The Best Bedding

Retailers should be knowledgeable about the wide variety of litter products available to help customers choose the best supplies for their needs.




Today’s market offers such a varied selection of litter and bedding products that small pet owners might be confused about which one to choose. Each product comes with advantages and disadvantages, which can make selecting the best one a daunting experience. However, retailers can help shoppers deduce which product is best for their pet.


First, ask the customer what species of animal they have. Ferrets and rabbits are usually quite good about using litter boxes, so they need products that work better inside litter boxes. Other small pets—such as guinea pigs—can have a tendency to eliminate throughout their cage, so different products will be more suitable for them.


Various animals also produce different amounts of waste, which also affects the type and amount of litter needed. Guinea pigs and rabbits pass a copious quantity of urine because of their larger size and their physiology. They must drink large amounts of water to help their bodies eliminate excess calcium, and what goes in must come out. Litter for these animals needs to be absorbent, plentiful and spot cleaned daily. In contrast, hamsters and gerbils—especially gerbils—are desert animals and produce only small amounts of very concentrated urine, so their litter needs to be changed less frequently.


Classifying products into different types can also help customers decide which one would best suit their needs. The largest categories to choose between are soft or hard products. Softer products are usually called bedding, because they are more comfortable for animals to sleep on and they can be piled up into a nest. Hard products are considered litter, which is defined as a substrate meant to absorb and cover waste products. While hard products don’t make good bedding, bedding products can be used for litter.


The soft category includes wood shavings and paper products while the hard category contains corncob granules, ground walnut shells and different kinds of pellets. Pelleted products can be further divided into those made of paper and those made of agricultural products—such as hay, straw, bark, wood or hulls—which are ground up and formed into pellets.


Choices, Choices

The characteristics of the products that need to be compared are: absorption, texture, appearance, scent, odor control, price and the amount of mess they can produce. Each product can be rated on these characteristics using a five-point scale. For example, soft paper products might rate a five on texture, while ground corncob might rate a one. Rabbit food—which is mostly ground hay and makes an excellent low-cost litter for small rodents—rates high on absorption, while ground walnut shells would rate at the bottom.


Each customer will put different values on different characteristics. While some customers will rank appearance and texture highly, others will feel that absorption and odor-control are more important. Some customers might want to select a product that will minimize mess in the home, while others will choose a product strictly based on price. Retailers should be familiar with the characteristics of each product so they can best advise customers on the optimum product for them.


Shredded paper products score high on absorption, texture and appearance, but they can be messy and score low on odor control. Paper pellets are less messy—because the heavier pellets are less likely to be kicked out of the cage—and odor-control components can be added to boost that feature. Pellets made of agricultural products are usually quite good for odor control, but because they tend to crumble apart when wet, they can be somewhat messy. Products that are in a more natural form—such as wood shavings—tend to have a lower price than those that are more processed. Although the manufacturers of soft paper products often claim these products are nearly dust-free, the truth is that many of them are quite dusty—just look in the bottom of the bag—and can cause some small animals to sneeze. Retailers should inform shoppers of this and other issues that can arise.


Consider This

Because each product has different characteristics, retailers can suggest that customers mix two different types of products together to take advantage of the best qualities of each. For instance, a layer of pellets can be put down first, to take advantage of their excellent odor control, and a shredded paper product can be placed on top for added softness.


If a staff member thinks a certain product would work well for a customer but the customer is reluctant to try it, consider giving them a sample to try. Find out if certain manufacturers offer small sample packages. If the customer likes the suggested product, they are likely to become a repeat customer. PB


Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of three books about rat care, health, and training, and was a consultant on the movie Ratatouille.


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