How To Handle A Pet Mouse

Mice are some of the most popular and beloved “pocket pets” around the world. They make some of the best companions, able to go with you almost anywhere – if you know how to handle them, that is. There are many different ways to handle mice, and techniques will differ depending on how much time you’ve spent with your little buddy.

Once you’ve learned how to handle your mouse, you can train it to do all kinds of things like hang out in your pockets and on your shoulder. All these interactions are built on a foundation of trust and should never be rushed. See the guide below to learn more about how to handle and train your precious mouse.

How to Pick Up Your Pet Mouse

The technique you use to pick up your mouse will vary slightly according to your relationship with your pocket pet. For instance, people who have just brought their mouse home should be relatively cautious when attempting to lift their mouse. Those who have lived with their mouse for quite a while can be slightly less cautious and may even move a bit more quickly when picking up their pet.

The best ways to hold your mouse, and how to gradually work up to this, are described below.

How to Pick Up Your Brand-New Pet Mouse

When you bring your mouse home for the first time, you must recognize that they may not immediately be keen on being lifted and handled straight away. Instead, you and your rodent should have time to acclimate to one another before you attempt to lift it out of its enclosure. Thus, it would be best if you started with the taming process first.

Video Credit: CreekValleyCritters

Follow the steps below to tame your mouse and prepare it to be picked up:

  1. Place your hands in their enclosure often. Do this without touching them. This will help your mouse get used to the presence of your hand and your scent. After a while, they will start to recognize you and grow more comfortable with your physical presence over time.
    • Depending on the individual mouse, this can take just a few days or over a week. Give your mouse as much time as they need and do not rush to touch or lift them. Doing so can backfire and undo any progress made before the premature interaction.
    • When you place your hand in the cage, you don’t have to do much at all. Just moving around the substrate, refilling food and water, or just sitting still is perfectly fine. You are only doing this to demonstrate to the mouse that you are not a threat.
  2. After a few times of leaving your hand still in the cage or interacting with various accessories inside, you can progress to setting treats inside. This will help your mouse associate you with positive rewards.
  3. Next, you can advance to offering your mouse treats directly from your hands. This is a crucial step in introducing them to physical contact and allowing them to start building confidence in being near you. Plus, this will encourage your mouse to approach you, so you don’t have to chase them around the enclosure when you want to hold them.
    • Try putting peanut butter on your fingertip and offer it to your mouse. They will love it, and it will be a wonderful bonding experience for the two of you. Do this infrequently and conservatively, though, as peanut butter is quite sugary and can choke mice when fed in large quantities.
  4. Now you are ready to take things one step further and start to lift your mouse! Start by holding your hand in their enclosure, palm up. Because of how curious these rodents are, they will most certainly walk up and attempt to sniff, lick, and maybe even nibble on your hands and fingers.
  5. Repeat this exercise a few times, and start lifting your mice up and out of the enclosure with your hand still open. Over time, you can begin closing your hand just a bit. Eventually, your mouse will be comfortable and happy to be held by you!

Additional Tips for Handling Your New Mouse

Consider the types of snacks you offer to your mouse while you two get to know one another. You will be engaging in this exercise quite often, so relying on anything other than the foods listed below can harm your mouse’s health:

Bok ChoyBroccoli ApplesAlmonds
ParsleyBrussel SproutsPearsCashews
CabbageFresh CornBananaMacadamia Nuts
EndiveFresh PeasMelonsPecans
Fresh CarrotsCitrus Fruits Pine Nuts

Additionally, remember to speak to your mouse during handling. This will help your mouse grow accustomed to your voice and assure that it is safe and secure when in your hands. Plus, speaking to your mouse will help desensitize it to potentially startling stimuli.

For instance, you don’t want your mouse to get spooked if you want to converse on the phone while you’re handling it. Get it used to your voice, so it’s not a surprise when you speak, especially if you plan on spending lots of time with your mouse when it’s out of the cage.

How to Pick Up a Mouse You Know Well

Although you should always be careful when handling a mouse, you can begin letting go of caution as you start to know your pet better. Ideally, your mouse won’t be as timid and skittish after spending a few weeks or months with you. With this in mind, you can approach picking them up a little bit differently.

