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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


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  • Me says:

    I had one mouse that, when I picked her from the pet shop, had a broken tail. I kept her and I took care of her. her tail go fixed by itself and She lived for 3 years. what a great story…

  • KFrog says:

    I am extremely bummed out that my local humane society now refuses to accept rats abs mice so I cannot adopt rats as I was hoping to do soon. I guess I will have to find another pocket critter. I an very sad though. I’ve been looking forward to having the chance to adopt some ratties for a few years now.

  • Becca says:

    It is also worth noting (besides the fact that my rats are the smartest, friendliest, cuddliest, and best behaved pets I have EVER had; cats and dogs included) that pet stores and breeders that are worth anything will have their rats in barred cages, as opposed to glass tanks. Glass tanks are terrible for their already-delicate respiratory systems, and I’m always extremely skeptical of places that deem it okay for them to live in such conditions. However, I wouldn’t always rule out feeder-bred rats as pets. Two of my sweetest ones were feeders, and perfect angels.

  • Tama says:

    Reply to Kristy!
    A rat is not at all scary in any way, you should seek treatment for your rat phobias. PETCO treats small animals very bad, it is the more people proof. How can you write that PETCO treat their animals wonderfully, when rats were treated very badly in several different ways. It is widely known. Rats and mice are equally cute, and they deserve every respect. Rats are also just us cute and petite as mice. And rats are just as sweet companion mice.

    /// Rat Lovers and Mice Lovers

  • meg says:

    While I feel bad for fueling mills when I buy rats from pet stores, I feel a little better about getting them away from those awful conditions. And @Kristy – Petco generally has some of the worst conditions for animals. The rats, at least, are usually half-dead, pregnant, or suffering from severe myco. PetSmart – at least the one near me – kept their rats in okay conditions. Mine were fairly healthy.

    And yeah, rats are omnivores. They appreciate the occasional piece of meat (or crickets and mealworms), just make sure they aren’t taking in too much protein. Rats need large cages, NOT tanks. Tanks do not have proper ventilation for rats. Honestly, most rat cages are not of adequate size! The bigger, the better – mine is 5 feet tall.

    Rats should be eating quality lab blocks with some fruits and veggies on the side. Don’t feed them mixes, as they don’t provide proper nutrition – rats simply pick out what they like. Fleece bedding is a good option for cages without pans, and Aspen bedding is ideal if you’re not using fleece.

    Rats are pretty pricey pets in the end, mostly due to their general unhealthiness.

  • Stephanie says:

    I’m glad PETA included advice on rat and mouse care, but their requirements are so different that they really shouldn’t be lumped together. I’m not very knowledgeable about mice, but I know that rats need at least 2 to 2 1/2 square feet of space per rat. Also for rats, cages with 1/2 by 1/2 inch spacing are much better than aquariums because the ventilation is so much better, reducing ammonia buildup that could worsen respiratory infections. Rats require time out of the cage, ideally being handled, every day in order to stay happy and healthy.

    If they have a proper diet, rats should not require a mineral block, which usually contains too much sodium. Their teeth will grind against themselves if they are properly aligned, and it’s a good idea to find a veterinarian to check alignment if possible. If you can find a vet with considerable surgical experience on rats, it’s also a great idea to get females spayed, as it will dramatically decrease their risk of tumors and usually prolongs their lives.

  • Miranda says:

    Rats and mice are omnivores. You shouldn’t say give no animal products; that is wrong. They should certainly have a majority of fresh veggies and not only pellets/seed mix, but they also need a small animal protein source. This shouldn’t be dairy, like you said, but they can have some pieces of lean, unseasoned, lightly cooked meat like chicken, and occasional insects like mealworms. It isn’t good to give them a lot of animal foods all the time, but they can’t thrive if they go completely without it. They shouldn’t be in aquariums either, as this can lead to respiratory infections from poor ventilation and the quick build up of waste, even if you clean often and don’t use cedar/pine bedding. And if they were to be in a glass tank, 15 gallons is still very small. This might be /okay/ for a single mouse, but then they wouldn’t be happy. Rats get much bigger and no one should ever keep them in something that small! They often need much bigger custom cages with room to climb.

  • christine says:

    isn’t buying them from a pet store saving them though? whenever i see them i always just think about all the people that will buy them just to feed their snakes, and i think thats horrible.

  • Kristy says:

    Mice make wonderful animal companions. They are inexpensive to care for, very social, fairly quiet and do not take up much space. They do get a little smelly, I clean their cage every other day. I have never been bitten by a mice and they are easy to handle. Not to mention, they are not nearly as intimidating as a rat.

    I find that PETCO treats their animals wonderfully and I received my mice from them. I don’t feel badly about this, but if I could do it again, I would adopt (which is always the better option).