Fine Dining

Retailers can help customers who own small animals choose the best products to deliver food and water to their pets.


It is a good time to be a small animal pet. The market offers plenty of accessories for the care of these pets these days, including an array of food and water products. However, discerning pet owners will want to ensure that these products are safe and effective and meet the specific needs of their pets.

When it comes to products designed to deliver food to small pets, there are two features that retailers need to keep in mind in order to advise shoppers. First, because small pets, especially rodents, have a tendency to chew on cage accessories, feeders should be chew-proof or chew-resistant. This not only ensures the product will last longer, it will keep it safer and more hygienic. Plastic edges that are chewed can become rough, which can injure pets and create hiding places for bacteria. Ceramic and metal are chew-proof, and some hard plastics are very resistant to chewing. Softer plastics should be avoided. 

Second, to help prevent mess and food waste, dishes for small animals should be tip-proof or tip-resistant. A dish that is wider than it is tall will be more stable and difficult to tip over. This design also allows animals with short legs easy access to the inside of the dish. The bottom of a non-tip dish should be the same diameter as the top, or even larger to provide extra stability. A foolproof way to make sure a feeder can’t be tipped over is to attach it to the cage.  The simplest design features hooks on the back of the dish that hang over the cage mesh. Other more elaborate designs incorporate a separate holder that attaches semi-permanently to the cage while still allowing the dish itself to be removed for cleaning.

A gravity feeder is a good way to offer dry food. This accessory holds an ample supply of food, but only allows access to a small portion at one time. This has several benefits for the customer: it helps keep the food clean, reduces waste and decreases the amount of time required to feed several animals, since the feeder is filled less often. However, retailers should warn customers to keep watch on the feeder to make sure it continues to operate properly. Sometimes, the food can get stuck in gravity feeders and fail to drop down where the pets can reach it. Shaking the feeder will usually remove the blockage.

Owners should offer separate feeders for dry and moist foods, and retailers can encourage customers to buy extra dishes so one dish can remain in the cage while the other is out for a thorough cleaning.  

How About a Drink?
Retailers might need to guide customers in buying the proper size water bottle for the type of pet they own. The bigger the animal, the more water it drinks, of course, but a water bottle that is too big will lead to stale water, and discourage frequent cleaning. Larger bottles usually also have larger sipper tubes, and if the sipper tube is too big, the animal can have difficulty moving the ball bearing to get the water out. On the other hand, a sipper tube that is too small can be frustrating for the animal and result in the pet not drinking enough water. 

For smaller rodents, a four- to eight-oz. bottle is appropriate. An eight- to 16-oz. bottle is good for chinchillas, hedgehogs and larger groups of rats. Guinea pigs, rabbits and prairie dogs need a 16- to 32-oz. bottle. A 5/16-in. sipper tube works best for the smaller animals, while larger animals need the 7/16-in. sipper tube. Some ferrets can use a water bottle with a large sipper tube, but others get frustrated with drinking from a bottle, which keeps them from drinking enough water. For these ferrets, a water dish is best. Ferrets do have a tendency to play in their water dishes, but this can be reduced by using a dog’s travel water dish that is designed to prevent water from spilling or splashing out.

A warning about water that retailers can pass on to small pet owners is the potential health risk of fluoridated water. Scientific studies have shown that rats are particularly sensitive to fluoride, and fluoride levels similar to that added to some human water supplies can result in brain damage in rats. Other studies have shown that fluoride speeds the sexual maturation of gerbils and can cause problems in the development of embryos in hamsters. In areas of the country that have fluoride in the water, small pet owners should use only non-fluoridated bottled water. Fluoride can only be removed from water by distillation, reverse osmosis or de-ionization, not a carbon filter.    

Marketing Tips
Waterers and feeders come in a wide variety of colors and designs to attract the shopper’s eye. Many retailers display these products in their own section of the store, but displays featuring some of the most attractive feeders alongside bags of food will attract the attention of customers buying supplies for their pets. Hanging a row of innovative water bottles in the bedding aisle can also encourage a purchase, even for customers who don’t think they’re in the market for a water bottle.

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.


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