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The Fun Mouse: Mouse Information: Mouse Diet


Diet Introduction

Chef MousieOn your quest to research the best diet you can possibly feed your mice, you have undoubtedly come across an abundant amount of conflicting information. While there surely is a lot of misinformation out there, some of the varying viewpoints are actually not necessarily "wrong." They simply leave out some important information, therefore you don't get the whole picture. On this page, we attempt to clear up some of that confusion by giving you the bigger picture.

When researching, gather information from many sources, educate yourself, and look at everything with an objective eye. There is a fair amount of decent information out there, it is simply up to you to find which is right for you and your mice. Consider that even diets that are considered good still may not necessarily be the proper diet for your mice. Herein we will explain this concept deeper.

First you must understand that each individual mouse may not require the same diet. There is no single "catch-all" diet that is good for every mouse. Just as mice differ in appearance, their dietary needs can also be unique. Each line differs, and each individual in those lines differ as well. When researching diet, consider that the varying recommendations you've found may not necessarily be wrong. They might simply be what works best for a specific line. Just the same, that diet may not be best for other lines, including yours, even if it is a good diet.

When researching diet always keep in mind that you must know your line. If you have mice from a pet shop, therefore you don't know the line, you will need to approach diet extremely cautiously. Pet shop mice are not bred for health. They are mass produced, no matter what kind of pet shop you get them from (including your favorite mom & pop shop that you think you know so well). Pet shop mice and mice from sources that are not from top quality breeders are far more prone to allergies and deficiencies.

Generally, though not always, individuals that are closely related will thrive from the same diet. However, sometimes there are individuals in the line that will require something different. When feeding your mice, keep this in mind. Just because some appear to be thriving, it doesn't mean they all will. You might have to tweak it or supplement for individuals in the colony (i.e. feed them some things separately, such as during play time- separated from the colony). Dietary needs are also something to keep in mind when you put colonies together. It is best to pick specific colonies by behavior and diet. This is the only way to insure they all thrive.

Most of this page is written for those of you with untracked lines. We have done this because you should be discussing diet with your breeder if you have mice from tracked lines. A good breeder will know exactly what their mice need and they will know of any allergies in their lines.

Nutrients & Treats

In this section we will brush over some important points about nutrition. However, there is a lot more to learn about ingredients and how a mouse processes different sources of nutrients than what we can possibly cover here. Diet is a vast topic that can take years of education just to get a grasp on. It is extremely in depth and therefore difficult to hit on all aspects of it in this section.

- Protein. If you have mice that are NOT from extremely well tracked lines from a quality breeder, make sure that there is not too much protein in the mix. Most of these mice should not have more than 13% protein in their daily diet. High protein can cause what's known as "hot spots". These spots are very itchy to a mouse and are usually on the back of their neck and sometimes going down their back/spine. Hot Spots can cause extreme discomfort, obsessive scratching, open wounds from the scratching, infection from the wounds, and even death. You can read more about this in the "Hair loss, itching, and skin problems" section of this site.

- Meat Protein. TFM recommends that all mice are offered occasional meat in their diet for their best health. Meat, unlike other sources of protein, is often more beneficial. Not all protein is equal. There are different kinds and the body absorbs them differently. Protein from plant sources are often not complete and can be a source of allergies whereas meat proteins are more complete, easily digested, and less likely to cause allergies. Your mice would be thrilled with cooked turkey, skinless cooked chicken, some kinds of baked fish, as well as insects such as meal worms and crickets. You can get meal worms and crickets from your local pet store (do not catch wild ones to give to your mice as you do not know what dangers they have touched and/or eaten that can be transferred to your mice!). Bugs are best fed live as they contain the best nutrients but frozen or dried are also beneficial. Be careful, however. If you have several mice together they may fight over live foods as their hunting instinct kicks in. It may be best to feed them individually.

Whenever feeding fresh foods (cooked or live) be sure to clean up after them. Cooked foods and recently deceased foods (such as crickets that have died but not been eaten) should be removed from the enclosure no more than 2 hours after they are given. If they are left in there any longer they can grow harmful bacteria.

