Pet mice are great if you’re looking for a small, cute and low-maintenance companion. To keep them healthy and happy they will need a clean cage, mental and physical stimulation, food and water.
Pet mice need to be kept in pairs or larger groups, as they are very social animals. Younger mice need to grow up with other mice to develop less aggression, and good social skills.
Mice are nocturnal animals, so most of its activity will happen at night! Their cage should be somewhere that mimics their natural habitat, so this sleeping pattern isn’t disturbed!
Let’s take a closer look at the various things our pet mice need to stay happy. Including: toys, social needs, and how long do pet mice live!
Are mice good pets?
It’s difficult to determine what makes a good pet! Different animals will make good pets for different people – and you’ll realize that this depends on countless factors.
Mice are ideal pets if you want a companion but don’t have much space or a lot of time. Mouse care is relatively easy – your just need to provide them with the right food and environment to keep them happy and healthy.
Pet mice are active creatures that love to explore their cages and exercise lots. They need a clean cage with enough space and toys to keep them entertained.
Fancy mice, the ones you see in pet stores, were originally domestic house mice. However, they’ve been selectively bred for certain desirable characteristics. They’re often even entered in competitions.
Fancy mice come in all shapes, sizes and colours. You can get a pet mouse in white, brown, or even silver and black! Mice do not really come in breeds, just different colors and coats.
But if you are considering a pet mouse – be prepared to get at least two. Whether they’re in a pair, or a larger group, they need other mice to keep them company.
This is especially true when they’re younger, as growing up in with other mice affects their social behavior and aggression levels later in life! And this even includes how well they’ll socialize with you.
Studies have shown that being alone can be very stressful for mice. Stresses early on in life have been associated with the development of psychiatric and physical brain diseases in mice.
While this doesn’t necessarily affect whether or not mice make “good” pets, it can mean they require a little more work to care for, as you won’t be caring for just one!
And don’t forget that a male and female together will breed with regular frequency!
You might have been told that pet mice tend to bite. Let’s have a closer look at this.
Do pet mice bite?
When handled regularly and gently, with flat palms rather than grabbing hands, most mice will keep their teeth to themselves. Pet mice mostly bite only when they’re frightened.
Although, just like us, they do have different personalities. You pet mouse might be naturally either more easily scared or more aggressive.
Most people want pets that are going to be relatively gentle. You want to be able to handle or get close to your smaller pet without potentially hurting yourself.
Mice are very small and delicate pets that love to whiz around their cages. This can make it really hard to pick them up.
Then if you do manage to pick them up, they can be easily frightened. And then they might bite and could you accidentally let go when they do. Their delicate stature also makes them vulnerable to any rough handling.
Mice won’t go out of their way to bite you, but you should be aware of the risk when you do try to handle them. So you need to be extra gentle and very patient in the beginning.
Get them used to your voice first. Then to your hand in the cage, maybe feeding them a tidbit. Make sure they feel safe with you before you actually pick them up.
When you do pick up your pet mouse always remember that mice are great escape artists. Hold them close to your body and over a soft surface. A mouse can easily get injured if they accidentally jump out of your hand.
So if they’re known to bite, are pet mice suitable for children?
Are pet mice good with kids?
A pet mouse is maybe not the best pet for a young child. Especially if you are looking for a pet that they can interact with all the time. They do make great pets for older children, who can also start taking responsibility for feeding their mice and keeping the cage clean.
Letting young children pick up a pet mouse is not recommended. It can be hard to control how gentle they are – especially as mice will move around quickly and likely try to escape being held.
If kids are rough with pet mice when trying to interact with them, they could get bitten.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get mice if you have children. There are plenty of ways for young children to interact with these pets without having to pick them up.
They can buy them fun new toys and watch them play. Also feed them treats from their hand, inside their cages.
Unfortunately, the sleeping patterns of mice can mean that your kids don’t actually get to see much of these little pets! Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.
Mice are nocturnal creatures.
You should be prepared not to see much of your pet mouse during the main part of the day! Mice become more active during twilight and scoot around at night into the early hours of the morning.
This makes them great pets if you have a job that keeps you out of the house through the day!
However, they can be noisy at night when they’re scuttling around their cage or exercising, which can affect where you place your mouse cage! You’ll want to put it somewhere where your mice won’t keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep!
Talking about your mouse cage, choosing the cage itself will be your most important mouse care decision.
Choosing the right pet mice cage
Barred cages are a great choice for mice, but you have to make sure that the bars aren’t spaced too far apart. Mice love to explore, so wide-spaced bars can create escape artists!
