Caring for Rats and Mice
Mice and rats, just like dogs, are supplied to pet stores by mass breeders, who aggravate the problem of these species’ overpopulation and the resulting abandonment and abuse. Shipped to distributors in small, cramped containers that are breeding grounds for parasites and viral and bacterial infections, mice and rats often reach the pet store ill, malnourished, and/or pregnant.
How to Spot Neglect
Small animals represent a small profit for pet stores, and their deaths represent a minor loss. Their living conditions in pet stores generally reflect this. Look for the following signs of neglect or abusive care: Discharge from the eyes or nose; rough, scaly tails; ruffled coats; hunched postures; listlessness; bloated bellies; and dirty, damp mouth and anal area. Frequent scratching is a sign of skin mites or fungal problems. Other warning signs include sneezing, wheezing, thinness, broken teeth, blood or mucus in droppings, and diarrhea.
Prospective guardians of mice and rats should keep in mind that they may require veterinary treatment and that this can be as expensive for them as it is for cats or dogs. Further, most domestic rats carry Mycoplasma pulmonis, which can develop into active respiratory illness and pneumonia if it is triggered by stress or illness.
Rats and mice are social but territorial animals. A lone, caged rat or mouse will languish, but two or more crowded together without adequate space may fight. A 15-gallon aquarium or a wire enclosure of equivalent size is a minimum requirement for two animals, and you should never mix males and females or different species.
If you are determined to adopt rats or mice, you will need to provide them with a habitat with the following specifications:
- Bedding material at least 1-inch thick but no cedar or pine shavings, as these are toxic to small animals
- No direct sunlight or drafts
- Fresh food and water, but no cheese, milk, or other animal products—clean the feed dish daily and the water bottle before each refill
- No smoking in the same room
- A mineral block, for honing teeth
- An exercise wheel
- Paper towel rolls, shelves, tree branches, old socks, etc. for toys and chewing
Adoption is a far better choice than buying a rat or mouse from a pet store. The first place to check might be your local humane society or animal shelter. The Rat and Mouse Club of America’s (RMCA) Furry Friends Orphanage Foster Care program maintains foster care units across the U.S. for the placement of rats and mice into loving homes. You can reach the RMCA at 13075 Springdale St., PMB 302, Westminster, CA 92683, by e-mail at [email protected], or by visiting the RMCA Web site at http://www.rmca.org/Rescue.