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My Pet Mouse is Afraid of me! How to Make Friends with Your New Pet

Updated on September 8, 2011
While deer just stare at oncoming danger, mice can break the sound barrier in their dash for safety.
While deer just stare at oncoming danger, mice can break the sound barrier in their dash for safety.

Mice make great pets. They're easy to care for, intelligent, friendly, and amusing to watch. However, many new mouse owners take their pets home and quickly get disappointed or frustrated because they can't get the mouse to come out of their cage. In the wild, mice act as food for many predators. Contrary to what "The Tale of Desperaux" lets you believe, all the brave and courageous mice ended up as owl food long before they could pass on their genes.

But while you have to deal with a timid, skittish creature, you can make him feel safe and friendly, or else no one would keep mice as pets. Over the years, I've found the following techniques, and employing them on a regular basis will help get your pet accustomed to viewing you as a friendly, but gigantic, provider.

Give them something nice that smells like you

This method takes advantage of two instincts your mouse possesses: a fondness for warm, dark places and sensing the world through smell instead of sight. Mice don't have great eyesight, so they rely on their nose to orient them. While you (hopefully) can't detect your odor or that of the people around you, mice find it a distinguishing feature and identify who you are.

So when you first bring him home, don't put anything in the cage they can hide in (except a toilet paper tube...I'll get to that later). Cut the toes off an old sock and wear it around your wrist for a day or two, then give it to the mouse. Without boxes, nooks, or tunnels, the sock will be the best material for a nest. He'll either crawl inside it or under it to feel safe, and he'll use it as a nest when he sleeps.

And it should smell like you. Therefore, he associates you with warmth, comfort, and safety, simply because you smell like the sock.

I've used this technique often, but honestly I wonder how effective it is. After two or three days, the mouse's smell will overpower your own. If you want to try this, remember to change the sock frequently--at the very least, throw it out every time you clean the cage. It gets gross.

Food. Mice like food. Yummm...

You can manipulate hunger to your advantage in two ways. The simplest one requires a bag of treats. Every time my mice come out to see me, I offer them a treat. They rarely eat it outside of the cage, so as soon as I put them back I offer it to them. Make sure they see it immediately and take it from your hand. If you drop it in the cage and they find it an hour later, they won't associate treats with coming out to play.

I also read about a technique that requires nothing more than the bag of food you bought at the pet store. Pick out a bunch of the smallest seeds you can find. Then go a day without feeding your mouse. After 24 hours, put the seeds in your palm and hold your hand out in the cage. Don't move.

The mouse has to take the food from your hand. He'll probably swipe the seeds near the edge of your palm first, but seeds are small and he'll have to come back for more. Place the bulk of the pile in the center. This will force the mouse to step on you with at least his front paws. Usually he'll leave at least one paw on the bedding and do a sort of safety paw dance. Let him dance if he wants to. Let him leave one paw behind. (I'm sorry...I couldn't resist) Give him the feeling that stepping onto his hand is safe and that he'll always have the option of going back to his nest.

Use the hand, sans food

Reach into the cage and try to grab the mouse, and he'll bounce off the walls to escape you. This sends him into a panic, and you probably won't have much luck. But stick your hand in their, palm up, and just wait, and you become an object of curiosity. Again, you rarely find a mouse who climbs completely into your hand and lets you pick him up, but if he sniffs around, your scent becomes familiar and non-threatening.

**There comes a point when you simply have to pick up the mouse**

Nothing says "coming out to play won't kill you" better than coming out to play and not getting killed. So you'll have to pick him up at some point. Don't pick up the mouse by the tail, no matter who you've seen do it. Tails break easily. My girlfriend works with research animals and received training to know the proper place to lift from the tail. If you grab too far out you could cause damage. I don't even risk it unless saving another mouse from a bully. (Pick up the bully, not the victim.)

That being said, the absolute best way to get a frightened mouse from the cage involves scaring him into a toilet paper tube. He should feel safe in a small, dark space, and you can just lift him, tube and all, out of the cage. Don't shake him out into your hand. Place the tube as a bridge from one hand to the other. The mouse will inspect both ends. If he doesn't come out, start tilting the tube into one hand until the mouse either falls out of the bottom or backs his way up into your other hand.

Short sleeves are the way to go

At first, you don't want to let the mouse run free on a table or bed or wherever (when you do, however, make sure you put him on an elevated surface that doesn't come close to anything he can jump across, climb to, or climb down). Let him use your arms (and your shirt, if you have a climber). Hold your arms across your chest making a two-armed platform for him to run around on. It may not seem exciting, but it'll overwhelm the mouse at this point.

Push your inside hand (between the other arm and your chest) slightly underneath the other arm and cup your fingers. This gives the mouse a dark hidey-hole, and lets him know it's safe to play on you.

Do all this without sleeves. He can smell you if he contacts your skin directly. Plus it's easier to clean up.

Thirty Minutes a Day

Mice have a natural intelligence that makes them perfect research animals. However, they learn the same way as humans--through repetition. Play with them at least thirty minutes a day. Take them out multiple times a day. Make sure they remember you. They'll learn, and eventually you'll have trained a small, furry friend, and the fun will begin. Enjoy.