Holding a mouse

By this time, your mouse has already warmed up to your presence and should know you very well. So, instead of going through the taming process that eventually leads to carrying your mouse, you can jump straight into handling whenever you desire.

Follow the instructions below to pick up your tamed, bonded mouse safely:

  1. Hold your hands at your mouse’s sides.
  2. In one smooth movement, scoop your mouse upward into your hands. You can go fast or slow, depending on how comfortable you and your mouse are with each other.
  3. Close your hands into a very gentle, loose fist. This will ensure that your mouse cannot jump away or fall if they want to wiggle around a bit. Your mouse should be sitting upright in your fist, with your thumb very softly positioned behind their shoulders. Allow the mouse to perch their front feet on top of your fist – you don’t want it to feel trapped or too restrained.

Many mouse owners will warn that you should never pick up a mouse by the tail. This is a standard warning for most domestic rodents, as there are some species (e.g., gerbils) whose tails will detach if it’s grabbed. Dropping the tail is a natural defense mechanism that keeps these little critters safe in the wild, helping them escape in case a predator traps them. In human care, it’s another story.

Can You Pick Them Up by Their Tail?

According to Adams County Colorado State University (CSU) Extension, “the simplest and safest way to pick [a mouse or rat] up is by the tail.” Many rodent owners will be left reeling upon reading that, but experts assure that this does not hurt the animal, nor do they face the same risk of losing their tails permanently.

Now, it is important to note that there are risks associated with handling your mouse this way:

  • You might accidentally pull the skin off your mouse’s tail if you grasp and lift it too close to the tip. This is known as “degloving”.
  • Picking up a mouse by the tail has been known to induce severe anxiety and aversion behaviors. In other words, if your mouse has gotten used to you using the “scoop” technique to pick them up, they may be quite unpleasantly surprised at the feeling of being swept off their feet by the tail. Consequentially, they may be far more likely to run away from you in the future.
    • Note: This induced behavior is more common in laboratory settings, but it’s still important to consider when handling your mouse at home. One specific anxious behavior that can result from excessive tail handling is that of defensive burrowing. Your mouse will feel like it needs to escape and protect itself due to the discomfort from this handling style.

Although it is safe to lift your mouse by the tail, it is crucial to support the rest of their body with your other hand as you do so. Don’t let the full weight of the mouse’s body pull down against the tail in your grip. It might not necessarily hurt the mouse, but it will be very uncomfortable.

An Alternative Method for Picking Up Your Mouse

Researchers are beginning to catch on to what types of handling are detrimental to mice’s well-being and stress levels. Of course, they are focused more on human interaction with mice in the laboratory; however, this information is just as crucial for hobby mice owners.

Albino mouse

First, know that most people who recommend lifting mice by the tail do so because they believe that there is less chance of getting bitten. This is quite a toss-up, as your mouse might be more frightened by this, increasing the risk of a bite if they are flexible enough to reach back up to you. Fortunately, tail handling is not the only way to reduce your chance of getting a nip.

Using the “Tunnel Method” to Pick Up Your Mouse

A research team from the University of Liverpool developed a few new methods of picking up and handling your mouse for those who are just getting comfortable with their mouse’s anxiety levels. This technique has been used widely for catching unwanted mice in the house. Still, it’s just as suitable for your beloved pocket pet:

Video Credit: National Centre for the Replacement Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research
  1. Hold a short, plastic tube or tissue paper roll in one hand in the enclosure.
    • The ideal tunnel size is 5 x 12-18 cm (~2 x ~4.7-7 inches). This is perfect for the mouse to be able to turn around comfortably in the tunnel without their movement being too constrained.
  2. Using your free hand, guide the mouse toward the tunnel. This technique is most effective if you hold the tunnel close to the walls of the enclosure. According to the researchers who developed this method, it minimizes the mouse’s chances of escaping. Having the tunnel in the middle of the enclosure gives the mouse too much free space, and it will easily evade you.
    • The best way to hold the tunnel is by grasping it in the middle rather than on either end. Having your hand on one of the open ends might discourage your mouse from stepping inside. (It’s ideal to have a tunnel that is open-ended on both sides. Otherwise, your moues might feel like it’s being trapped.)
  3. When the mouse enters the tunnel, gently lift it and ensure the mouse doesn’t walk or leap out.
    • Domestic mice are very unlikely to jump out, even when both ends of the tunnel are open. Still, you want to be careful and ensure your mouse stays safe.
  4. To put the mouse down, gently tilt the tunnel backward and allow it to walk out into the enclosure.

