Water bottles, food dishes and gravity feeders are staple products in the small animal department. Owners bringing home a new small pet for the first time need to purchase at least one water bottle and food dish. Repeat purchases are then required as these products wear out, break or are chewed on and need to be replaced.
A more aggressive marketing strategy encouraging small pet owners to buy at least two water bottles and two food dishes for each cage benefits the pet owner and the animal, as well as the retailer. A spare water bottle makes cleaning easier, since one bottle can be cleaned while the other is in use. A second bottle is also imperative if the pet owner plans to leave the pets alone over a weekend.
Sometimes a bottle will suddenly develop a leak and the water will drain out, or the ball bearing in the sipper tube may get stuck, preventing the animal from getting water. Customers should be instructed to check the sipper tube regularly and watch the water level in the bottle to make sure animals are getting water. A back-up water bottle in the cage will ensure the animals won’t go thirsty if the primary water bottle fails.
Each small animal cage should be equipped with at least two food dishes: one for dry food and one for moist food. It’s also a good idea for pet owners to have a least one spare dish for moist food, so it can be washed while the other is in use. Herbivorous animals (guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas and prairie dogs) also need hay racks.
Food dishes for small animals must be chew-proof or at least chew-resistant. Materials such as hard plastics, ceramics and metal are suitable for feeders. Dishes should also be tip-proof or tip-resistant. Bowls that attach to the side of the cage offer this advantage. Dishes placed on the floor of the cage should sit flat, and the base of the dish should be as large, or larger, than the top for stability.
Gravity food hoppers, since they usually hang on the side of the cage, are tip-proof and can be a convenient way to serve dry foods. Hoppers will generally hold enough food for a few days, making them convenient for feeding several animals and for leaving the animals alone over the weekend. I use food hoppers to dispense food blocks in all my rat cages. The hoppers not only help keep the food clean, they also provide a bit of a challenge for the rats. Because the rats have to work the blocks out of the hopper one by one, it adds a bit of enrichment to their environment. The only drawback to food hoppers is that the food will occasionally become stuck, and the hopper must be shaken to get the food to fall to the bottom.
Retailers need to guide customers in buying the right size water bottle for the types of pets they own. A water bottle that is too big can result in stale water and inadequate cleaning. Larger bottles usually also have larger sipper tubes, and if the sipper tube is too big, the animal can have difficulty moving the ball bearing to get the water out. On the other hand, a sipper tube that is too small can frustrate the animal and result in the pet not getting enough water.
For the smaller animals, such as hamsters, mice, gerbils and rats, a four- to eight-ounce bottle is appropriate. An eight- to 16-ounce bottle is good for chinchillas, hedgehogs and larger groups of rats. Guinea pigs, rabbits, and prairie dogs need a 16- to 32-ounce bottle. A 5/16-inch sipper tube works best for the smaller animals, while larger animals need the 7/16-inch sipper tube.
Some ferrets can use a water bottle with a large sipper tube, but others get frustrated with a bottle that prevents them from drinking enough water. A water dish is may work better. Ferrets do have a tendency to play in their water dishes, but a pet owner can minimize this behavior by using a dog travel dish designed to prevent water from spilling or splashing out.
Water bottles are a natural fit for an endcap display. A variety of different types and sizes of water bottles can make an attractive exhibit. They can also be displayed together with food dishes and food hoppers, or the feeders can make up a display on their own.
Vertically hanging colorful water bottles and food hoppers in the food or bedding department can encourage impulse buys. The display might also remind some customers that they need a new water bottle, even if it isn’t on their shopping list.
A bottle brush is the perfect add-on sale for a customer buying a water bottle. Wide-mouth bottles are the easiest to clean and are often dishwasher safe, but bottles with small mouths need to be scrubbed with a brush. Retailers should stock several sizes of bottle brushes, including a tiny brush to clean the sipper tube. Most people forget to clean this part of the water bottle, allowing bacteria to flourish inside.
A box of tiny brushes on the counter will cause customers to wonder what they are for and ask about them. A brush is an easy sale once a staff member explains how bacteria grows in the bottle and sipper tube unless they are cleaned frequently. Water bottles and sipper tubes for guinea pigs must be cleaned especially frequently, as the pigs have a tendency to backwash while drinking.
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.