A ten-gallon aquarium with a mesh lid is the best home for a mouse.
(Lid clips are available if you are afraid it will push the lid open and escape.) Mice tend to burrow in their bedding and in a wire cage, that means they'll be casting bedding through the bars for you to clean up daily. Also, aquariums protect mice from drafts. Mice are very prone to upper respiratory infections and can easily die from them.
Your mouse should be kept between 68 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Mice can also easily die of heat stroke so never put their cage in the sunlight. The cage should be located somewhere quiet because noise can stress mice and make them sick, flighty, or hard to handle.
It is said that the oils in pine and cedar can irritate a mouse's eyes or lungs or give it allergies, so most mouse lovers use shredded aspen, which is naturally deodorizing, kiln-dried pine, or CareFresh (the grey kind is least dusty), shredded paper, newspaper, etc. Bedding in small pieces is better, I think, because the mice also dig in it and play with it.
My mice eat lab blocks (nutritionally complete, formulated mouse food).
I highly recommend Native Earth 4018, which can be obtained at www.nationalpetpharmacy.com at a very good price and $4.95 flat rate shipping (they also have a very good price on Native Earth shredded aspen). I supplement with a mixture of rolled oats, brown rice, and flax seeds, for fiber for their tummies and good fats to make their coats shine. Seed mix (basically, bird food), is good, too.
Please be aware that corn, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and nuts will make your mouse fat! Reserve them for special treats. For everyday treats, most mice prefer plain Cheerios. If your mouse needs to gain weight, dip the Cheerio in olive oil first. I've nicknamed these, "oily O's". Mice also enjoy small portions of fresh vegetables. Be sure to take them out of the cage after two hours so they don't spoil.
Mice are free feeders, which means they will eat only what they need. They will not overeat. In addition, their metabolisms are so fast they need to eat constantly. Make sure there is food in their cage at all times! (Do not feed them "meals" like a dog or a cat.)
I think it is better to scatter their food in their cage, rather than put it in a food bowl. Mice in the wild are foragers, and if you scatter the food, they get to forage! It also keeps them intellectually stimulated. If food is in a bowl, it sets up a potential for food guarding, where one or more mice won't let others get to the bowl. If the food is everywhere, all mice get enough food.
Always use a water bottle! Bowls of water get bedding and food and poop kicked into them so frequently it is not healthy, plus they can tip over and dampen all the litter in the cage, which puts your mouse at risk for catching an upper respiratory infection, which it could easily die of.
Check the water bottle every day by tapping the nozzle with your finger to see if the water is flowing. Putting a drop or two of vanilla extract (pure, not imitation) in the water reduces the pungency of your mouse's urine.
Mice can die of boredom or loneliness. If you have a male mouse, it must live alone because male mice fight to the death and male and female mice have babies, so it is important that its environment be intellectually stimulating. An exercise wheel or spinning saucer is a must! Saucers are safest. Mesh wheels are good, as are Silent Spinners (though you have to clean them more often). Avoid wheels with bars. Your mouse's feet
could get caught in them and feet and legs sprained or broken.
Toys are also a must. A mentally stimulated mouse is a happy mouse. The more new things it encounters in its cage, the less afraid of new things it will be when you take it out. Hang an empty toilet paper tube from some twine from the lid! They'll have a ball trying to figure out how to get it down. It's even more fun if it has a bit of paper still on it. Toilet paper tubes are also good for chewing on. Mice need to chew to wear down their ever-growing incisor teeth. Mice love crinkly paper bags with holes in them. They love cardboard boxes. THEY LOVE IT WHEN YOU REARRANGE THE THINGS IN THEIR CAGE! That's an easy mental stimulator. Have fun gluing some popsicle sticks together into something for them to climb. The two things mice love best are to climb and hide. Try to use the vertical space in their tank.
(The Upstairs Colony, where Mrs. Beach lived.)
