Because small pets spend most of their time in cages or habitats, owners need to provide all the accessories necessary for a happy life. Most people know to cover the basics, such as a water bottle, food dish and litter box. But to be truly content, small animals also need places to sleep and relax, as well as toys to provide exercise and mental stimulation.
Besides giving pets a place to hide, enclosed sleeping quarters enrich a habitat. There are many types available, including hammocks, sleeping bags, coconuts, woven-grass balls, hollow logs and nest boxes of all shapes, sizes and colors. While hammocks are mostly marketed for ferrets, other animals such as rats, sugar gliders and dormice, also appreciate them.
Most small animals enjoy tubes, which can be placed on the floor of the cage or suspended from the top or sides to save floor space. Tubes are made of different materials and come in several sizes and colors. Climbing toys such as ladders, ropes and branches are also good for a variety of animals.
Climbing toys made of wood, cardboard or straw can double as chew toys. All rodents, as well as rabbits, have a natural instinct to gnaw. Chew toys offer them an opportunity to exercise this instinct and give them an enjoyable activity to help keep them occupied.
Another staple toy for smaller pets is an exercise wheel. Smaller rodents will use a wheel if it is the proper design and size for them. The diameter of the wheel should be slightly longer than the animal’s full body length. Most animals prefer solid wheels or those made of mesh over those made of bars—these designs are also safer for them.
New Green Products
Penn-Plax, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., produces a range of different cage accessories for a variety of small animals, from dwarf hamsters and mice up to ferrets and rabbits. The company recently introduced two lines of products, the Corner Cabin Hide-A-Ways, which come in three sizes, and the Penn-Plax Lumber-Jacks play sets.
“Natural items are big right now, and that includes the small animal market,” says Paul Demas, Penn-Plax project manager. “Both the Corner Cabin Hide-A-Ways and the Penn-Plax Lumber-Jacks are made from a sustainable wood source, and no paints or dyes are used on these products. These items are designed to be fun and at the same time provide habitat enrichment for the animal.
“The Corner Cabin Hide-A-Ways are naturally attractive to small animals and provide shelter and security,” he adds. “These are multi-purpose accessories, as they also provide fun, exercise, and safe nibbling, and they fit nicely into the corner of most habitats.”
Agile pets can climb or jump onto the top of the cabins. The small Corner Cabin Hide-A-Way measures nearly 10 inches wide, seven inches deep and four inches tall. The medium size is 12.5 inches wide, nine inches deep and five inches tall, and the large is 15 inches wide, 11 inches deep and seven inches tall.
The Penn-Plax Lumber-Jacks include three play sets, offering hamsters and gerbils a variety of activities. Two are designed to go in the cage. The third, a maze that measures 15 by 11 inches, can go into a large cage, but it is really meant for interactive play between the pet and the owner. “The products in this exciting line of small animal habitat accessories are both multi-functional and whimsical, appealing to both the consumer and the small animal,” Demas says. “The Climber Gym is a fun ladder-like accessory designed for both play and nibble time. Pets can climb up one side and down the other. The Workout Play-Set is like a cross between a playground gym set and a military training obstacle, and provides a real workout for your pet. This accessory will keep your pet entertained for hours as it climbs, swings and chews its way to small-animal heaven.”
Earlier this year, MidWest Homes for Pets, based in Muncie, Ind., launched a line of accessories for its Ferret Nation and Critter Nation cages. “Our new accessories provide the perfect decorative finishes for any Critter or Ferret Nation cage,” says Brad Cantwell, president of MidWest Homes for Pets. “The Cat & Ferret Luxury Set is a full line of accessories custom-designed to fit all Ferret Nation and Critter Nation cages. The set includes two cushioned shelf inserts, a plush hammock and a scratcher with play-ball.
“We also found that our small-animal fabric accessories were in high demand, so we decided to give consumers more options. Customers can choose from three new Nation Accessories Kits. Kit One includes two shelf covers and one Hammock Hideaway. Kit Two includes two shelf covers, one pack of ramp covers, one top-pan cover, and one bottom-pan cover. Nation Kit Three includes one Cozy Cube, one Busybody Blankie, one Hide & Seek Tunnel and one Hammock Hideaway.”
The best way to market cage accessories is to display them in model cages that are set up in the store, as well as in the animal habits. When customers see the store animals enjoying these products, they will be more likely to buy one for their pets. Consider having at least one type of sleeping quarters, and one tube, climbing toy and exercise wheel in each habitat.
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.