Many people who wish to keep small pets narrow things down to mice and rats for their intelligence, friendly personalities, and general appearance, but then have trouble deciding between the two. If you’re currently wondering if you should get mice or rats, please read on and allow me to help you make your decision. I’ve kept both and prefer rats, but mice and rats each fit in well with certain households and the personalities of certain pet parents. I’ve selected some important characteristics, including personality, smell, care, and more, and described the differences between keeping mice and rats in each case. Please, whichever you choose, keep a pair– rats and mice are gregarious and are happiest when they have company.
Rats: Rats that are handled from birth tend to be very friendly and crave human contact as well as friendships with other rats. They can recognize their names, use a litterbox, and learn several simple tricks. Some rats even learn to navigate a “rat agility” course of obstacles. Rats that are not well socialized at a young age may still be friendly, but may be standoffish if they are neither genetically inclined to be friendly nor socialized early in life. All rats need daily handling and attention to remain at their most affectionate and sociable.
Mice: Mice range from timid to very bold. Early handling is even more important for mice than for rats. Taming a timid mouse can be difficult as their size makes it easy to accidentally hurt or drop them. Mice that are people-friendly are very intelligent and trainable. Countless children have trained mice to walk tightropes, climb ladders, pull tiny matchbox wagons… the possibilities are nearly limitless!
Rats: Rats can live 2-3 years, and in rare cases live as long as 4-5 years. The oldest known rat was a laboratory animal and was over seven years old when he died. However, due to the prevalence of various cancers as well as rats’ susceptibility to respiratory trouble, many rats don’t live to be even two years old. Cancer is seen in rats as young as a few months old, and pneumonia can occur at any age if a respiratory infection is not treated or if the rat is exposed to viral pneumonia.
Mice: Mice live 1-2 years normally. Sudden death is common in mice, even at relatively young ages. They’re simply so small that symptoms are often not immediately apparent when they are ill, and even if the pet parent is aware of the illness, it’s often impossible to treat such a tiny creature. The oldest known mouse was just over four years old at the time of death.
Rats: Male rats have a stronger odor than female rats, but neither sex should smell particularly pungent, nor should their cages, if proper cleaning is practiced and rats are bathed if they become particularly dirty.
Mice: Mice definitely smell more strongly than do rats. Female mice are fairly odorless if the cage and mouse are kept clean, but male mouse urine has a strong, distinct odor. I know people who have ten or more rats who won’t keep even one pair of male mice because of the strong smell. That said, with frequent cleaning, I personally didn’t find the smell terribly bothersome when I had mice. Some people appear to be particularly sensitive to it.
Rats: Rats need daily handling and attention, both to keep them friendly and to stimulate their minds– these intelligent creatures don’t appreciate being caged all day, every day. Spot cleaning should be performed daily, with particularly dirty toys and dishes washed and the dirtiest spots of litter removed. Deep clean rat cages weekly. Plan on cleaning a large cage– each adult rat needs a minimum of 2-3 cubic feet of space, and you should always keep at least two rats. Wheels, igloos, dishes, and water bottles should be thoroughly washed in hot water at least every other week. Aging rats often need medical care, ranging from medication to daily help with cleaning themselves.
Mice: Mice also need daily handling and attention, for the same reasons. Depending upon the number and gender of your mice, cleaning may need to be performed more frequently, but there is a smaller area to clean. Mice often go through cage furniture, water bottles, and dishes very rapidly due to their chewing habits, even if chew sticks are provided daily along with plenty of hard food. Aging mice may also require medical care, but it’s less likely to be complex or intensive simply because there are fewer options for mice and treatment for illness in mice is more difficult than the same treatment in rats.