Some people clean weekly, some every other week, some only when it's needed. It depends on how large your tank is and how many mice live in it. Mice tend to choose one corner to toilet in and sometimes all that's needed is to remove the dirty bedding in that corner and replace it with fresh.
To clean tanks I use dish soap and water and a brush. I clean the water bottles with dish soap and a bottle brush. Once a month I let them stand for an hour with one drop of bleach in them to kill organic growths. Rinse the bottles thoroughly and let them dry completely before using them. Bleach dries to harmless salts.
If you wash a wheel and it squeaks when they run on it, smear some petroleum jelly on the wheel axle. That'll stop it!
Do not wash your mice! They will likely catch cold and die if they get wet. Mice bathe themselves about every ten minutes. They are self-cleaning pets!
When picking up your mouse, scoop it up from beneath with two hands. Mice are prey animals and they know it. Anything that comes down on them from above will terrify them because they'll think it is a predator trying to kill them. Speak softly and move slowly when holding your mouse. Do not squeeze it. Closely surpervise children who are holding mice.
MICE AND OTHER MICE
If you already own mice, you'll need to quarantine any new mouse you bring into your house for three weeks. This means putting it in its own cage in its own room (air space) and washing your hands after handling it and before handling your other mice. The purpose of quarantine is to make sure the new mouse isn't sick or have any incubating germs that could infect your mice. Three weeks covers the incubation period.
If you have two males, they cannot live together. They will fight and injure each other and one usually kills the other. Females, on the other hand, need company. Never keep a female mouse alone! It can actually get depressed and even die of loneliness. Female mice are best kept in trios so that if one dies the other two will have each other.
Three to four mice is about tops for a ten-gallon aquarium.
INTRODUCING A NEW MOUSE TO OTHER MICE
If you wish your new mouse, fresh out of quarantine, to live with your present mice, you should clean out the entire cage and wash it and everything in it and put new bedding in it, so your existing mice don't identify its smell as their territory. Hold your existing mice and the new mouse in your hands for a while, then let them play in some neutral territory, like on a blanket or in a cardboard box. If they are getting along well, put them together in the tank they will live in. There may be some squeaking and fighting as they work out their heirarchy, but unless blood is drawn, it's OK. They need to go through this process and stopping and starting again only prolongs it. To reduce some of this you can dab vanilla extract on each mouse's genitals and nose so they neither smell like anything nor can smell. It works!
MICE AND OTHER PETS
Very often the smell of another animal--especially an animal like a cat or dog who is a predator--can stress mice. Sometimes not. You'll want to keep your mice in their own room with the door closed or make sure their cage has lid clips and is in a secure place that can't be knocked over.
WHEN YOU GO AWAY FOR A FEW DAYS
Mice are free feeders, so you can go away for two or three days (one to two nights) and leave them with a big pile of food and they won't overeat; it will last them until you return. Make sure their water bottle is full! I often hang up a second water bottle just in case the first one gets stopped up or empty. Mice can not live long without water.
If you go away longer than three days, ask someone to check your mice
daily. He or she needs to:
- Check that there is enough food visible.
- Touch the end of the water bottle spout to make sure the water is flowing. Finger must feel and look wet!
- Check the level of water in the bottle both to make sure there is enough and to make sure it hasn't run out into the cage. Sometimes the mice move some bedding or a cardboard object against the spout and all the water wicks out and soaks all the edding in the cage. In that case, the wet bedding should be removed and replaced. Make sure your mouse sitter knows where you keep your litter!
- OPTIONAL, DEPENDING ON YOUR SITTER: Do a head count for each cage, to make sure all mice are alive and well. (Leave instructions for removal and disposal of dead bodies.) This is often done by opening the cage and picking up the nest box and all hiding places until all mice have been seen. If you have trained your mice to recognize their names [see left sidebar at YOUR MICE ARE TRAINED], you can put Post-It notes with the names and colors of your mice on each cage and your mouse sitter has merely to call each mouse by name and wait for it to show itself. This is handy when you have a mouse sitter who does not want to interact physically with your mice!
- Be sure to put the lid back on securely!