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January 5, 2009

Mice: The Right Pet for You?

The Humane Society of the United States

Mouse black and white close

iStockphoto

It can be tempting to acquire a mouse (or two or three) on impulse. After all, these little guys are the picture of cuteness: bright eyes, dainty paws and a twitching nose all wrapped up in a soft, furry package.

Here are five important questions to consider before you dive headlong into a relationship.

How much time do you have?

Mice are fairly independent and can entertain themselves for extended periods of time, but a happy, well-adjusted mouse is one who receives daily handling and interaction.

A mouse's aquarium or cage needs to be thoroughly cleaned at least once a week. Housing for male mice is likely to require more frequent cleaning because of their strong scent.

Do you have young children?

Mice are small, nimble and fast-moving. It can be very frustrating for children to handle them because mice are often more interested in exploring their surroundings than sitting in a hand or a lap. Young children lack fine motor control and may inadvertently drop a mouse, squeeze him, or scare him into biting. A mouse can also suffer serious injury if he is dropped or picked up by the tail incorrectly.

Young children are also at greater risk for zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be passed from animals to humans) because of their immature immune systems. They also tend to forget to wash their hands after handling pets. Mice carry a very small risk of salmonella, a type of intestinal bacteria that can wreak havoc on a child's digestive system. The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against mice as pets for children under 5 years of age.

All pets are ultimately the responsibility of the adults in the home, not the children. Until you, as an adult, are ready for the commitment of caring for a new pet, don't let your kids' pleas challenge your resolve. 

Are you pregnant or have a weakened immune system?

Mice carry a very small risk of salmonella, intestinal bacteria that cause short but intense bouts of sickness in healthy adults. Salmonella can seriously sicken a person who's already in a weakened state from other health problems. Salmonella can produce more severe problems if a pregnant woman passes the bacteria to her unborn child.

What's your budget?

Owning mice is not as expensive as owning a cat or dog, but that doesn't mean you won't spend money. The adoption fee or purchase price for mice will typically be minimal, but there are startup costs and ongoing needs to anticipate. The initial investment in supplies is likely to cost close to $100.

A new 10- or 15-gallon aquarium with a fitted cover can run $25 to $40 (you may be able to find a gently used aquarium online for a lower price), and you'll want to outfit your mice's home with the basics plus some fun extras. These include:

  • Bedding material
  • Water bottle 
  • Ceramic food dish
  • High-quality mouse chow
  • Hiding house
  • Solid-surface exercise wheel 
  • Toys
  • Treats

You'll probably spend several hundred dollars per year on bedding and food, both of which average about a bag per month depending on your number of mice. (Wood pulp bedding like Carefresh costs about $20 per bag and a high quality mouse chow runs about $5 per bag.)

As with any pet, it's also important to budget for medical emergencies.

Have you considered your pet's expected lifespan?

Most mice live about 1½ to 3 years. Small animals (and especially mice) have a much shorter life expectancy than dogs and cats, but they still require a commitment.

Ask yourself if your mouse will go with you if you move. If the answer is no, don't get one.

Finally, if you have young children and aren't prepared for them to experience the death of a pet, you may prefer a longer-lived animal.

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