Toy Talk

There are a wide variety of toys that retailers can recommend for rabbits and guinea pigs to boost sales in the small animal department.


Toys can serve a variety of purposes in the lives of pet guinea pigs and rabbits, making this a key category in the small-animal segment. However, in order to make the most of it, pet specialty retailers need to be well informed on the various options and offer customers a broad selection that meets these animals’ wide-ranging needs. 

Toys for guinea pigs and rabbits can be divided into several categories: chews, tunnels, toss toys, push/pulls and treat holders. Many toys fall into more than one category—for example, playthings that are also designed to be chewed, like a wooden house. Small pets toys that are made of natural materials are often safe if eaten and can double as chew toys. There are a variety of materials that can be used for chew toys, including wood, sisal, woven grass, wicker, loofa, corn husks, paperboard and even edible minerals. Each of these materials will have a different texture and can appeal to various pets as a chew toy. Products that are designed primarily as chew toys come in many shapes and styles, from balls meant to be pushed along to those designed to hang in the cage.

Most guinea pigs and rabbits enjoy running through tunnels, and going in and out of tunnels encourages exercise. Tunnels made of paperboard, wood, wicker and woven grass are also meant to act as chew toys. Other tunnels made of cloth or plastic are meant to be longer lasting and just for fun. Tunnels made of transparent plastic are particularly fun for pet owners, since they can watch the animals as they run through. However, depending on a pet’s chewing habits, it may not be safe to leave tunnels made of plastic or fabric in a pet’s cage without human supervision. When someone purchases one of these tubes, staff members should make the customer aware of possible dangers.

Toss toys are a unique category in that they are particularly well-suited for rabbits. Although I don’t think anyone knows exactly why, many rabbits enjoy picking up a small toy in their teeth and tossing it a short distance. They will often repeat this action several times. The best rabbit toss toys seem be those that are lightweight, such as shapes made from twisted sisal. Probably the most popular shape is that of a carrot, but other shapes and colors may also attract rabbit owners.

Push/pull toys usually incorporate a noisemaker, such as a bell, to encourage the pets to push or tug them to cause the sound. Probably the most common type is a ball that contains a bell or a rattle. Tug-toys are designed to hang in the cage to encourage pets to pull them to make the sound.

The treat-holder category has a wide range of offerings, from the simple to the more complex. One of the simplest designs is a fruit kabob. There are also other hanging products meant to hold food of different types and sizes. Some of these will dispense treats when they are pushed or manipulated. There are also wobble toys designed to dispense treats as the pet pushes them over. Slightly more complex is a ball designed to release small treats as the animal pushes it along. 

More recently, new products have come on the market that challenge small pets to find treats hidden under a series of plastic lids that the animals must lift off. These are interactive toys that allow owners to play with their pets. Not only do they increase the bond between the owner and pet, they give owners a new appreciation for the intelligence of their companion animals.

Marketing Tips

Talking with shoppers about their pets and what kind of toys they like best can help encourage additional sales. Employees can often offer new suggestions to customers based on their past experiences with toys. For instance, when it comes to noisemaker toys, some animals have sensitive ears and prefer quieter options, and some are more rambunctious and prefer a louder noise. If a customer says their pet does not like noisemaker toys, it may be that they just didn’t like the sound of the particular toy they tried. Staff members can suggest the owner bring their pet into the store to see if a different sound might be more to their pet’s liking. 

Because chew toys are meant to be consumable, they naturally generate repeat sales. However, if a customer’s pet did not enjoy a particular type of chew toy, they may be reluctant to buy others. Pets can have individual texture preferences, meaning that just because they didn’t like one toy doesn’t mean they might not like another. This is a point staff members can discuss with customers shopping for small-animal toys. 

Of course, keep in mind that the very best toy an owner can offer their guinea pig or rabbit is a companion animal as a playmate. Rabbits and guinea pigs are social animals and having a same-gender or altered cagemate can drastically increase the animal’s activity level, as well as happiness. Such a sale will also benefit the bottom line, as the owner will now be buying twice as much food and bedding.

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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