The African dormouse—sometimes called African dwarf dormice, African pygmy dormice, and sometimes even micro squirrels—is a tiny squirrel-like rodent that is great fun to watch, and has a bushy tail that is almost as long as its body. While these rodents can be good pets, however, African dormice are not ideal for children and must be carefully monitored as they can escape and disappear if given the chance.
- Scientific name: Graphiurus murinus
- Lifespan: 5-6 years in captivity
- Size: 3-4 inches long
- Difficulty level: Intermediate
African Dormouse Behavior and Temperament
Dormice are social animals and should be kept in groups of two or more. Same-sex groups usually get along well, as long as they are raised together from a young age.
Dormice can be hand tamed, although regular interaction from an early age is the best way to ensure a pet that enjoys handling. While they may not want to be held, they will climb all over their humans. Using a favorite treat as bribery helps, too; African dormice will, for example, lick maple syrup from your fingers.
Because they are so agile and fast, African dormice make poor pets for young children. They can even be difficult to move when cleaning their habitat; a good option is to wait until they are sleepy (during the middle of the day) and scoop them up in your hands while they are asleep.
Housing the African Dormouse
These little creatures are excellent escape artists and can sneak through a very small opening. The best type of housing is a glass tank with a tight-fitting, fine mesh top. During their active times they will get to the top of the cage, so make sure the top is secure! A 10-gallon tank will house two dormice adequately, although being active animals they will appreciate the additional room of a 20-gallon tank. If keeping more than two, a larger tank is a necessity.
Because they naturally spend a lot of time in trees, branches should be provided for climbing. Ropes (suspend from cage top) and other wooden toys make a nice variety of opportunities for climbing and play. Also, a small rodent wheel can be provided for exercise (mouse-sized). A solid surface wheel is a good choice to reduce the chance of their feet or tail getting caught.
Nest boxes are also necessary, to give the dormice a sense of security. Commercial small animal nest boxes can be purchased or can be improvised. Cardboard tubes can be provided for hiding and play time.
A couple of heavy ceramic dishes can be provided for feeding. Most dormice will readily eat from dishes on the ground, but if necessary, you can also hang a small dish or wicker basket from a branch for feeding. A small water bottle can be used, but the water should be changed regularly.
Dormice need to be kept at 70 degrees Fahrenheit or above; at cooler temperatures (i.e. below 65 degrees Fahrenheit) they may begin to hibernate. In a captive animal that is not prepared, hibernation can be dangerous.
Food and Water
In the wild, dormice eat a variety of foods including nuts and seeds, fruit, birds' eggs, and insects. A good variety seems to be the key to keeping dormice in captivity, although specific feeding recommendations vary by reference.
The main groups of foods to be included in the diet are a seed mix (such as that made for hamsters or other small rodents, with sunflower seeds or raw peanuts added), fruits and vegetables, and protein sources such as hard-boiled egg, feeder insects (mealworms, crickets), cooked chicken, and yogurt. The seed mix can be fed daily, but make sure the dormice do not fill up on seeds and nuts and refuse other essential parts of the diet. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen, or dried. Fresh foods can be offered in the evening and any uneaten bits removed the next morning to prevent spoilage.
Common Health Problems
African dormice are generally fairly hardy animals, and it is very nearly impossible to find a vet who will treat them. Be careful, however, to avoid the possibility of injuring your dormouse. The reality is that dormice do not usually like to be handled, and will jump out of your hands. If this happens, they can be injured by a fall. In addition, keeping too many males together in a small enclosure can lead to fighting and injuries.
Purchasing Your African Dormouse
Dormice are crepuscular animals, meaning they are at their most alert at about twilight. To see your potential pet at its best, therefore, it's ideal to visit a pet shop or breeder around the end of the day. Check to see that the dormouse and its companions are in good physical condition:
- Bright eyes
- Shiny fur
- Active climber
- No runny eyes or nose
- Clean of fecal matter
Do not buy a baby dormouse; wait until it is old enough to be separated from its mother. It should be five to 6 weeks old when you bring it home. Be sure to have its enclosure ready for it when you get home.
Similar Species to the African Dormouse
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Otherwise, check out other small animals that can be your new pet.