To educate small pet owners about the need for various accessories in the cage, it is helpful to compare the cage to a human house. In the kitchen, you need dishes and either a water bottle or bowl; the bathroom requires a litter box; the bedroom should offer a place to sleep and a retreat from the world; and a variety of toys belong in the playroom.
The comparison between a house and a cage also can apply to how and where accessories are placed in a cage. You don’t want to put the food dishes and water bottle next to the litter pan. Who wants to eat in the bathroom? The bed or nest box should be placed at the back of the cage to provide the pet with the maximum amount of privacy. It’s also best to place the litter box toward the back of the cage, fairly close to the sleeping quarters. Small pets that sleep during the day often need to get up to go to the bathroom. Placing the litter box close by will help ensure the pet won’t have to go far to use the facilities.
Meanwhile, food dishes or dispensers, and the water bottle or bowl, should go in the front of the cage to make it easier for owners to keep an eye on the contents and refill when necessary. Toys work well in the front of the cage where the owner can watch the pet having fun.
Breaking down what small pets need by “rooms of the house” can serve as a buying guide for customers and stimulate sales.
The Kitchen: Most small pets need both a food dish or dispenser for dry food, and a dish for moist food. In addition, herbivores need a dispenser for hay. An innovative new product combines the hay with the dispenser in one package. This product is likely to be popular with herbivore owners who value convenience. A water bottle is a necessity for most small animals, with a possible exception for ferrets, which can do better with a water bowl.
The Bathroom: Not all small pets will use a litter box, but it will be used by more pets than most people think. It is fairly well known that rabbits and ferrets will use a litter box, but many hamster owners don’t know that hamsters will also use one. Rats will often use litter boxes, especially rats that have been specially raised to be pets. When rats are raised in a roomy cage with a litter box, instead of the small cages most rats are raised in, they are much more likely to use a litter box. And if the mother uses a litter box, she will also teach her babies to use the box.
The Bedroom: There is a wide variety of choices for small animal beds. Most small pets prefer enclosed sleeping quarters, such as a nest box, but many hammock designs can also provide a place in which to hide as well as sleep. However, nest boxes don’t need to be shaped like a box. Other shapes include domes, tubes, cups and balls. Small pet beds are also made of a variety of materials, including woven grass, wood, plastic, cardboard, coconut shells and fabric.
The Playroom: A cage should be furnished with a variety of toys to provide the pet with both mental and physical exercise. These should include both chew toys and activity toys, such as wheels, climbing toys and items designed to be pushed or pulled. Of course, activity toys or even sleeping quarters made of wood, grass, or paper can also serve as chew toys. These double-use products are fun for pets and ideal for retailers since they need to be replaced periodically.
Small-pet cage accessories tend to follow one of two design types: natural and basic or colorful and whimsical. Examples of whimsical designs are toys made to look like living room furniture, and food dishes made to look like food. These designs are often made from plastic, fabric or paper—while natural designs are often made from wood, grass or other natural materials—but may also be colored with non-toxic dyes.
The more colorful designs tend to appeal to children, while natural designs tend to be more popular with adults, especially eco-consicious customers. Since the two styles have different target customers, it makes sense to display them in separate areas.
An additional trend in pet supplies is that of upscale, décor-friendly products. Only a limited number of small pet accessories would fit in this category so far, but this trend might be poised to grow in the small pet department. As more adults choose small pets. such as rabbits, chinchillas and ferrets, it is reasonable to assume that more customers will want products with a sophisticated design.
Retailers that carry a wide range of products and designs have the best chance to increase sales, since every customer will find an item they like. Also, consider offering cages that are already accessorized for one package price to help streamline the purchasing process.
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.