Small Animal Toys
Small animal toys represent dynamic sales potential that a knowledgeable retailer can unlock to boost profits and retain customers.
These days, the small animal toy category offers more than just plastic balls or exercise wheels. These tired options have given way to a developing market of innovative products that improve the overall wellness of the pet industry’s littlest critters.
By paying attention to the unique physical and emotional needs of small animals, manufacturers have stepped up their game when it comes to toy design. With toys that help with teeth trimming, bonding, exercise, mental stimulation and anxiety relief, this category now has a dizzying array of shelf stock. While this abundance might be a bit overwhelming, retailers can take important factors into consideration and provide valuable advice when helping customers select products for their little friends.
Getting to Specifics
Not all small animal toys are one-size-fits-all. While many items can be used interchangeably among different types of small animals, there are more and more products created for a particular species in terms of their size, shape and materials. If a customer only wants toys tailored to their pet, a retailer should be ready with solid recommendations.
Marshall Pet Products, the largest breeder and exporter of pet ferrets for more than 75 years, has a product range of over 240 items, many of which are designed with its signature animal in mind.
“Our teasers, toys and tunnels have been specifically developed to meet the needs of ferrets,” says Amanda Altman, marketing coordinator for Marshall Pet. “They love to hide and nap in the tunnels. They love to steal and hide the toys and just like a cat, they are amused by teasers.”
The Wolcott, N.Y.-based company’s Super Thru-Way Tunnel is clear, expandable tubing perfect for ferrets’ slim bodies and tunneling instincts. The toy encourages both mental and physical activity. Marshall Pet also offers the Frog Lodge, Octo-Play and Turtle Tunnel, which are softer, fabric-based burrowing options for ferrets that are shaped like friendly creatures.
In addition to these ferret items, the company carries options for other critters. “We have hay, wood and dried fruit specific toys for small animals like bunnies and guinea pigs,” says Altman.
Headquartered in Chilton, Wis., Kaytee also offers species-specific toys. The food, toy and accessory manufacturer has three different varieties of its Chew & Treat Toy Box for guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbits. Each box contains five chew toys that come in sizes optimal for each animal type. The combination of crunchy textures keeps teeth clean and filed. The company also offers Soft Crispy Chews made of a loofah material that helps with dental hygiene.
Rylee Moder, marketing analyst—small animal for Kaytee, explains the need for this kind of chew toy. “Small animal toys greatly differ among species by size, material and level of engagement,” she says. “Wood keeps rodents with constantly growing teeth trim, while loofah keeps teeth flossed and clean.”
In addition to taking species into account, retailers should also find out the number of small pets a customer is looking to buy for. A one-pet household can mean greater sales potential.
“Boredom-busting toys add stimulation to small animals, which is imperative especially if they are not paired, or if their family is away for the day,” says Moder. “Although not as demanding of your constant attention than other animals, small animals require enrichment and activity to add excitement to their lives.”
Moder names the Kaytee Toss & Learn Carrot Game as the perfect option for a pet parent wanting to entertain an animal on its own. The three wooden carrot chews can be used to conceal treats, providing hours of healthy activity, and the toy easily mounts to any wire cage.
Marshall Pet emphasizes small animal stimulation in its toy designs as well. The company’s Pop-N-Play Ball Pit can be used by ferrets, guinea pigs, rats and chinchillas. Filled with colorful balls and featuring tunnels to burrow in, the fabric pit provides valuable sensory enrichment.
Retailers should note that bonding between the small animal and its owner can also become even more imperative if the pet is on its own. Toys can be unique aids in bolstering relationships between humans and their little companions.
“Our entire catalog of products has been developed with the small animal owner in mind and works to strengthen the bond between the pet and owner with proper nutrition, exercise, grooming, play and housing,” says Altman.
Marshall Pet Products has plans to expand its portfolio with new offerings that act as treat delivery systems. These upcoming items, such as a toy shaped like a small high-top sneaker, can be used to hide treats and generate fun connections between pets and owners.
Safe and Sound
Retailers should also ask pet parents if a small pet has any upcoming trips. Like other pets, small animals are prone to nervousness in unfamiliar settings, such as an infrequently used carrier. However, unlike cats and dogs, small animals do not have a wide range of calming products available. Instead, retailers can recommend toys for anxiety relief.
“Toys can add a sense of comfort for a small animal as it can be put in their carrier when transporting to the vet or elsewhere,” explains Moder. “Pets will naturally transfer their scents onto the toys but will also appreciate a familiar habitat element during transport.”
In addition to helping pet parents keep their companions comfortable, retailers should also pass along valuable toy safety tips.
Altman mentions that retailers should recommend monitoring the wear and tear on pets’ toys. “You never want stuffing to be coming out of plush animals or scratching/biting wear on a product to become a choking hazard,” she says. “Toys are not meant to last a lifetime and will need to be replaced over time.”
By acting as a trusted resource, retailers can further foster customer loyalty. When a pet parent does need to replace a toy, they will be more likely to return for future purchases.
Another safety concern that retailers should keep in mind is an increasingly popular and disconcerting trend: do-it-yourself small animal toys. Instead of purchasing products, some pet parents are crafting their own. These homemade goodies can put small animals at risk if they use toxic materials or are the wrong size.
Manufacturers like Kaytee have created options that will sway customers from making potentially dangerous toys. Retailers can mention these products as safe and healthy alternatives that still allow for creativity.
“We took inspiration from these [DIY] owners when developing our Kaytee Ka-Bobs, which let you stack drilled wood chew treats, salt savors, lava bites and even fresh vegetables for a clean, sanitary supply of chews,” says Altman.
In showcasing items like the Kaytee Ka-Bob, which can be paired with other toys like Kaytee’s Shapes O’Hay, Altman recommends that retailers use live animals if possible.
“Housing live animals can lead to more sales of toys as it will reinforce the importance of enrichment and activity for these social critters,” says Altman. “Consumers may be more apt to purchase toys when they see how they interact and play with them.”
Toys placed among live animals will sell themselves as customers see how they spark positive stimulation and activity. In this way, small animals can act as the littlest (and furriest!) sales associates, helping retailers maximize the sales potential of the growing toy category. PB