African Dormouse: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

African pygmy dormouse

Richard Bailey / Getty Images

The African dormouse, also known as a micro squirrel, is a tiny rodent that looks a lot like a very small squirrel with some mouse features. These rodents are native to subtropical and tropical regions of eastern and southern Africa, and they're infrequently found in the exotic pet trade. Dormice are very active and nimble animals, making them difficult to handle. They need a large enclosure in which they can exercise, as well as a varied diet. Overall, they are fairly difficult to care for and require a knowledgable and dedicated owner.

Species Overview

Common Names: African dormouse, woodland dormouse, African dwarf dormouse, African pygmy dormouse, micro squirrel

Scientific Name: Graphiurus murinus

Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches in body length plus another few inches for the tail

Life Expectancy: 4 to 6 years

African Dormouse Behavior and Temperament

African dormice are social animals and should be kept in same-sex pairs or small groups. Territorial aggression sometimes can occur. But if your group is raised together from a young age, the dormice typically coexist peacefully. 

These rodents are nocturnal and most active in the early mornings and late evenings. They’re also very sensitive to light, so keep their enclosure away from bright lights and windows. Dormice are generally quiet animals, though they do make some vocalizations that include a sharp barking noise when they feel threatened. 

As pets, they tend to be shy, and some might never become tame and comfortable around people. Regular handling from a young age is the best approach to end up with a pet that you can handle. To get a dormouse used to your presence, gently stroke its fur while it’s in its enclosure, and offer it treats, such as pieces of fresh fruit. The next step is to hold it in your hands for increasing durations. Some dormice enjoy climbing on their owners. And some like to sit in a shirt pocket, which they see as a safe hiding spot. Still, dormice will bite if they feel threatened, so keep all of your movements slow and gentle around them.

A dormouse won’t bond with you like a dog or cat would. But it usually will become used to your presence, and some will come up to the side of their enclosure to watch their owners. Keep any other pets in the household away from your dormouse to prevent any injuries to this tiny, fragile rodent. Expect to spend several hours per week on cleaning and ensuring that your rodent is eating a balanced diet. And aim to spend at least a few hours per day handling your dormouse to keep it tame.

Housing the African Dormouse

African dormice are excellent escape artists and can sneak through small openings. So the best type of housing is a glass or plastic tank with a tightly fitting fine mesh top. A 10-gallon tank is the minimum recommended size for two dormice. But because these are such active animals it's ideal to get as large of a tank as you can fit and afford.

Line the tank with a few inches of bedding, such as a recycled paper product or aspen shavings. Avoid pine and cedar bedding, as these materials can irritate a rodent's respiratory system. Also, include a nest box or small animal hideout, which can be found at most pet stores. Cardboard tubes also work well both for hiding and play.

Because dormice naturally spend a lot of time in trees, provide branches for climbing. You also can suspend cotton ropes and toys made out of wood and rope (look for parrot toys in the pet shop) from the top of the enclosure for climbing and play. Plus, add a small rodent wheel with a solid surface for exercise.

A room temperature that's at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit is suitable for dormice; keep the tank away from drafts. Remove spots of soiled bedding daily. And plan to remove and replace all the bedding, as well as clean all the surfaces in the enclosure with mild soap and water, roughly every week.

Food and Water

In the wild, dormice eat a varied diet that includes nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetation, bird eggs, and insects. A good variety seems to be the key to keeping dormice in captivity. The main part of your dormouse's diet should be a nut and seed mix, such as those made for hamsters and other small rodents. To supplement that, provide fresh fruits daily, such as pieces of apple, banana, and tomato. And offer protein sources, such as hard-boiled eggs, feeder insects (e.g., mealworms and crickets), and cooked chicken.

Put a day's worth of the nut and seed mix in a small bowl in your animal's enclosure for it to graze on throughout the day, and replace it with new food every 24 hours. You can do this at any point in the day that is convenient for you. But it's best to feed fresh foods at night in a separate bowl and remove any uneaten portions in the morning to prevent the food from spoiling. Consult your veterinarian for the appropriate quantity and variety to feed your dormouse, as this can vary based on age, size, and activity level.

Also, always keep a source of fresh water in your animal's enclosure, and refresh it every day. Aim to train your dormouse to drink from a rodent water bottle that you attach to the side of the enclosure, as this is easier to keep sanitary than a water dish. But don't remove its water dish until you're sure it's consistently drinking from the bottle.

Common Health Problems

Before acquiring an African dormouse, make sure to find a vet near you who can treat this species. Dormice are generally hardy animals, but they are prone to some health issues.

A dormouse that is cold to the touch might be in torpor, a state of lowered physiological activity. The animal’s body temperature and metabolic rate go down, which allows it to conserve energy. A habitat that’s too cold, a lack of food, and stress all can cause a dormouse to go into torpor. And while this state is sometimes necessary for survival in the wild, captive dormice kept in the proper conditions shouldn’t have to enter it. Dormice can die in this state if they can’t get their bodies warm again. So if your animal is cold, try cupping it in your hands to provide instant warmth.  

Furthermore, one of the greatest threats to a captive dormouse's health is injury. Because they are quick, agile animals, they easily can escape a person handling them. This can lead to a damaging fall, the potential of being stepped on, and more. So if you handle your pet, do so while sitting on the floor in a room with the door closed. This way, if your dormouse accidentally escapes your hands, you should be able to collect it again without injury.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet African Dormouse?

In 2003, the United States banned the importation of rodents from Africa, including the African dormouse, after an outbreak of the monkeypox virus was linked to African rodents. However, there are still some states that don’t have explicit laws against keeping African dormice as pets, as long as they were bred in the U.S. Certain states do require permits to keep exotic animals. Plus, even if your state laws allow the animal as a pet, your local laws might prohibit it. Make sure to check any homeowners association or landlord rules regarding exotic pets, too. 

Purchasing Your African Dormouse

There aren’t many breeders of African dormice in the U.S., so you might have to travel a great distance to pick out your animal. Certain rescue organizations that take in exotic animals also might have African dormice. But overall this animal isn’t easy to find. You can ask your local exotic animal veterinarian for recommendations on where you can acquire an African dormouse. Expect to pay around $100 to $300 on average.

Because these animals are more active in the morning and evening, aim to visit the seller around that time. Look for a dormouse that is alert with bright eyes and shiny, clean fur. Make sure it is being housed in clean conditions, which lowers the odds that you'll take home a sick animal. Also, ask the seller for thorough information on the animal's origin, age, and health history. Never take home a baby dormouse that's younger than 5 weeks old. It's not ready to be separated from its mother at this age and could fail to thrive.

Similar Pets to the African Dormouse

If you’re interested in similar pets, check out:

Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your new pet.