Why mice are really rather nice

Pet mice are epic explorers and there’s hours of fun to be had watching them as they nimbly scale ropes, pause and scent the air, nibble on tasty treats that they hold delicately in their front paws and dash recklessly through tunnels. However, these compact pets have quite a long list of requirements when it comes to helping them lead
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5th April 2019

Pet mice are epic explorers and there’s hours of fun to be had watching them as they nimbly scale ropes, pause and scent the air, nibble on tasty treats that they hold delicately in their front paws and dash recklessly through tunnels. However, these compact pets have quite a long list of requirements when it comes to helping them lead their best mouse life.

On the run

The first thing you need to know about having mice as pets is that they need plenty of space to exercise, forage, play, climb, investigate and interact with their cage mates. In the wild, mice are extremely active animals, travelling many hundreds of metres in one day. Their ideal enclosure needs to be a large, narrow-spaced barred cage, with gaps no more than 9mm so they can’t squeeze through them. Glass or plastic enclosures aren’t suitable for mice because they don’t have very good ventilation, which can cause breathing problems. The accommodation needs to be lined with lino and then some dust-free mouse bedding such as wood pulp or paper-based materials. Always check this is safe for small pets, as cedar and pine woodchips are toxic. Avoid sawdust as this is very dusty and can irritate tiny mouse lungs.

Location, location, location

Choose a quiet area of your house to site their accommodation. Make sure it’s safely away from other pets, out of draughts and direct sunlight and from TVs and music systems – mice find noise and vibrations very stressful. They are also very sensitive to temperature changes and it’s important to keep the room between 18 and 22°C so your mice chums don’t overheat or get too cold.

And so, to sleep

Active at night, mice sleep for most of the day and so need a quiet, comfy nest box to curl up in, lined with clean, shredded paper. Think about setting up a few nest boxes so your mice have a choice of sleeping together or separately. Mice are highly motivated nest builders, using nesting material to help regulate their body temperature. Your pets will have hours of fun shredding their own bedding if you give them whole sheets of kitchen roll. Don’t use newspaper, as the ink can be toxic to small pets, or cotton wool – this can cause a dangerous blockage in their gut or get wrapped around their legs, preventing them from moving properly. 

Adventure time

Mice are a prey species and prefer to stay close to cover, but they’ll thrive if you provide them with lots of different levels to climb on, along with ladders, ropes and tunnels to help them stay active. It’s great fun to watch them as they investigate their surroundings. Keep some toys stored away and swap them around regularly. Variety will stop your mice getting bored and means you can give toys a thorough clean. An exercise wheel can help keep your mice super fit – but make sure it’s safe for them to use. Choose one without any gaps or holes they could trap their legs in. The wheel should also be large enough that they can run in it with a straight back. 

Chewing fun

Mice love nothing more than shredding and chewing stuff such as cardboard, coconut shells, hay cubes, an unbleached loofah or seagrass. They can also gnaw on untreated softwood, which helps to keep their continually-growing teeth in check. Before you give them any branches to chew, bake them on a low heat for an hour and give them a good wash to make sure they’re safe. Good woods to use are apple, dogwood, hawthorn, hazelnut, pear, poplar and quince. 

Help with the housekeeping

You’ll need to clean out your mice once a week to make sure their home is healthy and hygienic using a pet-safe cleaner. Keep back a handful of bedding that’s been used but isn’t wet or dirty and, once cleaning is completed, put this back so the cage so it still smells like home to your mice. Don’t let your wriggly pals back into their cage until everything is completely dry.


Scent marking territory is very important to mice. They use odour patterns of urine and secretions from other body glands to identify individuals and their social status.

Friends with benefits

Mice are gregarious and will be lonely as a solo pet. Their ideal arrangement is single-sex, stable groups, where they form complex social organisations. Watch their behaviour and see if you can work out who’s top mouse.

Handle with care

When they move, mice are like quicksilver and need to be handled very carefully to avoid injuring them. Mice are usually friendly and they rarely bite but, because they’re so small and fast, it can be difficult for small children to hold them, which is why an adult must supervise at all times and take responsibility for their care. To pick a mouse up hold the base – not the tip – of their tail gently but firmly and then lift their back end and slide your hand under their body.

Nibble know-how

Mice are ‘opportunistic omnivores’, which means they eat plants, seeds and grains but will also eat insects when they get the chance. They require the right diet to prevent nutritional-related problems. Burgess Hamster, Gerbil & Mouse  uses only the best quality ingredients to provide your pets with a balanced food that replicates their natural diet to help them stay happy and healthy. Our nuggets prevent selective feeding where the animal picks out the sweet high sugar elements of the diet and leaves the nutritious and fibre rich elements.

You can also provide small amounts of suitable fresh fruit and vegetables as part of their daily allowance. Mice-friendly treats include tiny slivers of carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet peppers, basil, parsley, coriander, apple (remove the pips), pear, peach and melon. Don’t feed your mice citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons or grapefruit and avoid grapes/raisins, rhubarb and walnuts, which are poisonous to them, or lettuce, which can cause diarrhoea.

In the wild, you mice would spend most of their time searching for food. You can recreate this natural behaviour for your pet mice by scattering their daily ration of nuggets around their cage to make dinner time more interesting. Hide treats inside paper bags or cardboard tubes and boxes and your mice will love to shred the cardboard to get to the prize inside.

Constant access to fresh water is also essential but be aware that mice can build nests against the cage sides and push bedding into water bottle nozzles. That’s why you should check their cage every morning to see what they’ve been up to during the night. Ensure that their water bottle nozzle hasn’t become blocked/wedged open and the cage flooded, causing a scene reminiscent of a tiny mouse version of Titanic.

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Sources: pdsa.org.uk, rspca.org.uk

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