All domesticated animals maintain some aspects of their primitive, natural instincts, and small animals are no exception. As the popularity and humanization of small animals continues to increase, their owners are becoming more in tune with the fact that these animals’ needs are just as specific—if not more than—those of cats and dogs.
You see, across all breeds, the basic instincts for cats and dogs are the same: food, water, exercise and mental engagement. For small animals, there’s so many species and sub-species that their care typically can’t be generalized. While the inane need to chew is applicable across most pocket-sized pals, the reasons behind the behavior vary.
“Owners are increasingly aware that small pets need to chew in order to satisfy their natural instincts and keep their teeth healthy, so they’re seeking out products to meet this need,” says Claire Hamblion, marketing manager for Supreme Petfoods. “Many people these days are keen to provide gold standard care for their pets, and this means that good quality chews and healthy treats that encourage chewing are in demand. Retailers will find it’s worth stocking a range of price options including premium products.”
Domesticated small animals fall into two categories: herbivores, those who eat exclusively plant-based diets; and omnivores, who like a little bit of meat and fruit/veggies incorporated into their meals. The common thread linking all diet preferences is the small animals’ need to chew to maintain their teeth.
“For all small furries, chewing is a natural behavior they’ll express in the wild,” says Hamblion. “Herbivores, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, spend a huge part of each day chewing—they’ll eat tough and fibrous vegetation, and they’ll also chew through roots when burrowing.
Hamblion continues that to make up for that constant wear and tear, the teeth of small herbivores are continuously growing, which is something that can get out of control quickly.
“Pet herbivores still have a strong instinct to chew, and they must do so to stop their teeth from overgrowing,” says Hamblion. “They need to wear their cheek teeth down by eating lots of plant fiber, while they also keep their incisors in shape by chewing on material like wood. Owners can satisfy these needs by providing a high-fiber diet and healthy treats to chew on, as well as toys and gnawing blocks to wear down the incisors.”
So, what exactly does a tooth-appropriate diet for small animals look like? Well, the bulk of it should be fiber-based, followed by species-appropriate fruit and veggies. Additionally, most small animal food manufacturers create their brands’ diets, chews and treats with health and nutrition in mind.
“A tooth-friendly diet for herbivores will be 80 percent hay or grass, supplemented by some green veggies and a portion of species-specific food, such as our Supreme Selective range, that’s high in fiber,” says Hamblion.
On the other hand, the need for constant chewing and grinding down of the teeth isn’t as important for omnivores, but the need to wear them down is still necessary to a certain degree.
“Omnivores, such as rats, mice, gerbils and hamsters, don’t graze all day, so their molar and premolar teeth don’t grow continuously, but their front incisors still do,” says Hamblion. “This means these pets will also need chews to wear their incisors down nicely.”
In terms of trends, manufacturers are doing their research and tapping into their expertise to provide the most in-demand items to pet parents. Currently, pet parents are seeking out chews that serve the purpose of grinding down teeth, but also want their chew choices to offer multifunctional benefits, such as engaging animals in play, providing mental stimulation and increasing their health.
“Medium density chews are good for playful activity and keeping a small animal’s teeth clean,” explains Jason Casto, director of marketing—small animal for Kaytee. “Softer chews made from Loofah are good for flossing the small animal’s teeth; multi-textured products make it easy to provide customers with a trim, clean and floss chewing solution in a single combination chew product.”
As the human-animal bond continues to grow, pet parents are becoming more in tune with their smaller animals, who have typically been seen as less important than dogs and cats. However, pet parents are now understanding the intricacies of keeping these animals happy, and products for them are trending toward the engagement and enrichment the animals would receive in the wild.
“Our pocket pals are becoming a bigger part of our daily lives—especially with the huge rise in home working we’ve seen in the last year,” says Hamblion. “With owners considering their furry friends to be part of the family, they’re looking to provide more environmental stimulation to keep their pets happy and occupied.”
The desire to get small animals back in touch with their native roots is also a driving factor behind the formulation of small animal chews.
“The natural category of products is increasingly popular,” says Hamblion. “People are looking for wild or foraged ingredients that reflect the diet their pets would eat in the wild. Treats that contain a mix of natural ingredients, such as our Selective Naturals range which includes Forest Sticks for herbivores, are a great way to cater to this requirement.”
At the end of the day, all pet parents want to make sure their furry pals are receiving the proper chews they need to be happy and to get in touch with their wild side. Chews that offer additional benefits—including enrichment and stimulation—rank highly on consumers’ lists. After all, it’s a pet’s happiness at stake.
“As chewing is such a natural behavior for our pocket pals, they need to be able to express this in order to be happy,” says Hamblion. “Pets enjoy getting their teeth into chews and treats, and these are a good way of providing mental stimulation and environmental enrichment.” PB