Enrichment, mice like to keep busy!
So you've got your cage choice sorted, you know what substrate and bedding you're going to use, but that mouse cage is looking rather sparse and you aren't sure what to put in there? Well theres plenty of toys on the market available for small pets but don't forget to look closer to home too, you don't have to spend an arm and a leg to keep your mice entertained and it will give their cage a more personal touch.
Now we aren't saying that you shouldn't buy any manufactured toys for your pet, but unlike humans, your mice will not be distraught if something doesn't match the colour scheme, or if it's not in the right spot. Mice are notorious for rearranging their cages anyway in a short period of time, even if it looks messy to you, it's just how they like it!
Mice are a natural prey species, so the more toys and enrichment crowding their enclosure, the safer they will feel as they have ample hiding opportunities if they feel threatened at any time. It also allows them to express their natural behaviours such as hiding, running, foraging and chewing and keeps their minds stimulated and allows for a happier, healthier mouse.
Wheels - while wheels make for an excellent enrichment opportunity by providing your
mouse to be able to run long distances without having a larger cage, this doesn't mean you can have a smaller cage just because theres a wheel in there. Another issue with wheels is that there are many wheels on the market that are too small for any animal to use, leading to health issues from prolonged use. This is something I will make another article about. However, wheels have great potential if used correctly and help with keeping small mammals ﬁt and active. Wheels often have the issues of being very loud and squeaky! This can be rectiﬁed by adding a spot of cooking or coconut oil onto the joint, this will lubricate the wheel and allow for quiet, smooth movement. Just make sure to use an oil that is safe to eat and not to use mechanical lubricants that will be unsafe to ingest.
Wooden climbing frames / towers / bridges - naturally in the wild, mice would often need to climb to forage for food and moving from one location to another. Wooden enrichment also help to provide a natural product that can be safely chewed, but products may also contain unsafe aspects to hold it together such as glue and nails, paint and staining may also have been used in the manufacturing process so please keep an eye out for this when buying such products.
Hides - we all know that mice like to ﬁnd easy hidey spots and the more they have in their
cages, the more relaxed they will be. Hides can be either bought or made, with commercial hides being more robust and reusable, they are often made from plastics and come in quirky, colourful options. These hides are easy to wash and reuse, giving them a long lifespan of use. Homemade hides are usually made from cardboard so are an economic alternative but may only be temporary in the grand scheme of things, less of an appealing appearance but holds an eco friendly aspect as you are essentially reusing rubbish.
Ropes - there are many diﬀerent kinds of rope out there that can be used for small animals but please be aware, cotton ropes will soak up urine quickly and the smell of ammonia will linger in a cage even after cleaning, if the ropes themselves haven't been soaked/cleaned. Many dog toys are made up of rope and make an excellent hanging toy in enclosures, bird perches also make for excellent elevated walkways for mice to explore their homes from a diﬀerent angle, get creative and change things up each time you clean out their cage! Ropes can also be made from plaited ﬂeece strips and make excellent options as they can be more easily cleaned and replaced. Please note that mice will enjoy chewing on ropes due to their pleasing texture, make sure to check them regularly for wear and tear to avoid preventable falls/injuries.
Cardboard - a cheap and readily available resource that comes in many forms. Cardboard
can be used as hides in the form of boxes, toilet roll tubes can be used as above ground tunnels, they can also be
folded and turned into treat parcels that have to be chewed into to get to treats stuﬀed inside. Tissue boxes make great pre-made hides that can be chewed on or nested inside and has excellent insulating properties. Save up some of your cardboard recycling each week to give to your mice as an easy source of enrichment after cage cleaning!
Scatter feeding - while feeding your mice in a bowl is a neat option to keep food all in one place, it can be very predictable for you mice to know where their food is, they also have a nasty habit of using food bowls as a toilet which means a large amount of food will be wasted in cleaning out their food bowls daily. By opting to scatter feed, your pets will have to search around their cage to ﬁnd their dinner! Although this may not be as aesthetically pleasing for owners, it is a fantastic opportunity for pets be to able to express natural behaviours and help to keep them active and alert.
Hammocks - now more commonly available in mouse sizes, hammocks provide excellent
opportunities for climbing and utilising spaces in the cage that would otherwise be empty. They also provide coverage from above allowing your mice to feel more secure from potential predators from above, something instinctively ingrained into them. With many designs available, hidey holes and nesting spots can also be utilised in spots previously unavailable to them. This is useful for larger colonies where cage mates need the option to get away from each other.
Supervised free roam - we wouldn't want to be cooped up in the same place all the time, and so neither do your pets! Allowing your mice to have time outside of their cage can be beneﬁcial but certain things need to be taken into consideration. Is the area you're going to let your mice free roam safe? Can they escape easily? Are there any electrical wires they could potentially chew through? Are there any other pets around such as cats or dogs? If you are worried about these things, you could potentially provide a safe area for your mice in a room with a close-able door to keep other pets out, and investing in a small animal pen or pop up ball pit for your mice to roam in. Free roam spaces should still always have food and water readily available to your mice and hides and other toys should be provided to give mice opportunities to hide if they feel threatened.
Homemade Enrichment - this is where you can really get creative! Hiding food, treats and
hay inside of chewable materials such as toilet roll tubes or brown paper to make your mice work for their food, hanging toys made from string and pet safe popcorn, freezing treats in ice for cooling pet safe ice pops in the summer, pea ﬁshing made from a bowl of water and some frozen peas. There are so many options to utilise food and toys for your pets that we think that this one is going to need to be another article! You can also get creative trying to make your pet the " perfect hangout spot", why not attempt to make them a castle, or their own little home? The possibilities are endless!
We would love to see some of your cage setups and all the enrichment you have for your mice, let us know of some of your favourite DIY toys/houses that you've made!