Proper housing is a major factor in the maintenance of healthy mice and rats. The psychosocial well-being of the animals must be a primary consideration. Mice and rats can be housed within enclosures made of wire, stainless steel, durable plastic or glass.
Stainless steel, durable plastic or glass are preferred materials for a rodent enclosure because they resist corrosion. Wood and similar materials should not be used in the construction of enclosures because they are difficult to clean and cannot withstand the destructive gnawing of rodents.
The construction and design of the enclosure must ensure that the residents cannot escape! Furthermore, the enclosure must be free of sharp edges and other potential hazards. The enclosure must be roomy enough to allow the rodents to pursue normal movement and breeding activity, if the latter is desired. Visual security, i.e. a place into or under which the rodents can retreat for privacy, should be provided, as well as exercise wheels for optimum mental and physical health. Rats, in particular, tend to be burrowers and seem to enjoy hiding under things for extended periods.
Enclosures should be easy to clean, well lit and adequately ventilated. Bedding must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace. Shredded paper, hardwood shavings and processed corn cobs are preferred bedding materials. Tissue paper or cotton are often supplied to breeding rats for nest-building material.
Cedar shavings should be avoided as the aromatic oils in the cedar are toxic to animals. Pet mice and rats seem most comfortable when they are spared exposure to excessive noise, needless excitement and confusion, and other similar or perceived stresses. Sudden environmental temperature changes should also be prevented because pet rodents do not tolerate them well.
The frequency with which the enclosure should be cleaned depends on its design, the materials out of which it is made, and the number of rodents within. As a general rule of thumb, however, the enclosure and all cage “furniture” should be cleaned and disinfected once weekly.
The food and water containers should be cleaned and disinfected once a day. More than one set of containers should be maintained, and the soiled set should be washed in a dishwasher, if possible. Vigorous scrubbing of the enclosure and “furniture” with hot water and soap and a thorough rinse should be followed by the use of a disinfectant. Vinegar is often required to remove the scale deposited by rodent urine.
Rats and mice are especially sensitive to the irritating effects of ammonia. This chemical builds up quickly in the bedding from the relatively large volume of urine excreted by pet mice and rats. Bedding must be changed 2-3 times each week, or more often if necessary. Furthermore, ventilation must be adequate to reduce or eliminate the irritating effects of ammonia on the respiratory lining of pet rodents.