The spiny mouse has become an increasingly popular animal with pet keepers who want something just that little bit different. There are five species of spiny mice but those seen in captivity tend to be one of the sub-species of the Acomys cahirinus group, which originate from the deserts of Arabia and North Africa.
Most of the spiny mice in captivity are known under the general name of Arabian, although a few people have in the past mistakenly called them African spiny mice. There are species of spiny mice from Africa but at the present these are not available in captivity.
The spiny mouse is about six to 10 inches long, half of this length being tail. An adult animal weighs an average of two to three ounces. The snout is very pointed; the ears are large, erect and very mobile. The back and base of the tail are covered with coarse rigid grooved spines, hence the name. The tail is scaly and nearly naked and very brittle. For this reason spiny mice should never up picked up by the tail.
The majority of the spiny mice seen in captivity are a shade of yellowish beige with white or paler under parts. Young animals are grayish before their adult moult, although there are a few sub species that are gray throughout their life. These are usually known as Egyptian spiny mice.
Being very social creatures, spiny mice should never be kept on their own. They live most happily in colonies or small groups. Care must be taken, however, not to overcrowd. When this occurs, tail nibbling can often result. It can also occur when the proportion of males in a colony is too high.
They should be housed in a large glass or plastic aquarium, the larger the better. A tank 36 inches by 12 inches by 18 inches will house 12 to 15 mice. But be warned that spiny mice are talented escape artists so you will need a tight fitting wire mesh top. Be careful when lifting the top because spiny mice are very good at jumping from a standing start. Additionally, babies are very good a squeezing through small gaps, so even wire cages with very narrow gaps between the bars are not suitable.
Furnish the aquarium with wood shavings, sawdust or sand litter. Spiny mice rarely dig so this need not be too deep. Rocks, pipes or bird nesting boxes give a group a nice warm cozy place to sleep. They like to climb and chew on branches, and play on an exercise wheel.
The spiny mice diet should consist mainly of seeds, nuts, cereals and biscuits. A small amount of meat, fish or even insects such as mealworms should be given once or twice a week. The meat may be given raw or in the form of scraps. Tail biting may occur if meat is not included in the diet. Vegetables may be given but usually they are ignored. They enjoy fruit, such as grapes, figs and dates, and hard dry bread.
Despite the fact that these are desert animals, spiny mice drink a remarkable amount of water and this should always be available, preferably from a bottle.
They are a hardy species and rarely if ever become ill. The life span of these lovely little animals is 24 to 36 months but some have lived much longer.