Sunday, November 10, 2013

Socializing Mice With Their Owners

I have often been asked how to get a shy mouse to ‘come out of their shell’ by owners who are not even able to hold their pet, let alone play with it. There is no quick fix: the mouse has to have time to get used to you and its new surroundings.

When you first get the mouse home, allow it to settle in to its quarantine quarters without disturbing it for a day. This gives it time to make a nest and begin to feel comfortable. You can then get the mouse out and try to hold it. Remember to gently scoop the mouse up without squeezing it: a light squeeze to you could hurt such a small animal! If the mouse runs away from your hand and hides, it is most likely to be because it is scared of your hand. In the wild, a mouse’s predators will attack from above and therefore their instinct is to run away from anything that descends from above. Try approaching your pet from the side, or place your hand flat in the tank and allow the mouse to investigate and sniff around it in its own time.

One trick is to put a treat on your hand such as millet or another small seed, put your hand flat in the tank and wait for the mouse to crawl onto your hand to look. It may take a seed and then run away to eat it, but don’t worry. The seeds are so small that it will have to keep coming back and this way it will hopefully start to get used to you and your smell. Another method of picking up a scared mouse is to wait until it goes into a tube and then pick the tube up and sit with it on your lap (or a hand at each end) and wait for the mouse to come out to explore. Just remember that if you do this you must be able to handle or catch the mouse once it leaves the tube!

You may want to wait until the mouse is in or on a toy before you pick it up at first

You *can* pick a mouse up by the base of its tail if you know what you are doing, but the mouse will not be particularly fond of this! Some mice are quite accepting of this method of handling, while others will try to pull themselves up and/or get away if they are not used to it. If you do attempt this method, you must gently hold the very base (nearest the body) of the tail between your thumb and forefinger, lift the mouse gently and then put your other hand underneath the mouse to support it. Only let go of the tail if you are sure the mouse will not jump or is in a safe environment. Having said this – do not keep hold of the tail to restrain the mouse if it is in obvious distress.

A trick used with baby mice and nursing mothers that may also work for young mice that need to be socialised is to rub your hands in the bedding before attempting to pick up the mouse. This makes you smell more ‘mousy’ and therefore safer and more familiar. This trick is used so that mothers will recognize and not reject their pups after handling, but I see no reason not to try it with an older mouse that has only just left its mother. After all, it won’t hurt your attempts to tame the mouse or set you back at all. Just remember that the mouse is likely to be scared of you because you are big and new, so give it time. Try your method daily, several times a day if you can, for at least a week before you think about giving up. There is not an instant fix and you must be patient, but since mice are sociable creatures I would not anticipate that even a shy mouse would remain so for too long!

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