By Wanda Wilson
Wanda Wilson, who headed up a mouse club and worked with mice for more than 40 years, wrote the following answers to common questions about mice for Critters USA magazine in 2004. The mouse facts and information still hold true today.
1. Why mice? Why not a hamster or a gerbil?
Each mouse has a unique personality. They do lots of cute things in the daytime. They have friends they sleep with and groom. They have a “culture” hardwired into their tiny heads. They know things. They can be friendly and interested in humans. Mice also are small and cheap to feed. Mice don’t bite without a good reason and are never grumpy. They are acrobats. You can raise a whole “herd” of mice on your dining room table.
For people who prefer variety, mice deliver. Fancy show mice come in more than 25 colors, three eye types, 10 hair types, two breeds (English and American) and 30-some formats. This means there are more than 7,500 different ways a mouse (Mus musculus) can look.
2. Will a mouse be happy by itself?
One male mouse can become a dear pet, provided you play with him a lot. He will look droopy (lose condition) and mope around if you don’t. Mice are social creatures, but unless you want to cope with babies, don’t give your male a lady friend. Another male buddy will fight, sometimes to the death.
Female mice need friends. You can put up to 12 in a 10-gallon tank, so you have only one cage to clean each week. However, in my experience, an odd number of mice works best for some reason.
3. How do I choose my mice? How can I find a good breeder near me?
If you just want pet mice, go to local pet shops. Personalities vary, and you want a mouse that is curious, friendly and not too shy. Ask if you can put your hand in the cage to see which mice come over to it. Leave your hand in and choose from those mice that come to you.
Don’t buy the one with the cutest markings, and don’t choose the smallest one because it’s cute. Don’t buy any from a cage of miserable, poorly cared for mice. Buying mice because you feel sorry for them just encourages poor care.
The safest way to pick up a mouse is by the tail. Support her in one hand and use your other hand to keep hold of the tail, like a leash, because the mouse might jump. If you pick a mouse up around the body, you could break her needle-thin ribs or damage internal organs. The tail pickup may look rude, but it really is the best way. Keep in mind that chasing a mouse around with your hand will scare her.
4. How can I tell if they are male or female? I don’t want to have babies or mouse fights.
Males are called bucks. Young males have two little dots of genitalia, with a space between. Females only have one dot. Also, older males will have a bulge under their tails. Two males will rarely get along and may kill each other.
Males and females must be kept separate to prevent breeding. If males and females (called “does”) are kept together for even a day, females will surely become pregnant, so get fewer mice than you plan to have in your colony, and ask the seller if you can bring back the young males when they are about a month old.
5. My “male” mouse just gave birth. What should I do?
Provide the mama with paper towel strips, tissue paper or strips of typing paper. Do not use facial tissue, yarn or cotton. Leave her alone for the first few days. Offer her some bread soaked in milk in a soda bottle top. If there is a male in the cage with her, assume she is already pregnant again.
You can sort out the boy pinkies (babies) from the girl pinkies by looking for “big” and “little” genitals. Make two piles; they should be about equal in number. When they begin to get fur, look for two rows of nipple marks down the belly. If you can’t see any, it is a boy. Separation is important because if you keep males and females together in one cage, you can have thousands in a year. Keep any boys in separate cages once they are about 8 weeks old to avoid fights.
Mouse babies are called pups. If you can’t give away the males, separately, take them to a pet shop. Be aware that at a pet shop, they may then be sold as feeder mice.
6. One of my mice likes to sit on my shoulder, but the other one won’t even let me catch her. How can I get her tame?
Taming a mouse depends a lot on the mouse’s personality. If you choose a shy mouse, you may never tame her. Carry a new mouse around in your hand, gently. Hold her tail like a leash if you need to. When a mouse washes while sitting in your hand, you’ve succeeded in taming her. Remember that all mice run for cover first, and then come out and are curious.
7. Should I give my mice veggies? Is chocolate a danger for them?
Vegetables are not necessary, but mice like them. They also like cantaloupe shells, little bits of banana, crackers, butter, mayonnaise and dairy products. Give small amounts and take leftovers out the next day.
Because the antibiotic I give them when they are sick is strawberry flavor, I give a treat of strawberry milk in an eyedropper once in a while, so they are used to sipping from an eyedropper. They also like apple juice.