How to Train a Mouse to Stay in Your Pocket

You might eventually want to live up to the true potential of the term “pocket pet.” This activity doesn’t take too much formal training at all. Instead, it’s just a matter of getting your mouse comfortable with being in your pocket for either brief or extended periods – whatever the two of you prefer.

A suggested method is described below:

  1. Place a shirt you’ve worn on a table or other flat surface. Make sure you’ve worn it recently. You want it to smell like you, not laundry detergent!
  2. Let your mouse walk around the shirt and get used to the feeling of the fabric against its feet and fur.
  3. Put treats in the pocket and let your mouse discover them on its own.
  4. Once your mouse has begun associating pockets with treats, you can start having them ride along in your pocket while wearing the shirt.
    • The safest and possibly most comfortable place for your mouse to sit is in a chest pocket. Pants pockets are a bit too far out of eyesight, and there’s too high of a chance of you bumping into something and hurting your mouse. Horizontal pockets in sweatshirts are relatively good options, also.

Note that not all mice will want to sit in their owners’ pockets, and that’s just fine! Some mice prefer to move around far too much and will try to climb out of your pocket, no matter what you do. Don’t try to force your mouse to hang out in your pocket, as this might result in them forming negative associations with being handled.

How to Train a Mouse to Sit on Your Shoulder

Santa Claus with mouse on shoulder

One of the most popular imaginings of hanging out with a pet rat is walking around the house with it perched on your shoulder. Again, this is only something you should engage in if your mouse has gotten comfortable with being handled. You should also be confident that it will not attempt to jump down.

However, regardless of your confidence, you need to start close to the floor in case your mouse does try to get down. It may have been comfortable with physical interactions and being carried up to this point, but being high up on the shoulder may be another story entirely.

Start slow and let your mouse get used to this position. Sit on the couch or on a bed to provide a soft cushion in the event of a fall. When you’re ready, follow the steps below to carry your mouse on your shoulder:

  1. Ensure that your mouse is comfortable with approaching you outside of its enclosure. Do this by luring your mouse out of the cage with treats or simply letting them walk out and come to you. When your mouse approaches you, offer a treat as a reward. This way, it’ll grow more comfortable with walking up to you on its own accord. 
  2. Next, get your mouse comfortable with being up on your shoulder. Sit on a couch or floor and allow your mouse to climb on you. At this stage, it doesn’t matter where they want to climb on your body. Your mouse just needs to be sure that they can safely climb up and down your torso with no negative repercussions.
  3. Encourage them to climb onto your shoulder by luring them with treats. If the mouse climbs up on its own, be sure to offer a reward! The key is positive reinforcement.
  4. Once you and your mouse are comfortable and confident that it will not fall or try to leap off, try standing with your mouse on your shoulder. Please stand slowly, so your mouse maintains its balance. Once you are fully standing, offer a reward.
  5. Progress toward walking by taking just a few strides around the room. Don’t get too bold and do too much on the first try. This should be a slow progression to prevent injuries or accidents. Gradually increase the distance you walk until you and your mouse are comfortable strolling around together.

Keeping Your Mouse Safe in Your Grasp

Remember to be as gentle as possible when holding your pet mouse. These are tiny little animals, quite possibly the smallest of all domestic rodents. Despite their flexibility and ability to physically adapt to small, tight spaces, it is very easy to hurt them accidentally. For this reason, you should never allow children to hold mice without supervision.

Child holding a furry little mouse

This is necessary for several reasons. Kids are far more likely than adults to forget their strength when holding an animal as small as a mouse. They may get excited with the mouse in their grasp and accidentally squeeze too tightly. This is highly likely to injure the mouse and result in either fractures or asphyxiation (strangulation).

Further, kids are known to make very sudden, erratic movements when doing things they enjoy, whether they’re holding a pet or not. While you certainly should encourage your child to have fun with their pocket-sized pet, you should help mitigate that excitement so they do not behave in such a way that scares the mouse.

