A wide variety of chews toys are available to keep rodents, rabbits and even ferrets busy and happy.
When thinking about chew toys, the small pets that readily come to mind are rodents. All rodents tend to chew on certain materials, but some species do so more than others. Gerbils and degus tend to be power-chewers and need a steady supply of new, durable chew toys. Most guinea pigs prefer to spend their time eating rather than gnawing on toys, although mine do like chewing on a log tunnel from time to time. Rats, mice, hamsters and chinchillas usually fall somewhere in between, with each individual more or less prone to chewing. Although rabbits aren’t rodents, they have the same sort of ever-growing incisors that predispose them to gnawing, so many rabbits also enjoy chew toys.
Manufacturers offer a large selection of different chew toys for rodents and rabbits. Most are made from wood because it’s hard enough to offer a real challenge, yet soft enough to avoid most risk of injury to the animal. Wood is also generally safe if eaten. In fact, bark is even a natural rabbit food. Rabbits and most rodents prefer pieces of wood that retain a layer of bark, which they like to peel off and either eat or toss aside. Small balls made from willow twigs are especially popular with rabbits because not only can they chew on them, they can also push and roll them around the cage, pick them up and toss them.
While the basic chew toy is still a block of wood, manufacturers offer products made from a wide variety of materials, including cardboard and paperboard, grain products, minerals and other substances such as sisal, loofah and cactus skeletons, which can be combined with nuts, wood and twigs.
Many are made bright and colorful with the addition of non-toxic, vegetable-based food colors. They come shaped like fruits and vegetables, houses, ladders, teeter-totters, jungle gyms, baskets, tubes, erector sets and even Christmas ornaments. Attractive colors and shapes appeal to many pet owners, especially children, while some prefer products with a more natural look.
Other substances used in chew toys include grasses, cornhusks and other natural fibers. Grasses are often braided or woven to make multi-use shapes like houses, nests or tunnels. Many rodents like to chew and shred toys made from grass or cornhusks. Smaller rodents in particular like to build nests from the pieces they tear off of toys made from grass or cardboard. For rats, cardboard chew toys that offer a surface where they can peel off strips tend to work best. Some rodents will eat the cardboard, but because it is made from wood, it’s safe for them to eat in small quantities.
Ferrets also like chew toys, especially those with a rubbery texture. However, since they always swallow what they chew, they must only be given special digestible chew toys made specifically for them. Ferrets are carnivores, and they have the same type of teeth as cats and dogs and the same need for dental hygiene. Some ferret owners report that chew toys help to keep their teeth cleaner, as they do in dogs. However, some chews suitable for dogs, such as rawhide, must not be given to ferrets, as they can cause an intestinal blockage. But ferret owners still have choices. Chew toys made for ferrets come in a number of shapes, sizes and flavors, including not only beef and chicken, but also carob, molasses, raisin and spice.
Among small, exotic mammal pets, sugar gliders appreciate chew toys in the form of eucalyptus branches. In the wild, sugar gliders chew holes in tree bark to allow the sap and gum of the tree to exude, which they then eat. In captivity, they may enjoy chewing the bark of the tree to simulate this instinctive behavior.
Chew toys are ideal for add-on sales. Small animal owners may not always remember to get their pets a new chew toy, and a question about the last time they bought one can stimulate a sale. Because chew toys tend to be less than six dollars, they are also good impulse buys. Consider keeping a basket of chew toys at the register to facilitate these spur-of-the-moment purchases. Put up a sign to attract shoppers’ attention to the toys, such as “Keep your pets as busy as beavers with chew toys.”
A chew toy should always be included in every starter kit so new pet owners realize chew toys are a staple they need to continually provide for their pets. Include a coupon for chews as a bag stuffer for customers buying other small animal supplies as well.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of three books about rat care, health, and training, and was a consultant on the movie Ratatouille.