Bonding with my new mice — how to decipher gentle nipping

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Post by Graceeh on Mon 05 Aug 2019, 11:44 am

I recently got two new female mice, Opal and Sybil. It's been about three days now, and on the fourth day (today), I wanted to try putting my hand in the tank to start familiarizing them with me. Up until this point, I have put a treat of rolled oats in their cage any time I add a new toy or change their water just so they know to associate my hand/presence with something good. Both of them are very curious and active and seem very comfortable when I come into the room — no issues with hiding or acting scared. If anything, they actually come out and seem to want to get to the top (I have a glass tank) when I come in or start messing with their cage (although I wasn't sure if this was them being curious to meet me or wanting to get out lol).

Today, when I put my hand in the cage, both of the girls took the oats from my hand, but Sybil started nipping at my hand the longer I left it in the tank. It was only two very gentle nips, but I read that if a mouse bites, it's their way of telling you they don't like something. I'm hoping for some help in deciphering this behavior. Are some mice just more bite-y than others? I have noticed she does seem to explore everything in the cage with her teeth lol, but I'm wary of making her uncomfortable or pushing something if she's trying to tell me no.

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Post by Robin~ on Mon 05 Aug 2019, 12:55 pm

It's likely she just thought your hand was food due to its smell Smile Just be sure to wash your hands before handling and after feeding Smile
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Post by CallaLily on Mon 05 Aug 2019, 5:16 pm

I always recommend waiting to hand feed mice until after taming. In my experience it can encourage biting. I also find taming goes better outside of their cage, in a neutral safe play space like a big storage bin or a dry bathtub. Then you can leave treats hidden around their cage for them to find when they return. They’ll still make that connection but with less chance of confusing fingers for treats. Or if you prefer to continue in cage, that’s fine too - just wait to scatter treats after.

Now some mice do seem to be a bit nibbley than others. My one boy used to try to nibble finger tips when I first got him even though I never hand fed. I would just gently curl my fingers back and say “no bites” every time he tried to do it. He caught on in like two days that I didn’t like the nibbling. But he was always very very interested in coming out to hang out with me right from the beginning, so it may be different if a mouse is less interested in play time. But it sounds like in your case they were just confusing your fingers for food because you were previously offering it and your fingers likely still smelled of it too.

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Post by Graceeh on Tue 06 Aug 2019, 10:54 am

Thanks! Any tips on how to tell if a mouse is interested in playtime? My girls really seem interested in coming out to play, especially the bitey one, but I can't tell if I'm reading into it. For example, whenever I walk up next to the cage, Sybil (the biter) starts trying to jump up to the mesh top of the tank or will keep standing on her back legs craning her head to the top. Yesterday night when she was doing this I tried putting my hand in the tank again and she was crawling all up my arm but when I put it in a second time in the same sitting she actually wouldn't stop nipping my fingers this time. Still didn't seem aggressive because it didn't hurt, but I wiggled my finger and said "ouch" and she wouldn't let go. Was I pushing it too much and that's why? Wish I could just read their brains!

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Post by CallaLily on Tue 06 Aug 2019, 2:10 pm

My boy would usually climb up on a high toy as soon as he saw me and would quickly climb onto my offered hand. Then he’d crawl around on me some and eventually chill in my hood or sleeve of the hoodie I always wore when I handled him (because males mark and can be smelly greasy little boogers).

My girls were less enthusiastic about hanging with me but would still usually come out when I approached their cage and climb either on my hand or in an offered tube (depending on the mouse) for a ride to the play bin. Even my grumpy girl, Bacon, who would refuse my hand 95% of the time couldn’t resist play time and would climb willingly into the tube for transport.

It does sound to me that she’s interested in coming out for playtime. What does she do when you start to lift her out? As for the nipping, just keep gently curling your fingers back and repeat the same phrase (ouch is fine) and chances are she’ll catch on. It doesn’t sound aggressive to me at all, more curious about your hands and the possibility there might be a treat. I would go ahead and take her out when she climbs onto you (unless she’s panicking and jumping - then I would try offering a tube for transport) and moving her over to a safe play area that’s full of toys and hides. Then continue to interact with her (and her tank mates) in that space for a while. How long would depend on them. If they seem to get stressed after a short while, return them. You can slowly work up to longer play sessions over time. Be sure to provide a source of water in the play space.

