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THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT KEEPING MICE

Mice are kept for many reasons, from being children's pets to prize show animals. They are not ideal pets in many ways but are easy to keep in captivity. Most captive mice are of the species Mus musculus or are the dark brown or sandy-colored deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). The harvest mouse (Micromys minutus) and the long-tailed field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) are occasionally kept as pets.

Most mice sold as children's pets are white although many other color variants are possible. 'Selfs' have one body color which may be black, blue, chocolate, fawn etc. 'Tans' have one color on the upper body and are tan underneath. 'Marked' animals are white mice with a variety of color patterns. The final group is the broadly named AOVs (any other variety). These include coat markings such as agouti, chinchilla and long haired.

Housing

Mice can be housed successfully in commercial or home-built cages. If you make the cage it is vital to remember that mice can chew through wood or plastic very easily and, once free, will gnaw everything from household items to electrical cables. Metal and glass are good materials from which to build cages, which often include a separate bedding area although, given sufficient floor space, this is not necessary. The problem with most cages is that they are too small. A space 50 x 40 cm with a height of 25 cm will cater for three or four mice but the bigger the better and, as mice are intensely social animals, keeping them in larger groups is advisable, even given that such groups grow regularly and frequently through breeding. Wire mesh, if used in the construction of cages, should be fine enough to prevent escape of young mice but sturdy enough to resist the teeth of adults.

Bedding of either tissue paper or soft wood shavings (not pine or cedar as the oils these contain are damaging to health), needs regular cleaning. This is a good reason for a hard plastic base to the cage, which should be sterilized regularly. Mice should be housed at between 14-26C and never above 30C, when they can die of heat stroke.

Feeding

Mice can be fed a commercial complete ration supplemented with fruit and vegetables. They are happy to eat tit bits and chocolate but while these can be useful in firming the owner-pet bond, they can lead to obesity and considerable health problems

Handling

Although mice are generally amenable to handling they should always be handled with care. Using your cupped hands is the best way although your veterinarian probably holds them by the scruff to be better able to examine them and give any medications.

Breeding

Adult mice can be sexed when one of either sex is available for comparison. The anus and vulva in the female are much closer together than the anus and penis in the male. Mice are sexually mature at 6 to 7 weeks and have a gestation of 19 to 21 days with a litter size of 8 to 12 pups. Weaning age is 3 to 4 weeks. Population explosions are a common problem and ideally mice should be kept in single sex groups, the females being easier to manage than the males, who will fight, giving each other severe bites which may become infected. If you have a pair, separate them before the birth of young because within 12 hours they will mate, giving you a very rapid increase in your pet population!

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