How to Train Your Mouse to Play with You

Taming a mouse involves gaining its trust

White mouse in hand

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Taming pet mice is very possible, though it may take some patience. With time and consistency, you should be able to win the trust of your pet mouse. It can be a bit tricky to handle pet mice as they're small and quick, but once they're tamed, they can be picked up, handled, and can make great pets, (even for kids).

It's easiest to tame a mouse that's relaxed and comfortable in its surroundings. Starting with young mice will make the taming process much easier. Use lots of treats and work slowly. Make sure your mouse is comfortable with each step before proceeding to the next.

Building Trust

Taming a mouse is really the same thing as gaining its trust. Your mouse must believe that it is safe with you, despite your enormous size. Throughout the training process, try to avoid doing anything that will stress your pet mouse.

You'll need to do routine things like cleaning the cage, but keep in mind that moving slowly and gently throughout these necessary chores will help in the process of gaining your mouse's trust. Until your mouse is tamed, there is a chance that it will bite. Mice can bite hard. If they bite, it is because they are scared. If your mouse does nip you, don't shake your hand to get it off, or get angry, as this will just make matters worse. If your mouse bites, back off and do more to gain its trust.

Important Information About Keeping Pet Mice

It is best not to allow pet mice to run around outside their cage unless they are tame. The stress of chasing, catching, and returning them to their cage may scare them and make them fear their owners. If you allow your pet mouse time outside of the cage, make sure the area is very well mouse-proofed as mice can get through very small cracks.

Mice can usually be kept in small groups of females (since you will get baby mice from housing males and females together) but males usually do best alone, otherwise they will fight with each other. Female mice usually bond well with each other and this should not affect the taming process. In fact, a single mouse is more likely to be stressed and nervous and therefore may be more difficult to tame than a female mouse that has other female mouse roommates.

Start Slowly

When your mouse (or mice) arrive, they'll need time to adjust to their new surroundings and begin to trust you. This can be hard for young children who want to play with their new pets right away, but its worth a few days of frustration as patience can lead to wonderful results. Before you start interacting with your mouse:

  1. Give a new mouse a few days to adjust to their new home (keep maintenance and interaction to a minimum).
  2. Move slowly, speak softly, and limit interactions to times when your mouse is awake. Waking sleeping mice isn't a good way to gain their trust.
  3. Start by just sitting next to the mouse's cage to acclimate it to your presence.

Teach Your Mouse to Trust You

After a few days, your mouse should be able to stay calm when you come into the room and sit down next to its cage. Now, you can start interacting with your new friend, taking it step by step to be sure it's bonding with you:

  1. Offer a treat (e.g., sunflower seeds, small pieces of nuts, or raisins) when your mouse approaches the cage bars. Keep doing this until it readily comes to the cage bars when it sees you.
  2. Once your mouse is comfortable taking treats from your hand through the bars of the cage, offer treats through an open cage door.
  3. Once your mouse readily takes treats from your hand place a treat on your open hand to entice it to step up onto your hand to retrieve the treat.
  4. When it voluntarily touches your hand, place the treat on your forearm and allow your mouse to climb onto your hand to get to the treat.
  5. When your mouse is comfortable climbing onto your hand, try gently scratching the sides and back of its head (imitating natural grooming behavior).

Pick Up Your Mouse the Right Way

Now that your mouse is climbing onto your hand and allowing you to scratch it, you can start to take your mouse out to play. Mouse owners and young children, in particular, are eager to pick up and hold their pet mouse. While holding a mouse isn't a problem, there are some things to remember as you begin to tame and handle your pet mouse.

Tips

  • Never pick up a mouse by its tail; it could startle or hurt it.
  • If your pet mouse is not yet comfortable being held and carried, gently direct it into a cup turned on its side. Once it walks into the cup, tip the cup upright to carry the mouse. Cover the cup's opening with your other hand to prevent escapes and injuries.
  • Carry a tame mouse is simply cupped in the palm of your hand. Gently hold the scruff of the neck (the loose skin on the back of the neck) to prevent the mouse from getting away if necessary.
  • Use protective gloves to pick up an untamed mouse in the same manner as a tamed mouse.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

Mice are naturally timid animals, and small noises or motion can frighten them. They are also very small and quick, and can easily hide inaccessible places. To keep your mouse safe outside the cage, you'll want to create a play area from which your mouse can't escape. You can do that by, for example, building up a circle of pillows, playing with your mouse in a small space like a bathroom, or purchasing a solid-sided puppy corral.

Once you know your mouse is safe, you can start to "proof" its friendly behavior by gently challenging it with unexpected sounds and new people. For example:

  • Turn on music near your mouse on a regular basis to teach it that the sound is not a threat
  • Have other family members interact gently with the mouse to teach it that multiple humans are trustworthy
  • Bring your mouse (and its corral) into different environments to help it feel "at home" in different spaces.

You may have to go through a process of teaching your mouse to trust young children, as they are often louder and faster than adults or teens.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.