What's the best way to house a mouse?

Before you buy your mice you should purchase their cage and supplies and have everything ready prior to bringing your new pets home. Ask the pet-store to place a small handful of shavings from the mice’s original cage into the container you are using to take your mice home.  Place the old shavings into your pet’s new home.  The smell of their original home can help your mice settle more comfortably into their new environment.  

Mice can quickly chew out of the cardboard box provided by most pet stores for the trip home.  Potential escapes are not a concern if you bring your mice home in a small, plastic animal carrier.  Be sure to provide a dark, enclosed hide box for your mice within their carrying cage.  Mice that have no place to hide will feel exposed and stressed and can take longer to settle into their new home.  These can also be used to take your mouse to the vet or to provide a secure place to keep your pets while you are cleaning their cage.

When you first bring your mice home, they might be frightened and hide in their nest box.  Some mice are more confident and will readily investigate their new home.  Either way, let you new pets settle down and get used to their new home before you begin playing with them.

The cage is the most expensive piece of equipment you will need to buy for your pet mice.  The general rule when buying a cage is to choose the largest cage you can afford.  The cage you choose should be a comfortable roomy home for your mice.  A cage that is too small and too confining will become dirty and smelly more quickly, and it can lead to fights among your pets because that may become grumpy without enough space.  The more room you provide your mice in which to play and explore, the more interesting and healthy they will be.

Mice can be housed in glass aquariums, plastic cages or in wire-frame cages.  An ideal cage for a pair of mice should measure 50 cm long x 30cm wide x 25cm high.  The cage you choose should be large enough to allow your mice room for separate eating, sleeping and toilet areas.

Glass Aquarium Cages
A five or ten gallon glass aquarium with a secure, wire-screen cover will provide a good home for a pair of mice.  Because mice can easily jump our of an aquarium, their cage must always be covered.  Because the entire top lifts off the aquarium cage, pet owners are able to readily reach their pets.  Compared to a wire-frame cage, an aquarium will keep the area around your pet’s home tidy because shavings and other debris cannot spill out of the cage.  However, the glass sides can become dirty and difficult to see through if they are not kept clear.

If you choose a glass aquarium or a plastic animal habitat, keep in mind that these types of housing are not as well-ventilated as a wire cage.  While these cages are beneficial because they are not drafty, poor ventilation and lax cleaning habits can cause ammonia gas from your pets’ urine to build up to uncomfortable levels.  For your pets’ health, you must be vigilant in keeping such a cage clean.  If you can smell your pets’ home, then it is certainly an unhealthy environment for them, especially because they are right on top  of the smelly bedding.  If you think that you might be neglectful in cage-cleaning chores, select a wire-frame cage. Keep in mind that aquariums can be heavier than wire cages, and thus more difficult for a child to move and clean.

Wire-frame Cages
Wire-frame cages made of galvanized steel have good ventilation and offer a good view of your mice.  They can also be potentially drafty.  Mice like to climb and wire cages provide them with plenty of opportunities for gymnastics on the cage bars, especially in two or three story wire cages.  Plan or colour metal cages are also available.  A good-quality wire frame cage should be easy to clean with a slide-out or snap-off bottom tray.

If you house your mice in a wire-frame cage, make sure that there is a solid portion of the floor for the mice to stand and sit on.  The metal wires can sometimes trap a mouse’s foot, and constantly standing on the wire can make your pet’s feet sore.  You can place a small square of plastic or other non-chewable material on the bottom of the cage to add to your mice’s comfort.

When you purchase the cage, check the tension on any springs for a snap-off bottom tray.  Some springs are very tight and can be difficult for a child to undo to clean the cage.  The cage should have a large door opening that allows you to easily reach inside the cage and take your mouse out.  The door should have no sharp edges and should latch securely.  The best cages will have both a door and a removable top or side to provide easy access to the interior of the cage.  A handle can make moving the cage easier.

To prevent your pet from escaping, the space between the cage bars should measure no more than 1.25cm apart.  This means that you cannot buy a larger cage made for rabbits or guinea pigs because the space between the bars will allow your mice to escape.  If your mouse can squeeze his head between the cage bars, the rest of his body can follow.  In such cases, temporarily attach a finer wire mesh (sold at hardware stores) to your pets’ home until they grow too large to escape.

Metal cages do have some drawbacks.  Over time, the mice’s urine can corrode the metal pan that fits beneath a wire cage.  You can help prevent this problem by cleaning your pet’s bathroom area every few days or by lining the tray bottom with foil (as long as you mice do not have access to the tray).  Plastic trays will not corrode from urine, but some mice will chew on the plastic if they can reach it.

If you choose a wire-frame cage, try to find one with high bottom tray sides to catch bedding and other debris that your mice will kick out during their normal activities.  Alternatively, place the cage on top of newspaper that extends for several centimetres more than the cage’s diameter, or you can place the cage inside a kitty litter pan to catch the material that spills out.

Other Types of Cages
Colourful plastic housing with connecting tubes allows you to expand your mice’s cage into a playground.  However like aquariums, this type of housing provides less ventilation than wire cages.  Tube housing can also become smelly if it is not cleaned frequently enough, and some mice can gnaw through the plastic tubes and escape.  The plastic can also become dirty and difficult to see through, so it must be regularly washed.  If you want tube housing for your mice, be sure to choose a large cage with maximum ventilation and a door that is large enough for you to reach in and easily take out your pets.

Some pet owners keep mice in unconventional cages, such as wire birdcages.  Whatever cage style you choose, make sure the cage is escape-proof.  Building a home for your mice can be a fun and creative project; however, do not build a cage out of wood.  A wooden cage is not recommended because your pets can chew the wood and escape.  In addition, wooden cages are difficult to keep clean because wood absorbs urine and other odours.

No matter what type of housing you buy, your mice need bedding in their cage.  Bedding is used to absorb moisture (from urine, and water from the occasional leaking bottle), reduce odours, and provide a warm dry place for your pets to sleep.  There is a variety of small animal bedding available including specially designed bedding to help control or eliminate odour.  Whatever bedding you choose, you typically need only about 10cm.  The bedding should completely cover the wire floor of a wire cage.  Bedding is an important component of your pets’ environment and it can affect their health.  Ideally, small animal bedding should be dust-free.  Dusty bedding can irritate a mouse’s respiratory system or aggravate an existing respiratory ailment.  Because mice are housed directly on their bedding they are more like to stir up fine particles and be at risk for these potential problems.  In general, paper pulp and recycled paper products tend to be lower in dust than wood shavings.  Mice like to make nests so bedding is definitely required.  Ignore what you may have read about shredded newspaper being acceptable - it is not.  Printed paper can be toxic.  Avoid fibre-based bedding, especially those with a nylon base.  The fibres are hard and sharp and can cause horrific injuries to small animals, such as severing toes or feet.  Soft shredded paper makes ideal bedding.  The very best bedding is hay. Not only is it warm, but also the mice can eat it, and it provide good roughage for their diet.