Trick & Treat

Retailers can boost sales by promoting treats that keep small animals busy and entertained.


Recently, I had to look for someone who could care for my rats during a weeklong vacation. Fortunately, I found a rat owner who was willing to come twice a day to not only give my rats their medications, and of course, food and water, but also treats. During this trip my rats were confined to their cages most of the time, so I wanted to provide treats that my new rat-sitter could give them one at a time to keep them busy.

But pet owners don’t have to wait until they go on vacation to give their pets fun treats that also keep them busy. There are a variety of different treats that take longer than a few minutes to be consumed or that require some activity on the part of the pet. These products stimulate the pets’ body and mind, as well as their taste buds.

A fun, busy treat is a dried sunflower head with the seeds still attached; it makes for a fun, busy treat for rats, mice and gerbils. A mouse can open a sunflower seed in about two seconds flat, but working the seed out of the flower head first takes a little more time.

All small rodents enjoy both plant and animal foods. I like to buy a pig’s ear for my rats for when I’m out of town. This dried chip of skin and gristle is tasty, durable and provides hours of chewing pleasure. These treats are so popular with pets, retailers should encourage customers to buy multiple ears if they have more then one pet per cage, to avoid the animals fighting over them.

Go Nuts
Nuts in the shell are one of my favorite treats to give my rats. They a natural food rats relish, but depending on the nut, it can take quite some time for a rat to work its way to the treat inside. The nuts that work best for small rodents are hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. A Brazil nut has a thick shell, but its ridged shape gives the rodent “an edge” to grip. A hazelnut has a thinner shell, but the round shape offers a little bit of a challenge for the rodent to get a purchase on it with its teeth. Larger walnuts can be difficult for rodents to grasp, but small ones are easier for them to open.

Although nuts are natural, they are high in fat, so they should be offered sparingly–not more than once a week during normal times. When a small pet owner is gone on vacation, a nut can be given every other day to help keep the pet occupied. Selling nuts in bulk makes it easy for customers to buy just a few of each type for their small pets.

Both small omnivorous rodents and herbivorous rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas enjoy gnawing on and eating various wood chews. Bark is actually a natural food for rabbits and is enjoyed by other animals as well; that makes chew toys made of natural wood with the bark still attached a favorite toy and treat for rodents and rabbits.

There are also wonderful long-lasting treat products made of pieces of wood stuffed with edible treats, such as seeds, dried fruit, herbs and nuts. Pets must first chew through the wood to get at the yummy snacks. Another fun product is a bowl made of grass or cardboard filled with treats mixed with hay. Herbivores will eat the hay along with the dried fruit bits, seeds and food nuggets; smaller rodents will mostly dig through the hay to find the treats.

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 the book Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.

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