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Mice Q&A

When did mice first become pets? What do mice eat? How sociable are mice? What do mice like to do? We’ve all the mice info you need to help you enjoy caring for these tiny, epic explorers who love to forage, play, climb and interact with their cage mates – no wonder a group of these tiny rodents is called ‘a mischief of mice’!

Here’s what’s covered in our mice Q&A:

  • When did mice first become pets?
  • How long do mice live?
  • Are mice awake during the day?
  • Are mice good pets for children?
  • What do mice eat?
  • Where should pet mice live?
  • Are mice social and do they need company?
  • What do mice like to do?
  • How do mice communicate and how do you know if your mice like you?
  • How do you make friends with a mouse?

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When did mice first become pets?

The adventures of pet mice have been a staple of children’s stories for decades. From Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers school stories to Roald Dahl’s The Witches (where the Grand High Witch plans to turn all the children in England into mice), these tiny, whisker-twitching rodents have had a starring role.

In fact, a fancy or pet mouse (fancy means 'hobby') is a domesticated form of house mouse (Mus musculus), which come in an array range of beautiful fur colours including black, chocolate, blue, white, cream, lilac, red, fawn, champagne, cinnamon, golden agouti, silver agouti, silver, and dove. Depending on their colouration, a fancy mouse may have black or pink eyes.

They’ve also been prized as pets for centuries. Many varieties of mice were domesticated as pets in China and Japan in the 1700s, and Europeans imported favourites and bred them with local mice. In Victorian England, ‘fancy’ mice were prized, and a National Mouse Club was founded in 1895, with its first official show held in Lincoln that year.

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How long do pet mice live?

With the right nutrition, suitable accommodation, company, care and kindness, pet mice can live for up to three years.

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Are mice awake during the day?

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. Mice absolutely love nest-building and use 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.

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Are mice good pets for children?

When they move, mice are like quicksilver and need to be handled extremely carefully to avoid injuring them. Mice are usually friendly and 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

If you’re thinking about getting a pair or pack of mice as pets, why not consider adopting from a rescue centre such as Wood Green or RSPCA? This is a great idea because it means you can be certain of getting the same sex mice and avoid the risk of accidental breeding. A female mouse can start having babies as early as two months old and can give birth to anything up to 12 babies every three weeks...

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DID YOU KNOW?
Mice can use their whiskers to detect any changes in the temperature around them – they also use their whiskers to feel any smooth or rough surfaces they run or walk along.

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What do mice eat?

In the wild, mice will eat just about anything, whether it’s good for them or not! They’re classified as ‘opportunistic omnivores’, which means they eat plants, seeds and grains but will also eat insects when they get the chance.

Pet mice 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 to help them stay happy and healthy. These nibble-icious nuggets are designed to:

  • Prevent selective feeding where the pet picks out the sweet high sugar bits and leaves the fibre rich elements
  • Be extra tasty and small in size – just right for little mouths
  • Support healthy skin and a glossy coat, thanks to added linseed

Mice naturally eat from 15 to 20 times a day, so need to always be close to food when kept as pets. Also make sure they always have access to fresh clean water.

As a treat, 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.

When it comes to safe and scrummy snacks, your mice chums will also enjoy Excel Gnaw Sticks, which are made with made from 100% natural field-grown ingredients, produced in the countryside – willow, apple, and hazel sticks – and are great for chomping on.

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Salad days – Find out what fresh foods are safe for our small furries to eat – and what foods are harmful and should be avoided at all costs >>

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Where should pet mice live?

Pet mice 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. Mice are clean pets. They create one place in their cages to put their food, one to use as a bathroom and another area where they like to sleep.
  • Constant access to fresh water is 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.
  • 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.

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Are mice social and do they need company?

