Tasty Toys

Retailers can boost sales in the small animal department by aggressively marketing food-dispensing toys for various species of small pets.


One of the current trends in pet toys is the proliferation of products that dispense treats. For years, such toys have been on the market for dogs, and they are now even being marketed for cats. Meanwhile, food toys for small pets have actually been around for quite a while, but they haven’t gotten much attention. With just a little promotion, retailers can educate customers about treat toys and increase sales in this category.

Toys that make pets work for their food have several benefits. Wild animals spend a great deal of their time looking for food, while caged pets normally only have to walk a few steps. Treat toys reduce boredom and increase activity levels, promoting physical and mental health. They encourage positive activities, while reducing destructive and unwanted behaviors.

Pets will work longer and harder to get treats they particularly like out of the toys. These toys are great for keeping pets occupied when their owners aren’t around, but it can also be a lot of fun for owners to watch their pets work to get the treats out of the toys.

Food toys come in two basic designs. The most common design is a ball that the pet pushes around on the floor. The owner loads treats into the toy, and as the ball rolls around, the treats fall out of the holes one piece at a time. Small dry-food nuggets, seeds or pieces of cereal work best in these toys. Some of these toys twist apart to make it easy for owners to place the treats inside. Other designs require the treats to be pushed into the dispensing hole one at a time. The twist-apart design is easier to fill, but the solid-ball design tends to be more durable. Both toy designs must be made of a material that rodents cannot chew apart.

Other treat toys are designed to hang in the cage and dispense treats when the pet tips, shakes or manipulates the toy. This design is particularly popular for birds, and some bird toys can be used for small mammals. The simpler design makes pets reach for the food or chew it through spaces in the toy. Pieces of fruit or veggies are popular with most pets and tend to work well in many of these toys.

Promoting Treat Toys
One reason that treat toys aren’t that popular with small pet owners is that they simply don’t know about them. Even when the toys are hanging in a display with other toys, if customers don’t understand what they are or how they work, they’re not going to buy them. Retailers may have to offer some explanations before shoppers will make a purchase.

All store employees should be familiar with the food toys that the store sells and be able to explain them to customers. It helps if they also know whether or not a product marketed for one species of animal can be used for a different one. For instance, a medium-size treat ball will likely work for any medium-size animal, such as a rabbit, guinea pig or ferret.

A sign next to the food toy section can also help explain how treat toys work and why small pet owners should buy one. Or, a sign can attract customers’ attention and encourage them to ask for more information. A sign can read, “Keep your ‘babies’ busy with a treat toy. Ask us how!”

Keeping a basket of treat toys on the counter near the cash register can also help promote them. Take one of each of the toys out of its package so it is readily available to demonstrate. It may even be a good idea to keep a loose treat ball out on the counter that will dispense treats as it is bumped by customers. Staff members can also ask customers if they are familiar with treat toys and discuss the benefits.

Offering a free treat with the purchase of a toy, or a discount on a treat toy with the purchase of treats can help stimulate sales, as well. These offers can be promoted in media advertising or on in-store signage.

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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