Dream Big

Retailers should offer small animal owners a wide array of sleeping products that provide a safe, snug place to cozy up.




Have you ever seen an animal twitch in its sleep? Animals dream just like we do, and they may even experience scary dreams. A recent study observed the same kind of brain activity in rats when they were frightened while awake, and again while they were asleep. All small animals need a cozy place to sleep, a place where they can feel safe and protected…even more so if they can have nightmares.


Most small pets want enclosed sleeping quarters, such as a nest box, but a plain, square container is far from the only option. Sleeping products for small pets are made of many different materials, such as wood, plastic, woven grass, cardboard and fabric, with a full spectrum of color options. For the very smallest rodents, there are even coconut shells to snuggle up in. These hideaways come in all shapes and sizes, including balls and domes to castles and spaceships. Shoppers can find woven grass balls, hollow logs, igloos and “sleeping bags.”


Although many small pets feel safest curled up inside a snug hideaway on solid ground, another popular choice for small pets is hammocks. While hammocks are mostly marketed for ferrets, other animals, especially rats, sugar gliders, flying squirrels and dormice, also enjoy them. Hammocks and other hanging fabric sleepers should be made of tightly woven fabrics, so the animals’ toenails won’t get snagged in the fabric. Some pets, especially rats, have a tendency to chew on the fabric, which can create potentially dangerous holes and loose threads. Retailers should caution customers buying hanging sleepers to examine them regularly and replace them if they become unsafe.


Retailers can also offer guidance as to the safest locations to hang these products. Just above a shelf or floor is ideal, so there isn’t a long drop if a pet were to fall. Most small pets are pretty resilient, but a long drop can cause injury.


When displaying these products, consider placing natural products and those made of plastic and fabric in different sections. This category in particular has lots to offer in terms of natural options. Products made of woven grass are soaring in popularity, and rightly so. The ancestors of rabbits and guinea pigs—two of the most popular small pets—lived in grasslands, so products made from grass have a natural appeal for them. Wild guinea pigs, in particular, rest and sleep in hideouts within thick stands of grass, so giving these pets woven grass huts is like welcoming them home.


Another popular product for guinea pigs and rabbits are edible huts and logs made from ground wood mixed with honey. Herbivores enjoy these products, and they have a real benefit for retailers too, since the animals will eventually eat themselves out of house and home, bringing customers back into the store to buy replacements. But although these products are good for herbivores, they can pose a danger to non-herbivores. Small rodents’ digestive systems are not designed to digest wood, so eating a large amount of these products can cause a fatal blockage. Retailers should warn customers who buy these products for small rodents to monitor how much their pets chew on them, and remove the products if they are being eaten too quickly.  PB


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.


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