- Common allergens. Along with high protein, some mice have allergies to things such as peanuts, sun flower seeds, and wheat, to name a few. Most mice will be fine with these ingredients in moderation, but if your mouse starts to form hot spots you might want to try eliminating these things from the diet. You can read more about this in the "Hair loss, itching, and skin problems" section of this site.

- Treats. "Treats" don't have to be mousie junk food. A mouse doesn't think that junk food is better than healthy food. Treats are special things they don't get a lot of. These treats can, and should, be healthy! Your mouse has nothing to benefit from junk food.

All treats should be given to mice in close moderation. Whenever introducing something new to your mouse, you need to watch their stool. Some treats will cause runny stool. Diarrhea can dehydrate a mouse very quickly and possibly lead to death. However, loose stool or changes in the color of the stool after giving a new thing can be okay as long as it goes away fairly quickly and it isn't intense (explosive). Whenever giving something new, only give the mouse a little sample of it and watch the stool. As days/weeks go by, you can slowly increase the amount of treats or added nutrients your mice get.

Here are some examples of treats and added nutrients your mice can have:
Vegetables such as carrots, lettuce (the darker the lettuce the better), peas, etc. Veggies often do cause loose stool at first because the water content in the veggies is high so don't be alarmed. You can also give mice different cooked meats (fish, chicken, turkey, pork, etc), pasta (cooked and uncooked), rice (cooked and uncooked-- it is a myth that they will choke or explode), and scrambled eggs. You must be very careful with things high in protein, as stated earlier. Oats, many healthy cereals (most mice love plain cheerios!), some dog treats, and a few mouse/rat/hamster treats can also be given to mice in moderation. Be careful with marketed treats, however. Some are very harmful!

Harmful Foods

There are numerous foods that are dangerous, as well as several that TFM recommends against. When feeding your mice it is important to know what is okay for mice to have and what is risky. NEVER feed your mice anything without FIRST finding out if it is safe or not.

You can begin your search for food safety by utilizing the ASPCA's website. That site is geared more to dogs and cats than mice, but it is a good place to start. Generally (though not always) if something is okay for dogs and cats it is okay for mice too.

Below are a few things that TFM discourages against for various reasons.
- Oxbow is NOT a sufficient source of nutrients for mice. There have been many reported cases in the US of mice failing to thrive and even dying if fed exclusively Oxbow. Oxbow can be given in addition to a well balanced diet (though we do not recommend it), but it should NEVER be the majority of their diet.

- Hartz is a horrible brand all the way around. None of their products are worth the shelf space they use. None of their products have even the slightest health benefit. We will go even further as to state that it is actually more harmful than helpful. To make a comparison, feeding Hartz is like feeding children McDonalds 3 meals a day. They simply can not thrive on it. Their health will reflect negatively.

- Kaytee is a horrible company, known for offering the cheapest ingredients in their diets- at the expense of the animals health. This means that the ingredients are nearly worthless and some flat-out harmful. A good example of this is the preservative they have chosen to use. Instead of using something natural and beneficial like Vitamin E, they use a chemical called Ethoxyquin. This chemical is proven to cause cancer. The FDA regulates how much of this chemical can be put in human and animal foods. However, they allow abundantly more in animal foods than human foods. Add that to the fact that mice are FAR more susceptible to cancer, and that mice eat far more food in proportion to body size, adding that chemical is ASKING for problems. If a company doesn't care enough to use good ingredients, and even worse, uses clearly harmful ones just to save expenses (though still charge you top dollar), then they certainly don't have the health of your pet in mind. This company will cut corners everywhere at the expense of your mice. Make no mistake that they are fully aware of what they are doing. Several people have contacted Kaytee about the use of said chemical. Kaytee maintained that the chemical was safe.... which makes the following very interesting...

Due to an uproar in the animal community flaming Kaytee and getting the word out there about how bad their products are, Kaytee started to lose money as more and more people stopped using their products. Only when their bottom line (money) started to suffer, did they take any steps to rectify this situation. They took ethoxyquin out of several of their products, though not all of them. However, they did not do this out of the animals' better interest, it was their interest alone because of all their losses and bad press. A company that has clearly shown how little they care about your animals is not to be trusted in any aspect of your mouse's health. TFM will NOT back such a company. We actively warn against them due to their own actions.

