A lot of people are surprised to hear that show mice are a thing. The most common response I get is asking if it involves mice doing tricks or going through mazes. While sometimes those categories happen at shows, that falls under pet classes rather than show classes. Instead, mouse shows are judged on the appearance and condition of a mouse. The things the judges look for are qualities that take a lot of work to breed into a line of mice. The idea is that the qualities looked for are what mice look like in peak condition, at their healthiest and most successful for continuing a thriving line of mice.
Health and Temperament Come First
In all the shows I’ve been to and all that I’ve heard about, health checks happen before mice are even able to enter the show. If a mouse looks to be ill or injured, they are not eligible to participate, and are kept apart from any others. The goal is to keep all animals on the premises as safe as possible, and to encourage breeders and owners to take very good care of their animals.
Temperament is not as much of a factor on the show bench as health, but a good portion of time a poor temperament will result in a poor rating. A mouse that bites the judge might be disqualified or not placed, depending on the rules of the show. A mouse that will not stay calm for evaluation will not be looked at as thoroughly as one that is friendly and mellow. If a judge can’t evaluate an aspect of the mouse, they will not get high marks on that thing.
Since health and temperament are the most important things when it comes to a good pet mouse, many times show mice make wonderful pets. They often won’t be as active as some of the ones you get from pet stores or pet breeders, though. If you are looking for mice to watch run and play, you might be disappointed. If you are looking for some buddies to hang out with, show lines could be ideal.
Visual Differences Between Pet and Show Mice Overall body size is one of the biggest differences between pet mice and show mice. While there is a huge range in sizes of mice, often pet mice are somewhere around 35 grams unless they are overweight (something common with certain colors). Show mice, on the other hand, can be 80 to 90 grams or more. They should be well muscled and lean, giving a racy appearance rather than being bulky. This shows that they got enough nutrition as they were growing and so did their parents and grandparents. One generation of too many babies for the amount of milk produced will reduce body size for several generations going forward.
The individual features on mice bred for show are also different from what you would typically see in pet mice. The specific standards and ideals vary slightly from club to club. For instance, the biggest club in the United States is Fancy Mouse Breeders’ Association (FMBA) and in the United Kingdom it is National Mouse Club (NMC), and there might be slight differences in what they look for. Common among each are extremely large smooth ears, bright, large eyes, and a head free from pinching in the nose area. Pet mice regularly have small ears and pinched muzzles. The length of the tail should be at least as long or longer than the body, and should taper from the body rather than the stuck on popsicle stick look of most pet type mice. Color and coat type are also major focuses for mice at shows. A black mouse might be either, but to be show quality that black mouse should have no fault hairs, and the areas with visible skin should be as dark as possible. A coated mouse, such as a texel (combination of angora and rex) should have a coat with good density, and as much length and curl as possible. These things add even more complexity to working toward showing.
Breeding Differences and How to Work Toward Show Mice
Now that you know a little more about the differences between mice bred for show and mice bred for pets, let’s talk about how to make that happen! It takes practice to see the minute differences between one mouse and another in any given litter, but those differences are there. One mouse will have a slightly wider skull, or a slightly thicker tail. Sometimes taking a picture will help to find the differences because you don’t have to deal with mice moving around while you are trying to look. Some people focus on one aspect at a time to improve, some look for mice to breed that have as many better features as possible. Either way can work, but both take time and practice. It will absolutely be easier to get excellent features if you start your breeding line with mice that already have them, but you can lose the features over time if you aren’t careful with your picks on which mice to breed. As I mentioned before, overall size comes from generations of babies getting their fill of nutritious milk as they grow. This happens from one of two ways. You can either work toward the milkiest lines that make their full litters fat and happy as they grow, or you can reduce your litters so the amount of milk available fills the babies that are left with the doe. Different countries and clubs tend toward different practices. In the US, it’s more common to reduce litter size. That means most show lines here don’t have the milk production to keep a large litter thriving and there will be a dramatic loss of size if a breeder doesn’t reduce the number of babies nursing as the line is used to. In either case, once those babies grow up to be bred themselves, you will want to choose only from the largest adults to breed. This will keep the overall size up or even improving.
When finding mice to breed for show, it’s important to know how those lines have been raised in the past. If you are starting with pet lines, you won’t necessarily be able to find out the same things as show lines, because pet breeders have different priorities. It is even possible to work up from pet store or feeder lines, where you won’t be able to ask the breeder much at all. In those situations, you can safely assume you will be largely starting from scratch and will have many, many mice that do not make it into your breeding program. That is okay! You will still be able to get there with time and determination. If you get mice from a breeder, find out their breeding practices. What food do they use, how many babies do they keep from each litter, how do they choose which to breed? This information will help you make the best decisions on what to do when you are breeding them yourself. If what they are doing is working for that line, you might not want to make drastic changes right off. If there are things that you want to adjust, this information will give insights on the direction you might go.
I would like to note here that I am far from an expert on show mouse perfection. I have shown several times and won a couple classes, but there are many people with significantly more knowledge and experience than I have. For more in depth information about showing, please look into the club or clubs you would like to participate in! Happy showing!!