Just Chew It
Not only do chew toys satisfy a small animal’s desire to gnaw, they are also ideal add-on sales.
Wood has been the traditional material used to make chew toys for rodents and rabbits, and it works well. It is a natural substance that is hard enough to provide a challenge, yet soft enough to avoid injury to the animal.
While most small animal chew toys are made of wood, an increasing variety of other materials are also making an appearance in the marketplace. Chew toys are now made from cardboard and paperboard, grain products, minerals and natural substances, such as coconut husks and cactus skeletons.
Some manufacturers combine different materials to produce a unique chew toy–for instance, imbedding a nut in its shell inside a piece of wood. This provides the pet with the enjoyment of chewing the wood, as well as giving them a treat when they finally chew open the shell. Such products are mostly marketed for birds, but rodents enjoy them too.
Some products are designed to be both a chew toy and a toy for the pet to climb over, under or through. These include items like cardboard tubes of various sizes, houses and castles made of cardboard, paperboard, or woven grass, and wooden houses and hollow blocks with holes and ladders.
Rodents like to chew on and can even safely eat cardboard and paperboard. Even the power chewers of the rodent family, gerbils and degus, enjoy shredding cardboard. Wood products provide them with more of challenge, however.
Any of the digestible dog chew toys are also suitable for small rodents. For instance, they tend to like molded fruit-flavored edible bones, but even meat-flavored chew toys are favored by rats and mice. In fact, rats even like dried pig ears. I often put one in each cage before I go out of town, to give my rats something new to chew on while I’m gone. One ear will usually last three to five rats at least a week.
And let’s not forget ferrets. Ferrets do enjoy chew toys, but they prefer chew toys with a softer, rubbery texture. And because they will swallow pieces of whatever they chew, ferret chews must either be digestible or indestructible. Foam or latex toys are absolutely forbidden for ferrets. Special digestible chew toys for ferrets are available, and are the best chew toys to recommend for these pets.
Chew toys are ideal for add-on sales. Staff members can be trained to ask each customer buying small animal food or bedding a question such as, “Have you bought your pet a chew toy lately?” Because chew toys tend to be less than $6, they are also good impulse buys. Consider keeping a basket of them at the register.
Another way to stimulate the sale of chew toys is to include a coupon as a bag stuffer for customers buying other small animal supplies.
Probably the best way to increase sales of small animal chew toys is to include them in the small animal displays. This will communicate to small animal owners that chew toys are normal and necessary accessories in the habitat. It will also give the display animals something to do rather than just sleeping, which can help make them more attractive to potential buyers.
Retailers should consider selling bulk nuts in the shell as a combination treat/chew toy for small rodents. The nuts that work best for this are hazelnuts (filberts) and Brazil nuts. The shells are hard and thick enough to provide a challenge and give the animal a fair amount of exercise to balance the calories in the nuts. The triangular shape of the Brazil nut shell gives rodents a good grip. In comparison, almonds and pecans offer little challenge, while most walnuts tend to be too large and round for pet rodents to grip.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.