Small Animal Treats

Small pets might not always get the attention or shelf space of their larger canine and feline counterparts, but retailers who invest in a strong treat selection for these furry companions will see that investment pay off.




While small pets don’t usually play fetch or go for walks, watching them hunt around for a hidden surprise or snack can be just as enjoyable for their owners—especially children, for whom this may be their very first pet. Because of their potential to help forge an emotional bond, treats are an important part of the broader small pet category, and retailers should invest the time in learning the latest about these products.


As with consumables for all kinds of pets, the natural trend is seeing ever-growing popularity in the small pet category. Owners of guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits and other pint-sized pets are no exception to the industry-wide shift toward high-quality, species-appropriate ingredients in diets and treats.


“Foraged, wild and harvested ingredients, simple recipes and the avoidance of additives like sugar are what shoppers are looking for when buying a treat for their small pet,” says Claire Hamblion, marketing manager for Supreme Petfoods. “It’s partly due to an awareness of the nutritional needs of small pets as they become less likely to be children’s pets and owned by young adults instead and partly a reflection of the trends in human foods, with clean eating, natural, organic and home-cooked recipes more popular than highly processed foods.”


Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health, agrees that human food trends are influencing what kinds of small animal treats are currently growing in popularity.


“Many pet parents make buying decisions that model their own food choices and values,” he says. “We continue to see this trend across multiple categories, and treats are not an exception. In many cases, these consumers are health conscious and passionate about wholesome and nourishing nutrition for their pets. As a result, we’re seeing a continued focus on healthy, natural ingredients in treats—less added sugars and more ingredients that model what a small pet may encounter in nature.”


For example, Stock references Oxbow’s new Simple Rewards line, which has nine flavor options and offers owners a guilt-free treating option. The line has redesigned packaging that helps it stand out on the shelves.


Attractive packaging and good merchandising are especially important in the treat category, since treats aren’t often the customer’s main goal when taking a trip to their pet store. But retailers can seize the opportunity to inspire shoppers to pick up a fresh bag of their pet’s favorite treat or try out something new with some strategically placed displays.


“Treats will rarely be the main driver of a visit to your store,” Stock says. “Knowing this, make sure that treats are placed prominently, near essentials such as foods and hay.”


Stock also recommends keeping treats at eye level for maximum visibility and placing clip strips in the aisles to bring these tasty offerings to your customers’ attention.


Hamblion points out that, for many small animals, kibble alone isn’t a complete diet, making treats and other add-on consumables a natural choice for cross-merchandising.


“It’s not enough to just feed a small herbivore kibble or pellets—they need hay too, so multiple products need to be purchased,” she says. “Merchandising the small pet fixture so that the preferred brand can be leveraged and an associated treat selected is a great tip to help shoppers choose the brand they trust and increase the speed of basket fill.”


If in doubt, retailers can turn to manufacturers for specific advice on how to display what can be a complex category with a lot of product categories and sub-categories.


“Pet parents don’t want to browse the fixture for too long, as it’s often a complex offer with multiple products, brands and species being catered for in a small space,” Hamblion says “We have specific planograms that we have developed to allow the eye to settle on clear entry points and can demonstrate how to create a vista that will allow associated products to be spotted quickly.”


Hamblion also strongly encourages retailers to display treats at the register and offer promotions or free trials to pique customers’ interest. Once the pet owner sees how much their animal enjoys the treat, that investment in the first purchase will soon pay dividends.


“As with cat and dog treats, the first treats purchase is often prompted at point of sale, but a small pet treat quickly becomes a regular purchase and is seen as a staple addition to the overall diet,” she says. “It’s worth putting extra effort in to achieve that first trial, whether that’s using stock on promotion to offer the first pack free or at a discounted price, or actively making a recommendation when the opportunity presents itself.”


Small Species Specific

For the small pet treat category, having the right ingredients is especially crucial, due to these diminutive creatures’ unique and often sensitive gastrointestinal systems. Stock says that maintaining good GI health in small animals is critical to their overall well being.


“We encourage customers to opt for all-natural, high-fiber options that model Mother Nature as closely as possible,” Stock says. “Hay-based treats or treats with freeze-dried fruits and veggies are more likely to model foods these animals would find in nature and are less likely to disrupt the all-important health of the GI tract.”


When building their small animal treat selection, retailers should ensure they’re choosing options that, while tasty, aren’t detrimental to small animals’ health. As with treats for larger pets, retailers need to consider the ingredient list and nutrition information to make sure any potential new products are species-appropriate and not overly caloric.


“Sugars should never make up a significant portion of a small pet’s diet, so it’s fair to be suspicious of any treat that looks like it belongs in the junk food aisle,” Stock says. “Not only are sugary, processed treats unhealthy for pets, they can potentially be dangerous if they disrupt the balance of healthy gut bacteria.”   


Stock encourages retailers to thoroughly investigate manufacturer partners when choosing small animal treat providers, stating that responsible brands will want to be proactive and transparent about their products.


“Make sure you and your associates have all the relevant information on the nutritional makeup of the treats you stock, and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” he says.


Hamblion points out that companies that specialize in small animal care can be especially good partners for retailers in this category.


“It means we can make our products in dedicated facilities to ensure that herbivores are properly catered for,” she says. “Our experts know just what ingredients can be used for what species and how to handle them to preserve their nutritional value.”


Another important thing to note about small animal treats is that they tend to be just treats, unlike functional or training treats for cats or dogs. However, Hamblion points out that the treating experience is often more entertaining with small animals that forage for hidden snacks, carry them around and nibble at them. These products can help build connections between owner and pet thanks to the enjoyment derived from watching these adorable behaviors, but retailers should also encourage healthy portion control to keep small animals at their best health.


“Treats are important for developing the human/animal bond, but they should always be offered in moderation,” Stock says. PB


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