Dormouse As A Pet – Everything You Need To Know
Dormouse as a pet
The increasingly popular pet called the dormouse, most commonly the African dormouse (Graphiurus murinus), got its name from the French word “dormir” which means “to sleep”. These little rodents are also called the African dwarf dormice, African pygmy dormice, and even micro squirrels, because the size and obvious resemblance. In the wild, this species is native to much of East Africa and Southern Africa.
The simplest way of describing the African Dwarf Dormouse is to say it looks like an incredibly small squirrel. It has a long and furry brush-like tail with the fur which is dense and soft in texture.
Their upperparts are a charcoal grey and the belly is white. The skull is broad and flattened, which is the perfect shape for squeezing into very tight crevices and holes. The male has a slightly bigger skull than the female so that’s how you can distinguish them if they are about the same age.
Their body length is a only 3-4 inches or so, and they have a bushy tail which is almost as long as their body. They are nocturnal and get quite active at night so they will be sleeping most of the day and making your evening and night hours entertaining.
African dormice have a life expectancy of around 5-6 years in captivity. They are social animals and should be kept in groups of at least two or more. Same sex groups often get along well, as long as they are raised together from a young age.
A good advice is to buy them from a reputable breeder or a good pet store. If you want a pet that enjoys being handled, it’s important that the breeder has handled the little one from the time they were very young.
Take a close look at the animals before you buy them to check that they are in a good condition. Ask the breeder if you can visit them in the evening, when the animals are more alert and not so sleepy so that you can see for yourself what they look like and how they and behave when fully awake and active.
Their eyes should be clear and shouldn’t be running but of normal wetness. Always check the animal’s teeth when you buy a dormouse. The teeth shouldn’t be too long and the set of teeth must be correct.
The fur should be soft and it shouldn’t have any scars or patches. If possible, check their rear region. Make sure it’s clean from fecal matter in the fur, as this is a sign of present or recent problem with diarrhea.
You should not buy or receive a dormouse baby since they are too fragile until they are 5-6 weeks old, which is about the right time for the purchase. Finally, it’s up to you if you want to buy an older animal.
It’s significantly easier to tame a younger pet and they are also preferable if you are going to introduce them to new cagemates. The cage should be furnished and in place before you bring your new pet dormice home.
Also, it’s highly recommended for you to do your research on some interesting dormice facts as this will help you to get to know your new little companions even before they arrive in your home.
These little creatures are notorious escape artists and can sneak through a very small opening or the space between bars. This is why the best type of a dormouse habitat is a glass tank with a tight fitting and a fine mesh top. During their active times they will get to the top of the cage, so make sure the top is secure with reliable and quality latches.
A 10-gallon tank will house 2 dormice adequately, although being active animals they will appreciate the additional room of a 20-gallon tank. If keeping more than two, a larger tank is a must. Since dormice are climbing animals, upright (vertical) cage might be a better option than aquarium type horizontal one.
Because they naturally spend a lot of time in trees, branches should be installed for climbing. You must heat any branches you use in the oven at a high temperature for approximately 20 minutes prior to placing in the cage to cleanse the wood. Also check what type of wood you are using – not all are suitable, and some may be toxic.
Ropes (hanging from the cage top) and other wooden toys make a nice variety of opportunities for climbing and play. In addition, a small rodent wheel can be provided for exercise. A solid surface wheel is a good choice to reduce the chance of their feet or tail getting caught and hurt.
The tank needs to be lined with a relatively thick layer of bedding. You can use a recycled paper bedding product or aspen shavings. Two inches provides a good absorbent layer for the pets to play and sleep.
Nest boxes are also necessary, to give the dormice a feeling of security. Commercial small animal nest boxes can be purchased cheaply. Cardboard tubes can be provided for hiding and play time for the little snoopy explorers.
A couple of heavy ceramic dishes can be provided for feeding. Most dormice will eat from dishes on the ground, but if necessary, you can also hang a small dish or wicker basket from a branch for feeding. A small water bottle can be used, and the water should be changed regularly.
Dormice need to be kept at 70 F or above because at lower temperatures (i.e. below around 65 F) they may begin to hibernate. Hibernation isn’t the only time dormice conk out to save energy. Even in the summer, if the temperature is below optimal and you are unexpectedly away and unable to feed your pet, a dormouse may fall into torpor.
Torpor is like mini-hibernation during which a torpid dormouse’s heart rate and body temperature drop. But this deep sleep lasts less than a day and soon enough your dormouse is awake, ready for another meal—and another nap. No wonder dormice are so adorable: they spend a lot of the time getting their beauty sleep. In a captive animal which is not prepared, hibernation can be dangerous.
African Pygmy Dormice are very inquisitive, fast and agile. Although some can be handled, this will vary from animal to animal. It is done mainly and more often by letting them climb you much like a tree, or by using your pockets to bond by letting the pet hide in them.
They are quite shy and generally do not like being touched; though they seem fascinated by voices they hear around. You can buy a red light for a better view during the darker hours when they become most active. Dormice are very sensitive to strong light.
