into the sawdust in the cage to mask your scent.  Do not keep them out of the nest for too long.

After about six days fur will start to grow and after ten days their eyes will be open and it will be safe enough to handle them.  Mice should be handled as much as possible whilst still young so that they become tame and less nervous with humans.

A baby mouse is called a pinky or a kitten.  A female is called a doe and a male mouse is called a buck.


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