Mice are inquisitive and friendly pocket sized pets. With proper care, they will keep your family entertained for hours on end.
Mice have been bred as pets for more than fifteen hundred years. There are mouse shows and pet mouse societies, just as there are shows and societies for dog, horse, and cat breeds.
These friendly and delicate little animals are great companions. Generally speaking, you should start with two or three female mice. The females like the companionship of their own kind, as well as their human keeper. Males should be kept by themselves or they will probably fight (often to the death), and they are often a poor choice as a first mouse.
Buying your mice directly from a pet-mouse breeder is your best bet. Many pet stores buy their pet mice from rodent mills, and some of these mice have hereditary health problems. Also, pet-store living may result in its own health problems, not to mention a timid, stressed-out mouse. Pet mice should not be timid, unlike wild mice. Also, their eyes should be bright and their fur should look clean. Bald patches on the coat are a warning sign, unless the critter belongs to a hairless breed, of course.
To keep healthy pet mice, you’ll need an enclosure, a secure mouse-carrier, food dishes, water dish or drip-bottle, toys, bedding, an exercise wheel, and a hidey-hole for resting in.
If you live in a warm area, and most of Australia counts as warm, the enclosure needs to be well-ventilated. A mouse-cage with a strong plastic base and wire walls is ideal. The plastic base should come up the sides for at least four or five centimetres, to keep the bedding inside, and the wires should be no further apart than one centimeter, to keep the mice inside. Buy as large a mouse cage as you can, making sure it is at least 30cm tall, 30 cm wide, and 45cm long. Bigger is better.
In cooler climates, some people prefer to use a fish tank with a mesh cover. There are several problems with this, especially here in New South Wales:
The lack of ventilation can make the mouse sick, because ammonia builds up.
The lack of ventilation also makes the enclosure warmer. That’s not a good thing in the summer!
It is more difficult to keep the bottom of the tank clean.
The only approach for removing the mouse is from above, which is scary for the rodent. Predators come from above.
For the hidey-hole, you can buy attractive little dome houses or wooden huts for your mice, or you can give the little mice a small corrugated-cardboard box without ink on it. They need a dark, dry place to hide and sleep.
Shredded paper (without inks) is ideal bedding for a mouse cage. Fill the bottom of the cage with shredded paper a few centimetres thick. Provide a few pieces of paper towel or facial tissue, for the mice to make their little nests with, and they will be happy.
Almost all mice like exercise wheels. You’d think that a small one would be good for mice, because mice are so tiny, but a bigger wheel is better. The animal needs to be able to run without bending her back. Choose a solid plastic wheel. They are much safer than the wire ones. Mice should never be given a wire exercise wheel, because they catch their feet and tails between the wires.
Your mice would also enjoy some toys in their home. These don’t need to be expensive. The cardboard rolls from paper towels and bathroom tissue will keep mice amused for hours. A piece of fruit wood from the parrot section of the pet store is good for chewing, as are plain craft sticks from a craft store. The mice will enjoy a length of hemp rope strung across the cage, or hanging from the top of the cage, because they love to climb.
Make sure your mouse has clean water available all day, every day. Mice are tiny, and they dehydrate quickly. A drip-bottle or two on the side of the cage will work well. Ceramic bowls (such as the ones sold for lizards) are also good, although they can be harder to keep clean.
It is easier and safer to buy good quality hamster food for a mouse than it is to figure out which of the commercial mouse foods have the appropriate nutrition. Mice eat more than you’d expect for critters their size, so make sure fresh pellets are always available for them. A piece of dog biscuit is a nice treat a couple times a week, and it doubles as a chew toy to wear down their teeth. Tiny pieces of apple or carrot, a few pieces of unsweetened breakfast cereal, and some pieces of good quality dry cat food (Tast of the Wild, Natural Balance) are all tasty and nutritious items to round out the diet. Most mice dislike cheese, by the way, and it isn't particularly good for them. If you discover that yours have a taste for cheddar or brie, a tiny piece once or twice a week is okay for a treat.
GROOMING, ENVIRONMENT & TRAINING
Given half a chance, your mice will keep themselves very clean, although healthy males will have a certain amount of scent to them. You can “spot-clean” with warm water and very mild soap, if something gets on their coats, but routine bathing should not be needed.
The enclosure, on the other hand, needs frequent cleaning. The bedding should be replaced and the cage cleaned with diluted vinegar every week. Make sure to rinse the vinegar off completely. Some spot-cleaning will probably be needed every three or four days. It’s a good idea to retain a bit of the bedding or leave a toy uncleaned each time, so the mice will have the comfort of a familiar scent when they are returned to their cage. The mice can be removed to their carrier, during cleaning. There are small plastic fish-tank-like carriers that are useful as temporary holding and carrying devices.
Mice are great pets for homes with children, but children should not be allowed to handle the animals without an adult supervising them. It’s also important to wash your hands before and after handling mice. They can catch “colds” from you.
If there are other pets in the home, keep your mice safely away from any animals that might see them as “lunch.” This includes cats, ferrets, dogs, snakes, and rats.
Keep the mice out of direct sunlight and drafts, too. It’s very easy for a mouse to over-heat enough to kill her. In the summer, you may need to put an ice-pack in one side of the cage, to let the mice cool themselves. If you use a gel ice-pack, be sure it’s non-toxic. Mice love to chew!
The most important part of training for a pet mouse is getting the pet accustomed to sitting on your hand. Give your new mice several days or a week to settle in to their new home before starting to try to touch them. If you need to pick them up before that, use a paper cup.
Once they’ve settled in, lower your hand into the cage, and wait for the mice to come to you. Let them sniff and investigate. Repeat this several times. Eventually, one will probably climb onto your hand. Let her sit there and wander off on her own time. After she’s done this a couple times, raise your hand a little bit. If she panics, put it down again. Once she is comfortable walking on your hand, you can let her climb your arms, shoulders, and so on.
Remember that she can crawl through any hole she can get her head through, so be careful about gaps under doorways and bookcases.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Mice are wonderful little pocket-sized pets, but some people are frightened of them. Is anyone in your family afraid of mice? If you live in an apartment flat, are mice permitted? Sometimes they aren’t. If you have decided on adding some pet mice to your household, what’s the next step? Set up their cage, read some mouse-fancier forums online, and find a veterinarian who treats small exotic pets near you. Consider adopting your mice from a shelter if your local shelter handles mice.