Bigger and Better

Housing options for small pets are getting larger, giving these animals lots of room to exercise and play.


For the past 12 years, I’ve been advocating that cages should be at least three to four times the length of the pet, so I am pleased to see that one of the current trends in small animal caging is toward larger habitats. Both pet owners and manufacturers seem to have finally recognize the need for a cage large enough to let small pets run around, exercise and play.

One of the ways cages are being made larger is by increasing the height and number of levels. This option is great for an animal that climbs and leaps, such as a sugar glider or a chinchilla. Still, the shape of a cage should be determined by the natural behavior of the animal, and most small pets, including hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, gerbils and ferrets are not natural climbers. For these animals, the levels of the cage should be arranged so there are no long drops, and ramps should be at a comfortable, low angle.

Wire vs. Solid
Another continuing trend in small animal housing is the addition of areas of wire in the walls of plastic condo habitats for small rodents. This design provides some benefits of both wire and solid walls. The solid walls of aquariums and plastic condos are better at containing the mess of bedding that can be kicked or pushed out of wire cages. They can also be more secure, since there are no wire bars for tiny animals to squeeze through. Solid walls also protect the animals from drafts, but don’t provide as much ventilation.

Wire cages allow for more ventilation, which is especially important for animals prone to respiratory infections, such as rats. They provide more opportunity for animals to climb, for those species that do enjoy climbing. Wire walls also allow easier installation of hammocks, hanging nests, and other climbing toys.   

Plastic condos tend to work well for hamsters, mice and dwarf hamsters. They are not recommended for gerbils, because they tend to chew on plastic. Wire cages are best for rats and larger animals.

The trend has also been away from wire floors and toward solid floors. Traditionally, wire floors seemed more sanitary and convenient for cleaning, since they allow waste matter to fall into a tray and away from the pet. But wire floors can actually result in more cleaning and even unsanitary conditions. Waste and hair quickly build up on wire floors, which then need to be scrubbed, turning cage cleaning into a major chore. A solid floor is easier to wipe clean, but I wish more solid plastic shelves would include a drainage hole so urine doesn’t puddle. Solid floors are also better for the animal’s feet. Wire floors can rub sores on the animal’s feet and can even allow the animal’s feet to get caught in the mesh, resulting in injured legs.

Value Selling
The main drawback to larger cages, at least in the eyes of the customer, is that they are more expensive. A cage is usually the most expensive item purchased for a small pet and it can be difficult to convince a new pet owner to pay the price. In most cases, the customer’s objection over price can be overcome by explaining the value of the cage. A large cage allows the animal to get more exercise, which will result in increased health and happiness. A cage is a durable item that will last many years, usually more than the animal’s lifespan, and is more than just a purchase; it is an investment.

In addition, retailers should point out the features of the cage that make it especially valuable. For instance, a cage with a deep pan will help prevent the pet from kicking out bedding, reducing mess. A pan with rounded corners helps prevent the buildup of debris and makes cleaning fast and easy. Large doors not only make it easier to get the pet in and out of the cage, they also make it possible to easily put in and take out toys such as an exercise wheel, tubes, a hammock or an igloo.

Marketing Ideas
Pet owners looking to buy a new cage want to see the product fully assembled, not just the picture on a box. Most people won’t be able to imagine how large a cage is or how attractive it is without seeing it set up. It’s also important that all cages be priced. Many customers dislike asking the price of an item and will end up going somewhere else if they can’t easily find the price.

A large, attractive cage is an ideal prize for a raffle. Advertising a raffle can create excitement and increase store traffic as new and old customers come by to enter the contest. Pet owners will start thinking about how wonderful it would be to have such a nice cage. If they don’t win, some may buy the cage to satisfy that desire. Because not all cages are suitable for all small pets, retailers might consider tailoring the prize to the winner and offering different cages for different pets. Since a larger cage for a larger pet will tend to be more expensive, smaller cages can include accessories to balance the value if desired. In addition, offer everyone who signed up for the raffle a discount on his or her next cage purchase. This will entice interested customers back to the store.

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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