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Mouse Care

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Many people consider mice to be household pests that get into cupboards, contaminate food and make a general nuisance of themselves. But mice can also make wonderful pets, if given the chance.

The most common pet mouse is the standard white lab mouse, Mus musculus, but different varieties are entering the pet trade. Spiny mice as well as pygmy mice are available. Mice also come in many different colors, and hair coats including satin, spotted and even longhaired. All mice are known for their ability to scamper quickly, and for their difficulty being caught and handled, though they rarely bite. For this reason, mice are generally considered lovely to look at but not to hold. They are not the best choice for children under 10 years of age.

Most mice weigh about 30 grams as adults. The pygmy mouse is one of the smallest of all rodents and typically weighs about 10 grams.

As with many rodents, mice are most active at night. The female tends to make a better pet since the male mouse has quite a strong pungent odor.

The Basic Home

Before you invite any animal into your home, you must be sure that you already have the basic equipment you will need to safely and adequately house him. Mice are social creatures and prefer to live with at least one cage mate. Females usually live harmoniously in groups, but more than one male could lead to fights. Make sure to double check the sex of your mice; otherwise you may end up with unwanted offspring.

A 10-gallon aquarium is adequate for a group of mice. Small plastic containers with a mesh lid will work well for a couple of mice.

Make sure the cage has a solid bottom (not chain-link or mesh types) to avoid problems with broken or injured toes. Cover the bottom of the cage with phenol-free shavings. Cedar and pine shavings smell good to humans but can cause damage to a mouse's lungs, so choose aspen or hardwood chips to line the floor of your pet's cage. You can also buy cage pellets made from recycled paper, but they are usually more expensive than the wood shavings. Your mice will like to nest in clean rags or torn paper.

Get a sturdy ceramic bowl for your pet's food. His water should come from a water bottle mounted on the side of his cage (he will likely spill water served in a bowl, or kick shavings into it).

You will need to clean the cage at least once a week. Completely remove all bedding and wipe down the walls and floor of the cage, then allow it to dry completely before you put your mice back in.

Always provide your mice with toys in his cage. These need not be pet-store purchases. You can find interesting objects for your mice to chew and climb around your home. Cardboard boxes and tubes, clay flowerpots, pieces of rope and other objects can become playthings. Just remember that your mouse is a rodent and will gnaw on all of the objects you place in his home. Don't give him anything with small parts that could break off in his mouth and hurt him, and don't allow him to chew on plastic-coated or painted toys.

Feeding

Rodents can consume about 10 percent of their body weight in food every day. Mice are omnivorous, which means they will eat both plant and animal food. The standard mouse fare is a lab block feed, which you can buy at your local pet store. This kibble is a good source of nutrients and will also wear down your pet's teeth. You can also give your mouse green leafy vegetables (good sources of vitamins) and some fruit, though the staple of their diets should be some sort of pellet food. Grains are also good food for mice: give them bran, corn, uncooked oatmeal, rice and wheat but do not give them sweetened cereals.

Remember, your mouse is not capable of vomiting or burping, so you must never give him carbonated beverages. Sticky foods, like peanut butter off a spoon, toffees, or fruit candies, can also get your mouse into trouble.

Breeding

Unless you are intent on observing the complete life cycle of a mouse family, breeding your own mice is not necessary. Pet stores have abundant young mice that they are willing to sell to pet owners. If you do want to breed your own mice, know that a pair of mice parents can produce between three and seven litters of six to twelve baby mice each year. You should never mate your mice unless you have reliable and caring owners lined up for each new little animal.

Common Diseases and Disorders

You will find that the feeding habits of your mice are a good gauge of general health and well being. Be sure to monitor how much your mice eat on a regular basis. If you notice a decline in appetite, there is likely something wrong with your mice. Keep an eye out for other signs of illness, including listlessness, difficulty breathing, or changes in the consistency of feces. If you notice that your mouse has diarrhea or a marked lack of appetite for more than one day, contact a veterinarian experienced in treating small mammals immediately.

To reduce the likelihood of respiratory illness, keep the cage clean and well ventilated. Ammonia vapors from urine residue in cages or aquariums can cause serious damage to the respiratory tract. Be sure to scrub down the cage at least once a week, scooping out heavily soiled bedding in between regular cleanings.

Never administer medicine to your mice without a veterinarian's guidance and approval. If your veterinarian recommends an oral medication for an illness, you can immobilize your pet either by "scruffing" it – by gathering up the loose skin on the back of his neck and holding him firmly with one hand, supporting his weight with another (you will need another person to help you actually feed the mouse his medication) – or by gently lifting him by grasping the base of the tail.

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