- Ethoxyquin. We would like to take a moment to elaborate a little on this chemical. This is a chemical that is added to some foods as a preservative. Ethoxyquin is added to both human foods and animal foods. The FDA has regulated it by allowing 100ppm in human foods and up to 150ppm in animal foods. If the mix has higher than 150ppm it has been clearly shown to cause cancer, tumors, and disease in mice and rats. There is an alternative to using Ethoxyquin. Vitamin E is also a preservative and is NOT linked to cancer, tumors, or disease and is actually beneficial. Companies choose to use Ethoxyquin because it is cheaper. However, you get what you pay for. (if you skipped down to this section, be sure to read the section above on Kaytee)

- Corn. Unfortunately corn is an overwhelming ingredient in most foods. Companies love to use it because it is a cheap filler. However, you need to regulate corn intake. Corn in large quantities has been known to cause cancer in mice (as well as all other animals). Most corn is genetically modified, which is the root of all problems. If your mix has a lot of corn, consider picking a lot of it out. Reasonable amounts of corn is okay, but it should not be an overwhelming part of it.

- Yogurt Drops are a pretty awful thing to feed to your mouse. Yogurt drops are slyly marketed to make you think that you are feeding your mice something nutritious like yogurt, when in fact what you are feeding them is pure sugar with a tiny bit of horribly made "yogurt powder." Some yogurt drops don't even make the effort to add yogurt powder yet they still market them as "yogurt drops." However, even the companies that claim the use of yogurt powder are still worthless. Either they are not using enough to make any impact on the nutrition of the product as evidence by their own nutrition label, they are using a horrible quality powder, or they are not manufacturing it correctly. If it was made properly, the protein content would be at least 30% or higher. However, when you look on the package, rarely is there any more than 2% protein. These "treats" are no better than feeding your mice sugar cubes, which is HORRIBLE. Never should a mouse be given something with so much sugar in it! The companies that market these should be ashamed!

Not only are these treats clearly terrible, but they have also caused abrupt problems in mice that have eaten them. There are a few reports of mice becoming ill and even bleeding out of several orifices after consuming them. TFM warns AGAINST any type of "yogurt" drop or "yogurt" covered product. There are many safe alternatives! Sugar free human cereal is a fabulous place to start for giving treats and your mice will love them! If you want to give yogurt, give them sugar-free *real* human yogurt. Just be sure to remove uneaten portions no more than 2 hours after offering it so that it doesn't grow harmful bacteria.

Product Safety
Before you think that anything "must be safe if a company sells them" think again. Companies must be concerned with money first and foremost otherwise they would not be in business to begin with. This is simple fact. Additionally, most companies do not care about the well being of a pet. They care about making profit off products in any way they can. Pet products are a HUGE industry with a LOT of cash flow. Don't be fooled, people do not join a company like that to make a positive difference in an animals life (people that want to make a difference choose a career in places like the veterinary world).

Human products are not above this either. There are MANY harmful products out there for people as well as mice. Even though human products are tighter regulated, people are still harmed all the time by careless companies. Human products get media attention though, whereas you don't hear much about product injuries from animal products because it isn't "news worthy." Pet products are not as tightly regulated as human products either. Most people simply don't care enough to spend the time insuring their safety. The few that do care can not afford to take action against companies in a manner to get them to stop marketing them. It takes an entire society to boycott a product or very serious legal issues (costing a lot of money) to get a company to stop marketing anything harmful. Do not be fooled that any company has the best interest of your pet in mind. It is up to the consumer (you) to choose only safe things for your animals.

Pre-mixed foods

Some people prefer mixes because mice are scavengers by nature and they don't want to take this away from them. Other foods, such as block, can be very boring. However, if you feed mixes you need to make sure that your mice are not only picking out the stuff they like best and leaving the rest. Mice need a balanced diet. In addition, it can be hard to tell when a mouse is out of food because there is always empty shells which can look like they have food. Make sure you check the food daily to insure they have actual food, not just empty shells.

Studies clearly show that mice must have mixed food as at least part of their diet to stay healthy. Being scavengers by nature, mice have a physical need to forage food. Scavenging for food keeps a mouse mentally spry. This directly reflects in their behavior as well as their health. A mouse that is given a healthy diet that they can scavenge for will be healthier and live longer than mice that are not given this opportunity. Studies are undoubtedly clear in this area.