Veterinarians say chocolate is bad for most animals, but I have found that tiny bits of chocolate cookie are a way to a mouse’s heart. Hand it (or anything you find they like, even soft bread) a bit at a time. Put it down near the mice to start and let them pick it up. Then you can offer it in your fingers, keeping your hand still. Don’t chase the mice with it. Be patient. Eventually the mice will come over to your hand when they see you.
© Natasha Oakley
Mice are sociable and like to live in pairs or groups, but do not let two male mice live together or they will fight.
8. My mouse is sitting all hunched up and not eating much. Is something wrong?
Hunched up is bad. Wipe a drop of wine with a pinch of sugar in it across the mouse’s mouth. The idea is to get some calories into the mouse quickly. Offer water because a sick mouse might not feel up to drinking and get dehydrated. Avoid getting any liquid in the mouse’s nose.
Put a heating pad under half her cage, or put the cage over the stove pilot light. There must be an area in the cage for the mouse to retreat from the heat if she wishes.
Check on your patient often. Consider taking your pet to a vet who can prescribe amoxicillin, because she probably has pneumonia. Don’t breed this mouse if she recovers.
9. My one mouse is “talking” (chuckling, wheezing, whistling, chortling). Is this like purring, or is it a bad thing?
Healthy mice never make any noise but a squeak. They communicate all the time, but in ranges too high for humans to hear. All we can hear are their lowest tones — the squeaks. A mouse that “talks” is ill.
10. How can I tell if my mice are healthy?
Healthy mice eat, defecate fairly dry feces, run on the wheel and inspect new things put in their cages. Their fur is not ruffled or raggedy looking. Their eyes are bright, not matted up. Sick mice hold still and look miserable in the face.
11. My one mouse chases all the other mice around and wants to groom them a little roughly. Do I need to do something about this?
Sometimes one mouse decides to become the boss mouse, but don’t let one mouse hurt any other. Peace usually reigns once the others submit.
If this “boss mouse” makes others squeak, take her out for a day or so, and then put her back. This usually makes her the newcomer, diminishing her status.
Male mice will chase a new female around to mate, but this is usually accomplished by the next day. Expect babies in three weeks, though.
12. Is there a way to put several boys in a cage, together? I heard they will fight, but I’ve also heard some people say they have no problem.
I’ve never found a foolproof way to put males together. Father and son, brothers, mice that have been together since birth will one day, for no reason, start to fight. Bloodshed usually results. When it happens I try to get rid of the intact male and keep the beat up one; my theory being that the loser is probably less aggressive.
Through the years I have produced more docile mice this way — yet they still fight. Anyone who says they can put male mice together just hasn’t had enough disasters.
13. My one mouse seems to go around with one eye shut all the time. Sometimes the eye seems all red and looks like it hurts.
Bad eyes usually don’t get better without some intervention. Mice, being so close to their bedding, get particles in their eyes. Give a drop of warm water as an eye drop. If that doesn’t help by the next day, take the mouse to a veterinarian, who will probably prescribe antibiotic eye drops.
14. How long do mice live?
The Guinness book lists a mouse that lived to be 9 years old. However, the longest lived mouse I knew lived about 21/2 years. Most mice die at about a year. A year and a half is a long life for a mouse.
15. Do they need to be put down when they are really sick?
Hold the mouse up to look in her face. If she looks miserable, consider putting her down. Take her to a veterinarian to put down.
16. People say I am nuts for taking my mice to the vet.
People probably spend more than the cost of visiting a veterinarian when they go to a sporting event, visit the beauty parlor, buy craft project materials, items for the car, etc. If your hobby is mice, then it’s worth spending money on it. Just because a mouse is cheap to replace, doesn’t mean her particular personality is not dear to you.
You can learn much about mouse health from a good veterinarian. (Remember that most of the medicines out there were tested on mice first.) Veterinarians usually have a friend in a lab they can call for specifics, and the mouse and rat clubs have information that a veterinarian can use, also. Call around to find a veterinarian who knows about treating mice.
17. Where can I learn about all the kinds of fancy mice there are?
Some clubs have a color poster with about 35 pictures of different looking mice. All clubs have written standards that describe each type of mouse they recognize. If you have Internet access, you can visit several websites to see pictures of different types of fancy show mice.
A couple of sites to check are the American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association and the London And Southern Counties Mouse & Rat Club. Or just type “mouse club” in the search engine. A good book, Encyclopedia of Pet Mice, by Tony Jones, can be found in libraries, if you persist. Joining a club and visiting websites are quick ways to learn about fancy show mice.