Handle with Care

Both domestic mice and rates generally tolerate gentle handling, although both are capable of biting if startled or handled roughly. Mice are more likely to bit than rats under these circumstances. In fact, mice housed alone are more likely to be aggressive with a handler than those housed in groups. Cage territoriality or possessiveness may be exhibited by some pet rats. The authors have encountered a large number of pet rats, normally docile in nature, that will attack the fingers or hands of the handler upon opening and entering its enclosure. This aggressive behavior is not noted when attempts to pick up these rats are made outside of their enclosures.


It is customary to pick up a pet mouse by gently lifting it up by the tail and placing it into a cupped hand. If a more secure hold is necessary, that is, giving medications or foods directly orally, the handler may grasp or pinch as much skin as possible over the heck, just behind the head. The mouse can then be picked up and turned over on its back by rotating the wrist. The tail can be restrained by gently grasping it between the fourth (ring) and fifth (pinkie) fingers of the same hand.


The best method for picking up a pet rat is to place one hand over the back, just behind the head, and gently grasp it around the rib-cage and lift it upward. The rat can then be gently cradled against the handler's body, using minimal restraint.

Special Comment Regarding Human Allergies to Pet Mice and Rats

Human allergies to rodents are common and the symptoms can be serious, even life-threatening. This problem is most frequently reported among laboratory personnel but individual pet mouse and rat owners are equally vulnerable.


The offending allergens may be skin dander and hair or the proteins in aerosolized urine. Symptoms among allergic individuals may include runny eyes and nose, sneezing, congestion, coughing, asthma symptoms including shortness of breath and anaphylactic shock. Certain individuals may also manifest a rash or hives, especially in areas contacted by the claws or hair of a rodent.


This information is included in this handout because the possibility of an allergy to a pet mouse or rat must be considered if someone in a household develops any of the symptoms mentioned above. The medical doctor consulted about the problem must be made aware of the existence of a pet rodent or rodents within the home.