During a recent trip to a pet store, I was excited to see a number of innovative new chew toys for small pets. Some products used materials I hadn’t seen before, such as bristly pompoms made of cornhusks or broom grass. Others used familiar materials, but combined them in new ways, such as packages including both wood pieces and wafers made of loofah. One even featured two pieces of loofah sewn together, with small pieces of wood sandwiched in between. Another very clever design looked like a hamburger, with various pieces of wood and loofah standing in for the bun, meat and veggies.
The point is that the small-animal toy market is brimming with variety in both design and function, offering retailers a prime opportunity to delight customers and boost sales.
Chew toys these days come in an assortment in fun shapes and colors. But manufacturers have not lost sight of their goal, which is to give pets something they love to chew on. For example, one product on the market today combines a chew toy with a treat—a ball made of wound-up twigs that contains a nut in the center, inviting the pet to chew through the twigs to get to the treat in the middle. Other new products I saw included pieces of wood carved into musical instrument shapes, such as a guitar, tambourine and a microphone, while others took the shape of a cell phone or iPod.
Some products were designed to appeal to owners of specific species, with strings of hanging wood blocks dyed different colors, with one of the blocks imprinted with the name of a type of pet. Different toys featured the words rat, rabbit, hamster and chinchilla.
The trend toward natural products, such as chew toys made from natural twigs and branches, is a good one for the pets themselves. In fact, bark is actually a natural food for rabbits. Both rodents and rabbits enjoy chew toys made from real branches that still have bark on them. Even if they don’t eat the bark, they often enjoy peeling it off the wood.
Another good feature to look for in chew toys is a hanger. Keeping the toy up off the floor not only helps keep it clean, it makes the toy more fun for the animal. The pet can pull and tug on the toy, as well as chew on it. Manufacturers might consider adding a spring to hanging chew toys to give the product more motion and action.
Another way to give a chew toy more movement is to make it in the form of a ball, which can be pushed around the cage. Small balls are especially popular with rabbits because not only can they chew on them and roll them around the cage, they can also pick them up and toss them.
Large balls wound of small vines and twigs can provide a different experience for the smaller rodents, such as mice and dwarf hamsters. These tiny pets can chew an entryway into the ball to make a nest inside.
A World of Color
While some customers look for natural products, others are attracted to color and entertaining shapes. Customers are likely to be attracted to mainly one or the other category. Children and parents of children tend to like colored wood chews and those cut into fun shapes. Displays of chew toys often mix the different styles of chew toys, but retailers should consider separating them into sections to help shoppers find the items in which they are most interested. When styles are all mixed together, customers can miss seeing some of the products.
The large selection of brightly colored chew toys on the market allows retailers to take advantage of the principle of color blocking in displays. Placing all the colored toys together can create a dramatic display that really catches the eye. This could be used in an endcap display or along part of a wall. A wall display could even include small animal treats and chew toys in one big banquet. In the same way, natural chew toys and treats can be segregated into their own area, with signs emphasizing the natural aspect of the products.
A fun way to attract attention to a display of chew toys might be to show a large picture of a beaver chewing down a tree with the caption, “Keep your pet as busy as a beaver with chew toys.”
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.