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    • Sneha Sunny profile image

      Sneha Sunny 5 years ago from India

      wow.... those were nice tips..... and cute mouse

    • profile image

      Marco Alvarado 5 years ago

      my mouse likes me now

    • profile image

      may hodgkinson 5 years ago

      I'm getting a mouse tomorrow and this was just the info I needed. Thank You!!!

    • profile image

      Mermaid 5 years ago

      Thank you ! I might be getting mice tomorrow too ! This helps

    • profile image

      Bekkii 5 years ago

      i brought a mouse, i'd never owned one before. The place told me to handle it by the tail. For the first couple of days i just lay my hand in the cage and let him sniff me if he wanted. the i tired feeding him food but he wouldn't take it. he finally started comeing closer so i lifted him out (by the tail stupidly as the pet place told me to) he started squeeking going mad so i lay him on my hand and he bit me and i was pouring with blood. now my mouse wont come near me at all and earlier it ran past my hand and bumped of me so it squeeked and hid. i don't know how to try and get him to trust me again.

    • jplaj profile image
      Author

      jplaj 5 years ago from Duluth, MN

      Bekkii, for starters, don't get discouraged. Mice are easily frightened, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're hurt. Give him time and try giving him some soft fabric that smells like you. Don't make sudden movements. Let him warm up to you for a while. After a few days, try taking him out. Buy work gloves if you're afraid he'll bite you. Give him some place fun to play that's not on you. Stay nearby, though, to let him get used to you, and when you put him back, give him a treat.

      The idea is to make him associate coming out of the cage with enjoyment. Some mice take longer than others to warm up to you, but be patient and try not to get frustrated or discouraged.

      Thanks for reading.

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      Luke flack 5 years ago

      Just got one won't come out but is going to try this methods. Thank you!! Love the mouse!!

    • profile image

      KayTeh 4 years ago

      Thank you so much!! I just got two little girl mice yesterday and my mom is already threatening to give them away. They kept us up all night last night being very noisy with their food and clicky water bottle, and then they have slept all day so far today. I want to be able to play with them, and help my mom to see that they aren't pests. I'm definitely gonna try this with them today or tomorrow. Thank you so much!!

    • profile image

      uttara 2 years ago

      Awesome tips....

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      cassie 2 years ago

      I just got three new baby mice yesterday, and for the first hours of playing they were really nice and lovely. They were so friendly and liked to run on your hand the second you open the door. After I came home later a night after a family get together, they no longer seemed to like me. They just ran away and hid. I don't know what happened.

    • jplaj profile image
      Author

      jplaj 2 years ago from Duluth, MN

      Cassie:

      That's normal. When moving to a new cage/location/owner, mice are under a lot of stress and will often act differently once they've settled in. Just keep at it, follow the tips here, and the more you handle them, the more they'll want to come out.

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      holly 16 months ago

      I have a mouse called ruby and another called coco.ruby seems really scared of me. I let her run around me and I picked her up by her tail and I didn't catch her and I feel really bad. she got scared and I don't know how to overcome the timid Ness in her

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      Sarah 14 months ago

      My mouse is extremely timid and won't sit on my. She actually just climbs up me to get a higher point to jump off. And she jumps like CRAZY. I only handle her while sitting in the bathtub because otherwise she just jumps right off me and I have to try find her. She isn't eating either. HELLLPPP my mouse is crazy

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      Pip and Pepper the Mice 9 months ago

      Hi! I have 2 female mice, and their names are Pip and Pepper. Pepper is very bold, and I tamed her in just 4 days. Pip, on the other paw, is extremely shy and whenever she even sees me walk by, she runs into her house. Pip also has a little bend in her tail, possibly from when she was bred. Maybe she had been abused and now she is scared of everything. I am about to start trick mousing with Pepper but I would like Pip on the same page. How do I get her to be less afraid of me?

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      Jess 2 months ago

      I bought 2 mice about a week ago. I've never picked either up by the tail even though that's what the pet store fella did. It just seems cruel. Anyway I bought a pair and ended up with a bully and time out didn't work so I had to trade him out for the one I have now. He was straight up mean and brought blood on his supposed to be friend. I traded him out and my original gets along with the new one. I hated to trade him out since I had just "rescued" him from the pet store but nothing worked. Well, before I get carried away explaining unnecessary details I worked at slowly making friends with them both and now a week later they love to be held. I've not took them out to play or anything yet but they will let me hold them. I reach my hand in there and they don't run or try to flee and it's so awesome. I just added and extension to their enclosure and I am overcome with so much joy seeing them come out for their nightly play and discovering that they haven't just been moved to a new cage but instead had their home upgraded. It's very rewarding as strange as that sounds to be trusted by a tiny fearful animal. Patience is key with these little guys! I had a sock that was mate less so I cut the toe out and used safety pins to attach it to each side of the cage in a corner and they love it. It's up off the ground so no mess or nasty and they don't potty where they sleep so it's kept fairly clean. They love it! I found the idea on youtube under a search for snuggle pouch hammock for a mouse. They love it. Sorry for the length I'm just thrilled my mice are coming out of their "shell" and thought I'd share my experience so far. Patience with mice pay off in the long run, Big time!!

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