Lab Block

Lab block is most commonly given to lab mice as it contains the essential nutrients a mouse needs in block form, making it so the mice can't pick only what they want out of a diet, thereby not getting a balanced diet.

The right lab block is a very good staple. If you have mice that pick out only their favorite foods and refuse the rest then your mice might benefit from lab block to ensure they get all the nutrients they need.

If you choose lab block, be sure to look into the protein. Many lab blocks on the market contain way too much protein for some mice, especially pet shop mice. Most of them are around 18-24% which is terribly high for some mice and can result in horrible allergies.

It is vital to a mouse's physical and mental well being to have a variety of food, however. Studies overwhelmingly prove that mice must have variety to fulfill their scavenging nature. Feeding block alone can not fulfill this necessity. This environmental enrichment is proven to increase their health, life span, and quality of life.

If you feed block as a staple, it is important to also give healthy treats for them to scavenge. Giving a small amount of treats on a daily basis will fulfill all their needs while not being overbearing to their block diet. These treats should be healthy (cheerios are one great option). It is best to "hide" these treats throughout the environment so they have to hunt for them. Hiding can simply mean putting treats in areas that are not where their block is, or burying them in their bedding (clean spots only). You can have fun hiding these treats too! You can make mouse pinatas out of kleenex (unscented, no aloe, etc) and hemp rope. Stuff the kleenex with treats and string it up from the top of their environment, just low enough for them to get at it. Mice have a blast breaking into the pinatas! You can also put these treats in origami cubes with safe bedding enrichment (nesting material that is different from that they already have) as filler. This way they have to chew their way into the cube to get the treats... and the nesting material is a nice bonus! Many of my mice then used the cubes themselves as nests or play gyms. There are many ways you can add enrichment to their environment to keep them mentally stimulated. It's fun for your mice and you!

Homemade Mixes

Home made mixes can be okay. However, if you choose to mix your own food, make sure you do a lot of research first. For instance, mice can NOT live on bird seed alone. Nor can they live on dog food or table scraps. Mice need a well balanced diet just like humans do. You need to know how to calculate % in the diet, such as % fat, % protein, etc. You also must have a good understanding of what types of foods are digested in what ways by the mouse. For instance, while soy has a good amount of protein, a mouse is unable to utilize the protein from soy effectively, therefore it is not a good source of protein despite its "nutritional value." This is the spot where most people fail at making good diets for their mice. They take the nutritional value and assume that is what their mice are getting, when that is far from what is happening. This misconception is where their mice suffer.

The best "homemade mixes" we've seen people use are made up mostly of *high quality* lab block or a pre-made mix and then they add other things to it such as cereal, oatmeal, high quality dog food, etc. Just be careful what you add. Things like sugar should not be a staple and your additions should not be overbearing to the base diet as it can render it useless. Additions should be an enhancement and generally not overwhelming the pre made base diet.

We can not stress enough how important it is that you do a lot of research into what a mouse needs as a staple diet before even considering making your own. Many very intelligent people 'think' they know best, just to find out later that their mice are suffering because of their diet. Unfortunately, by the time they find out that their mice are suffering because of their diet, their mice have been exposed to it for at least a year. At that point they begin to realize that while their mice 'appear' to be doing great, they are not living as long as they should be, or could be. By that time many mice have been exposed to this diet for a very long time and the damage can't be undone. With extremely few exceptions, TFM does NOT recommend casually making your own mix. It generally causes more harm than good.

We find that a lot of people think that spending the time making homemade mixes somehow shows that they care about their mice. Much like someone will cook a dinner for their significant-other, some think that reflects in making "dinner" for their mice. This is basic human psychology but please understand that the mouse will not know the difference... but their health might negatively reflect your personal desire to "cook" for them. Please understand that truly good care giving is knowing when to take outside resources, such as buying a pre made mix or block. There are other ways you can show your love for your mouse without preparing the food from scratch. For instance, you can make some really fantastic activity centers from popsicle sticks and fleece! Your mice will love this even more!

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