Caring for Mice Responsibly
Be aware that your mice are intelligent, agile beings that require not only food, water, and shelter, but intellectual stimulation and attention to wellness in general.
Female mice are happiest when adopted in groups of two or more, but males cannot be housed together since they will hurt or kill each other for territorial reasons. Mice are very communicative, though most of their "talk" can't be heard by humans, since they tend to communicate using ultrasound. To prevent unpleasant noise or interference with their "conversations", it's good to locate your mouse's cage away from computers or any sort of ultrasonic pest control device. Mice are also very sensitive to light and prefer to be kept in dim conditions. Temperature sensitivity is also an issue. Mice should ideally be kept in temperatures in the low-to-mid 70's. They need to be warm, but can also heat stroke very easily.
The cage should be relatively large and cozy. For males, a wire cage with a solid bottom can be a good choice, though they can be messier than aquariums. A 10-20 gallon aquarium with a secure lid can also be a good choice and really is the only choice for small mice and females who can squeeze their heads through bars and escape. Just make sure your cage is big enough not to cause stress, while being escape-proof. Mice are smart and flexible. If their heads can fit through something, their whole bodies can. Consider locks or clips to secure any loose doors or lids to cages. Consider also, that mice are great jumpers. You may need to secure lids to aquariums with extra clips or weights.
If you are using a cage with a wire floor, you will want to offer padding to prevent injury and irritation to the feet. Facial tissue or alfalfa hay are convenient and the mice have fun tearing them up, but keep in mind that these will need to be cleaned out very frequently since they absorb urine. Some prefer to use plastic sheeting which can be washed.
The best choices for mouse bedding are aspen or Carefresh (or other recycled paper product, such as Yesterday's News). Cedar, pine, and other softwoods are completely inappropriate since they give off phenols which contribute to respiratory infections, a problem that is all too common in mice. Corn cob litter may be eaten and cause choking or may become moldy and make your mouse ill. It can also absorb too much moisture and your mouse may develop a condition known as ringtail that can require amputation. Small animals also benefit from a few handfuls of alfalfa hay added to their home since the oils in the hay are healthy for their skin and coat. They will not always eat the hay, but enjoy using it to build nests.
Your mouse's cage will need regular cleaning. If you provide a litterbox for your mice (look for one designed for hamsters and use either small animal litterbox litter or plain very-low-dust cat litter) which you dump and refill every day or every other day, you should be able to wait about 1 week between cleanings, provided your mice are given enough space. Many mice take to using a litterbox quite easily, but if yours needs a hint, just move any "accidents" from other areas of the cage into the litterbox to help them catch on to the idea.
Building a comfy nest is very important to mice. Begin by offering them some sort of hiding place. The plastic igloos for sale at most pet supply stores are ideal. Mice also like cardboard boxes from packaged food. Be sure the boxes have not been treated with BHT which may make your rats very ill. Most organic cereal boxes and similar items should be fine. This type of nest will not last long, however, because the paper absorbs urine. The same goes for wooden nesting boxes, so the plastic type may be the most economical in the long run.
There are a number of commercial foods available as well as homemade diets. Your mouse will need a healthy, well-balanced diet, so you may want to start with a commercial block or seed and kibble mix. "Lab Blocks" are formulated to be complete, however, they were developed for use in laboratories and feeder colonies in which mice will be slaughtered very young, so they may not be appropriate for promoting longevity. Seed and kibble mixes are more interesting, and were developed for pets. Just keep an eye on your mouse's eating habits to make sure all the pieces are getting eaten . Mice do best on a low-protein diet. Cat food, ferret food, dog food alone, hamster and gerbil food are all poor choices to maintain your rats' health. Look for food that is indicated as mouse or rat food expressly. Other types of food can cause allergies, greasy coat, malnutrition, even death. We usually feed our homemade diet or Reggie Rat food. Reggie Rat is available at most pet supply stores.
You can serve food in a food-safe plastic, metal, ceramic, or glass dish, or you can increase your mouse's stimulation by "hiding" their food inside boxes, paper towel rolls, hanging food-dispensing toys available at most pet supply stores, or scattering food into the bedding. Just be sure the food stays fresh and clean and is eaten in a reasonable amount of time.
Treats are great for adding variety to the diet when chosen well. Start with very small amounts and increase slowly, keeping an eye out for loose stools. Some good treat choices include:
Vegetable baby food
Fruit and oat baby food
Whole grain cereal (Cheerios, Shredded Wheat)
Soy Yogurt (soy may be tumor inhibitive and rodents are prone to tumors)
Blueberries (studies have shown them to be good to preserve rats' cognitive function.)
Dried apricots or bananas
Dry enriched pasta
Low-protein dog biscuits (small ones)
A tiny bit of cooked oatmeal or cream of wheat
A few things to steer clear of:
Peanut butter (may cause choking)
Cheese and other dairy products (may cause stomach upset.)
Too much meat (may cause greasy coats)
Be sure to remove any uneaten treats before they get dirty or moldy. A few hours is usually enough.
Play is extremely important to mice. Offer a variety of toys and interesting locations. Pet supply stores have a wide variety of toys available. Try out different kinds to see which your mice like best. Small mouse-sized exercise balls give your mouse a lot of fun and, properly used, a safe way to explore the house outside of his or her cage.
Most mice love to be petted. You may need to work up to this, however, by letting your mice explore your hand while you hold it very still in their cage.
Though the outdoors may be tempting, don't risk it. A mouse can disappear far too easily and domestic mice will die quickly in the wild. Your mouse may also pick up mites outside or contract diseases. It's just not worth it.
There are a few common mouse ailments you'll want to be aware of.
Respiratory Infections If your mouse begins sneezing and wiping her face with her hands or if his breathing sounds labored, it's time for a trip to the vet. Usually, the vet will prescribe a liquid medication that will take care of the problem quickly, but if one of these ailments is ignored, your mouse could easily die, so be sure to get help in a timely fashion.
Mites and other parasites are icky but the vet can give you medicine to take care of these problems. The mites that live on mice are not communicable to humans. Very few diseases can be transmitted between mice and humans.
A good vet is your most valuable friend! In the NC Triangle, you may be interested in contacting these vets who work with "pocket pets":
Dixie Trail Animal Clinic 3044 Medlin Dr. Raleigh, NC 919-781-5977
Avian & Exotic Animal Care 919-231-8120 5305 Talison Ct Raleigh NC
Avian & Exotic Animal Care 919-844-9166 2315 Lynn Rd # 104a Raleigh NC
There's no need to breed! Plenty of animals need homes. Check out your local animal shelter, rescue, or contact 3R Raleigh Rodent Rescue to adopt an animal who needs a home. Breeding drastically reduces the life span of your female and ads more animals to an already overpopulated world.
Also, if you do breed and are unable to find appropriate homes, please do not release domesticated animals into the wild. They will not be accepted into existing wild mouse colonies and they may spread disease uncommon in wild mice and destroy an entire ecosystem. At best your mice will die a slow, painful death by starvation or will be torn apart by other animals, and we just don't think that's a good option.
Mice: A complete pet owner's manual by Sharon Vanderlip.