Eek – a mouse! At one point or anther, you or someone you know has said some variation of that phrase after seeing mice in your home. While you may have seen one, just what the heck attracted a mouse to your house in the first place?
As with most pests, mice come to your home in search of the things they need to survive such as shelter, heat, food, and water. Mice are primarily attracted to the food in your pantry, pet food, and bird feeders along with any clutter that provides shelter and protection from predators.
Continue reading to find out what’s attracting mice to your home, and what you can do to keep them away!
1. Mice Will Flock to Shelter and Heat
Although there are some exceptions, most species of mice do not hibernate in the winter. They remain active and can be spotted foraging even when there’s snow on the ground.
Some species, such as deer mice, will live in nests with other mice. They use body heat by huddling together when it gets cold. If it gets too cold, they drop their body temperatures and become torpid.
However, most species of mice—especially the common species—prefer to spend the bitter days of winter nesting in your home.
Mice are drawn to the heat radiating through the walls and often prefer to nest in spaces that remain warm. It’s quite common to find mice nesting near hot water heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves.
Not only does your house offer heat during the winter, but it provides a respite from the heat during the summer. Furthermore, it provides shelter from harsh weather and predators.
How To Fix It
Obviously, it would be crazy to freeze to death during the winter just to keep mice from being attracted to your house. However, you can make it a bit more difficult for the rodents to gain access to your home.
Mice can squeeze into an area the size of a dime, and some species can fit into holes as wide as a pencil.
Since they fit into such tiny spaces, it’s important you inspect the outside of your home closely. Imagine being a little mouse trying to get away from a predator. Could you find a way in?
So, to keep mice out, make sure you:
- Put screens on ventilation vents or pipes that lead to the inside of your home.
- Replace broken boards or boards that have gaps in between them.
- Make sure doors close flush with the door frame.
- Replace torn screens.
- Keep bushes and branches that mice can climb on at least two feet away from your house.
- Lock pet doors when they aren’t in use and make sure they aren’t extremely easy to open.
- Keep the doors closed, even in the summer.
- Make sure all open windows have screens and that the screens aren’t ripped or torn.
- Put steel, wood, or caulking around holes where wires or pipes run into your home.
- Insulate your home properly and replace old insulation as needed.
Steel wool, such as this 20 Foot Roll of Steel Wool Gap Blocker, can fill areas around pipes and wires. Mice can chew through a lot of different things, but they will usually choose not to chew steel wool because it’s abrasive.
If you’d like to go the steel wool route, take a gander at our piece on using stainless steel mesh to block off mice and rats.
2. Human Food Attracts Mice
Like any living thing, mice need food to survive. And they can almost always find something good to eat in a human’s house.
What a mouse eats will depend on what species it is. However, most mice are not picky. While they have foods they prefer, mice will eat just about anything available to them.
More specifically, mice are omnivores. This means they eat both plants and animals (giving them some more opportunity to search for things in your home.)
Some of mice favorite foods include:
- Pet Food
Mice have also been known to eat glue, soap, plastic, rubber and other household materials as well – not exactly part of the standard omnivore diet!
Although mice will eat almost anything they find, some foods are toxic to mice. For example, grapes and raisins are not good for the critters because they are high in fiber.
So, at least you don’t have to worry about mice going after those!
How To Fix It
It would be impossible to remove all the food from your house, but there are some precautions that you can take to make it so mice cannot access your food as easily.
- Don’t leave food out on counters. Try not to leave leftovers or open packages of food out on your counters. Not only does this make it easy for mice to get the food, but you don’t want rodents defecating on the countertops you use to prepare food.
- Rinse dishes if you cannot clean them right away. Life happens and people get busy. But mice can and will eat the stuck-on food they find on dirty dishes. To avoid this, rinse your dishes before putting them in the sink or put them in the dishwasher.
- Vacuum and sweep frequently. You would be surprised how quickly crumbs can accumulate on the floor, and mice love these tasty treats. Vacuum all the carpets in your home. Food can be tracked in on the bottom of your feet or fall from your clothing, so even if you don’t eat in a certain room, vacuum frequently. Pay attention to the cracks and crevices around baseboards and in-between tiles when sweeping, as well.
- Keep food in sealed containers. Mice can (and do) chew through plastic and cardboard to get to the food inside. You can prevent this by transferring your food to sealable containers. These PRAKI Plastic Leak-proof Canisters are a great way to keep things like cereal, sugar, and nuts away from foraging mice.
- Keep mice away from areas where food is stored. Keeping mice away from areas where you store food is perhaps the best way to keep them out of your food. Setting traps can help you reduce the population of rodents in your pantry, and you can also utilize these 9 scents mice hate.
