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Grass toys are giving small animals, from hamsters and mice to rabbits and guinea pigs, something new–and fun–to chew on.
When most people think of chew toys for small animals, they think of toys crafted of wood; but these days, manufacturers are using another material to make great chew toys that animals love: grass. An increasing number of grass products are being marketed for small animals, and while many of them appear to be little houses, huts, tunnels and balls, they also serve as chew toys. These cage accessories do double duty, providing pets with more than one type of recreation.
Rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas, being herbivores, will take full advantage of grass products, not just chewing on them, but actually eating them. This makes these toys especially suited for these species. But even omnivorous hamsters, mice, gerbils and rats enjoy chewing on grass products. I have a grass ball in one of my rat cages that the rats have been remodeling over many months. It is partially collapsed now, but they still sleep in it, and they still spend time chewing it apart and rearranging it to their own liking. I know it has given them hours of entertainment.
Some owners of small pets might object to buying products made of grass because they know that their pets will eventually destroy them. These customers are more likely to buy wooden cage furnishings, but there’s no reason they can’t buy both. Employees should explain to customers that although grass toys only last a while, it’s because their pets are playing with them. The faster a grass ball falls apart, the more their pets are enjoying it.
Other customers might object to grass chew toys because they think grass isn’t hard enough to keep their pets’ teeth worn down. It’s actually an unfortunate myth that rodents and rabbits need hard things to chew on to keep their incisors from growing too long. In reality, they keep their incisors the correct length and sharpness by grinding them together. Staff members can encourage skeptical pet owners to buy both grass toys and wood chew toys.
Still the Standard
Hardwood chew toys are likely to remain the industry standard, despite the growing availability of chew toys made of other substances, such as sisal, loofah, cactus skeletons and balsa wood. Wood chew toys come in two basic types, those made of natural wood and those that are simply pieces of wood dyed fun colors.
There does seem to be a trend toward the natural wood products, mirroring the trend of natural products in other categories. This is good because most small animals prefer natural wood with some bark still attached to those without bark. In fact, bark is actually a natural food for rabbits. Rabbits and rodents enjoy eating the bark or just peeling it off the wood.
Some manufacturers have taken advantage of this fact, producing chew toys made of willow twigs. The twigs are woven into a variety of different shapes, from baskets to balls to Christmas ornaments. These products are especially marketed for rabbits, but rodents also enjoy them.
Train employees to ask customers who own small pets when they last bought their pets a chew toy, and to suggest that they buy a fresh one if it’s been a while. It’s also a good idea to include chew toys in small-animal product kits to convey the message to new pet owners that chew toys are necessary accessories. Retailers should always include chew toys in small animal displays, not only to encourage shoppers to purchase the toys, but also to give the pets on display something to do besides sleep–active pets are always more attractive to potential buyers.
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.