Selling Hamster & Gerbil Products
The wide variety of products for hamsters and gerbils can produce big results in the small animal department.
I just saw the cutest calico-colored hamster in a local pet shop. It is no wonder that hamsters are still one of the most popular small pets. They are soft and cute, and require less care than other small pets. More products are manufactured for hamsters than any other small animal, and sales of hamster products are a staple for most pet retailers.
Gerbils are not as popular as hamsters, but they have their charms, and many products for hamsters are suitable for gerbils as well. Gerbils and hamsters are both omnivorous and eat a wide variety of foods and treats. They are also both burrowing animals, which means they appreciate having a cozy place to sleep, such as a box, house or igloo, and plenty of bedding to dig in.
Syrian hamsters and gerbils are about the same size—four to five inches long, not counting the gerbil’s long tail. However, dwarf hamsters are quite a bit smaller, from two to four inches long. Manufacturers have responded to this size difference, and there are now a wide variety of habitats and other products on the market for dwarf hamsters.
The main difference between gerbils and hamsters is the former’s sociable nature. Gerbils do best with a same-sex companion, or even in a group. Hamsters, on the other hand, tend to do best housed alone, although some of the dwarf species are more social. It is to a retailer’s advantage to encourage customers to purchase more than one gerbil at a time. Not only will the number of gerbils sold double (at least), but the owner will then have to buy a bigger cage, and twice as much food and bedding. There is also an advantage to the purchaser because gerbils with companionship will be more content and therefore friendlier and make better pets.
In addition to being more social, gerbils are also more active than hamsters, and both of these characteristics mean they need a bigger habitat than hamsters. A gerbil habitat needs to provide enough room for at least two gerbils, and give them space to run and jump. Gerbils also prefer to dig their own tunnels rather than use the plastic tubes so popular with hamsters. Gerbils tend to chew a lot more than hamsters, as well, so plastic habitats are not ideal. Probably the best habitat for gerbils is a large glass tank. Not only will this help contain the mess made when the gerbils dig in the bedding, the glass may allow owners to witness some of their tunneling activity.
Both hamsters and gerbils are desert animals, so they drink and urinate less than other small pets. This means their habitat doesn’t need to be cleaned as often, another reason why they are so popular. However, they still need a water bottle appropriate to their size. It’s a good idea to provide two food dishes, one for dry food and one for moist foods, or one dish and one dry-food hopper.
Toys are a definite must to encourage healthy physical activity and prevent boredom. Hamsters enjoy exercise wheels, and some like exercise balls. Some gerbils will use a wheel, but many seem to prefer an exercise disc, which won’t cramp their tail. These animals also enjoy toys they can climb into or on top of, such as boxes and tubes.
Consumable products for hamsters and gerbils include food and treats, bedding and litter, and chew toys. Foods can be divided into seed mixes or pellets and nuggets. Personally, I think pellets and nuggets give a better value and more reliable nutrition, since the animals can’t pick and choose food components while wasting parts they don’t like. However, there is no denying that both animals and owners alike appreciate the variety offered by a mix.
Treats for these pets come in a mind-boggling variety of shapes and flavors. The owners of these small rodents are lucky because treats can make up 20 percent of their pets’ diet, giving them many opportunities to interact with their furry friends. Treats containing fruits and vegetables, instead of just seeds and grains, will add a variety of flavors and nutrients to the diet. There are also a wide variety of beddings and litters that can be used for small rodents.
Healthy rodents do not need chew toys to keep their teeth from overgrowing—the design of their teeth does that naturally—but they do need chew toys to satisfy their instinctive desire to gnaw. Chew toys also keep them occupied and give them exercise. Rodent owners often forget to buy new chew toys, so they make good add-on sales for customers buying food and bedding.
Another category of consumables that is often overlooked is dust for bathing. These desert pets, especially gerbils and dwarf hamsters, appreciate an occasional dust bath. Without this bath, many gerbils start looking greasy, as the dust bath helps their coat stay fluffy. Place two to three tablespoons of chinchilla dust in a shallow dish, put it in the cage for about 30 minutes, and then discard the dust. Leaving the bath in the habitat any longer than this will tempt them to use it as a litter box. And speaking of litter boxes, many hamsters will use a litter box in the corner of their cage, and special litter boxes just for hamsters are available.
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.