Since there are several diseases that mice can spread to humans through their waste, it’s a good idea to contact a professional as soon as you notice mouse activity around your food.
Another type of home method is to even use black pepper to repel mice!
3. Mice Will Snack On Pet Food
You got a cat to keep mice away, but their food may attract mice to your home! Pet food is made to be as beneficial to animals as possible. Unfortunately, this also means it has a lot of the things that mice need to survive.
Most pet foods contain high amounts of fat, protein, and grain—all the things a growing mouse needs to survive.
It’s not just cat and dog food that attracts mice, either. Mice are attracted to a variety of pet foods, including:
- Dog food
- Cat food
- Horse feed
- Chicken feed
- Bird seed
- Bird food
- Duck food
- Cattle Feed
Unfortunately for pet owners, any food that mice get into can become contaminated. In fact, some researchers estimate mice contaminate 10 times more food than they consume.
If you own horses or have a large supply of pet food on hand, a family of mice could end up costing you thousands of dollars. Luckily, there are some things you can do to prevent this from happening.
How To Fix It
Keeping mice away from pet food is just as important as keeping mice away from human food, and there are some simple ways to do this.
- Keep pet food in sealed containers or bins. Transferring pet food to metal or plastic containers will prevent mice from chewing a hole in the bag’s bottom. It’s important to note that mice can chew through some plastics, so metal works better.
Keep dog and cat food safe from mice with this Gamma2 Vittles Vault, which features an airtight lid. Also, this Buddeez 8 Quart Pet Food Container can be used for pet food or bird seed and has a handy pourable spout.
- Feed your pets on a schedule. Instead of leaving food down for them around the clock, feed your pets on a schedule. This will allow you to pick up the food dishes once your pets have finished eating.
- Never leave food out overnight. Mice are nocturnal and spend the majority of their time foraging at night. If you leave your pet’s dish out all night, you might as well be giving mice an all-you-can-eat buffet!
- Clean pet food dishes routinely. Pet food, especially wet food, has a strong smell and can attract pests of all sorts. Even stuck-on food can draw ants and mice, so rinse the dishes out after use and deep clean them routinely.
- Give treats outside. If you have ever watched a dog eat a treat, you know how messy it can be. Treats can create crumbs that attract mice. By giving them outside, you reduce the chance of attracting mice into your home.
- Open your barn to cats and owls. A good barn cat can keep the population of mice down and prevent them from gaining access to your feed storage. However, please remember to give the cat food and water, as they cannot survive on mice alone.
You can also install nesting boxes in your barn to make them more appealing to barn owls who will hunt and kill any mice they see. If you’re interested in installing owl boxes, check out this Nesting Box from STARSWR, which is specifically made for barn owls.
- Set traps around the outside walls of your feed room. Mice will often run along the walls of a room, so setting traps along the perimeter can increase your odds of catching the rodents.
4. Bird Feeders Are Mouse Buffets
If you have chickens or enjoy feeding songbirds in your backyard, you may be unknowingly attracting rodents.
Unfortunately, according to the University of California, mice (and other rodents) are one of the primary predators of chickens and their eggs. They can also spread diseases to the birds, which may be passed on to humans.
Not only do mice pose a threat to your domesticated birds, but they threaten your backyard songbirds as well. Having a steady stream of mice around your feeders will attract the attention of predatory birds who might prey on songbirds and their babies.
How To Fix It
Although it can be hard to keep mice away from bird feeders and chicken coops, there are some things you can do to prevent mice from becoming too comfortable.
- Don’t put feed directly on the ground. Instead, put food in feeder dishes or bird feeders.
- Clean up the seeds that fall on the ground. Birds will often pick through food to find their favorite snacks. However, they can also be observed throwing the food they don’t want onto the ground. Raking up the fallen seeds can help prevent a rodent infestation.
- Place feeders away from your house. People enjoy birdwatching, which is why they often place feeders right outside their window. However, the closer to your house the feeders are, the more apt the rodents will be to get into your home.
- Put feeders on poles instead of in trees. Mice are extremely adept at climbing, and they can easily reach a bird feeder that’s hanging from a tree limb.
Suet feeders, such as this Chew Proof Hanging Bird Feeder, can keep mice from gaining access to the food. Additionally, you can use devices such as this 18-Inch Squirrel Baffle to keep mice from climbing up the poles to the feeders.
- Remove food at night. Bring any feeders you think mice might access inside during the night. Also, avoid leaving chicken feed in the coop during the evenings.
- Keep your chicken coops clean and organized. Cleaning your coop regularly will help keep mice away. Clean up spilled food and collect eggs as soon as possible.
