Two of a Kind
Various lifestyle needs of rabbits and guinea pigs give retailers the opportunity to increase sales.
Rabbits reign supreme in the small-animal world, ranking number one in popularity among pet owners, while guinea pigs rank third. However, there are many similarities in the care of these two species. Since the lifestyles of these animals are similar, they have many of the same needs for products and supplies.
Rabbits and guinea pigs are both herbivores, and their main diet should be a grass hay to make sure they have enough fiber in their diet to keep their digestive tracts functioning normally. Without enough hay in their diet, their molars can overgrow, causing pain and difficulty eating, and their intestines can become impacted. Timothy hay is the type most commonly sold for these animals to eat, but other grass hays work as well. Alfalfa hay is too high in protein and calcium to be fed on a regular basis, but it can be offered in small amounts as a treat.
Rabbits and guinea pigs require species-specific food pellets, including one with added vitamin C for guinea pigs. However, both animals require similar feeding accessories. The best way to offer food pellets is in a food hopper or dish attached to the side of the cage. Attaching the hopper or bowl to the cage prevents the animals from tipping the container over, and helps keep the pets from sitting in a dish and soiling the food.
Even though guinea pig food pellets include vitamin C, retailers can encourage guinea pig owners to buy vitamin C tablets to feed their pets by hand. Not only does this ensure the piggies get optimal nutrition, it encourages bonding between pigs and owners. My guinea pigs always felt that getting their vitamin C tablet was one of the highlights of their day.
Rabbits are burrowing animals and inherit from their wild ancestors the instinct to 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. Although guinea pigs do not have this same instinct, some may consistently use one corner as a bathroom. In this case, a corner litter pan can be placed there to make cage cleaning easier.
Both guinea pigs and rabbits need a bed or house to sleep and hide in. Wooden houses and plastic huts are traditionally marketed for these animals, but they also enjoy cozy fabric beds, especially those lined with fake sheepskin. Amazingly, most of these animals will not chew on the fabric. However, retailers should advise customers to avoid any products that contain foam for these animals, because ingesting the foam can cause a fatal blockage.
Both rabbits and guinea pigs, especially long-haired breeds, need to be brushed on a regular basis. For some long-haired varieties, a comb will work better than a brush. Generally, the longer the hair, the more space should be between the tines of the comb or bristles of the brush. Brushes with tightly packed bristles are only suitable for animals with very short, dense coats, and therefore, they are not suitable for rabbits or guinea pigs. Retailers should carry a variety of grooming tools and instruct staff members on how to advise customers on the best tool for their particular pet. A grooming tool kit for rabbits and guinea pigs should also include toenail clippers.
Guinea pigs occasionally need a bath, so retailers should stock a shampoo specifically for guinea pigs if possible, or at least one for small animals. Rabbits generally do not need to be bathed, both because of the density of their fur, and because they do a better job of grooming themselves. However, while grooming themselves, they can ingest large quantities of fur, resulting in hairballs in their stomach. If rabbits have enough fiber in their diet from grass hay, in most cases, the ingested hair will be swept through the digestive tract by the hay. But retailers should also carry hairball remedy products that pet owners can use to help prevent problems. These products can be displayed either alongside grooming products or near the rabbit food.
Rabbits tend to be active animals that need to stretch their legs and have the opportunity to kick up their heels once in a while. It is becoming more popular for owners of house rabbits to give their pets the chance to run around the house. Even guinea pigs are much more active than you might think and love to run around, following each other like cars in a train.
Letting guinea pigs run around the house is more problematic as, unlike rabbits, most of them tend not to use a litter box. Therefore, it is more practical for guinea pig owners to use an exercise pen. Fortunately, there are a number of exercise enclosure products available that retailers can recommend to their customers who have guinea pigs. Being well stocked in this segment and alerting customers to the benefits of these enclosure can boost the bottom line, while also playing a part in improving the quality of life of customers’ pets.
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.