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For many people seeing a mouse is the culmination of all their worst fears - fast-moving, small and unhygienic. Everyone from housewives to elephants are supposed to be scared of this tiny creature - after all, they are considered vermin. But are they really as bad as they seem and can they actually make good pets?
The mouse is indeed a small mammal belonging to the group of animals known as rodents, which also includes rats, gerbils, hamsters and guinea pigs. The mouse is easily recognisable thanks to its hairless tail, round ears and pointy snout. As they are a nocturnal animal, mice have poor eyesight, but they make up for this with a very keen sense of hearing and finely honed sense of smell.
Mice do have to contend with a rather questionable reputation - but is it deserved? Well, no one can deny that wild populations don't cause considerable damage to crops and vegetable plantations. In 1993 a plague of millions of mice ate their way through $100million worth of grain in Australia. The next year the plagues were even worse. They breed prodigiously and are one of the most successful creatures on Earth with the ability to adapt to almost any environment, and because of this they have had to contend with humans for food and shelter on more than one occasion.
These 'mice plagues' are the result of favourable weather conditions leading to high grain and cereal yields. These factors combined create the perfect breeding ground for mice. Both males and females reach sexual maturity at about 50 days old, with females being 'polyestrus', meaning they can breed all year round. The gestation period for a mouse as approximately 20 days and that short pregnancy, with an average litter size of 10-12 pups, coupled with the young age at which mice reach sexual maturity means that a population can increase ten-fold every two months. It is therefore important that if you are considering mice as a suitable pet, that you think carefully about whether you want any mice pups into the bargain...
Absolutely! Mice make great pets. They're cheap to buy, cheap to feed and cheap to house and they are intelligent, entertaining little creatures. Show mice that come in a variety of wonderful colours including cinnamon, sable, silver and blue are as far removed from a house mouse as a racehorse is from a donkey. Pet shop mice sit somewhere in between and come in white, brown or both. Mice can get used to being handled and therefore make great pets for children.
Mice were traditionally kept in wooden boxes, however as they grew in popularity as a pet, so the choice of accommodation grew too. These days housing ranges from the aforementioned wooden boxes, to mesh cages, tanks and space-age, multi-coloured constructions - all designed to keep your furry friends snug. It's essential that any housing you choose has excellent ventilation as mice can be a little smelly. Adequate air flow will ensure any odours disperse and moisture and condensation is kept to a minimum. Remember not to house males and females together unless you are planning to breed. Similarly, housing males together is not a good idea. They have very strong-smelling urine and can fight viciously. It's far better to start with females as they don't smell as badly and they are far more relaxed around each other. Sawdust is an ideal substrate for the bottom of the cage as it absorbs moisture and masks odour. Shredded paper or hay should be provided for the mice to nest in. The cage should be cleaned out at least once a week and it's a good idea to have another cage or box on hand so you can alternate on cleaning day. Mice love entertainment so a trusty exercise wheel is a must. Pet stores also sell a wide range of toys suitable for small rodents - failing that, an endless supply of cardboard tubes will do the job just as well! Remember - mice love to groom and play with each other so always house more than one mouse together. Like all rodents, your pet's incisors grow continuously so she will need something to gnaw on. A mineral stone or wooden chew toy will help keep teeth in tip top condition. Remember to keep your mouse out of direct sunlight and out of the reach of draughts.
It's best to pick your mouse up by the root of the tail, never the tip, and place in in the other hand. It may be wise to keep hold of the tail of a nervous mouse while it's in your hand to stop it jumping off. It's worth persevering though as mice are clever and quickly get used to being handled. Yours might even grow to enjoy it! Don't worry about hurting your mouse by picking him up by the tail - contrary to popular belief it doesn't hurt them one bit.
There are many commercial small rodent feeds on the market, all of which will provide a good basic diet for your pets. However, it's important not to overfeed mice; they don't know when to stop eating and can quickly become fat. Follow feeding guidelines strictly and supplement their diet only with tiny amounts of fresh veg such as carrot, broccoli or apple. It's a myth that mice like cheese - they do not require dairy products and should not be given them. They do love chocolate, but again, this should not be offered to mice. Fresh clean drinking water should be available at all times and should be given via a gravity bottle.
Mice are robust little creatures, but they do have a short lifespan so any issues are usually attributed to, and caused by, the ageing process. If you are concerned about any aspect of your pet's health you should seek veterinary advice, however if you ensure that your pet is fed correctly, has access to clean water, dry bedding and enough entertainment he will enjoy a happy, healthy life.
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