The Mouse in the House

The fearsome list of zoonotic nightmares is difficult to digest

December 31, 2012 (published)
By Phyllis DeGioia, editor Veterinary Partner and ANIMALicious


Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

     - Clement Clarke Moore

After opening a kitchen cabinet on the afternoon of December 24th, I found a field mouse hunkering down in the back of a cabinet that contains a three-tier lazy Susan. This mouse was definitely stirring on Christmas Eve.

He’d pooped all over the floor of the cabinet. Wish I had that kind of metabolism, especially at the holidays.

I’ve gotten mice out of the house before. I have live trapped them or carried them outside in a towel, in which case I’m pretty sure they were back in the house before I was. Dr. Ned Gentz, a veterinarian who has worked in a wildlife center and a zoo, says that if they got in once and the route remains and they want back in, they will return as long as there is a food supply for them somewhere inside. It’s no wonder I always find them in the kitchen.

I grabbed a pole and a towel and went to get him. He scrambled and ran and pooped, and then he jumped from the floor of the cabinet to the first shelf of the spinning shelf, where he sat on top of some spices.

I am sure he pooped on some of my spice containers. I rotated the lazy Susan a couple of times and he didn’t move. Didn’t even blink.

In need of reinforcements with longer arms, I called a neighbor. She grabbed a plastic cup and the pole and rotated the lazy Susan three times in a row, ever so slowly. The mouse had no apparent reaction. After my neighbor tried to catch him in the plastic cup, the terrified wee mouse jumped onto her shoulder, then directly onto the floor and was gone in a flash.

I love mice and think they are adorable. I had them as pets when I was a kid. However, I am also a two-time loser in the hepatitis pool and don’t want to have to call another liver lifeguard. The facts of life for people who have had non-specific hepatitis – and been sick for nearly a year with it because of complications – is that you are permanently germ phobic. You should see me wriggle out of public bathrooms without touching anything. I don’t ever want to sleep 16 to 18 hours a day for weeks or look like a tired stick of butter again. So you get where my zoonotic nightmares are going with mouse feces in my kitchen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those folks in charge of human health, says there are certain diseases to be concerned about should you come into direct contact with mouse pee or poop or inhale dust onto which a mouse has peed or pooped. The diseases you can get from mouse urine or feces include Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, rat-bite fever, salmonellosis, and South American arenaviruses.

For me, this fearsome list of zoonotic nightmares is difficult to digest.

Dr. Ned was in complete agreement with the CDC about the zoonotic potential involved in humans being exposed to mouse output, even from such a darling representative of the Mus musculus family.

“Most concerning would likely be Hantavirus, lymphocytic choriomeningitis, and Lyme disease, among others,” Dr. Ned said. “Wild rodent droppings inside human dwellings are definitely less than desirable.”

And he said that last bit with a straight face. Hand sanitizer, anyone?

Still, the mouse was awfully cute. On Facebook I posted a photo of him sitting on my spices and mentioned how the movement of the lazy Susan didn’t even make him blink. The post drew a range of comments from “What are you going to name him?” (I’m not because then he would be a pet) and “It’s Mr. Jingles!” (that really didn’t help) and “He's probably on Mousebook telling all his friends he went to Disneyland for Christmas – that’s gotta be an E ticket for a mouse!”

Then I was envisioning him wearing a Mickey Mouse hat with “Mr. Jingles” embroidered on it except it doesn’t really fit well over his own ears.

Anthropomorphizing really does not help. He wasn’t being brave by riding the lazy Susan carousel; he was holding still because prey that runs is more easily seen. Stealth is a mouse’s key to not being lunch. I started wondering if I could capture him in a live trap and keep him inside over the winter. After all, he’d just found his way into the house after a blizzard dropped 14 inches of cement-like snow on the house. He just wanted to be warm and safe, as evidenced by his willingness to snack on cumin.

I was sort of serious. How would I keep him safe from the dogs and the cat?

On the other hand, from his perspective, would he really want to live in a cage with no freedom and no mouse company? Reverse anthropomorphizing does help.

I have had mice infestations in my kitchen before. To prevent my becoming a screaming mass of melting Jell-O from the zoonotic implications, I knew I had to get the mouse out of the house. I’ve done it all before, and had the silverware drawer littered with mouse poop.

Late afternoon on Christmas Eve I found myself wearing gloves, spraying bleach into the kitchen cabinet, and throwing out a lot of spices. Bleach triggers my asthma. It was a rotten time and I uttered several bad words.

Then I put out one live trap, as that was the only one I could find in the basement, and stores were closing for Christmas Eve. I put new batteries in the two humane zappers. I refuse to use glue traps, which are cruel. I got two snapper type traps from a neighbor, baited all five traps with peanut butter plus either cheese or cake. Late that night I was really hoping that Mr. Jingles would wander into the live trap. As the night wore on and I wasn’t sleeping well, I thought about how I could set him up in his own apartment for the winter. Dr. Ned says the potential to tame a wild mouse exists but would depend on individual personality type, and that it would be more likely in a younger mouse than an older one. The life span of Mus musculus is two to three years.

When I found him in the same kitchen cabinet on Christmas morning with a snapper trap around his crushed neck, I had to force myself not to cry. I am, usually, an adult, and wild mice potentially bearing icky diseases must not live in the kitchen and poop on spices. If I want a mouse as a pet, I should get one that was born in captivity and unexposed to the diseases amplified by the great outdoors.

If you’re going to set traps that can kill, however, don’t name the mouse.


May 17, 2018

I love this article i give it 2 thumbs up.

Phyllis DeGioia
March 18, 2016

Hi Juls, I'm not a vet, but what I discovered after I wrote this was that my best bet was to call an exterminator and have them go around the exterior and interior of the house and block mouse-attractive entrances. This method worked remarkably well for a couple of years, but I will want to do it again this fall before it gets cold. I had several mice in the kitchen last fall, so from now on I will have this done every two to three years. It's far easier to prevent them from coming into the house in the first place than to get them out, and far more humane. You can do it yourself, but I feel that the pros know what to look for, what mice like, and will find potential entrances that I would not.

March 18, 2016

I share your thoughts and hepatitis fears. I think they're cute and hate to harm them BUT the fact that urine and droppings, when dried, become dust just freaks me out even more than seeing mouse poop and pee---I live in an old cement home with attic and basement (half dirt half cement floored) and mice are always present.  Is there any way you know to keep them out w/o killing them?  PS also have had liver problems as well as growing joint inflammation. Thanks


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