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On keeping wild animals as pets


I don’t kill mammals or birds, even though not doing so can be a pain. Actually, I kill them on accident occasionally. About a year ago, my house was overrun with white-footed mice. I caught nine of them and tried to keep them as pets, but lacked adequate tank space. After a couple died, I moved them from a ten-gallon tank to a twenty and accidentally killed another when I unknowingly put a shrew in with them. I’ve tried to develop better procedures, but still screw up. For instance, Talon was apparently a short-tailed shrew, not a vole.I lacked good resources for IDing her. I fed her a diet designed for a vole. I gave her rodent chow, which was mostly a mix of greens and grain and supplemented with table scraps like bits of bread, fruit and root vegetables. She may have been malnourished. Shrews are insectivores. If I catch another, they’re getting cat food. She may also have been old. Shrews don’t live much longer than voles. Oddly, everything I’ve read says they are terrible pets and difficult to keep alive more than a few days. I had her for six months and she got to be semi-tame. She’d take food from my hands and come out and wait for food when I opened the cage. She never held still for pictures when alive so they tended to turn out like this. I’m including a post-mortem picture to confirm ID below the fold. Trigger-warning: dead animal.

I’m pretty sure that’s a northern short-tailed shrew, though I’ve still gotten conflicting assessments. Can anyone confirm/deny?

I still have four white mice. They’re easy to take care of. I just keep their water bottle full, give them each a piece of rodent food every day, replace their exercise wheel when they chew it too much and trap them and hose out their tank every few weeks. They aren’t nearly as tame, though, even though I’ve had them a lot longer. The best I can do is hold hope to watch them running around if I make no sudden movements. At least they are amusing. My cat, Bindle, likes them, too.

At least, I’m pretty sure these are white-footed mice. Can anyone confirm this?

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  1. Laughing Coyote permalink

    I’m pretty sure those are house mice. Deer mice and white footed mice are more timid IME, creatures of the forests rather than house pests. Having caught one and checked it out up close once, I can say it had a bigger head, bigger ears, bigger eyes shorter tail, smaller body, and longer hind feet. Also, a distinctive lighter colored belly. It was pretty immediately obvious that, while still a ‘mouse’, they were built very differently from house mice.

    As for your shrew, I’m very impressed. Maybe shrews are more adaptable than we give them credit for?


      There’s more mouse footage. They are white on the bottom. Also, they have dark drown tails. My understanding is that house mice always have pink.

      • Laughing Coyote permalink

        I breed house mice for feeding, and mine don’t always have pink tails. It’s extremely variable. Granted, these are domestic mice that come in several colors and patterns.

        This is a white footed mouse, and looks just like the animals I’ve occasionally caught. They’re built different from house mice, I’m pretty sure they’re a different genus even. Bigger ears, bigger eyes, proportionally bigger heads, and long back feet.

        Here’s a slightly less detailed side view:

        Furthermore, if you caught them in your house, they were probably house mice. I caught a white footed mouse in a house once, and that’s because a wily cat brought it in. The other one I caught was in the middle of the forest. White footed mice are much wilder than even ‘wild’ house mice. They don’t tend to live in houses, unless they’re log cabin shacks in the middle of the booneys.

      • That looks a lot like the mouse that a friend of mine caught in her apartment in Iowa City. She only lived a few months.

        One thing that confuses me: If these are house mice, why don’t I have baby mice? I thought they breed easily in cativity, yet I’ve had a mix of males and females for more than a year with no babies.

  2. Here are the mouse-sized rodents that live wild in Iowa according to the DNR:

    White-footed mouse Brown back; white belly and feet
    Deer mouse Brown back; white belly and feet; tail sharply bicolored;
    top brown and bottom white
    Southern bog lemming Short tail; brownish-gray fur
    Prairie vole Gray back; yellowish belly; shorter tail and nose than a mouse
    Meadow vole Gray back; silver belly; shorter tail and nose than a mouse
    Meadow jumping mouse Tail much longer than body; big feet; brown back; yellow sides; white belly
    Western harvest mouse White feet; yellowish-brown fur
    House mouse Naked, scaly tail; grayish both back and belly; not native to Iowa; found close to human habitations

    It’s rather under-illustrated. From checking some Wikipedia pictures, it looks like the DNR is either wrong in their house mouse or way too limited. I guess this means I can try cross-breeding them with domestic mice to try to make some hardier stock. My understanding is domestic mice have a drastically reduced lifespan due to inbreeding.

  3. Laughing Coyote permalink

    That is extremely confusing, I can’t see why they wouldn’t breed.

    I’d be interested in how any crossbreeds you attempt turn out. You might try sequestering a male with two females in a separate cage for a while?

    • It can be hard to sex them. They have little mouse balls, but they’re on the underside and it’s not like they’ll hold still for me to check. My four living ones are all visually distinct, so I suppose I can wait for them to climb across the cage lid, then write down their sex. They had a tail-biting problem. Only one current mouse has a complete tail. I noticed their their tails quit getting shorter after the previous mouse died last May (with an intact tail), so I think I know what happened. The different tail lengths may them easy to distinguish.

  4. Laughing Coyote permalink

    I usually sex mice by grabbing them by the base of the tail: There are mousey-balls, but the male’s urogenital opening will also be much further forward than the females (which will point be very close to her anus, and if you care to image mice doing the deed together you can see why this is so).

    Your mice are wild, I understand, so this might not be feasible, particularly with short-tailed specimens.

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