Owning Mice
Proper Care and Feeding


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Your New Mouse

How many mice should I get?
At least two - mice are social animals and it is very unnatural for them to live alone. Single mice are generally bored, lonely and miserable, and they do not make good pets as they tend to spend more time sleeping or hiding in the nestbox than mice kept in groups. With a single mouse you also miss out on the fun of watching mice play together and groom each other. It is really not fair to mice to keep them alone if it can be avoided - if they liked solitude, they woudn't live in colonies in the wild.

Sometimes male mice which are very aggressive towards other males have to be kept alone, for more on this. However, male mice can nearly always live happily with their litter brothers, if they are given a large cage.

How old should mice be when I get them?

Baby mice are fully weaned from their mother at about four weeks old, but they benefit a lot from staying with their litter mates for another week - the disruption of leaving both mother, sibilings and home in one day is a lot to cope with. Ideally they should not leave the litter before 5 weeks of age. If you get them too young they will be jumpy and hard to socialize at first; Some pet shops will offer mice for sale as soon as they start to eat solid food, at about 2 weeks of age. However, although mice this young eat solids, they really do need their mother's milk for another couple of weeks. Mice weaned this early often don't survive.                                                                                 

How should you pick a mouse up?
With a strange or nervous mouse, the safest way to pick it up is to grasp the BASE of its tail (not the tip) firmly, lift its bottom up slightly and slide your other hand under the mouse, palm upwards. You can then lift your hand up with the mouse sitting on it, but keep hold of the tail unless you know the mouse is calm. Holding the base of the tail in this way is not uncomfortable for the mouse as long as you make sure its body is supported by your other hand, and will not upset it. Most pet mice will not jump from heights of more than a foot or so, but very nervous ones might - so keep a grip on the tail until you're sure. Don't hold the mouse tightly round its body - this will scare it and could hurt it.

When a mouse is comfortable with you, it may walk onto your hand if you hold your open palm in front of it. Alternatively, you can very gently scoop it up, but be very careful not to squeeze it or hold it tightly round the body.

In some cases you might see people picking mice up by the base of the tail and holding them, dangling, upside down. This is not really cruel as it doesn't hurt them, but not surprisingly most mice don't seem to like being handled like this - it is more comfortable for them if you support the body with your hand as described above. Holding a mouse by the tip of its tail, or near the tip, could hurt it - the tip of the tail could be skinned or break off.

An alternative method:

'Not being comfortable with picking mice up by the tail, we pick up scared mice by enticing them into a paper tube (from toilet paper, etc), then wait for the mouse to come out. I do this in a small room with the door shut rather than grasp the tail for insurance. When a mouse is more relaxed, I pick it up by putting one hand on either side of the mouse, palms up, and scoop the mouse. As it gets more comfortable, the mouse will walk directly only my hand.


What ready-made foods can I feed my mice?

A standard rodent mix containing an assortment of grains is adequate for most adult mice. This does not mean it is nutritionally the very best your mice can have - since it is designed to suit various rodents it will not be tailored exactly to mouse requirements. However, mice enjoy picking amongst the food and will normally take only what they need without gorging themselves. Many of these mixes are made for hamsters - fine if your mice stay slim, but often too fatty for those with a big appetite.

When feeding a grain mix, give only a tiny portion at a time, so that the mice have to eat all the whole grains before they get any more. Don't let them have any more until the grains are eaten, no matter how much they beg - they'll soon learn to eat properly! If the mix contains pellets, very few mice will eat them - don't worry about this, as they usually just contain alfalfa for fibre.

Laboratory pellets provide a complete and vitamin-enriched food, but a diet of pellets is very, very boring and since many mice are picky eaters you may have trouble persuading them to eat it. Personally I would never feed a complete diet like this, no matter how ideal its nutritional content, becuase mice really enjoy picking around in their food, eating the tastiest parts of a mixture first, and generally being choosy. For a caged animal, an interesting diet adds variety and interest to its life, and it is a shame to deprive a pet of the opportunity to choose elements of its own diet. If you do use pellets, you can make life more interesting for your mice by supplementing them with small portions of fruit, veg and mealworms.