You should look for a cage with narrowly spaced bars. If your mice manage to squeeze through the bars of their cage, it can be incredibly hard to catch them, as they’re so fast.
Because you’ll be keeping multiple mice, you want to give them as much room as possible to avoid overcrowding. You also want to give them enough room to run around and get lots of exercise.
Wired or barred cages are generally a better choice than glass or plastic cages for mice. They have great ventilation which helps to keep your mice healthy and fresh-smelling.
Besides a basic cage, you might want to spoil your pets with one of the fancier one’s on the market. These cages have different levels and activities, like tunnels and wheels already built in to provide your mice with lots of fun and entertainment.
For further guidance on how to select a cage for your pet mice have a look at our article Best Mouse Cage – Choosing the Right Home for Your Mice.
You also need to provide your mice with a nesting box or two inside the cage. This cozy box is filled with shredded bedding for the mice to burrow in while they sleep during the day.
There are different nesting boxes available on the market, but you can also just use a ceramic flower pot. Cardboard boxes are also fine – but you’ll have to replace them often as they’ll get chewed up and shredded.
Furthermore, you need to provide you mice with toys in their cage. This keeps them healthy and fit and also from getting bored.
Toys for your pet mouse
An exercise wheel is an essential feature for caged mice. You should get a wheel that’s solid as the tiny mice can get their little legs hooked up and injured on the wire ones.
Some people believe that running on these wheels isn’t natural and that caged mice run on them because they’re stressed out. To test this view, researchers placed some wheels near the homes of wild mice and they took to jogging on them regularly.
If your cage doesn’t have built in play features you can buy toys like tunnels and ladders separately in most pet stores. Even an empty cardboard toilet roll or paper towel holders makes a great tunnel for your pet mice.
Mice also like to chew a lot. In fact, they need to, because their teeth grow all the time. If you don’t provide chew toys they might end up gnawing on the cage wires and break their teeth or injure their little mouths.
There are lots of chew toys for mice available in pet shops. You can also provide simple items like cardboard, pumice stone, and natural softwood twigs. When it comes to twigs avoid cedar and pine, as many mice are allergic to these woods.
Although mice are low-maintenance, there are some basic pet mice care rules to keep them healthy and happy. And this brings us to the oft raised objection that pet mice are smelly.
Do pet mice smell?
Unfortunately, pet mice have been known to be relatively smelly.
Mice, especially males, like to mark their scent around their cages, as a way of communicating or establishing their own territory.
Some mice will smell stronger than others, and you might not have any scent problems with your pet mice. But if you do, there are a few ways to reduce the smells.
Make sure you’re cleaning and disinfecting the cage regularly. Besides avoiding the smells, unclean cages filled with dust and a heavy scent of ammonia in the air can also cause your mice to get sick.
Don’t Clean Too Much!
However, you should avoid cleaning too often – about once a week should prevent smells from becoming too strong. Too frequent cleaning will cause your mice to overcompensate with scent marking to make up for the loss of odors when you disinfect their cage!
After cleaning you should always try to replace some of the original scent in your mice’s cage. You can replace some of the bedding that’s not soiled, an old piece of cardboard or toy.
This older scent can also encourage your mice to use a single part of the cage as a toilet, thus reducing smells from litter.
You can also purchase different deodorizers at pet stores, which can help if all this regular cleaning doesn’t help improve your mouse’s scent!
So what else do you need to know about mouse care?
How to care for pet mice
We’ve already discussed the need for a spacious, regularly cleaned, cage and toys to make sure they get enough exercise. Next up, you’ll need to plan carefully when you place the cage.
Because mice are nocturnal creatures you’ll want to put their cage somewhere that would mimic their natural habitat. It should be quiet and unobtrusive through the day, but dark at night when they’re awake.
This is important because studies have found the exposure to bright lights at night can alter the behaviors and mental ability of mice!
The cage should be in an area that’s well ventilated – we’ve already discussed the reason for this – but not exposed to cold draughts or direct sunlight.
You should also place the cage in an area that isn’t too loud. Mice have much more sensitive hearing than we do. Certain sounds and vibrations can keep them awake, or even make them quite stressed.
Keeping them away from TVs and stereos is best. Also from computers and any other electrical equipment that emits continuous low-level sound.
Then, of course, you need to provide fresh water and feed your mice daily.
What do pet mice eat?
So the next thing you might want to know is what to feed a pet mouse. What do pet mice eat, anyway?
One of the most important parts of looking after mice is a healthy, balanced diet. They eat a huge range of different foods, from plants and grains to insects!
For the healthiest diet, you should feed your mice a commercial mouse food which supplies a good variety of different ingredients. To this you can add small amounts of fresh fruits and veggies.
