Health Problems in Pet Mice
This article covers most health problems mice can suffer from. As mice age, their chance of having a health condition increases along with their diet, lifestyle, environment, and stress levels. It is important to know that while most simple problems are easily cured with a trip to the vet and some antibiotics, there are some things that cannot be cured. Mice are very tiny, fragile and have a fast metabolism but do not have the same massive immune system as us humans and therefore cannot fight off illnesses efficiently.
You should always remember to thoroughly wash your hands before handling your pet or their food as they can suffer from human illnesses which can become fatal, e.g., cold, stomach bug, food poisoning.
Unfortunately, tumours are a serious problem in mice. Mice over the age of 1 year are at a much higher risk of developing tumours. Unlike rats, tumours in mice are much less likely to be benign and can turn malignant within 2-3 weeks.
- Swollen belly on one or both sides. May come on suddenly or over a period of time.
- A ball like a pea under the skin with no root that can be rolled around.
- A swelling or lump on any part of the fur that can be moved.
- Weight loss.
- Being hunched, lethargic, or waddling.
- Blood from the genital area.
- Head tilt or loss of balance and problems walking.
In younger mice, tumours can be removed through surgery at your local vets. The surgery can be risky, but it usually has a good outlook. Unfortunately the majority of the time the tumours will come back, but surgery can add a couple more months onto their lifespan. If the tumour has not returned within 3 months, your mouse may be lucky, and it won't return at all. A vet is very unlikely to remove a tumour in an older mouse and will advise the best course of action. Mammary tumours are by far the most common.
A lump does not always mean a tumour, especially if the mouse lives with other mice. It could be a cyst, abscess, or injury.
Thankfully not all lumps mean your mouse has a cancerous tumour. In younger mice or mice with cage mates sometimes a lump can be an abscess. These are caused most often by bites that have become swollen and infected.
- A swollen ball when felt has a root or stem under it and cannot be rolled around much.
- A scab, cut, or pus leaking from a wound.
- A swollen but squashy area of skin.
- Fluid draining from the infected area.
- When a vet attempts to drain, fluid comes out.
- The mouse may continuously groom, bite at, or rub the area through despite the discomfort.
These are very treatable, usually with antibiotics and fluid draining. You should always take your mouse to the vet for proper diagnosis as an abscess doesn't have to have a cut area, but most commonly they do have some kind of skin lesion.
Mites, Fleas, and Ticks
These are also a fairly common problem for mice, especially ones that are kept around other pets. Mites, fleas, and ticks can cause excessive scratching, skin irritation, baldness, and even in some cases, skin infections. They are very distressing and annoying to your pet and can be treated at the vets or using a suitable home treatment for mice and small rodents that cures these insects.
- Small black spots or bugs on the skin.
- Flaking or scaly skin.
- Baldness from scratching.
- Excessive scratching, grooming, rubbing, or obvious physical discomfort.
- Scabby skin, especially around the ears and legs.
- Small insects on the fur.
- An obvious tick attached to the skin.
Most of the time, it is just a simple case of mites which can be cleared up easily. Make sure you thoroughly read the packaging or have your vet administer treatment. You can prevent this entirely by only using high-quality wood shavings and bedding that have been tightly or vacuum-packed and purchased from reputable store shelves rather than farms, barns, etc. If you are worried, you can freeze shavings/hay for 24 hours or put them in a very cold temperature before giving them to a pet to kill any potential bugs inside. Never use shavings you have found on the floor or from a sawmill that have been taken from the ground as they could be contaminated or toxic. Don't allow your mouse into contact with wild mice, let them loose outside or allow other pets to touch them.
This is a very serious illness that mostly affects hamsters; however, mice are no exception and can also suffer from wet tail. Wet tail is a serious intestinal disease that is caused by stress. An overgrowth of bacteria in the gut causes watery diarrhea with a foul odour that can become fatal within hours. There is NO home remedy, and it can only be treated from a vet.
- A foul smell coming from the cage or smelly diarrhea.
- Ruffled coat and dull eyes.
- Waddling or weakness of limbs.
- Loss of appetite and animal not drinking.
- Mouse sleeps a lot and becomes much less active.
- Dirty/wet bottom - usually brown or black in colour.
As I said before, the ONLY way to treat it is through antibiotics from a vet. You must take your animal immediately for treatment as there is no home treatment available and it does NOT get better on its own. You can prevent wet tail by always keeping the cage clean, keeping the room quiet and comfortable and keeping stress levels as low as possible. It is more common in hamsters under 12 weeks and younger mice.
Uterine problems only occur in female mice as males do not have a uterus (womb). These problems are more common in older females, especially ones that have been used for breeding or have had babies too young/old.
- Bleeding from the genital area.
- A gooey or smelly discharge around the genitals.
- Swollen belly.
- Constantly damp underneath.
- Ruffled coat, loss of activity.
- Waddling or problems walking.
- Protrusion from the genital region, e.g., something "sticking out."
It is very important to know that only a vet can diagnose and treat these conditions. In some cases, it is just infection which can be cleared up in a few days with antibiotics. In others, it could be birthing difficulties if your mouse is/was pregnant, problems after the birth or even an internal tumour. In the case of a tumour, there is very little that can be done. To prevent this issue, please do not breed your mice.
Urinary Tract Infection
More common in older mice (1 year or older) and especially in females. However, this can happen to either sex and can eventually become a serious issue. UTIs are caused when bacteria enter the urethra or grow inside the bladder. This is not usually a problem for mice kept in clean conditions all their lives with good health.
