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Behaviour


Mice groom themselves with their teeth and claws. The usual grooming routine may involve a mouse scratching itself with its hind feet, then perhaps washing its face or fur with its hands (spreading saliva on the hands, and rubbing them over the fur), and grooming with the teeth. This looks like the mouse is nibbling at its fur.

Left - Cream satin buck (Gabriel) washes his feet, Right - Cream doe (Gina) washing


Excessive grooming sometimes occurs when rodents are nervous. A mouse may wash its face continually if it feels insecure. Whilst this looks cute, continuous vigorous face washing is a sign that the mouse should be left undisturbed for a while.

'Barbering' occurs when a mouse nibbles away patches of fur from its own body, or that of another mouse. You may notice short patches of fur but no irritation to the skin. It is a habit, like nail biting in humans, which tends to get worse when the animal is nervous. Concentrate on keeping the affected mice happy but do not worry about this habit. It is only a nuisance if you wish to breed or show mice. The habit is often hereditary so 'barbers' should not be bred from. At this point I feel that it is important to point out that there can be other reasons that your mouse is experiencing hair loss, such as lice and mites. Mice can have parasites that are not visible to the naked eye, so if your mouse seems irritated and is scratching more than usual (along with hair loss) you should take it to a vet to rule out this possibility.

Grooming can sometimes be a way of expressing dominance (working out who is boss) or friendship. You may see one mouse holding another with its hands, whilst appearing to nibble at its fur. This is nothing to worry about, even if the mouse being groomed squeaks and doesn't appear to like it.

A doe tries to take food from a cagemate

Playing: No squeaks, or very quiet ones. Mice may play 'catch' and chase each other, but no wounds and no signs of stress or ill health will be seen. Young mice tend to be more playful than older ones.

Climbing, chewing and digging are all normal behaviours for mice. They may also make a series of tunnels from the substrate in their tank.


Fighting: When mice fight seriously enough for it to be a problem, you will usually hear loud squeaking and see blood or scratches on the skin when you stroke the fur against the direction of growth. Note that loud squeaking often occurs when mice scrap or argue, without serious fights occurring. Fighting looks quite different from grooming behaviour - the mice will usually run around, perhaps one or both jumping towards the other with tail twitching angrily or fur fluffed up. One or both mice may run off to get 'time out' and may look fed up. One mouse may seem to chase the other constantly.

Fighting is most common when the cage has just been cleaned, as mice re-establish their individual territories and dominance within it. Female mice may squabble after a newcomer is introduced, as each mouse has to re-establish her place in the hierarchy, but it shouldn't be serious. Male mice often fight in attempts to move up the hierarchy. It is common to hear regular banter coming from a cage of male mice. Give the community as much space as possible - at least 24"x12" for between two and five male mice - and lots of small hiding places so that each mouse can have his own territory.

Fighting is something of a hobby for male mice - you do not need to separate them unless one has a bleeding wound or appears stressed. If the level of fighting is unacceptable, your first move should be to look for a larger home for the mice. In the meantime, you can split up fights by gently spraying the fighting mice with a clean plant spray filled with water.

Please think carefully before resorting to separating your mice. You may be condemning one of your mice to a life of solitary confinement. Splitting the mice up for 'time out' is not a good idea; it will probably be much harder to reintroduce them than it would have been to leave them all together. If you have several male mice and fighting or bullying is making one miserable, try removing the most aggressive mouse - the bully - and leaving the victim in with the others. If you just remove the victim of bullying, the bully may find someone else to pick on.


Behaviour

Ears laid back, body stiffened - this mouse is either scared or angry. Observing their atmosphere and other body language will tell you which. A mouse may also lay its ears back when it is ill, so watch out for other signs too.

Ears perked up, eyes wide open - this is a curious mouse trying to figure out their surroundings. They could be approaching a new cagemate or a new toy.

Grooming or yawning - this mouse feels comfortable. They are happy and very familiar with their surroundings. If a mouse you have never held settles down for a groom on your hand, you have found a laid-back friend!

Doe washing her tail

Just be sure that the grooming is not too vigourous as this means something different (see below).

Vigorous grooming - this mouse is nervous. Either the mouse is not tame and is being handled too much or it has been placed in a strange environment with unfamiliar cagemates. Peace and quiet for the mouse to settle down is the best approach here.

Rapping/Vibrating the tail - this mouse is annoyed. It can mean they have had enough of you trying to handle them. The good thing about it is that it’s not a frightened sign, just an annoyance sign. It may also be seen when males are introduced and sense their territory is being 'threatened'. If a male does this when you have just introduced it to other males, keep an eye on the situation just in case, but it doesn't mean that the mouse will not then accept the newcomer(s).

Standing on hind legs - this mouse is either ready to fight, showing its submissiveness to an aggressor or is just curious about something. They might smell an interesting smell or see something of interest, in which case they will sway about or move the head to sniff around.

The sign of fighting is most common amongst males. When a mouse wants to show that it is submissive it will stand up and put both front feet in front of it defensively. The mouse does not necessarily have to be under attack to show submissiveness; it may take this posture spontaneously when a dominant mouse walks by, to show that it knows its place in the hierarchy and will not challenge the dominant mouse.

Mounting another mouse of the same sex - this is a show of dominance by the mouse doing the mounting over the other mouse. The submissive mouse is not being hurt and will usually just let the other mouse do this with no resistance.

Chasing - another way of showing dominance and perhaps also claiming territory. The mouse chasing (the dominant one) may also 'hold on' to the mouse in front with its mouth/teeth on its back near to the tail. You can often tell that this has happened because you will see a small bedraggled patch of fur where the fur is damp from the saliva.

Grooming each other - This can be a sign of several things. Usually this is to show friendship but can also be to show dominance. This may also progress into barberism in the case of a very dominant mouse.

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