Last Friday evening I set off to the back garden to refill the water bowl for the birds and hedgehogs, pausing briefly to pay my respects to the pile of pigeon feathers that the sparrowhawk had left behind and continued up the path. I spotted a little brown ball in the middle of the path. As I got closer I realized it was a tiny little mouse sitting very still and looking a bit poorly. I couldn’t see any other mice around and thought that something bad must have happened to it for it to be where it was. I decided to pick it up before one of the many neighbourhood cats that were patrolling the garden got their paws on it.
The mouse did not react at all to me picking it up, so I assumed it to be very ill. Warming it in my cupped hands I took it into the house where the family helped me sort out a cage, some soft bedding and a jar lid of water for it. It licked some water from our hands once it came out of its shock. We put a handful of wild bird seed into the cage and it straight away started stuffing its face with it.
We had a bit of a debate about it; it was extremely small, but fully furred and with open eyes and able to eat solid food. Its ears seemed small, but the tail was too long for a vole. We were pretty sure that it was female, so we called her Minnee the Mouse. She appeared to be blind and deaf, but her whiskers and sense of smell still worked. Her head was large and domed, she had very long back legs which had no fat or muscle on them at all and were very ungainly. She moved slowly and seemed very wobbly. Curiously she seemed not to be bothered by us – indeed if a hand was placed into her cage she would nuzzle up and play with your fingers.
She seemed to be able to eat and drink unaided and whilst sat on a hand she washed, scratched, groomed and then fell asleep and dream twitched. We felt quite hopeful that she would be okay. The next day she was sleeping a lot, but still getting up and fetching food. Mice do sleep a lot, especially during the day so we left her to it. However, on checking on her about 24 hours after we’d first picked her up, we found that she had died. We had very stupidly become attached to her even after such a short space of time. She was a very sweet little mouse. This is our memorial tribute to a plucky, cute little rodent.
It would seem most likely that she was suffering from hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”). It seems to be quite common in mice – an estimated average of 9% of wild house mice have this condition (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lymphocytic_choriomeningitis) while in the United States an estimated 5% of house mice have this disease (source http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/spb/mnpages/dispages/lcmv/qa.htm). Hydrocephalus would explain her strange appearance and behaviour.
Safety Message: It is strongly advisable to wash your hands with soap and water after handling any wild animal. House mice may be harbouring diseases that can infect humans.