Some safe fruits and vegetables include: carrot, cauliflower, cucumber, dried banana and seedless apples.
You can also give occasional treats, like mealworms, peas, or even scrambled egg. All fresh food should be given in very small quantities to make sure it doesn’t end up rotting the cage.
You should always introduce new foods gradually to avoid upsetting your mice’s stomachs.
Foraging and Water
When feeding your mice, you might want to spread food around their cage. This will encourage their natural tendency to forage for food, and gives them a little more exercise at the same time.
As with all living things you mice will need fresh water all the time. The recommended option is a water bottle with a non-drip drinking tube that attaches to the side of the cage. It can’t be knocked over and is easy to clean and refill.
Mice are generally very healthy pets if provided with the right environment and food. But like any living creature they can develop health issues.
Common health problems in pet mice
The health problems in mice most commonly seen by vets are skin problems, respiratory infections, and tumors.
You should watch out for mites, ticks, and lice on your mice’s fur and skin. Mice can also get the usual infections that can affect their skin, ears, and intestines. They can also suffer from allergies.
Mice can even catch colds. You should watch out for any unusual behaviors like sitting hunched up and not running around as usual. Also keep an eye out for sneezing, wheezing, and runny noses – these can be signs of breathing problems or infections.
Mice are particularly prone to developing pneumonia from what starts out as a cold. And the chances of lung problems are increased if their cage is dirty.
Dental problems are also quite common in mice because their teeth grow all the time. The teeth can cut into their gums, causing pain. Or they can easily break teeth that are too long when gnawing on hard objects.
You’ll want to watch for a condition called sticky eyes – which looks exactly like what it says. Sticky eyes can indicate an eye infection, allergies, or stress. As they get older mice also tend toward blindness.
Pet mice are also vulnerable to injury because of their size and delicate nature. If their cage is too small, you may see indications of “cage rage” – where the dominant mice attack the others.
Your pet mouse is more likely to develop any of the more serious conditions as they get older.
Serious conditions in pet mice
Serious conditions in pet mice include cysts, abscesses and tumors. Regularly feel for unusual lumps on your mouse, as these can signal tumors.
When do you find unusual lumps, you’ll need a diagnosis from your vet. Abscesses can be treated with antibiotics. Cysts and some tumors can be removed with surgery. Because mice are so tiny, internal tumours are difficult to treat.
Other age related health problems in mice include kidney, liver and uterine conditions.
You should also watch for Wet Tail, so called because of a watery diarrhea causing the “wet tail. This is a serious intestinal infection in, especially young, rodents. It can be fatal within hours and requires a trip to the vet for antibiotics immediately.
If you notice anything unusual, you should always check with your vet.
So how long do pet mice live? When is a pet mouse classified as older?
How long do pet mice live?
Healthy mice can live up to three years.
This can make them seem a short-term pet compared to other animals, like dogs, but they’re still a commitment!
This short-ish lifespan doesn’t mean you don’t need to put any effort into caring for your mice.
All pets deserve healthy, happy lives, and need appropriate and loving care!
If you’re still confused about whether pet mice are the right choice for you, let’s summarize.
Are mice good pets for me? – A summary
Mice are pretty low-maintenance pets, but require plenty of exercise opportunities and a well-balanced diet. They also need regular cleaning to prevent strong smells.
As nocturnal animals, mice will be most active at night and sleep through the day, so are great for people who work in the day.
Mice aren’t always the best choice as a pet for young children. They don’t necessarily like being handled, and could bite when picked up if they feel at all frightened.
But if you think a nocturnal, cute, low-maintenance pet is right for you, mice are a great choice!
Do your kids love pet mice, even though they sleep all day? Do you have any tips for fixing smelly mice? Tell us about your experiences with pet mice in the comments section below.
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.
Resources and Further Reading
- Branchi, I. et al. 2006. Early social enrichment shapes social behavior and nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels in the adult mouse brain. Biological Psychiatry.
- Datta, S. et al. 2016. Gender features and estrous cycle variations of nocturnal behavior of mice after a single exposure to light at night. Journal of Physiological Behaviour.
- Donnelly, T. 2019. Mice and Rates as Pets. MSD Veterinary Manual.
- Meijer, J. & Robbers, Y. 2014. Animal behaviour: Wild mice run for fun on wheels. Nature.
- Hess, L. & Axelson, R. Diseases in Rodents. VCA Hospitals.
- People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Feeding your mice. PDSA.
- People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. Mouse health. PDSA
- People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. The ideal home for your mice. PDSA
- Ros-Simo, C. & Valverde, O. 2012. Early-life social experiences in mice affect emotional behaviour and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.