- Don’t overfill bird feeders. When feeders are too full, they will spill onto the ground. Filling it halfway will prevent this.
- Store bird seed in metal containers. Metal containers are less likely to become invaded by rodents because they cannot chew through the metal. However, thick plastic containers can be used as well.
If you store your bird seed in your shed, I highly recommend taking a look at our guide on how to keep mice and rats out of your shed.
5. Clutter Provides Shelter For Mice
Generally speaking, clutter itself will not attract mice to your home, but it can certainly persuade them to stick around!
One of the biggest problems with clutter is that it not only attracts mice but can hide rodent activity. Serious clutter, like that found in a hoarder’s home, can allow hundreds of mice to go unnoticed. But you don’t have to be a hoarder to worry about mice.
Even small piles of clutter can attract mice. For example, a pile of dirty clothes could harbor tasty crumbs; a pile of papers could provide nesting materials, and the boxes of storage in your attic and basement are the perfect nesting grounds for a family of mice.
How To Fix It
The most obvious way to fix a clutter problem is to clean up the clutter, but this is sometimes easier said than done.
Clutter is a fact of life for some people, especially those who live in small apartments. If you don’t have anywhere to store your stuff, it can end up piling around your home. In this situation, some simple organizational tips could help you reduce the clutter in your home.
For others, it’s a matter of organizing their storage space. Their home might be immaculate, but their attic and basement look like a tornado hit them. If that sounds like you, a professional organizer may be able to help.
If you can get the clutter off the ground and into some type of chew-proof storage bin, you will reduce the likelihood of an infestation.
Do Mice Attract More Mice To Your Home?
It’s not like one mouse will find a home to live in and start sending out e-vites! However, there are ways in which one mouse could draw other mice to your home.
For example, according to BMC Biology, female mice are attracted to a protein found in the urine of male mice. Even male mice have been known to fixate on areas where other males (themselves included) have urinated before.
Although the exact reasons for this are not well known, it could mean mice are drawn to areas where other mice have lived—including your home.
Furthermore, dead mice may attract the attention of other mice. Mice are scavengers and will eat other dead mice. Although the scent of a dead mouse on a trap might deter mice away from the trap, it could draw them to your home.
Long story short, make sure to empty your traps quicky!
How To Tell If You Actually Have Mice In Your Home
Because mice are nocturnal (which means they’re active at night), it’s possible to have an infestation and not know it. Luckily, there are signs you can watch for to determine if you’re sharing your house with a mouse!
Some of the most common signs of mice in the house include:
- Mouse sightings: It goes without saying, but if you’re seeing mice, then you have mice in your house. Daytime activity might be a sign of a serious infestation.
- Rodent droppings: Mouse feces look like small, black grains of rice and may be present on counters, in cupboards, and along baseboards. If you have a serious infestation, you may even find droppings in your food. Yuck! It’s important to note that feces and urine may contain pathogens that can be harmful to you and your family. Wear protective gear when cleaning anything you believe might be contaminated. If there’s a large amount of waste, contact a professional.
- Urine spots or pillars: Urine spots can appear as dark yellow stains and, sometimes, may mix with dirt and debris to form what we know as urine pillars.
- Scratching sounds: Mice are quiet animals, but you might hear them chewing or scratching on the walls and ceilings of your home—especially during the night. You can view our full piece on the most common sounds and noises that mice make here.
- Chewed material: Mice build nests for their young with materials they find around your home. You might find these nests in small areas such as drawers, furniture, or mattresses. Mice will often chew on cords, walls, or baseboards.
- Trails: It’s quite common for mice to follow the same trail day after day. If they’re running along the walls, the oils and dirt from their fur may rub off, leaving a noticeable streak.
- Collections of food: Perhaps the biggest sign of an infestation (aside from feces) is finding stashes of food in places that it doesn’t belong. For example, finding half a bag of dog food stashed inside a speaker!
- Strange odors: A musky smell can often be observed in areas where mice frequently visit or are nesting.
Wrapping Things Up!
Well, there you go! Now you know some of the most common things attracting mice to your home. To recap, food, warmth, shelter, and clutter are the top contenders.
While it is nearly impossible to get rid of everything that attracts mice, hopefully this article has given you some insight on how to combat them.
Boursot, P., Auffray, J. C., Britton-Davidian, J., & Bonhomme, F. (1993). The evolution of house mice. Annual review of ecology and systematics, 119-152.
Lidicker, W. Z. (1976). Social behaviour and density regulation in house mice living in large enclosures. The Journal of Animal Ecology, 677-697.
Perrigo, G. (1987). Breeding and feeding strategies in deer mice and house mice when females are challenged to work for their food. Animal Behaviour, 35(5), 1298-1316.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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