Covering the Basics
Retailers that educate customers about the specific needs of rabbits and guinea pigs will help owners keep these pets healthy and happy, as well as generate sales.
Because rabbits and guinea pigs are both herbivores, they have a lot in common and therefore share many common needs that retailers will want to discuss with customers looking to stock up on the necessities for their pets.
One product that both rabbit and guinea pig owners must buy in abundance is timothy hay. Many people believe that food pellets made for either rabbits or guinea pigs should be their main diet, but feeding only pellets can result in digestive problems for pets. Timothy hay should be the main diet of all rabbits and guinea pigs, with pellets and alfalfa hay used as supplements.
Rabbits or guinea pigs that don’t eat enough hay tend to have overgrown molars, a problem that results in injuries to the inside of their cheeks. The overgrown teeth must then be ground down by a veterinarian. Rabbits and guinea pigs that eat mostly timothy hay will naturally be able to keep their teeth the proper length.
The traditional way to offer hay to these animals is in a hayrack that hangs on the side of the cage. There is now an innovative product with hay inside a cardboard package that can be hung right in the cage as a disposable dispenser. The package entertains pets as they chew it apart.
Another product that both guinea pigs and rabbits require is a large water bottle with a fairly large sipper tube. Rabbits and guinea pigs need to drink a lot of water because of their diet and the way they metabolize their food. Guinea pigs tend to “backwash” into the bottle, so their water bottles must be scrubbed quite often. Displaying bottle brushes next to the water bottles will help encourage sales of this often-forgotten product.
Cage cleaners, especially those formulated to help remove stubborn urine scale, are another necessary product for these small animals. Urine scale buildup can occur more rapidly with these animals than with other species because both rabbits and guinea pigs have urine that is high in minerals. Staff members should ask customers if they know about cage cleaners and encourage them to consider these products.
Rabbits and guinea pigs both need an enclosed place to hide and sleep, and pet owners can use wooden and cardboard houses, plastic igloos and even soft cozy beds, since these animals are not inclined to chew much on fabric.
Both rabbits and guinea pigs, especially long-coated breeds, need to be combed on a regular basis, and their toenails need to be trimmed often. Therefore, a list of necessary products includes nail clippers and a comb.
There are also a number of differences in the lifestyles of rabbits and guinea pigs that require different products. Since they burrow naturally, rabbits instinctually use one area of their habitat as a toilet. This makes rabbits easy to litter-box train, and every rabbit habitat should include at least one litter box.
Guinea pigs, on the other hand, have a tendency to eliminate wherever they eat or sleep, although some guinea pigs may consistently use one corner as a bathroom. In this case, a corner litter pan can be used, but it must have a low side so the guinea pig can enter it easily. Most guinea pigs will need a large amount of bedding/litter in their cage to absorb the large volume of urine they produce, and their cages will need to be spot cleaned every day.
Habitats for rabbits and guinea pigs should be as large as possible, but this is particularly important for guinea pigs. Most people understand that rabbits are active animals that need room to exercise, and house rabbits are usually given the opportunity to run around a room. Guinea pigs are much more active than most people think, but they aren’t usually given the chance to exercise and explore outside their cage. This means that a guinea pig cage must be big enough—at least three-feet long and two-feet wide—to give the animal room to scamper around. If a customer objects to the price of a large cage, staff should explain that a large cage is an investment in their pets’ well-being. Customers can also be encouraged to buy an exercise pen for their guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs occasionally need a bath, so retailers should stock a shampoo specifically for guinea pigs, if possible—or at least one marketed for small animals. Rabbits rarely need to be bathed because, like a cat, they lick themselves and can ingest large quantities of fur. If a rabbit has enough fiber in its diet from grass hay, in most cases, the ingested hair will be swept through the digestive tract by the hay. However, dangerous hairballs can sometimes form in the stomach. There are hairball-remedy products marketed for rabbits to help prevent this problem. These can be displayed either alongside grooming products, or in the rabbit food department.
One other difference is that guinea pigs need supplemental vitamin C in their diets. Although this vitamin is included in guinea pig food pellets, retailers should encourage guinea pig owners to buy special guinea pig vitamin C tablets to feed their pets by hand. Not only does this ensure the piggies get optimal vitamin C, it encourages bonding between pigs and owners.
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.