Caring for Rats and Mice

Of all the rodents in the animal kingdom, rats and mice are perhaps the most maligned. Whether it's the bubonic plague or the kibble missing from Rover's bowl, these friendly creatures are blamed for crises large and small. Yet the popularity of mice and rats as pets is on the rise, a trend that's mirrored by the number ending up in shelters. Here's how to care for the little whiskered fellows when they arrive at your facility.

1. Foil the Great Escape

Rats and mice are specialists in gnawing and burrowing, so their enclosures must be escape-proof. A glass aquarium with a secure screen lid is ideal, though rats and mice can be safely housed in wire cages with mesh openings no larger than a quarter-inch. If you use a wire cage, pad at least part of the floor with cardboard or newspaper to protect the tender pink feet of the occupants. Rats and mice are sensitive to environmental extremes, so they should be housed away from direct sun and drafts and, if possible, away from noise. Empty cereal and tissue boxes are inexpensive and make great hiding places, giving the rodents a sense of security.

2. Prevent War Wounds

Rats and mice can be territorial, so don't house strangers together. If your rats or mice have come from the same home, they can remain roomies, as long as they're of the same sex. A pregnant female should always be housed separately; she'll feel more secure when she gives birth, and will be less likely to see her babies as a Happy Meal. Beware: Mice may look like little rats, but these two species should never be housed together.

3. Design the Master Bedroom

The phrase "I smell a rat"is a bit misleading, as rats are not particularly smelly animals. Both rats and mice are meticulous groomers, cleaning each other as some cats do. These rodents like tidy homes, usually reserving one corner of their cage for urination. If you provide a small litter box filled with unscented cat litter, rats and mice will probably use it only for pooping. For bedding, use shredded tissue paper, paper towels, or unprinted newspaper. Many rat and mice aficionados recommend avoiding cedar and pine shavings, which may irritate the lungs, kidneys, and livers of rodents. Change bedding every three to five days, leaving some of the used but unsoiled bedding behind that "new cage smell" can be unappealing to the discerning noses of rats and mice.

4. Dinner's On!

Good grub and fresh water should be available to rats and mice at all times. The animals should eat rodent chow as a mainstay of their diets; in a pinch, dog food kibble with a fat content below eight percent can temporarily substitute for the chow. Supplements of hard fruits and veggies like apples, carrots, and sweet potatoes will satisfy the pickiest eater. A hanging bottle of water will allow any rat or mouse to quench his thirst.

5. Toy With Their Affections

All play and no work makes a happy rodent, so give the rats and mice in your care plenty of toys. Exercise wheels can provide them with hours of fun. Empty paper egg cartons and paper-towel or toilet-paper tubes make good chewing and climbing material, and untreated wooden blocks satisfy their need to gnaw. Gnawing helps keep rats' ever-growing teeth in check.

6. Handle With Care

Because of their poor eyesight, rats and mice can be easily startled, so make them aware of your presence by talking to them and letting them smell your hand before attempting to pick them up. Make sure your hands are freshly washed, as rats may bite when they smell something tasty on your fingers (or when they are defending their babies). Handle rats and mice as you would a small kitten, being sure not to grab them by their tails. During cleaning, it may be easiest to allow them to crawl into a plastic canister; you can then remove the container, rodents and all, for safe transport to another cage.

Courtesy of


Animal Sheltering Magazine