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Proper, adequate housing is a major factor in the maintenance of healthy mice and rats. The psycho-social 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. The latter three materials are preferred because they resist corrosion. Wood and similar materials must not be included in the construction of enclosures because they are difficult to clean and these materials cannot withstand the destructive gnawing of the rodents. The construction and design of the enclosure must ensure that the resident(s) cannot escape. Furthermore, the enclosure must be free of sharp edges and other potential hazards.
The enclosure must be roomy enough to allow the resident(s) to pursue normal activities and breeding activity, if the latter is desired. Visual security (a place into or under which the resident(s) can retreat for privacy) must 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 must be easy to clean and be well lighted and adequately ventilated. Bedding must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace. Shredded paper, wood shavings and processed corn-cob are preferred bedding materials. Tissue paper or cotton are often supplied to breeding rats for nest-building materials.
Never use cedar or pine shavings for mice or rats, as the phenols are very strong and cause serious respiratory, skin, coat and liver problems.
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 must also be prevented because pet rodents do not tolerate them well.
The frequency with which the enclosure is cleaned will depend on its design, the materials out of which it is made and the number of rodents that reside within it. As a general rule of thumb, however, the enclosure and all cage "furniture" must be cleaned and disinfected weekly. The food and water containers must receive cleansing and disinfection daily. We suggest that more than one set of containers be maintained and the "used" set be washed in a dishwasher, if possible.
A vigorous scrubbing of the enclosure and "furniture" with hot water and soap and a thorough rinse must be followed by the use of a disinfectant. Vinegar is often required to remove the scale deposited by the rodent urine.
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