Reduce, Reuse, Re-think
Small animal owners are thinking green, while choosing old-fashioned products.
We’re all familiar with the three Rs of minimizing environmental impact: reduce, reuse and recycle. Now we can add a new one to the list: revert—as in going back to old ways of doing things when it means being more eco-friendly. Such is the case with water bottles for small animals.
The first water bottles for small animals introduced to the pet industry were all made of glass, but they quickly earned a reputation for being fragile. This was a particularly notable concern since in many homes, children were responsible for changing pets’ water bottles. So when plastic became available, the production of water bottles was overwhelmingly switched to plastic. Companies still made glass bottles, but consumers preferred plastic, which seemed more durable.
As the years passed, however, pet owners realized that plastic water bottles had drawbacks of their own. Pets could chew holes in the plastic, destroying the bottle. Plastic—especially thinner plastics—also deteriorates and becomes brittle, so most plastic water bottles tend to last just a few years.
In addition, consumers became more knowledgeable and concerned about chemicals in food and drinking water. It was discovered that certain types of plastics could leach toxins into water. Although not all plastics do this, some consumers started to look at all plastic bottles with suspicion.
The shortcomings of plastic have lead to a spike in popularity for glass water bottles. Small pet owners are realizing that glass bottles can be a good value, because as long as they aren’t dropped onto a hard surface, they practically last forever. And a product that can be used for a long time is environmentally friendly, since it doesn’t end up in the garbage.
Glass is also seen as a cleaner way to deliver water to pets. Personally, I have been using glass water bottles for many years, as I find they are easier to clean than plastic bottles. Glass bottles can also go in a dishwasher.
Small animal owners are also looking for food dishes that are safer and more durable and eco-friendly than some plastic dishes. Many rodents and rabbits have a tendency to chew on plastic. Even if this doesn’t destroy the dish, the chewed areas can become rough, providing a breeding ground for bacteria, or even sharp, causing injury to the pet or owner.
Before plastic, many food dishes were made of ceramic, and fortunately, there have always been manufacturers making ceramic dishes. This is one of the best choices for pets that chew on plastic. Stainless steel is also a traditional material for pet dishes that is impervious to chewing, so we might be seeing more manufacturers making stainless steel dishes for small pets.
Another alternative to plastic that is now being used to make feeders is bamboo. An environmentally friendly material, bamboo has been used to make human dishes for thousands of years, but it is fairly new to the pet industry for this use. Although similar to wood, bamboo is quite durable and is three-times harder than pine. Only time will tell if bamboo dishes will turn out to be suitable for pets that chew.
Consider setting up an endcap display featuring “green” water bottles, food dishes and food hoppers. Be sure to include signage that explains the benefits of the products to the customer, such as durability, as well as eco-friendliness.
Encourage small-animal owners to buy two water bottles for each cage. This makes bottle cleaning easier—one bottle can be cleaned while the second is in use. A second bottle is also imperative if the pet owner plans to leave their pets alone over a weekend. Sometimes a bottle will develop a leak and the water will drain out, or sometimes the ball bearing in the sipper tube gets stuck, preventing the animal from getting water. Instruct customers to regularly check the sipper tube and watch the water level in the bottle to make sure animals are getting water. A back-up water bottle on the cage will ensure the animals won’t go thirsty.
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.