October 13, 2009
Our mouse has a very, very, very fine house
Mice are curious explorers who find inventive ways of getting where they want to go, whether it's by squeezing their bodies through tiny openings or chewing through obstacles and barriers. Their housing is one of the most important investments you'll make, and it needs to be safe and durable but also large enough to provide an interesting environment. Aquariums and wire cages can provide all of these things, but whichever you choose, don't skimp on size. There's no such thing as an enclosure that's too large for your mice, but there are many that are far too small.
Aquariums typically have solid glass or plexiglass sides and should be covered with a well-fitting mesh lid. Many pet supply stores don’t market aquariums specifically for mice, but you can usually find them in the fish and aquatic sections of these stores or online.
Avoid aquariums smaller than 10 gallons (approximately 12" length x 20" width x 10" height) unless you need to isolate a sick animal or provide temporary housing for a nursing mother and her litter.
Consider not only size but shape—a long aquarium is better than a tall aquarium with unused height.
Mice are happiest when they live with other mice, but remember, more mice require more space:
- 1-3 mice need a 10-gallon aquarium
- 4-5 mice need a 15-gallon aquarium
- 5-6 mice need a 20-gallon aquarium.
Look for: Well-fitting cover with durable wire mesh (mice are varsity-level chewers who can easily gnaw through thin screen).
Price: $25 and up for a 10-gallon aquarium; $45 and up for a 20-gallon aquarium. The mesh covers are often sold separately.
Pros: Prevents escape; provides protection against unwanted or inappropriate attention from young children or pets, accommodates deep bedding for burrowing; bedding material stays in the tank, not on your floor; transparent sides allow for easy viewing; durable and easy to clean.
Cons: Poor ventilation (aquariums need to be kept in well-ventilated areas); can be a boring environment for mice unless there are added forms of enrichment; aquariums are heavy and awkward to move; glass sides can crack.
Wire-coated cages often sit on top of a detachable plastic base and include different levels for your mice to explore. Avoid very tall cages since mice have poor eyesight and can be seriously injured in a fall.
Wire cages designed specifically for mice are often too small to provide adequate long-term housing, while many larger cages such as those for guinea pigs may have more than a quarter inch of space between the bars and allow mice to escape. When shopping for a wire cage, be sure to check the size of the openings.
Size: Minimum 24 inches long by 12 inches wide.
- A quarter inch or less between the wires to prevent escape. (Mice can squeeze through very small gaps; if their heads fit through an opening, their bodies will easily follow.)
- Solid platforms and ramps (wire flooring can be uncomfortable on small paws.) You can easily modify wire surfaces by covering them with cardboard, ceramic or vinyl tiles, or mats available in pet supply stores.
Price: $60 and above for an adequately sized cage.
Pros: Good ventilation; different levels allow mice greater choice in their environment; horizontal bars encourage climbing and provide a convenient way to attach platforms and other furnishings; light, detachable assembly offers easy cleaning; wire cages are available in a range of styles.
Cons: Openings between the bars of the cage may allow mice to escape; children can stick their fingers inside the cage; other pets may harass the mice; bedding material often gets kicked out of wire cages, particularly if the base is shallow; falls from high platforms can injure your mouse.
Houses to avoid
There are a number of unsuitable enclosures for mice. Unfortunately some of them are still widely marketed to mouse owners, but using them can compromise your animals' health and well-being.
- "Habitats:" Colorful plastic enclosures with tubes, tunnels and other built-in accessories, "habitat" caging is visually appealing but notoriously difficult to clean, poorly ventilated, vulnerable to damage from gnawing, and undersized.
- Shoebox cages: These small plastic boxes are grossly undersized and don’t easily accommodate basic necessities like an exercise wheel. They also have many of the same disadvantages as commercial habitats including poor ventilation and lack of durability.
- Wooden enclosures: Wood is never a good material for housing mice because it’s easily destroyed by chewing and is hard to clean and disinfect.
Location, location, location
Once you've selected the right housing, you’ll need to determine where in your house your mice will live. Here are some factors to consider:
The ideal temperature range for mice is approximately 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit. Housing for mice should be located away from strong heat sources such as direct sunlight, wood stoves, or fireplaces. This is especially important if your mice are kept in an aquarium, which has poor ventilation and can heat up quickly.
Don't put the aquarium or cage in an unheated room, breezeway, garage, or other cold location. Place the aquarium or cage in a draft-free area away from doors, windows and vents.
Mice are sensitive to bright light (their wild relatives tend to be nocturnal), so choose a room with soft lighting.
Keep your aquarium out of the kitchen to prevent contact between dirty bedding and counters, utensils or food.
Place the housing is on an elevated surface, safe from other pets who may see your mice as prey.
If you have young children, keep your mice’s enclosure in an area where you can control access and supervise child-mice interactions.