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Handling Mice

How Should You Pick a Mouse Up?

With a strange or nervous mouse, the safest way to pick it up is to grasp the BASE of its tail (not the tip) firmly, lift its bottom up slightly and slide your other hand under the mouse, palm upwards. You can then lift your hand up with the mouse sitting on it, but keep hold of the tail unless you know the mouse is calm.

This 3 week old doe is being examined; note the grip by thumb and forefinger at the base of the tail

Holding the base of the tail in this way is not uncomfortable for the mouse as long as you make sure its body is supported by your other hand, and will not upset it. Most pet mice will not jump from heights of more than a foot or so, but very nervous ones might - so keep a grip on the tail until you're sure. Don't hold the mouse tightly round its body because this will scare it and could hurt it.

When a mouse is comfortable with you it may walk onto your hand if you hold your open palm in front of it. Alternatively you can very gently scoop it up, but be very careful not to squeeze it. Incorrect handling is one of the ways that many mice receive kinks in their tails.

In some cases you might see people picking mice up by the base of the tail and holding them, dangling, upside down. This is not really cruel as it doesn't hurt them, but not surprisingly most mice don't seem to like being handled like this - it is more comfortable for them if you support the body with your hand as described above. Holding a mouse by the tip of its tail or near the tip could hurt it - the tip of the tail could be skinned or break off.

An alternative method to pick up scared mice is by enticing them into a paper tube (from a toilet roll etc), then wait for the mouse to come out. You may want to do this in a small room with the door shut rather than grasp the tail for insurance. When a mouse is more relaxed you can pick it up by putting one hand on either side of the mouse, palms up, and scoop up the mouse. As it gets more comfortable the mouse will walk directly onto your hand.

A nervous mouse may be picked up when in a tube


How to Play With Your Mouse

A healthy mouse is lively and curious and eager to explore the ‘whole wide world’. To do this, it can gnaw its way out of the cage. My first mouse Whiskas was not a great chewer but still managed to chew her way out of a new tank through a tiny hole that was meant for ventilation. Luckily I went in to check on her at the precise moment she got out or I would have had a runaway mouse! After this personal experience I would recommend that you do not buy the S.A.M. cages and accessories, however attractive they look with all the tubes and attachments available, because they could cause you to lose your pet. The plastic they are made from is too brittle and easily broken by a mouse's strong teeth.

Mice learn quickly to climb into their owner's hand (especially if you offer treats) and then up to the shoulder. Mice also love to explore pockets to see if there are any treats in there and to run inside sleeves.

You can construct a labyrinth from cardboard rolls and boxes and put treats in the end of the labyrinth. You can also construct a miniature fence tract and coax your mouse to run through it. Mice love to be caressed and scratched gently behind the ear. Mine particularly like their tummies tickled and being tickled under the chin - but I would recommend that you get to know your mouse before trying anything like this. Mice do not bite like a lot of other animals. They will only bite if they are very scared. Occasionally if you smell of food they may have a nibble on your finger but this feels very gentle and does not hurt at all - they are just testing to see whether you are food or not.

Be prepared for your mice to make noise at night, as they are definitely nocturnal creatures. They will scamper about and play - beware of the noises they will make running on their wheel and chewing cardboard tubes! The first wheel I had was so noisy that I had to take it out at night to get any sleep until I oiled it (if you need to do this use an edible olive or cooking oil).

Mice have a good sense of hearing but are timid and also nearsighted. Regular handling will help to make your pet more tame and friendly. The plastic run-a-round balls that you can buy are very useful for letting mice exercise and explore at the same time. Just remember to make sure that the ball is securely closed and that the mice are in a safe area to run around (a clear space with no stairs to roll down and nothing toxic that they could come into contact with).


How Do You Tame/Socialise Pet Mice?

Handle them often and gently, and bribe them with food. One good method is to take all food out of the cage for a few hours, then sit down to watch TV or read a book with the mouse cage by your side. Take a spray of millet or a handful of cockatiel seed and just leave your hand in the mouse cage while you concentrate on something else. The reason for using these particular treats is that mice love the seeds, but since they are small they have to keep coming back for more. Do this as often and for as long as you can stand - it may take several attempts before the mice start to take food from you, but eventually they will start to climb over your hand and perhaps try to climb up your arms. Once your mice start taking food from your hand, make a distinctive noise whenever you offer them food - e.g. a whistle or clicking sound. The mice will associate this sound with food and learn to come to you when you make it.

Mice are sometimes timid but if you talk to your pet after you bring it home and place it in a cage of its own, it will gradually become accustomed to its new surroundings. Mice will usually settle into a new cage quite quickly and begin to make it their own by rearranging bedding etc. Male mice will also urinate around the cage to mark their territory, which can produce a strongish smell. This is easily controlled with regular cleaning out and, if needed, air freshener. With regular petting and handling it should be easy to make the mouse very tame. Mice love being played with. Mine like sitting on my shoulder and playing under my hair as well as settling down in the palm of my hand for a good stroke (or rather groom to them I suppose :) ).

When getting your pet mouse make sure that the mouse is not too old and that it has been handled regularly. Mice should not leave their mother until they are at least four weeks old, when they are weaned. If the mouse is older than ten weeks then you must ask yourself (or the owner) why the mouse has not already gone to a home. Having said that, I got my male mouse Biscuit when he was ten weeks and he was friendly, despite being a bit nervous when I first held him in the shop. He soon calmed down and was enjoying being stroked. However, this may not be the case with all mice. Some may not be used to people over this age because they have not been handled enough. When the mouse gets to know you and trusts you he should climb into your hand and upward on your arm. You can try to give your mouse some food but I have never found any of my mice to be food motivated, unlike hamsters who will take all the treats you give them!

When you are picking up a new mouse for the first time you will have to be very careful that you do not let the mouse escape. They are natural explorers, which is one reason that they enjoy the run-a-round balls so much. A box is a good thing to have in an emergency to capture the mouse. Put the box down on the floor and when the mouse goes to explore it you can just pick up the box and place him back in his cage. You might want to try rewarding him with food when he does come to you and remember - the more you handle the mouse the easier it will be to tame.

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