How to Know if a Pet Mouse is Sick

Keeping your pet's cage clean will help keep him healthy.
Keeping your pet's cage clean will help keep him healthy. (Image: ziggy_mars/iStock/Getty Images)

Mice do not always exhibit obvious signs of illness, but if your mouse has digestive problems, coughs, sneezes, exhibits labored breathing or loses hair, veterinary care is necessary. Many ailments are treatable with prompt treatment, but if infections go unchecked, they can become fatal quickly. Check your mouse regularly for symptoms of disease, but always exercise sound hygiene practices, as mice can spread some diseases to humans.

Digestive Problems

Mice who produce loose or watery stools may have a viral or bacterial infection, or they may be harboring internal parasites. Additionally, weight loss, lethargy and stunted growth can indicate problems with these organisms. Your veterinarian may take cultures to identify the causative agent, or she may administer broad-spectrum antibiotics and deworming medications. Proper hygiene is critical to controlling infections and preventing parasite populations from becoming serious. Your veterinarian likely will instruct you to disinfect the cage as part of the treatment.

Respiratory Problems

Mice suffering from respiratory infections often cough, sneeze, have runny noses and exhibit labored breathing. If the illness goes untreated, it may cause your pet to lose weight or exhibit a decreased appetite. Understand that many respiratory infections are highly contagious between mice. If you have more than one pet mouse, consider separating the sick individual from the others to help prevent the illness from spreading.

Skin Problems

Consult your veterinarian if your pet develops areas of scaly, dry skin, or begins to lose hair, which could indicate a bacterial or fungal infection. Fleas are somewhat rare in mice, but possible, particularly if you have other pets. Do not confuse skin problems with the development of lumps or tumors, which also occur frequently in mice, particularly females. Tumors usually originate under the skin, and may occur simultaneously in many parts of the body. Your veterinarian can remove the tumors surgically, but if the cancer spreads to the lungs, the odds of survival are low.

Behavioral Clues

Monitoring your pet’s behavior is an important tool for detecting illness early. Be particularly observant of changes in your pet’s baseline behavior. Not all behavioral problems precipitate from physical illness; some are caused by improper husbandry or the lack of adequate mental stimulation. For example, repetitive or obsessive behaviors often develop in mice who have high stress levels or do not have complex habitats.

Zoonotic Illnesses

While not as dangerous as wild rodents, who carry a wide variety of zoonotic diseases, pet mice can transmit a few diseases to their keepers. Salmonella and ringworm are two commonly transmitted diseases, but the respiratory causing bacteria Pneumcystis carinii also can infect humans. One of the most dangerous zoonotic diseases of pet mice is a viral disease, called Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, which can cause inflammation of the spinal cord and brain in humans. Always wash your hands after touching your pet or tending to its cage, and avoid washing any cage items in your kitchen or bathroom.

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