Pet rodents become tame and rarely bite when properly restrained and accustomed to handling. Some rats can be very territorial of their cage, and these should be coaxed out of the cage before being handled. Mice housed individually may be more aggressive and apprehensive than those housed in groups. Most pet mice and rats enjoy being handled when away from their cage. Mice can also be lifted by grasping the base of the tail. Rats can be picked up this way, but be careful not to injure them due to their larger size. For any rodent, never pull on the tip of the tail because the skin can easily tear and become stripped from the tail
Several types of cages are available which are suitable for housing small rodents. Many of these units come equipped with cage “furniture” such as exercise wheels, tunnels and nest boxes. These accessories contribute to the pet’s psychological well-being.
Cages should be constructed with rounded corners to discourage chewing. Rodents readily chew through wood and thin plastic. Recommended caging materials are wire, stainless steel, durable plastic and glass. Glass and plastic enclosures restrict ventilation and may lead to temperatures and humidity problems. These materials are acceptable when at least one side of the enclosure is open for air circulation.
These pets thrive in solid bottom cages with deep bedding and ample nesting material. Bedding must be clean, nontoxic, absorbent and relatively dust free. Shredded paper, pine shavings and processed corncob are acceptable beddings. Wood shavings and ground corncob must be free of mold, mildew or other contamination. Cedar chips or chlorophyll scented shavings should be avoided because of association with respiratory and liver disease. With all bedding be sure your pet is not consuming it. At least one inch of bedding should be provided to allow for normal burrowing behavior. Cotton and shredded tissue paper make excellent nesting materials.
Rats can be litter trained. They will still urinate in small amounts in different areas of their living space to mark territory, however, a large volume of their urine and all or most of their fecal material will be isolated to the litter box once trained.
Adult mice require a minimum floor area of 15 square inches and a cage height of 5 inches. Rats need at least 40 square inches of floor space and a minimum of 7 inches height. Optimal temperature range for these pets is between 65 to 80 degrees F, with a relative humidity of 40 to 70%. Twelve hour light cycles are preferred, with most rodents being more active during the night. Pet rats and mice can be housed singly or in groups, however, we recommend housing them with at least one other of their species as they are very social animals. If they are housed alone they will need a high level of human interaction. These rodents are colony oriented by nature. Occasionally an overly aggressive mouse or rat may have to be caged individually. Territorial disputes also develop when the cages are overcrowded or when they lack food or water.
As a rule of thumb, the cage and accessories should be thoroughly cleaned at least once weekly. An exception to this schedule is when newborn babies are present, then wait until they are at least 10 days old. Other factors that may require increased frequency of cleaning are the number of animals in the cage, the type of bedding material provided and the cage design and size. Cages should be sanitized with hot water and nontoxic disinfectant or detergent then thoroughly rinsed. Water bottles and food dishes should be cleaned and disinfected daily.