Pet Mice vs. Feeder Mice: What’s the Difference?

Last updated:
Jun 24, 2023

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A common question about keeping pet mice is what types of mice you can keep as pets. More specifically, people often ask if you can keep “feeder” mice as pets and if these mice are very different from the “pet” mice sold by pet stores and breeders. 

The short answer is that fancy mice (or “pet” mice) and feeder mice are the exact same species of animal. However, there can be some differences between mice sold as feeders and mice sold as pets because of how they’re bred and conditioned. 

What Kind of Mice Are Kept As Pets?

There are several different types of mice that people keep as pets, each of which is detailed below. 

These are different species of mice, not just different colorations. There are various colorations of fancy mice, but they are all the same species.

It’s also important to note that some of these mouse species may be illegal to keep as pets depending on where you live. 

House mouse

(Mus musculus

The domestic house mouse is the species you’ll find for sale in pet stores either as “feeder mice” or as pets. They’re also the species that is bred as pets and show mice by mouse breeders. 

House mice are labeled as either “fancy mice” or “feeder mice” depending on their breeding, temperament, and intended purpose. We’ll discuss this more under “What Are Fancy Mice?” below.

African pygmy mouse

(Mus minutoides)

African pygmy mice are one of the smallest mammals on Earth at about 3 cm to 8 cm in length, including their long tail. 

This means that, while they can be great pets for many people, pygmy mice can also be difficult or impossible to handle safely. A scared or threatened pygmy mouse can also jump about 18 inches, making it even harder to ensure their safety in captivity.

Spiny mouse

(Any species within the genus Acomys)

Spiny mice are rodents within the genus Acomys, and they’re found in several different regions of the world. The most common spiny mice kept as pets are Arabian spiny mice, Egyptian spiny mice, and dwarf spiny mice. 

Spiny mice are so named because of their characteristic spiny fur. They have long, coarse guard hairs that are interspersed with short, sharp spines or quills. These spines give the spiny mouse’s coat a rough texture, which helps protect them from predators.

Harvest mouse

(Micromys minutus)

Harvest mice are the smallest species of rodent in Europe, but they’re also native to Asia. Harvest mice are smaller than fancy mice, and they often require more specialized care. 

Harvest mice are kept as pets, primarily in Europe where they are a native species. However, harvest mice cannot be captured and kept as pets, and they must be bred in captivity.

Soft-furred rat

(Mastomys natalensis)

African soft-furred rats, also known as soft-furred mice and by several other names, are rare in the pet trade but can make excellent pets. They’re similar to fany mice in many ways, and many mouse keepers even keep the two species together. 

Many people keep a male fancy mouse with several female soft-furred rats. This can fulfill the male mouse’s social needs without breeding, as fancy mice and soft-furred rats can’t interbreed. 

Zebra mouse

(Lemniscomys barbarus)

Also known as the striped grass mouse, zebra mice are commonly found in Africa. They’re nervous as pets, and it can sometimes be impossible to tame them. 

Zebra mice can be rewarding pets, but they should be considered a “look-don’t-touch” pet in most cases.

Learn more: Pet Mouse Introductions: Step-by-Step Guide

What Are Fancy Mice?

Fancy mice are the exact same species as the mice you might find in your basement, known as the house mouse (Mus musculus). However, fancy mice have been domesticated and selectively bred for generations to enhance different traits, such as affection and tameness. They’ve also been bred to produce unique coat color variations. Wild house mice are usually

Along the way, fancy mice were divided into two separate categories: feeder mice, which are bred as a food source for pet reptiles, and pet fancy mice. 

While there’s no difference between feeder mice and pet fancy mice, there can still be important variations in their traits and characteristics because of how they’ve been bred and raised. 

Another consideration is whether a fancy mouse has been bred as a “show mouse,” which can influence both its appearance and temperament.

Feeder mice 

Feeder mice are fancy mice that are bred with quantity, rather than temperament, condition, or coloring, in mind. Feeder mice are often white, but they can also be hairless or dark-furred. 

Feeder mice typically come from different family lines than mice that are bred as pets, and the breeding process is much less particular. This means that almost all feeder mice have unsteady temperaments and aren’t easily tamed or handled. 

It also means that these mice can be more prone to health disorders, as these aren’t bred against in feeder mice. Feeder mice are usually purchased or killed and frozen at a young age, so they don’t need to live for a long time.

Pet fancy mice

Pet mice are the same species as feeder mice, but they’ve been specifically bred over generations for both temperament and appearance. 

It’s believed that humans first started experimenting with mouse breeding in the 1700s, so it’s possible that the mouse you have as a pet today is the result of more than 300 years of selective breeding. 

Pet fancy mice can be found in a variety of colors and coat types, and their temperament is better, as a rule, than that of feeder mice. Pet fancy mice who are bred by an experienced and humane pet mouse breeder have an even better chance of being affectionate, calm, and tame. 

Pet mice also have a lesser chance of genetic health conditions because (when done correctly by a breeder) they’re selectively bred to avoid those genetic traits.

Show mice

Show mice are fancy mice that are bred extremely selectively for both temperament and appearance. Show mice tend to look different from regular pet mice in multiple ways, including the following: 

  • Longer, more streamlined body
  • Stronger bone structure
  • Less pointed nose
  • Broader skull
  • Larger ears that are farther apart
  • Ears are free from wrinkles, lines, and folds
  • Tail base juts out more
  • Tail is at least the length of the body
  • Fur is short and lays close to the skin
  • Few or no visible guard hairs

Additionally, show mice need to be easily handled, meaning they need to have a very calm temperament.

Learn more: Controversial Topic: Can Male Mice Live Alone?

Should You Keep Feeder Mice as Pets?

As a general rule, feeder mice will not make as good pets as pet mice if you’re looking for mice who will eventually be more or less tame. 

You can of course make progress bonding with a feeder mouse, and not all pet fancy mice are confident with humans. But typically, pet fancy mice from a reputable breeder will be easier to bond with and keep happy.

Additionally, buying feeder mice as pets only adds to the inhumane breeding practices through which they’re produced. If you pay a pet store for a feeder mouse in an attempt to rescue the mouse, some of that money goes into the pocket of an inhumane breeder, fueling their business. 

It also increases the perceived demand for feeder mice, meaning they’ll keep perpetuating the same breeding practices. 

The same warning goes for adopting pet mice from a chain pet store. These mice aren’t bred humanely, and they can have more health issues than mice from a reputable breeder. 

They’re also likely to have a less friendly temperament because the breeders aren’t carefully breeding for health and personality.

In Short: Feeder Mice vs. Pet Fancy Mice

To summarize, although pet mice and feeder mice are technically the same species, they have been bred differently for many generations. 

This means that mice that have been bred as pets have a better temperament and often better physical condition. It’s best to adopt pet mice from a reputable breeder or animal rescue rather than from a pet shop. 

This will help ensure that you adopt a mouse whose personality matches what you’re looking for, and it means you’re not supporting inhumane mouse-breeding operations.

Sources: 

  1. “Overview of Exotic Pet Mice.” Crittery Exotics. https://crittery.co.uk/species-list/exotic-mice
  2. Dempsey, Nicole. “Mouse Care Guide.” The Cavy and Critter Community. https://www.whitmanpets.org/uploads/1/3/4/4/134454738/mouse_care_guide.pdf
  3. Royer, Nichole. “The History of Fancy Mice.” American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association. https://www.afrma.org/historymse.htm
  4. “Show vs. Pet Type.” Jack’s Mousery. https://www.jacksmousery.com/showvspettype.htm

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