Cage Counseling

Retailers that stock a wide variety of habitat designs can both provide the benefits that customers seek and boost sales in the small animal department.


The habitat or cage is one of the largest purchases a small-animal owner will make and one of the biggest sales in the department. One of the best ways to encourage cage sales is to carry a large selection that ensures every customer will find a product they like. Fortunately, there are more cages to choose from than ever, so retailers can offer a range of designs and price points to meet customers’ various needs.

There are six categories of small pets based on size and needs: mini-rodents (mice and dwarf hamsters), small rodents (hamsters and gerbils), medium rodents (rats), medium herbivores (dwarf rabbits, guinea pigs), large herbivores (rabbits and chinchillas), and ferrets. Some cages can work for more than one category, depending on the size, design and bar spacing. Although rats are often grouped with hamsters and gerbils, they are often twice the size of the smaller rodents.

In order to be able to help customers choose the most appropriate cage, retailers should be familiar with the features and benefits of the cages they sell. Features may include mess containment, ease of cleaning and good ventilation. For example, cages with a bottom pan that is at least three to four inches deep offer mess containment. Deep pans also offer the chance for pets to dig and burrow. For ease of cleaning, customers should look for cages that have rounded corners, and no excessive nooks and crannies where grime can build up. They should also be able to come apart and go back together easily. For easy access to the animals, cages should have at least one large door for each level of the cage.  

Meanwhile, the best ventilation is provided by wire bars, but solid flooring is the safest and most comfortable feature for most small pets. Last, but certainly not least, cages should offer a comfortable place for animals to dwell and carry out natural behaviors such as scampering, burrowing and climbing.

Shoppers often want to buy the smallest cage possible, since larger cages tend to be more expensive. But retailers should inform pet owners that a habitat should be at least three to four times the body length of an average adult to provide room for scampering and exercise toys. Cages should be even larger for more active pets such as mice and chinchillas. Staff members can explain to customers that the larger habitat is an investment in the health and happiness of their pets.


Cage Location
When selling habitats to first-time small animal owners, it is a good idea to discuss where the cage will be placed. It should not be placed in front of a window, for example, because of the wide temperature fluctuations that can occur there. Nor should it be placed next to a heating or cooling unit. The ideal temperature for most small pets is 65 to 75 degrees F.  Rats and other burrowing animals need complete darkness at night.

A cage with just one level must not be placed on the floor to protect the pets from cold drafts and the family dog or cat. However, a large, multi-level cage that allows the pet to climb higher up may need to be placed on the floor.

Most social animals prefer to be in a family room, where they can observe people and receive more attention. Most small pets are active at night and can create noise, so a location other than a bedroom is usually best. If the pet belongs to a child, a location in a family room can also help parents monitor cage cleaning and the handling of the animals.

When displaying habitats on the shelves, there should always be a price on each cage. A sale can be easily lost if a customer can’t find a price on a product they like. Many customers don’t want to bother asking an employee to check on a price. They would rather go to the pet store down the street.

It is a good idea for one example of each habitat to be set up, complete with accessories and toys. There may be a picture of the cage on the outside of the box, but customers will find the cage itself much more attractive, and will then have a much better idea of the habitat’s size and features.

If you have determined that a cage is safe for pets smaller than the species the cage is normally marketed for, let customers know. Signage can make this point clear. This will let customers buy with confidence and encourage them to buy a larger and more valuable cage.

Also, consider offering a coupon for a discount off another item, such as a toy like an exercise wheel, or even a free item, such as a water bottle, with the purchase of a cage.  


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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