The One-Page Mouse Bible

Cutter Hays
From the RMCA web site, August 2007

Mice are wonderful, intelligent, affectionate animals. Unfortunately, they aren't treated so well by most of the world, and the ones that are bought as pets sometimes meet sad fates. Here's how to keep a mouse healthy and happy.

There are a few hard don'ts in mouse owning. First, don't buy a mouse unless you're ready to care for it. That means vet bills, and visits to the vet when the mouse is sick. The animal isn't worth whatever you pay for it - its value goes far beyond the dollar. And you're the only source of help it has. If you take on a pet, no matter what it is, be prepared to keep it all its life, feed it, change its water and clean its cage, educate yourself about it so you can spot illness ahead of time (very tricky with the mouse, by the way), and take it to the vet when it is sick. If you're a responsible, gentle person who has time to give to a small pet, then a mouse might suite you.

Second, Pine and Cedar shavings are toxic to mice. Aspen, Carefresh, and newspaper as long as it's printed with nontoxic soy ink, are the best choices. Third, mice are not children's pets. People buy mice for small children thinking that if it doesn't work, it's no great loss. Bad attitude. It's a great loss for the mouse. And an animal isn't a tool to teach a child with.

Mice are extremely fragile. They can break by falling off a table, or from a pair of shaky hands. If they are neglected or forgotten, they suffer. The youngest I might suggest a mouse for would be a 13-year-old, and only then if they really want mice in particular. After years and years of rescuing mice, I've seen many tragedies happen - and most of them could have been avoided. A mouse needs to be watched over carefully at all times that it's out of its cage - never take your attention off it for a second. The first accident will likely be the mouse's last.

When you buy mice, buy males alone, because they fight, often to the death. Females need companionship of other females. Two mice can go in a ten-gallon tank, but more space is always better. Make sure if you use an aquarium that you get a mesh lid made for the top so air can flow in and out, and the mice cannot get out. Mice can jump over a foot straight up - and I've sent them do twice that. A loose mouse is hard to catch and doesn't last long in a world where it is thought of as food.

A sick mouse is listless, still, and won't move quickly. It might make noise. Any mouse that makes any noise at all is likely sick. The term "quiet as a mouse" is true of all healthy mice. Once you find your mouse is ill, you have very little time to get it help. Mice still have an instinct to hide their symptoms so they do not appear as easy prey to predators. They won't act sick until they are at death's door - so an emergency trip to the vet is in order if you find your mouse ill. Most mouse illnesses won't cost much to fix. If the vet gives you antibiotics, make sure the mouse takes it on schedule every day (often twice a day), for the entire time required. I find that making a mouse take medicine is hard - so I hide the meds in several drops of Soy Dream vanilla ice cream. One should not use regular ice cream because the calcium in it can cause some antibiotics not to work as well.

Mice are happiest between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 80 and under 65 will put them at risk for disease or death.

Mice eat lab blocks or mixed food made for mice. There are many brands, but make sure it says it's for mice. Don't feed your mouse junk, or anything it might choke on, like peanut butter. Treats are okay, but mice need their health as much as we do. If you want a happy mouse buy them lots of toys to climb on and hide in, and a wheel - they love wheels. The bigger the better, up to about 12 inches diameter.

Mice can breed extremely rapidly - every month, up to 20 babies. And the moment the mother gives birth, the can get pregnant again (and often will be if a male is present). Breeding mice is a bad idea. It gets out of hand almost every time, and the mice suffer for it in the end by being abandoned, given away, or left at pet stores. In all cases, they are snake food. Unless you are a well-educated, extremely responsible person who has thought seriously about breeding and weighed all the pros and cons, don't do it. You'll be sorry - but the mice will be much sorrier. It is never an option to take in a pet and then abandon it. It's just about the cruelest thing anyone can do.

To avoid this outcome, know how to sex mice, and buy them young. A mouse can breed at five weeks old. Males have bulges (testicles) under their tails, and females have nipples (eight of them on their underside). Both may be hard to see, and males can retract their testes, making it appear as if they are female. The best and only sure way to go is to keep them separate until a vet or a specialist can sex them.

Mice love to run and play and you will make a perfect playground. Give your mouse at least half an hour every day of playtime with you, and give them your full attention - do not let your mind wander, and never forget where your mouse is! (That is a sure recipe for disaster.) When they are out playing, be mindful of possible falls, cups of water they can drown in, live wires they might chew, and dangerous things they might eat or come across. Mice are nocturnal, and like to play at night. Waking them up during the day, unless they're already up, will get you a tired, sluggish mouse. Lastly, never grab a mouse. Predators do this, and they know it. Be patient and let them crawl into our hand. You don't have to hold onto them - they won't fall on their own, but just in case, never hold them over a long way to fall, or a hard surface. When a mouse will come immediately into your hand, you have a trusting friend. It might take a while and patience, so don't give up easily.

One day to a mouse is two weeks to us. They live about two years. When they are old, they may lose some dexterity and strength, but they can live happily as old mice, and still like playtime. No matter how old a mouse is, save money for vet bills and get it help if it needs it. As they get older, they will need it. You're very lucky if your mouse never needs to see a vet.

If, after reading all this, you still think you'd like to own a mouse, then one lucky mouse is waiting out there for a perfect home right now. Remember that albino (white) mice are every bit as loving and affectionate as fancy (colored) mice, and that it's always a kindness to rescue a mouse from a shelter if you can.