They can be hand tamed, although only regular interaction from an early age is the best way to ensure a pet that enjoys handling. While they may not want to be held, they will climb all over their owners. Using a favorite treat as bribery will help lure them and make them at ease.
Whether your African Pygmy Dormice can be handled or not will depend on the line and the breeder. Ask your breeder how they handle dormice and if they are tame at the time of purchase. Despite a good breeder, some animals may never be tame enough to handle and it’s a good idea to consider African Pygmy Dormice as interesting pets to watch rather than play with, so you don’t get disappointed later.
Even if your dormice cannot be handled, you may find they will interact with you and let you gently stroke them or will lick maple syrup from your fingers.
One way to get your new animals used to you is to remove the foliage in their enclosure. This may seem a bit distressing to them, but will actually get them used to moving about in the open to learn that this is safe. The presence of familiar smells also helps so try not to clean their new habitat too excessively when you first get them and keep part of their bedding instead of doing a full clean out.
You can also try buying a bonding pouch, like the ones used for sugar gliders. This will allow your pet to feel secure in a dark place against your skin, whilst becoming familiar with your scent. Always stay alert with your dormice out of the cage because they are super fast and will disappear in a second.
Never handle your dormouse by its tail since they may shed it. This is extremely painful and the tail is not something that would ever grow back.
If you want to try to handle your dormouse ideally you should do this in dim light and in an enclosed space. You need dormice proof environment and don’t forget to check vertical objects such as curtains or furniture.
Think of yourself as a tree and make sure the dormice have somewhere they feel safe to retreat to – such as a pocket. Handling them is to be advocated as it will accustom the dormice to you and reduce stress when you are checking their health, for instance.
A dressing gown is or a similar piece of clothes with large pockets is good to wear while you handle your dormouse as you can accustom it to hiding in pockets. That way, if they become stressed when being handled they will always have a place they feel secure.
You will also find that two people make handling much easier since they treat you much like a tree and may hide or cling to bits of yourself you just cannot reach so the other person can help reaching the little climber. A favorite place can turn out to be the very back of your neck.
If you have to pick one up, you can swiftly and gently cup your hands round them, leaving only a small exit by your thumbs. Do not pick them up by the base of the tail as this can break. It is easily to tell if a dormouse is distressed while you are doing this, as they will breathe very rapidly or make sudden, frantic movements.
Dormice can have a sharp bite if provoked and stressed so please be careful. In the event of a runaway, a fine meshed net such as one for fishing is useful. Also bear in mind their aversion to light and try dimming the lights and using a dimmed torch or similar source of light to detect their movements and recapture them gently.
We found that a small lamp in a dim room can make an effective barrier for them, as they tend to dive directly away from it, and into the darkest corner. In that case, try placing a familiar item or nest on the floor for them to flee to.
In the wild, dormice eat a variety of foods including nuts and seeds, fruit, birds’ eggs, and insects. A good variety of foods seems to be the key to keeping dormice in captivity, although specific feeding recommendations vary by reference.
The main groups of foods to be included in the diet are a seed mix (such as that made for hamsters or other small rodents, with sunflower seeds or raw peanuts added), fruits and vegetables, and protein sources such as hard-boiled egg, feeder insects (mealworms and crickets), cooked chicken, and yogurt.
The seed mix can be fed to them daily, but make sure the dormice do not fill up on seeds and nuts and refuse other essential parts of the diet. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or dried. Fresh foods can be offered in the evening and any uneaten bits removed the next morning to prevent spoilage.
Different references we have come across make different recommendations for feeding – from whether or not seeds should be offered in unlimited quantities to how often fruits, vegetables and protein foods should be fed.
A varied diet is often the best way to prevent pets from becoming fussy eaters but also to maintain a healthy nutritive balanced regime. Therefore, we recommend feeding a variety of foods from each group (seeds and nuts, fruits and vegetables, and proteins) on a daily basis.
Your dormouse has various food requirements and cannot simply be fed on the same diet as your hamster, or a pet rat. They should be offered a selection of the following:
- Water: although they should get plenty from their fruit, water should always be available. You can use a small ceramic dish and a lot of breeders report that dormice are happy using water bottles.
- Fruit: should be supplied most days. Citrus fruits are not approved of, but things such as the following are: seedless grapes, apples, papaya, melon, tomato, banana, and blueberries.
- Protein: should be constantly available, especially if you have a breeding pair or colony. Cheese, boiled or scrambled eggs, small amounts of boiled chicken, salmon, tuna (in spring water preferred), crayfish or prawns.
- Insect Food: usually offered for garden birds, should also be constantly available.
- Egg Food: particularly important for the females if you are breeding, this should also be available at all times.
- Maple Syrup: this is vital and very much loved by dormice.
- Treats: such as mealworms, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are always popular. You can also buy live crickets which are sure to go down well.
Lastly, do show great care and affection for your little dormice and you’ll have many a pleasant evenings and nights of lovely entertainment while handling or simply observing these adorable creatures.