- Smelly or dark/discoloured urine.
- Blood in the urine.
- Squeaking or crying when going to the toilet.
- Being wet with urine that is yellow or brown underneath.
- Increased drinking.
UTIs are treatable only with antibiotics and should be caught ASAP to prevent them from spreading to the kidneys or turning to pneumonia. In most cases, they are not serious and clear up after treatment within a few days. Your mouse is likely in a lot of discomfort.
There are two conditions. One being red tears which can be mistaken for blood but are actually caused by stress and are harmless. These resolve themselves within a couple of days. The second issue is conjunctivitis or allergy.
- Gooey or sticky eyes.
- Gunge around the eyes.
- Eyes are sealed partially or fully shut.
- Ruffled coat, hunched position, or seems unwell.
- Sneezing, coughing or watery nose/ears.
Most of the time, this is not serious and improves after being bathed with a gentle cotton swab, and having the bedding changed to something else. Use dust-free shavings rather than sawdust and make sure all surfaces are wiped down and no chemical cleaning residue is left behind. You can take your pet to the vets for eye drops or antibiotics if an infection is present.
Fighting, being dropped, being squashed, poorly handled, or accidental toy injury are all problems that mice can face. Fighting between males is the most common cause of injuries with poor handling being second and injury from toys being third.
You should not ever keep two males together as they will fight to the death, and once blood is shed, they should be parted and never put back together again. Females can live happily in pairs or small groups without any fighting.
Avoid using wheels with grating or open slats. These are very dangerous as little legs, tails or necks can be trapped and snapped in them as well as being caught, and toes pulled off or cuts. Always use flat plastic toys, saucer wheels, or sealed plastic wheels to prevent injury and make sure any other toys given are safe for mice, fitted securely to the cage or you follow all directions properly.
You can lift a mouse gently but firmly using the root of their tail and a hand underneath to steady them. Always cup them properly and hold over a soft surface against your body. Never let go of a mouth that is frightened or bites you and don't allow untamed pets to run around on your shoulder as they can easily fall off and get hurt. Never pull a mouse off of cage bars or when they are gripping something as you can pull the skin off their bones or cause them serious pain. Mice do not make good pets for children.
A genuine mental health disorder that affects any animal kept in a cage. It is most common in hamsters, but mice can suffer too. It is caused by being kept in a cage that is overcrowded or too small. The animal will likely be suffering emotionally and through physical health problems. Mice of any age can be affected.
- Frenzied bar biting or continuous biting even after being fed, played with, etc.
- Damaged teeth as a result of toy/bar chewing.
- Destroying of personal objects, e.g., toys.
- Racing around the cage.
- Excessive marking of territory.
- Aggression towards humans who try to open the cage, clean them out, or feed them.
- Attacking cage mates unprovoked.
- Guarding cage opening and trying to bite you.
- Becomes difficult to handle, starts biting or showing signs of aggression.
- The animal is very possessive and protective over their things, like when they have babies.
Fortunately, this is usually fully treatable and improves after the animal(s) are moved into a larger cage. Please buy cages that are plenty big enough for your pets, so they have lots of space to run around, play and have fun. This is a completely preventable issue. Allowing the mouse out to play, handling them and giving them plenty of exciting toys can completely resolve the problem within a few days.
Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)
This is another common problem with any small animal and is caused usually by dirty living conditions or a dusty environment. It is a preventable problem and can affect a mouse of any age or gender but is slightly more common in older mice.
- Coughing, wheezing.
- Watery eyes, nose, ears.
- Sticky or sealed eyes.
- Mouse may be clicking, ticking, or making another unusual noise.
- Difficulty breathing, heaving sides, or gasping for breath.
- Discharge from the mouth.
- Ruffled coat.
This needs to be treated ASAP and should be an emergency. Only a vet can give you the correct antibiotics to treat your little friend. This can become fatal in hours. Make sure you use dust-free wood shavings rather than sawdust, never use pine or cedar or scented shavings. Make sure you clean your pet out at least once per week to prevent filth and mould from accumulating in the cage.
Allergies can be a common problem in mice and are usually caused by poor quality or scented bedding. You should always use dust-free wood shavings and never sawdust. Avoid anything that contains pine or cedar as these have toxic phenols which can make your pet seriously ill. Avoid anything "Scented" such as lavender or lemon, which help prevent bad smells; these are also unhealthy and cause reactions or illness. If you're using hay, freeze it first and buy timothy hay which comes in many brands and is dust-free and good quality. Vacuum packed hay from pet shops is the best option. Allergies can also be caused by certain foods, cleaning fluids, candles burning, and even to pollen.
- Sneezing, coughing, or breathing problems.
- Scratching or excessive grooming.
- Watery eyes.
- Discharge from the nose or ears.
- Itchy ears.
- Inflamed or red skin.
- Greasy fur.
As mice become old, they can lose their eyesight a little or entirely. It is not uncommon for elderly mice to suffer from sticky eyes, dry eyes, watery eyes or eyes that seal shut with no symptoms of infection. They will usually release again after gently bathing with a cotton swab and warm water. Never submerge your pet in water!
Blindness can occur with cataracts, milky eyes, through infection, trauma, or old age.
Unfortunately, for a blind pet, there is nothing that can be done to salvage the eyesight. As long as your mouse has quality of life, they can live happily without problems.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2015 ThePetMaster