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Mice/Hand raised but afraid of me?


I have two female mice - a little over two weeks old. I had them before their eyes opened and fed them with a paint brush, ensured they relieved themselves, etc. They are healthy and weaning now. They were bred for snake food do they are domestic fancy mice.Since their eyes opened and they began to get active I moved them into a larger tank with places to hide and climb. Since then they hide from my hand everytime they see it and freak out if it moves or is near them. I thought it may be the smell of my cats or the soap I used (it's orange scent, probably not pleasant). I touched peanut butter and rubbed a small untraced apunt on my hand to encourage them to come near me. I suspected they may nibble and at first they licked and seemed to rub their teeth on me not really a nibble. I left my hand in the tank for a while and at one point the one slightly older bit me - no puncture wound but it was hard enough to flinch. I just want to see if you can provide any insight as to why they don't see me as a friend after being in my hands before opening their eyes for feedings
They used to fall asleep on my hand or just relax and groom. If I have had a chance to hold them the younger one seems relaxed still - when I rub her cheek she closes her eyes and lifts her hand. I am guessing it may be genetics or that I didn't have them early enough for them to bond (more so the older one).

Hi Darla,

The 2-4 week period in mouse pup development is sometimes called the "popcorn stage."  During this time, even if they LOVE you, mice get really jumpy - literally.  Be careful, because they can leap straight up into the air and escape or even get injured!  I promise, however, they will grow out of it.

In the meantime, there are some things you can do to avoid startling them and not break from getting them used to you:

- Ditch the orange soap, and the peanut butter, too.  You want your hands to smell like nothing at all when you interact with them.  Food smells will almost always end in biting (and you want them to associate your hands with nice things without fostering bad habits), and chemical smells including the orange will smell much stronger to them than to you.  Wash your hands with a non-scented soap before and after handling them, and only offer treats after all hand playtime is finished.

- Only approach them from the side until they've grown out of this phase.  Coming at them from above (such as lowering a hand toward them into a tank) will trigger that popcorn reflex, and so will being lifted.  Since you have a tank, try putting your hand in on the opposite corner from them, and moving slowly toward them from eye level, or like you did before, leaving your hand in there for a couple of minutes for them to explore (minus the peanut butter).

- Check food, water, and bedding daily, even if you don't actually replace or refill anything.  Having your hand in the cage frequently to do nonthreatening, non-interactive maintenance might help them see you as a frequent visitor that isn't chasing them or moving around their toys.  It's just about continuing to get them used to you being around, since you don't want to let the popcorn stage undo the socialization you've already achieved.

Genetics can definitely play a part with how social you will be able to get them, but daily positive interaction can go a long way all on its own.  Even adult fancy mice can get used to being handled!

Hope I helped, and best of luck!


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I can answer questions regarding mice as pets, mouse behavior, color and coat genetics, breeding techniques, and general health questions. I can help with caging and setup, nutrition, social issues, and what to do in most mouse emergencies (such as unplanned litters, injuries, fighting, etc.). I can also assist with questions pertaining to orphaned mouse pups, weaning litters, and questions of mating and birthing. I cannot answer questions about exotic or wild varieties of mice such as spiny or pygmy mice. *****FOR EMERGENCIES, anything requiring immediate medical intervention, PLEASE take your mouse to a professional veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator who works with mice as soon as possible! IMPORTANT RESOURCES: Raising Orphaned Mice: Orphaned Mice Videos: Natasha's Your First Mouse: General Mouse Help: Mouse Info and Exotic Breeds:


I have enjoyed the companionship of mice nonstop since 2004, and spent a year caring for them in a lab where I learned a great deal about their breeding, social needs, and health. I spent a few years breeding them, specifically working with albinos, marked mice, angora mice, and satins. My education never stopped - I am learning something new every day from current and well-established research thanks to the wonderful folks at the Jackson Laboratory, as well as from my wonderful mousey friends online. I also love learning from my terrific questioners here on AllExperts - you folks keep my passion for these amazing animals alive and well!

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