Btw, you can repeat simple phrases for different things and many mice will start to catch on. Something like “playtime” when you’re getting them out for the play bin and “home” when you’re offering a hand (or tube) to take them back. That was the only time Bacon would willingly climb into my hand - when I would say “home” at the end of play time. Little brat. Laughing Some mice also pick up on their name, so try adding that after each phrase too.

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Post by Graceeh on Tue 06 Aug 2019, 2:38 pm

I haven't really started to lift her up yet because I wanted her to get used to my hand in the cage first. The one time I started to raise my hand slightly she did start to look down and move around on my hand, but didn't seem panicked and didn't try to jump. She also has climbed all the way up to my elbow of her own accord. I guess I'm just curious about how much I should try bonding with them in one day or in one sitting. How much would be pushing it? Or is that not a concern? Also, is day 5 too soon to take them out to a play area if they seem willing to come out?

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Post by CallaLily on Tue 06 Aug 2019, 2:58 pm

It all depends on the individual mouse. It really sounds like your girl is ready to start taming/play sessions outside of the cage. How long and how often depends on the mouse too. Start with something short like 5 minutes at a time. If they’re reacting fine to it, the next day add a few more minutes and so on. If they start to seem stressed, end play time early and try again the next day.  The minimum recommended daily play time to work up to is 30 minutes.  This can be all one session or several little ones depending on what works for your mice. But once your mice have adjusted you can do more if they enjoy it and you have the time.

Most of my mice I started taming sessions within the first couple days because they seemed settled and begging to come out. A couple were much more flighty and nervous so I gave it a bit more time and went about things even gentler than normal. Daryl (my boy) was begging to come out on day one and I never had to take it easy on him. I always left it up to them of course. Never grabby unless safety was a concern.

If you’re concerned about safely transferring her to the play space by hand, first try using a tube or box until you’re more confident they won’t jump.

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Post by Graceeh on Wed 07 Aug 2019, 10:38 am

Thank you for all the info! I found a few places saying I could also try using a glove so they learn that biting me doesn't do anything. I was curious to try this because I already have new, unused gloves that would work, but I'm worried that they will only let me handle them with a glove if I try this. Any thoughts?

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Post by CallaLily on Wed 07 Aug 2019, 12:43 pm

I would hold off on that personally. I feel like that’s generally recommended with mice that are truly biting (painful, blood drawn type of biting) and the mouse-parent is kind of nervous handling them again, which doesn’t help the situation. Your girl seems to just be curious, not really aggressive so I would first try continuing with what I recommended above. It's likely just going to take time, patience, and repetition. And like mentioned above, make sure your hands are clean and that you’re not using a yummy scented soap or lotion.

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Post by Graceeh on Wed 07 Aug 2019, 2:45 pm

Okay! I'll hold off for now. Is there a soap you'd recommend? I believe all of the hand-soaps and dish-soap in my house are scented.

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Post by CallaLily on Wed 07 Aug 2019, 3:48 pm

I always just used Dawn dish soap (original) to wash my hands beforehand. But any soap you have that doesn’t smell sweet or like food should work.

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Post by Graceeh on Wed 07 Aug 2019, 10:39 pm

Update: I tried again tonight with washed hands and Sybil was a little nibbly to start but when I pulled my hand back slightly and said “ouch!” She seemed to quickly get the message and stopped! Ended up getting both girls to come out onto my hand and then a toilet paper roll and brought them over to a play area. They were so good there, no bites at all. Just running all over my body and all over the toys. So proud of them. Thanks for the advice! Hopefully it keeps tracking this way, but so far so good. Sybil will literally wake up from sleep now and get up on her ladder to greet me at the top of the cage like clockwork every time I come up to it.

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Post by CallaLily on Thu 08 Aug 2019, 1:47 pm

That’s awesome! I’m so glad to hear things are going so well. Keep up the good work. Thumbs Up

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