One of the best ways for owners to interact with their pets is to play a game. Interactive play enhances the bond between owner and pet, and it increases satisfaction and happiness for both. Fortunately, pet specialty stores are perfectly positioned to help nurture bonds between pets and their owners. By offering and promoting a well-thought-out assortment of toys, stores can arm customers with all they need to help build a special relationship with their animals. Here’s a sampling of the types of toys and activities that are best suited for small animals and the people who love them:
A fun way for owners, especially children, to play with their pets is to build a maze of tubes or tunnels for them to run through. Rabbits, ferrets, gerbils, hamsters and rats are burrowing animals, so tunnels are perfect toys for them. Although guinea pigs and chinchillas don’t make burrows in the wild, they do live in tunnels in tall grass, so they also enjoy going through tubes. One tube can lead a pet to the choice of two or three tubes branching off at different angles. Owners can rearrange the tunnels as their pets play, creating a constantly changing experience.
There are many tube and tunnel toys available for small pets of every size, made from different materials, including cardboard, plastic and wood. Some come in bright colors, some are see-through and some make crinkly noises. A tube should be large enough for the animal to walk through normally, without having to squeeze through. It is common for people to underestimate the size of rats and buy products too small for them. Rats need ferret-sized tubes. There are also other products that fit or snap together that owners can arrange to form a maze for their pets to navigate.
Tubes and tunnels can also be used as part of an obstacle course. In Europe, agility and jumping competitions are popular for rabbits, and at rat shows, rats compete on agility courses as well. Because it is natural for a small pet to go through a tube, tubes can used to direct its path from one obstacle to another. Various toys can be placed between the tubes, such as a teeter totter and other climbing toys. Even wooden chew toys can be used as obstacles for pets to climb or jump over, or go around.
Many small pets enjoy chasing a moving toy or trying to catch a toy on a string. Fun-loving ferrets like toys that move and make noise. They enjoy attacking toys similar to feather dusters and wrestling with stuffed animals. They like to chase balls or motorized toys, and they will box and wrestle with toys that bounce and spring back. Ferrets also like playthings that they can pick up and carry, while toys designed like a fishing pole allow ferret owners to entice their pets to chase the string, like a cat.
Like ferrets, rats are also predatory and can enjoy many of the same games that ferrets do. Rats particularly like chasing after and pouncing on toys on a string, or feather toys. In fact, some rats can get quite aggressive toward feathers. Keep in mind, however, that smaller toys are best for rats, since toys that are too large can overwhelm or scare them.
Rabbits are not predators, but they still enjoy picking up small toys in their mouths and tossing them. Small balls and shapes made out of sisal work well for this game. Owners can join in by taking turns tossing the toy to their rabbit.
Retailers may want to consider setting up an obstacle course on a card table in the small-pet area to show customers how easy it can be to make a fun play area for their pets. A plush toy animal can be included to make the idea clear. Playpens can be cross-merchandised with interactive toys to offer customers a safe place to play with their pets.
Smaller toys can also be displayed at the check-out counter to encourage impulse buys. A colorful display of toys in a high-traffic area can attract attention. Consider taking one of each toy out of its packaging, so shoppers can handle them. People are more likely to buy toys when they can hold and look at them closely. If the toys are small and easily lost, such as rabbit-toss toys, hang them from chains.
Lastly, signage is a great way to get the message across. A sign can explain to customers how tubes and tunnels can be used in interactive games. For instance, a sign can say, “Have you played hide-and-seek with your pet today?” PB
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.