American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the Summer I 1997 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.

Beginners’ Corner

Mice Living In Dirt; Rat Balls; Difference Between Rats and Mice
Mice Living In Dirt

Sandi Ackerman, Seattle, WA (e-mail)
Q Opinion please. A friend in animal welfare told me she had kept her mice for over 3 years in an aquarium filled with potting soil. I saw this aquarium and it looked quite impressive with little “trees” and “brush” on the top of the dirt. This sounded very humane to me, and since mice usually die at about 2 years, it sounded as though the more natural burrowing activity could account for the longer life. (At my home I have ducks, and the resulting field mice burrow all around my garden and yard.)

So I set up an aquarium in my new pet store/shelter (rescue animals only) and was bombarded by negative comments from a local rat rescuer. These little guys were very active, much more so than they’d previously been living in a cage with a wheel for exercise. However, until I get additional feedback, they’re now back in their wire cage. If you agree that living in dirt is bad for these little guys, could you please take the time to explain why? Thanks! I’m trying to sell and promote only quality products that prolong the life of rabbits, rodents, and ferrets, and certainly don’t want to go off in the wrong direction for my mice friends.

A It sounds like something you could at least try and see how long they live in this environment. I think most people are so used to seeing domestic rodents in shavings, that anything else is unacceptable. The only thing to be concerned about is to make sure the potting soil doesn’t have any harmful chemicals added or bugs of any kind that would hurt the mice. I’ve heard of a set-up similar to an ant farm where you put a couple of mice in a very skinny aquarium with shredded aspen and watch them make burrows. If your set-up seems to work fine for the mice and they like it, it would at least make a conversation piece even if the people didn’t want to try it with their pets. I would suggest maybe trying this at home for a year or two before putting this kind of set-up in the store so you know how the mice take to it. Let us know how this works out. Karen Robbins

Rat Balls

From our files
Q I’m sure you have seen the clear plastic balls that can contain a hamster or mouse and let it run freely around the house. Unfortunately, they are, in most cases, too small for an adult rat to use. I used to let Rat Ball my rats run around the house, but as you know, they tend to chew on electrical cords, etc. Also, now that my daughter is crawling on the floor, I don’t want my rats running loose for sanitary reasons. Do you know if they make the balls for rats? Do you think a pet supply company would be interested in creating a “rat-sized” play ball? Would other members be interested in something like this?

Debbie, Australia (e-mail)
Q My 9-year-old son has a rat which is 5 months old. She is white with red eyes and is lovely and Rat Ball healthy. She comes when she is called and is toilet trained. She gets along really well with our 4-year-old dog. We have heard that you can get a thing called a rat ball. It is clear plastic and you put the rat in and it can run around the floor whilst in the ball. In New Zealand, there isn’t even a rat association that I am aware of, and I am wondering if you have heard of these balls and if so, where I could get one from. Mainly for when my son takes Serenity over to other people’s places so she will be safe and will be unable to scurry under large pieces of furniture.

A I don’t know of any rat-sized balls—just hamster-sized balls and ferret balls with holes in them for them to run in and out of. Rats don’t really like being stuffed in a ball like hamsters—they would rather be out playing with you! I’ve heard of several people who let their pet rats out in the house, or in one room of the house, when they are home. I wouldn’t recommend letting rats loose in the house for long periods unless they are supervised, since they tend to chew on things they shouldn’t. There is also the danger of stepping on them or closing a door on them if they do get the run of the house. Karen Robbins

Difference Between Rats and Mice

Sean Kelly (e-mail)
Q I was wondering if someone could tell me the difference between rats and mice. There are many web pages about rats, many pages about mice and many about both, yet a description of difference eludes me. I know rats are typically bigger, but what is the defining difference. In other words, how do I know if I’ve got a rat or a mouse?

A Mice and rats or two totally difference species, but are very similar in appearance. The mouse, mus musculus, is small- about 4–5 inches in body length as adults. Their tails are a bit longer in comparison to their body than a rat. They have larger ears than rats. Rats, Rattus norvegicus, are about 8–10 inches in body length as adults. As pets, rats relate more to humans than mice. They enjoy human companionship. They can be kept in same sex groups. You can keep female mice together, but not the males. You can sit on the couch with your rat and let him wander around and he will usually come back. You can’t do this with a mouse, they will take off. There are a lot of books available in pet shops and book stores that illustrate the difference better than I can. Rats by Carol A Himsel, and Mice by Horst Bielfeld are good basic books. They have chapters on behavior and have some good pictures in them. They are both published by Barron’s. I got my copies at either B. Dalton or Walden’s. Hope this helps. Nancy Ferris *

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Updated March 26, 2015