Mice are interactive and interesting animals full of personality. They like the company of other compatible mice, and many will also readily accept human companionship if socialised to people early in their lives. Mice need an interesting environment, species-appropriate care and your time and attention and to thrive.
Mice are highly sociable animals, so you should keep at least two mice together. Avoid housing undesexed males together as they tend to fight, and also avoid housing undesexed males and females together to avoid having any unintended litters of baby mice. Keeping females or desexed animals together is generally the most successful approach. Mice should be introduced together at the same time to their environment to avoid fighting.
Some tips on how to best care for mice:
- Mice can be housed in a range of enclosure types. Provide an enclosure as large as possible and ensure that it is easy to clean and well ventilated.
- Plastic or glass tubs/aquariums are NOT suitable as these are not adequately ventilated. Wooden enclosures are also not suitable, as the wood absorbs urine and cannot be adequately cleaned.
- The floor of the enclosure should be solid and covered with newspaper or towelling to make a mouse foot friendly surface. Never use wire or grid flooring, as this can cause damage to the feet and legs of your mice.
- Mice need plenty of bedding to cover the bottom of the cage and make their home comfortable, and to dig in. Suitable bedding materials include wood chips (non-aspen), cellulose-based chips or shredded filter paper. Mice also like hammocks, which can be made from fleece blankets or towel material. Mice love to burrow; so, make sure you provide some bedding types in which they can burrow (such as cut up towels or shredded paper) and give them a good thickness of bedding (e.g., 2-3 cm deep so your mice can dig in it). Do not use fine saw dust, wood shavings or bedding made from aspen as these can lead to health problems. Also avoid bedding that is fragrant or coloured.
- Any soiled bedding should be removed each day and the entire enclosure should be fully cleaned out at least once a week with warm non-fragrant soapy water.
- Mice also need to build nests; this is a natural behaviour and also helps them regulate body temperature. So, they also need nesting material, in addition to their bedding, such as hay, shredded paper, paper strips and paper tissues. It is important not to use materials which can separate into long think strands (e.g. cotton wool or other fluffy materials) as these can be a serious risk to a mouse’s health and welfare if they eat the material or become entangled. Mice should be given a variety of nesting materials to choose from to help them build good nests tailored to their needs.
- The enclosure needs to provide an interesting environment for your mice. Therefore, choose or make an enclosure with:
- Different levels and climbing surfaces but make sure your mice cannot fall from a height.
- Hiding places such as small cardboard boxes, shredded paper, and cardboard or PVC tubes. Mice are a prey species and so it is very important that they can hide and have ready access to multiple areas where they can quickly get under cover if they are startled. These hiding places should be large enough to allow the mouse to turn around inside and have multiple exits too.
- Plenty of mice-appropriate toys which are changed regularly so your mice remain interested and don’t get bored with them. Toys which your mice can chew are great, and they don’t have to be expensive – toilet rolls, non-toxic un-treated hardwood branches or twigs and paper are good options.
- Enough space so that you can fit all of the enrichment items mentioned above and have plenty of open space for your mice to enjoy too.
- Human interaction can be a valuable source of enrichment for your mice. To enjoy human handling, they need to be accustomed from when they are young by gentle and frequent handling. Make sure you support their entire body when you handle them; this makes handing more comfortable and safe, it makes the mice feel safer, and they are less likely to struggle and potentially harm themselves or escape. Mice are quite fragile and must be handled very gently and carefully. Children should always be closely supervised around mice, as they can inadvertently harm them.
- You can provide your mice with a play area outside of their home enclosure for supervised outings, but this should be safe and escape proof.
- Ensure that the area that your mice will be kept in does not become too hot or too cold as mice are prone to heat and cold stress (the temperature should be between 18-30 degrees). There should be plenty of ventilation and air circulation without being draughty. Poor ventilation and high humidity can cause serious health problems in mice.
- The enclosure should be placed in an area that will provide your mice with natural daylight but not be in direct sunlight. Avoid bright or direct lights near the enclosure and during the time your mice are handled or if they have a play area outside of their enclosure.
- Avoid exposing your mice to high-pitched or loud noise and ultrasounds. Examples of objects and situations which can be associated with noises your mice should not be exposed to include the following: electrical equipment (such as computer screens, televisions etc); alarms; telephones; door-bells; vacuum cleaners; sound systems; the kitchen (where water may be running into metal bowls or sinks, whistling kettles, and there may be alarms and alerts from appliances such as microwave and conventional ovens).
- Avoid using products with strong smells near your mice as this cause discomfort, e.g., ammonia-based cleaning products, spray deodorants etc.
- Make sure that their enclosure is somewhere that the mice will not be exposed to animals they will perceive as threats, such as cats and dogs. Being in the presence of animals who the mice perceive as potential predators will cause them fear and distress.
- Make certain that the enclosure is predator-proof and escape-proof!
- Dripper-type water bottles are better than water bowls as they are less likely to become soiled and can be filled up without having to open the enclosure.
- Mice should be checked every morning and evening to monitor for any signs of illness, check their enclosure for soiled bedding that needs removal and to make sure that their water bottle nozzle has not become blocked or wedged open (this can occur particularly when mice push bedding onto the nozzle and can flood the enclosure).
For information on what to feed your mice, see this article.