Of Orphaned Mice and Men (and Cats)

A few days ago, I spotted a baby mouse at the foot of the stairs leading from our back porch down to the yard. His eyes were still closed, his movements jerky and uncoordinated, and nowhere could I see signs of other mice — not fellow pups or older members of the nest. With three cats living in this house, all of which are quite adept mouse and bird killers, it’s not too difficult to imagine what happened. Why the baby was spared, I’m not sure, but there he or she was, completely helpless and alone.

Living out beyond the reaches of suburbia, one comes pretty quickly to terms with the Circle of Life. After saving a few mice here and there, ushering terrified birds out of the basement with my brother in a frantic tag-team towel waving effort, and cleaning up the animals that were not lucky enough to survive their encounters with our cats, one accepts that keeping predators as domestic pets has its more unpleasant moments. Our cats, all of whom were saved from lives as strays, are a part of this family — they sleep in our beds, curl up with us when we watch television, make us laugh when their brains flood with some chemical or another eliciting bizarre, near-frenzied behavior: tearing up kitchen mats; running around the house at full speed, stopping only to momentarily engage some invisible entity or one of the other cats; furiously climbing small trees or fence posts only to suddenly leap back to the ground, seemingly without a care for their own well-being… but they are carnivores and predators as well, and this fact is unavoidable when living out in The Middle of Nowhere.

Regardless of the unwritten rules of predator and prey, of survival out where there is more wilderness than signs of civilization, it wasn’t really an option to leave this baby mouse to its fate. Perhaps if its eyes were opened or if its body larger than a quarter I might have been able to walk away, but this was not — and still is not — the case. Instead, I told my brother and girlfriend about the pup, and he or she was quickly adopted and moved inside by my girlfriend.

That was the easy part. Helping a baby mouse, especially one that was probably only 5-7 days old when found, to survive is no easy task. I would use a phrase such as “not to be undertaken lightly” were I not well aware of the near-impossibility of walking away from such a tiny, helpless creature. If you ever find yourself in a similar position, get the baby mouse into a safe, warm place and get onto the internet.

After a number of Google searches — typing in things like “How to care for a baby mouse” and, refining my search once I learned some more appropriate terms, replacing “baby mouse” with “orphaned mouse” — I stumbled upon The Fun Mouse page on “Caring for Orphaned Mice.” This site was by far the most comprehensive and informative, and, most likely, saved the baby mouse we had taken in. While I knew from my brother’s experience caring for a very young kitten that baby animals typically need to be fed every 1-2 hours, until I read that page I had no idea that mice nests are typically slightly warmer than 80° F. I took the advice from The Fun Mouse’s page and others and made sure our mouse’s enclosure was kept warm. Shortly after doing so, Marly, as the mouse is now known, became more energetic and alert.

One piece of advice not on The Fun Mouse’s page that has proven quite beneficial is the introduction of a microwaved sock full of uncooked rice, a piece of information I found on eHow. This rice-filled sock seems to be one of Marly’s favorite things. My brother and I make sure it is warmed up — typically only for 30 seconds as opposed to the 1-2 minutes recommended on eHow; Marly too often removed or burrowed under whatever was covering the sock and I worried that he or she would overheat if the sock was too warm — every hour or so, much to the mouse’s apparent delight. Marly quickly moves to lay down on it or burrows through the new bedding to be next to it.

A piece of advice I did not find on the internet, but learned at a local pet store, is that if you choose to handle the mouse with gloves — as Marly is a wild field mouse, we have been more careful while handling him until we can ensure he is not harboring any diseases or illnesses that could affect us — make sure the gloves are powder-free. The powder from latex gloves could easily clog the baby mouse’s nasal passages. I know this seems all too obvious, but I felt it was worth mentioning.

As many of these sites note, attempting to ensure the survival of an orphaned mouse can be frustrating and frightening, filled with worries, concerns, and doubts, and may ultimately prove fruitless no matter how well informed you are or how well you care for the pup, but the last few days have been extremely rewarding. Just watching as Marly became stronger and more energetic with consistent feeding and warmth has helped to make us more confident about the care we are providing. Feeding Marly has gone from an extremely messy and worrisome ordeal, sometimes taking half an hour all said and done, to a relatively simple task, one where he or she almost assists now, and this only took a day or so.

While I still groan a little when my alarm goes off at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night (my brother is now helping with these early morning feedings — as my girlfriend will when she gets out here in the next few days — allowing me to get a few four-hour stretches of sleep and placing me quite firmly in his debt), just seeing that Marly is still alive, is warm and safe and hungry… well, that’s enough to make a few sleepless nights worth it.

One Response to “Of Orphaned Mice and Men (and Cats)”
  1. Mom says:

    You are amazing … and wonderful

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