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How To Keep and Care for Pet Mice
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How To Keep and Care for Pet Mice

Theo, Critter Culture Staff
Updated Sep 10, 2020

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Domestic mice are adorable, interesting, and affordable pets. Their care needs are relatively simple, and their curiosity and energy are engaging and endearing for both children and adults.

A mouse's average life span is 1.5 to 2 years, but some live for as long as 3 years. With a little know-how, you can help your pet mouse live as long and healthy a life as possible.

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1

Setting up a pet mouse habitat

Pet mice on bedding Iuliia Mikhalitskaia / Getty Images

Aquariums with screened covers are ideal for pet mice. One 10-gallon aquarium can comfortably house up to 4 mice. Cages with bars spaced less than 1/4 inch apart can be used with adult mice, but mice that aren’t yet fully grown could squeeze through the bars.

Line the floor of the mouse habitat with about 2 to 3 inches of bedding. Pet stores sell paper-based bedding for rodent enclosures. Wood shavings are another option, but avoid cedar — it’s an irritant for mice. The bedding absorbs waste, provides a soft surface under the mouse’s feet, and serves as nesting material.

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2

What to feed pet mice

Pet mouse nibbles food tenra / Getty Images

Commercial rodent food meets a mouse's basic nutritional needs, but enriching a mouse’s diet with carefully chosen extras helps them stay as healthy as possible. Supplement commercial pellets with a small serving (about pea-sized) of vegetables or fruit three times a week. Mice should get foods with high fat content, like cheese and sunflower seeds, sparingly and in tiny amounts, if at all.

Mice need constant access to fresh, clean water. A water bottle with a drinking tube is the best choice because it won’t get dirty or spilled like water that's served in a bowl.

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3

Keeping the mouse habitat clean

Trio of albino pet mice tiripero / Getty Images

Believe it or not, mice are naturally clean animals. They frequently groom themselves from the top of their ears to the tips of their tails. Pet mice make a point of going to the bathroom as far away from their food bowl as possible. Most mice choose one corner of the enclosure where they do most of their potty business, so scooping out that area and replacing it with new bedding helps to keep things fresh between full cage clean-outs.

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4

Providing enrichment

Pet mouse on exercise wheel Owen Franken / Getty Images

Mice have boundless energy. Put an exercise wheel in their enclosure to help them burn some of that energy off, especially at night. In addition to a wheel, adding new items to their enclosure keeps things interesting. Paper towel and toilet paper tubes are low-cost options that mice love. Mice also enjoy nibbling on wooden chews, which help wear down their incisors. If a mouse’s teeth grow too long, they can get in the way of eating.

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5

Choosing pet mice

Hands Holding Mice artisteer / Getty Images

Mice are social creatures. A pair or group of females typically get along well in the same space. They’ll sleep snuggled up together and engage in mutual grooming and other cute behaviors.

It’s more difficult to keep a group of male mice, called bucks, together because they can be territorial and fight with one another. Keeping one male mouse on its own with plenty of enrichment is typically the best option when it comes to keeping males.

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6

Other gender considerations

Person holding small brown and white mouse Multiart / Getty Images

Unless you plan to breed them, never keep male and female mice in the same enclosure once they’ve reached sexual maturity, which happens at about 4 to 7 weeks of age. You'll end up with too many mice to keep in one cage, and overcrowding leads to health and behavioral issues. Additionally, female mice will get stressed if they're outnumbered and have to fend off attention from male mice.

Male mice have more pungent urine than female mice do and usually need their bedding changed more often to keep their enclosure smelling as fresh as possible.

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7

Breeding pet mice

Mouse head peering from nest tirc83 / Getty Images

Mice reproduce often and have four to 12 pups per litter. They can start breeding at as young as 4 weeks of age, but they and their litters have better outcomes when females aren't mated until they’re between 6 and 8 weeks. Gestation takes about 20 days, and mouse pups are typically wanted from their mothers after 28 days. Breeding pet mice can be a rewarding hobby for the experienced mouse enthusiast because of the many beautiful varieties you can breed, such as fancy mice with fur types like satin, long hair, frizzy, and hairless.

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8

Pet mice health concerns

 Two beautiful pet mice Prosun Paul / Getty Images

Mice hide signs of illness as long as they can, so it’s hard to know when a mouse is just a little bit sick. Some mouse owners suggest weighing your pet once a week to watch for unexplained weight loss, which can indicate that something’s wrong.

Other signs of sickness include low energy, a hunched posture, ungroomed fur, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. Many veterinarians don't treat pet mice, but you might find an exotic animal veterinarian in your area to see your pet when you think something might be wrong.

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9

Handling pet mice

 child holding pet mouse ptaxa / Getty Images

Pet mice are tiny, delicate creatures that require gentle handling. You should never pick up a mouse by its tail because that could seriously hurt the mouse. Some animal behaviorists believe it also makes the mouse stressed and anxious. The best way to pick up a mouse is to place your hand in its cage and wait for it to run onto your hand, then pick it up by cupping it in both hands. Tame mice won't jump off and will enjoy running up and down your arm. Mice don't have bladder control, so expect some accidents, and don't wear your best clothes when you're giving them some shoulder time.

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10

Do mice make good pets for children?

A small white domesticated pet mouse with red eyes running on an exercise wheel in its cage Mary Swift / Getty Images

Mice have relatively simple needs and make excellent first pets for children age 8 and over. Parents should watch younger kids closely to make sure they know how to handle a mouse. Otherwise, feeding mice and taking care of their cage are tasks that children should be able to manage on their own by about age 10.

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