Ferrets are probably the most playful small pets, and retailers can encourage sales by displaying a wide variety of toys.
Ferret owners often say their pets have only two speeds: full speed ahead and out for the count. Ferrets are high-energy pets that love to play. Because ferrets are always on the go, they need a lot of toys to give them something to do besides get into mischief. Fortunately, there is a large selection of toys marketed for ferrets.
There are a number of toys that give ferret owners a chance to interact with their pets. Because ferrets are predatory animals, they have a strong instinct to chase moving objects, much like a cat. They like to chase small balls thrown by their owner, and balls containing bells and other noisemakers are particularly prized. Ferrets will also chase feathers or a plush animal on the string of a fishing pole-type toy. Motorized toys and toys that bounce or spring back when pushed or jumped on are also popular with ferrets, and they are fun for owners to watch.
Treat toys, such as a ball that dispenses food as the ferret rolls it around, is another option. Ferrets are carnivores, so protein treats, rather than cereals or fruits, are optimal. Ferrets are also quite attracted to various odors, especially those of worn shoes and socks. A plastic mesh ball in which an owner can stuff smelly socks can be a favorite ferret toy.
Ferrets like to dig, and they sometimes express this behavior on the living room rug. But there is a toy that gives ferrets an alternative to this destructive behavior: a container of balls into which a ferret can dig.
The wild ancestors of ferrets lived in burrows, so these pets are naturally drawn to tubes and tunnels. There are a variety of tube toys made of plastic, cloth, wood, grass and cardboard. Ferret owners can use a variety of tubes and arrange them in different ways. Ferrets love running in and out of tubes and tunnels, and owners can change the configuration of the tubes to give their ferrets a new experience each time. Tunnels can also be used to hold racing competitions between ferrets.
Ferret owners can set up a playground in the play area with toys such as tubes, tunnels, tents, castles, bridges, huts and fabric animal “houses,” and then prepare them ahead of time by hiding treats inside the toys to encourage their pets to search for them.
Retailers can explain to ferret owners that such interactive toys are not only fun, but they have other benefits. They provide both physical exercise and mental stimulation, and they also strengthen the bond between ferret and owner. Exercise is important for ferrets not only for fitness, but also for weight control.
Because ferrets have a high energy level, they tend to be hard on toys. That means that their toys need to be well-constructed to avoid any possible injury. Because ferrets chew on rubbery items, toys must be either digestible or indestructible. If a toy can be pierced with a staple remover, the ferret will eventually be able to bite off and swallow pieces—a common problem that is often fatal. Toys made of latex and foam are totally forbidden for ferrets.
Ferrets like to sleep in hidden places, so it’s important that toys, such as tubes and plastic houses or balls, have sufficient air holes to prevent suffocation if a ferret gets stuck or falls asleep in the toy with the main air hole covered. Most products made of cloth are safe for ferrets, because they don’t have much of a tendency to chew on them, but products made of loosely woven fabrics that can catch toenails should be avoided.
Encourage ferret owners to add more toys to their playground by giving out coupons with the sale of ferret toys. Retailers can also offer deals—for example, buy three, get one free.
It’s important to put toys in the ferret display habitats. When customers see the toys in use, they will be more likely to buy one for their pets. A toy, or a coupon for a toy, should also be included in all ferret kits.
While customers coming in to buy staples such as food and litter are willing to search these items out, it’s important to put toys in a high-traffic area so customers will see them. Display toys in a spot that ferret owners will be sure to notice, such as a front endcap. A colorful display that stands out will attract attention and increase sales. Be sure to change the display every month to generate customer interest.
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.