Making mice at home

Small creatures of any kind need warmth, shelter and food. With regard to the Burlington-Taylor Mouse Quartet, shelter and warmth were pretty straightforward. I initially kept them in a small box in a larger box, with a hot water bottle under the small box. I got rid of their old nest and gave them a red flannel to sleep in with some pieces of toilet paper and torn-up newspaper as additional bedding. I kept the box on a chair next to a radiator until one of the cats became too interested, whereupon I kept the box in the cat-proof kitchen cupboard where the mouse nest had originally been found. I did chuckle at myself, earnestly taking a cardboard box of mice in and out of the kitchen cupboard (and putting an extra hot water bottle down the side of it…) but not for long – it’s a serious business, looking after blind, deaf, orphan mice.

The original mouse boxes

The original mouse boxes

The question of food was more problematic. After their initial apparent acceptance of the paintbrush, the mice seemed to start struggling to eat. So I went into mother mouse overdrive, trying all manner of things to try to make the process of staying alive easier, warmer or containing more calories.

I trimmed down a range of paintbrushes to see if a different shape or different bristles would be preferred. I kept the milk warm for the duration of each feeding session on a hot water bottle. I tried a piece of wool soaked in milk squashed to a tiny point by encasing it in a trimmed down straw – that worked for a few drops with the tiniest one, which felt like a major triumph. I went to the chemist and came away with a 10mm syringe and a small eyedropper. Both dwarfed the mice. Seriously dwarfed. Like a baby would be dwarfed by that giant escaped breast in that Woody Allen film. Trying to feed them with syringe or eyedropper would only end in drowning, so I persevered with paintbrushes. I went to the pet shop and picked up some powdered kitten milk formula (also good for baby guinea pigs, rabbits and other orphaned small animals). I explained to the lady behind the counter what I was up to and asked if they had any 1mm syringes as a paintbrush alternative. She immediately rushed out to the back and returned proffering a handful of tiny syringes and refusing any payment, which was very kind of her. Back home, I realised that the mouth of a 1mm syringe is the same size as the mouth of a 10mm syringe… At one point, at about four in the morning, when a mouse was struggling to accept the paintbrush, I thought of Harry Harlow’s Mummy Monkey experiments (Love is… something to eat and something to cuddle – especially something to cuddle) and did consider wrapping my hand in furry material, before the stickiness of the formula milk made me decide to hope that my inate spiritual soft-and-fluffiness would do.

And pretty swiftly, they became expert at accepting the paintbrush.

About 9 days old and a bit milky

About 9 days old and a bit milky

Then I asked the internet for its opinion on hand-rearing field mice.

Well, thank goodness I did. Baby mice need a bit of a hand (or, well, strictly speaking a tongue. A mouse tongue.) with the old excretion, so mimicking mother mouse washing them would be essential if they weren’t going to expire from terminal constipation. Mine didn’t seem to be suffering in that area, but, heck, that would be a horrendous way to go, so I followed the advice. A hot tip from the world wide web of field-mice rearing enthusiasts (mostly from the States) was to use a damp ‘Q-tip’ or piece of toilet paper, so that’s what I did and it worked beautifully. I appreciate that the word ‘beautifully’ may not be the first to spring to mind when considering the process of elimination in rodents, but I assure you, it’s appropriate.

To make sure everymouse was fed and, er, assisted each session, I put them into a separate tupperware box (on the radiator or hot water bottle) after they’d had their first go at the paintbrush. So the mealtime routine became:

  • Feed with milky paintbrush,
  • Stimulate bowel/bladder event,
  • Pop in tupperware box on the radiator
  • Repeat previous three steps with the other three mice
  • Feed with milky paintbrush
  • Place in nest box
  • Repeat previous two steps with the other three mice
  • Place all four mice in milky hand in the hope they’ll get some milk on their feet and fur and lick it off
  • Return to nest box

And then once a day, I’d add the following:

  • ‘Wash’ mouse with a larger damp, warm paintbrush
  • Replace in small tupperware box on radiator and rub gently with warm toilet paper until dry
  • Repeat previous two steps with the other three mice
  • Return mice to nest box.

It took blinkin’ ages.

The internet recommended feeding tiny mice every two hours. As the feeding process was taking about an hour, I upped that to every three to four hours, slightly less frequently in the day and slightly more frequently at night. They seemed to be doing OK. They were getting proper fur. They were starting to walk, rather than crawl or seep. They were demanding the paintbrush, open-mouthed like baby birds and then grabbing a firm hold of it with their front feet. They were amazing!

Mice - about 9 days old

Mice – about 9 days old