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Mice and rat behaviour

Knowing a little bit about mice and rat behaviour can ensure your ownership of them a much more pleasureable experience.

Your questions answered

Are mice and rats aggressive?

Mice can be aggressive toward one another, so great care should be taken when housing more than one mouse within the same enclosure. Newly assembled male groups and new males entering established territories, in particular, are likely to fight, so it is wise to always house male mice separately.

Domestic female mice seldom fight unless they are defending their nests.

Rats are more communal and, in contrast to mice, several males and females may be housed within the same enclosure, provided that it is big enough. In fact, young rats are raised by the group and nursing responsibilities are shared between females, however these nursing females may fight among themselves.

Males may occasionally bother the young, but aggression between rats is generally infrequent (in contrast to mice).

Cage territoriality (possessiveness) may be exhibited by some pet rats. It is not unusual for a normally docile natured rat to attack the fingers or hands of a handler opening and entering its enclosure, even when this aggressive behaviour is not usually seen when attempts to pick up the rat are made outside of their enclosure.

How do pet mice and rats behave?

Mice are timid, social and territorial animals that spend a disproportionate amount of time in the wild pursuing an omnivorous (animal and plant material)diet. Feeding is most often carried out at night to escape predation. Laboratory and pet mice are not strictly nocturnal (night-active) but tend to exhibit alternating periods of activity and rest throughout the day and night.

In the wild, mice may exhibit aggression among themselves, though establishment of a social "pecking order" tends to reduce this potentially injurious behaviour. Individual males apparently dominate groups of mice using this social pecking order. Females with litters may fight to defend their nests.

Wild rats tend to be omnivorous (feed on plant and animal material) but exhibit tremendous opportunism in their feeding habits when living in and around human dwellings. They also tend to be nocturnal (night-active) animals but often use daylight hours to forage for food. Laboratory rats, like laboratory mice, on the other hand, are not strictly nocturnal.

What else should I know?

Every effort to prevent the escape of pet rodents should be made because they can be a tremendous nuisance when allowed the "run of the house".

Escaped rats tend to eventually return to their enclosures, whereas escaped mice tend to fend for themselves within the home and do not return to their enclosures.

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