Can I make a healthier/cheaper home-made diet for my mice?

If you are prepared to go to a little more trouble, a home-made mouse diet can be far cheaper than ready-made foods, and more nutritious as well. You can vary the following to suit the waistlines and preferences of your mice:

*1 part by volume cooked wholegrain rice (you can cook large batches & freeze
it for convenience)
*2 parts crushed barley or oats, or a mixture (or porridge oats)
*1/2 part millet or cockatiel seed (spray millet is just the same as the millet you buy in packets)
*1/2 part molasses - packed full of vitamins, and sweet too, so it binds the food together, and mice like it.

Additional nutritional supplements can be added if desired:
*1/4 part Brewers' Yeast flakes - B vitamins to keep them healthy & happy
*1/2 part wheatgerm
*Cod liver oil according to manufacturer's recommended dosage.

The above mixture is adapted from the rat diet designed by Debbie Ducommun of the Rat Fan Club.

Sunflower seeds can be given as treats, except to fat mice.

Cooked soya beans are very healthy and most mice love them - so you can include them as treats or an occasional meal supplement. They have to be cooked first, or digestion problems could result.


Stale wholemeal bread makes a very good mouse food, and lots of show mice live on very little else. Some fanciers say that it should be allowed to dry out thoroughly first, then soak it in water (or skimmed milk for babies/mothers, or stock/gravy for a change of flavour). The reason for allowing the bread to go stale first is that some mice apparently react badly to enzymes in fresh bread which are killed by the staling process, getting spots as a result. I have not experienced this personally, and frequently feed fresh bread to my mice without problems.

Are fruits and vegetables good for mice?

Small amounts of fruit and veg are a valuable addition to any of the above feeding regimes. Only feed small quantities of green veg (lettuce, cabbage, broccoli) at a time - too much causes diarrhoea, and mice can get dehydrated by this very quickly. Crunchy fruit & veg such as carrots & apples provide vitamins and an interesting texture, and do not usually cause diarrhoea.

The received wisdom is to avoid citrus fruits in case they irritate the digestive system, but try offering a small amount first - if the mice like it, and they don't get the runs, let them have it as a treat.

Mice love garden peas. Frozen ones are fine, but defrost them first in water (you don't have to cook them).

All fruit & veg are best fed raw to preserve nutritional content.

Cooked beans make a good treat - my mice love Soya beans. Note that most beans must be soaked & cooked before feeding - there will be instructions on the packet.

What are the best treats for my mice?

Wholemeal pasta, esp. wriggly spaghetti, small amounts of leftovers, live mealworms (not the giant ones - they frighten the mice!), sunflower seeds, their favourite fruit or veg, pieces of millet spray sold for birds, bird treats such as millet/seed & honey bars. You can also feed them the commercial small rodent treats sold in pet stores (eg chocolate drops), but they are often fatty and expensive so check the label first.

Cheese doesn't make a good treat for mice. They don't need dairy products, and many don't even like them. Cheese is convenient for baiting mousetraps, which is probably why it got the reputation of being a mouse treat. Your mice would prefer sunflower seeds.

Thanks to reader Shelley, who wrote with some more ideas for mouse treats :

My mice love peanut butter and all kinds of breakfast cereal--Grapenuts, Honeynut Cheerios, Oatmeal Crisp, Fruit Loops and Honeybunches of Oats. I also feed them small nuggets of dry dog food--But they always get their daily mouse food mixture to make sure they stay healthy.

Are there any foods I shouldn't feed my mice?
  • Try to avoid fatty foods where possible, except for growing or convalescent animals, or where the food is otherwise very nutritious, such as sunflower seeds.
  • Peanuts are fattier and less nutritious than sunflower seeds, and provoke a skin reaction in some mice.
  • Chocolate may be toxic to rodents in large amounts, although I have not seen the research. There is no need to feed chocolate to mice anyway - they would prefer sunflower seeds.
  • Anything you wouldn't eat yourself because it might give you food poisoning - mice are susceptible to salmonella & other bacterial infections too!
  • Unwashed fruit/veg might carry pesticides etc - wash or peel it first, unless it is organic. Washing/peeling will only remove surface residues, but it's all you can do.


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