The first rule when keeping mice is never to have just one. These small pets need the company of at least one or two other mice pals (ideally from the same litter) or they will feel scared, vulnerable and depressed, which will have a detrimental effect on their health. Mice are very social and like to do things with other mice – whether that’s playing a game of chase, exploring a tunnel, or cuddling up for a snuggly snooze.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Male mice are referred to as bucks, females are called does and baby mice are called kittens or pinkies.

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What do mice like to do?

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 good 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. 
  • 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.
  • Mice adore 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.
  • 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. 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.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Mice have scales on their tails which they use to help them climb up things, which is why they’re so brilliant at climbing.

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How do mice communicate and how do you know if your mice like you?

As well as using scent, mice communicate with each other using their mouths, noses, ears and bodies, along with high-pitched ultrasonic sounds (which you’d need a bat detector to hear). Male mice are known to court their mates by serenading the females with their own ‘mouse song’. In fact, scientific research by Washington University, St Louis, USA, has added mice to the short list of singing mammals which include only bats, whales, porpoises and human beings!

Here’s a quick guide to some common mouse behaviours:

  • The position of your mouse’s ears can be a clue as to his or her mood. A curious mouse is inclined to perk his ears up or forward. If the ears are down and pointed back, the mouse is showing a defensive posture, especially if this is accompanied by stiff body language, the mouse is saying: “Back off!”
  • Nothing says, “I like you” in mice language more than gently grooming one another. That being said, grooming can be a complicated thing. A mouse might groom another mouse to show dominance, and an overly dominant mouse might go so far as to groom the fur right off of the target of his domineering ways. The result can be a bald spot left behind, which is referred to as barbering.
  • While dogs typically wag their tales when happy, with mice, tail wagging can mean just the opposite. In mice, tail wagging is more like finger wagging in people – an expression of annoyance, or outright aggression if it is directed at another mouse.

Playing and interacting with your mice every day will help your scent becomes familiar and non-threatening and they learn to trust you and want to hang out with you. When your mice climb happily onto your hand, you’ll know you’ve been accepted as a friend.

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DID YOU KNOW?

When really frightened by something, a mouse will play dead until they feel the danger has passed.
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How do you make friends with a mouse?

The best way to form a bond between yourself and your mice is to take things slowly and build up trust over time. Speak softly and allow them to climb on your hand before attempting to pick them up. Mice should never be caught or held by their tail. 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.

Here are our top tips for building your bond with your mice:

  • When your mice come forward in their enclosure, don’t try to catch them, just offer a treat so they don’t associate you with being caught.
  • Am I in danger? Mice think anything approaching is a potential predator – even you. Don’t loom over them (as a predator in the wild might), but crouch down to meet them at their level.
  • What’s happening? Keep your approach slow and steady – small pets can be easily startled and will simply run for cover. Speak to them in a soft, happy voice as you gradually get closer.
  • That looks like it could be tasty! Offer some yummy nuggets so they learn to associate your approach with something good happening. If your mice won’t come close enough to take food from your hand, lightly toss the food to them whenever they come in your direction. Wait until they come a little closer each time before offering food again, while continuing to talk to them in a soothing voice.
  • I think I’ll risk it... If your pet does take the food, sit beside them and continue chatting to them. Then, offer them another treat. If your pet looks comfortable and doesn’t back off, you could try giving them a gentle stroke. Do this every day and your pet will begin to approach you, creating some magical animal moments.
  • On my own terms Timid mice may take a while to gain confidence, but every pet is an individual and it’s essential that they choose to interact with you on their own terms – and it’s that which makes it so rewarding. When your small pet decides that he or she trusts you enough to want to engage in some hand-feeding time with you it’s a great result!

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Are your mice Burgess mice? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.

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SHOW YOUR PETS THE LOVE One of the best ways to show your pets the love they deserve is to learn more about them. Start by knowing the five animal welfare needs, gen up on your pets’ specific nutrition requirements, and get to grips with body language and vocalisations. It’s also good to understand the importance of enabling pet animals to exhibit their natural behaviours.

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