By Craig Sernotti
Mice are great small animals to keep as pets. They are inexpensive to buy and maintain, they adapt well to various conditions, and they are active, curious, and entertaining. What more could you ask for from a small pet?
There are many different species of mice, so you will have to research the one you plan to purchase. Mice can also come in several different colors and combinations. They are timid by nature, so handle your mouse gently and do your best not to make any sudden movements. Mice are social creatures and need company in their cage. However, males will act aggressively toward one another, so keep a pair of females. They are nocturnal and so will sleep for most of the day. Mice live for about two years, although some can live for up to three years.
Is He a Mouse or Is He a Rat?
Mice and rats are both rodents and share similar physical and behavioral characteristics. For the most part, a mouse is the smaller of the two and does not have as long or as pointed a snout.
Mice have been around as long as humans have existed. They are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. They were hunted and eaten by prehistoric man—they are considered a delicacy in some countries today and are also regularly offered as a food item for carnivorous animals kept as pets. Although it is unclear who first domesticated mice, credit is often given to the Chinese—in about 1100 B.C.E., they noticed a new color in mice: white. Other colorations were discovered, and in the 19th century, keeping mice as pets really took off. Today, keeping mice continues to thrive, as they are easy to care for, playful, and curious.
Enclosure and Setup
You can keep your mouse in a small all-glass aquarium with a weighted-down mesh top or a wire-frame cage. If you keep several mice, the tank or cage must be large enough to house them and all the items mentioned in this section without restricting them in any way.
The bedding must be made from a hard wood or recycled paper—other beddings can cause respiratory or other health problems. Also, the bedding must be at least 2 inches (5 cm) deep so that your mouse can dig and burrow. Remove and replace dirty bedding as needed.
You must also put a nest box, food bowl, water bottle, and toys in the cage. Toys are important because mice need to constantly chew to control tooth growth. Don’t give your mouse plastic objects because they can be broken apart easily and may possibly be ingested. Wooden objects that are safe for small animals are better—these are widely available at any pet store.
Before talking about diet, here’s the truth about a widely known myth: Most mice don’t like cheese. It is too strong in flavor and smell for their palates, so don’t offer it.
You will find different rodent or small animal feeds for sale made of dry pellets, seeds, and vegetables. These are perfect for your mouse. Supplement this with hay, which aids digestion, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Sunflower seeds are a favorite treat, but too many can make your mouse overweight. Watch for diarrhea. If a particular food gives him diarrhea, stop offering it immediately.
Your mouse must always have access to fresh, clean water. Change it regularly, and clean the water bottle as needed.
Contrary to popular belief, mice are very clean animals. Like hamsters and gerbils, they spend a lot of time grooming themselves. If you must wash your mouse for one reason or another, wash him gently with a clean wet towel, then gently dry him in a second towel. Make sure that he is completely dry before returning him to his cage.
Trimming your mouse’s nails may be difficult—be sure to have styptic powder on hand to stop bleeding in case you cut too close to the paw. If you are nervous about cutting your mouse’s nails, a veterinarian can show you the best way.
Health Care and Illness
If you clean your mouse’s cage regularly and feed him fresh foods and water, he has a good chance of living a happy, healthy life. A change in behavior or eating habits is a sure sign that something is wrong with him. Diarrhea is also a common problem, and mice can suffer from various injuries, infections, and illnesses as well. If you think that something is wrong, consult a veterinarian immediately.