Lastly, abrupt movements will likely result in the mouse attempting to leap from your child’s grasp. Remind your child to act slowly and with caution when interacting with the mouse.

How to Hold a Mouse Safely

Both adults and children need pointers now and then to keep their rodent buddies safe while they spend quality time together. Even though you may be a bit more careful than a child, you can benefit from some safety reminders, too.

To prevent any such incidents for both adults and children, follow the pointers below when holding your mouse:

  • If you’re holding your mouse for the first time, it’s best to hold them close to the ground. This way, if they happen to jump from your grasp, they will land safely without getting injured.
  • Place a blanket, pillow, or another cushion on the ground underneath your hands. Again, this ensures that the mouse does not get hurt if they successfully free themselves from your hold.
  • Support your mouse on both ends of the body.
    • Keep one or two fingers under and around the chest, and the others underneath the hind legs. (For bigger mice, you can use two hands to support the chest and hind legs.)
  • Keep your grip secure but loose enough so that your mouse is not being squeezed uncomfortably. It should be able to move around comfortably, but not so much that they can jump out or wriggly haphazardly.
    • Once you and your mouse get more comfortable with one another, you can transition to holding your mouse in an open palm.
  • Young children should not be permitted to pick up the mouse themselves but handed it instead. Have an adult place the mouse inside the child’s hands to ensure that neither they nor the mouse is injured during the interaction.

Do Pet Mice Bite?

Mice can certainly bite when they feel threatened or scared. However, they are not as inclined to bite as certain domestic rodents, namely hamsters. Plus, mice that are socialized from a young age are highly unlikely to nip at their owners. They’ve had more than enough time to get comfortable with being handled that unexpected movements or noises will not spook them.

Still, it’s best to avoid frightening your mouse in such a way. Although you both may feel comfortable with one another, you don’t want to give your mouse a reason to second-guess its safety with you. Some of the behaviors that may cause your mouse to bite you include:

  • Picking your mouse up by the tail.
  • Holding your mouse too tightly.
  • Scaring it by moving too quickly when attempting to pick it up.

Who Should Avoid Handling Mice?

If you’re worried about your mouse biting a child during handling, have the child either wear gloves or cradle the mouse in a blanket instead. Keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually discourage allowing the following people to handle mice due to the risks associated with their bites:

  • Children younger than 5 years old
  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • Immunocompromised people

Where to Pet Your Mouse

You don’t always have to carry your mouse when you want to cuddle and touch them. Instead, you can let your mouse stand on its own four legs and pet their nice fur. Like most other pets, mice have certain “sweet spots” where they just love receiving pets and scratches!

Video Credit: Lily’s Mice

Some of their favorite spots include:

  • On the cheek. Letting your mouse rest their head and front feet on your hand while you stroke from cheek to shoulder is a very peaceful experience for your little pocket pet.
  • On top of the head. Whether your mouse is sitting on your hand or standing in their cage, they’ll love getting nice pets and scratches on the head.
  • On their side. Using one finger, you can give your mouse a nice, gentle scratch on its side.

You may notice that your mouse starts to lick or nibble on you as you’re petting it. It may also close its eyes and relax in your hands. These are all great signs indicating that your little friend is enjoying every moment of your time together.

In Conclusion

Mice are some of the sweetest pets anyone can have. They are perfectly pocket-sized, making them some of the easiest animal companions to handle. Whether you’re interacting with your mouse in its enclosure or attempting to stroll around the house with it, you must prioritize safety in each of your interactions.

With this in mind, always make sure to handle brand-new mice over soft cushions or blankets close to the floor. This way, they will not be hurt if they try to jump away. Children should always be supervised when handling mice, and those younger than five years old should not be permitted to handle a mouse at all.

Treats and patience are crucial to the successful taming and handling of your pet mouse. Keep both on-hand at all times and be sensitive to your mouse’s needs as you grow closer together over time.

Lee Cameron

When I was younger, I had guinea pigs and hamsters as pets. There was limited information back then as to how to take care of rodents, and indeed information on the various types of rodents that could be kept as pets. In this website, I hope to make it an easy, one-stop information portal on raising rodents!

Recent Posts