As the cute and cuddly darlings of the pet world, rabbits conjure images of Peter Rabbit and Thumper from the Disney classic, “Bambi”. While owning one of these animals is extremely rewarding, maintaining their health and wellness needs requires attention to detail. In-the-know retailers can make the adoption process much easier for customers entering into bunny parenthood.
The first thing retailers must do is recognize their own prominence, as they fulfill a certain, vital role in the community. This includes accommodating the many needs of all pet parents and every creature they include in their families, explains Claire Hamblion, marketing manager at Supreme Petfoods. This type of approach will help establish trust, as customers continue to their reliable source for supplies of the highest caliber.
“These shoppers visit a pet specialist both for their expertise and the widest choice of products, as they can’t buy all of those items in a grocery store,” says Hamblion. “Remember, too, that many are multi-pet owners and therefore high-value customers.”
At Healthy Pet, a family-owned and -operated retailer in California, Megan Nord, store manager, is extremely familiar with the rewards and caveats of welcoming “so adorable, so loving” rabbits into the home.
“They are very high-maintenance animals—I think they are the [highest] maintenance when it comes to things that could live in your house,” she says.
As with any animal, proper care begins with a nutritious diet and, for rabbits, this means providing the appropriate type of hay to meet the animal’s needs. Nord notes that different varieties of hay are needed to avoid or treat different health issues.
“Certain hays that are harder, such as orchard hay, help with dental health, otherwise you’ll be taking vet visits constantly to have their teeth ground down,” continues Nord. “They are prone to gastric upset easily if they don’t get enough fiber. For gastritis, they need high fiber and low sugar. You want Timothy hay and never alfalfa.”
Investing in an open-top litter box, lining it with paper bedding and covering with hay is the best way to establish an environment for rabbits to comfortably nourish their bodies.
Nord explains that a well-maintained, hay-covered space is needed for rabbits to enjoy a nutritious meal of their cecotropes—partially digested food pieces, separate from the feces, that are re-consumed for health purposes.
“Rabbits are kind of weird and they have to eat a certain poop that they make,” says Nord. “[Creating this space] helps them put two and two together while eating the hay and to eat that poop.”
Supporting the important role of hay in a rabbit’s diet, Kellie Hayden, marketing coordinator of collateral and campaigns at Oxbow Animal Health, notes the need for an age-appropriate pellet formula rather than those based on a muesli mix that could encourage selective eating.
“While muesli mixes that contain fruits, seeds and colorful pieces may seem like a healthy option because they have the appearance of variety, these mixes should be avoided by pet parents, as they can promote selective eating,” explains Hayden. “Animals that selectively eat often choose to eat the tasty morsels in a mixed food first, leaving behind the pelletized food that contains necessary vitamins and minerals.”
Emphasizing that ensuring animals receive the nutrients they need takes precedence over fancy formulas, Jason Casto, director of marketing for the small animal segment at Kaytee, recommends supplementing rabbits’ hay with pellets for these creatures that can become fussy regarding their food.
“Some small animals can be picky eaters,” says Casto. “To ensure your small pet gets proper nutrition in every bite, consider a pure pellet food. Pure pellet diets offer all-in-one pellet pieces that are nutritionally fortified to support the health of your small animal.”
One piece of information retailers must remember is that fiber is crucial to the health of these animals. By emphasizing this need, Hamblion says that store associates can ensure their customers build upon a fiber-rich foundation for a nutritious diet.
“A plentiful supply of long fiber ensures time is spent chewing to wear down constantly growing teeth,” explains Hamblion. “When it comes to concentrate, our experts advise that crunchy extrusions are best as they are high fiber, easily-digestible, highly-palatable and contain no added sugars. Fiber is even important for well being, as grazing and foraging are important natural behaviors and can be replicated by feeding higher fiber foods and hay.”
With the demand for natural pet products taking off, rabbit parents are studying all of the available options and continuing to prioritize optimizing their pet’s health with premium, high-quality products.
“The natural trends are very strong, with people seeking out diets that more closely replicate the high-fiber diet that would be eaten by wild rabbits,” explains Hamblion. “Feeding to suit lifestyle is another cross over trend we’ve seen as people increasingly appreciate the nutritional adaptations that are needed to keep pets healthy in any given environment.”
Despite their loving nature, rabbits are notoriously mischievous and rely on their families to engage them in play to avoid unfavorable behavior, highlighting the need to “rabbit proof” houses and provide plenty of enrichment opportunities. To that end, Nord recommends storing food in plastic containers and putting away toys after playtime to avoid destruction. Rabbits will take every opportunity to explore their surroundings, so the support of their mental wellness is integral to maintaining overall health.
“For normal rabbits, they are going to be chewing on toys all the time, destroying everything you give them,” continues Nord. “They should be able to ground their teeth naturally, but certain rabbits are not able to. Puzzle toys, things you can hide things in. Some people do ball pits and they hide treats underneath—things that keep them engaged because they are troublemakers.”
To give rabbits more room to play within a controlled space—particularly when there is more than one bunny—Nord recommends advising customers to look beyond the typical cage. For these curious creatures, a dog crate or pen affords more area for rabbit playtime.
Nord also recommends using treat time as an extension of nutrition time, while Hayden suggests incorporating natural chews into rabbit enrichment, as these products are becoming increasingly popular as a method of occupying curious rabbits who love to chew on nearly anything they can sink their little teeth into.
“Watching this curious behavior can be quite endearing, but these behaviors can also be quite destructive if the rabbit is not provided appropriate enrichment,” says Hayden. “Relaying the importance of enrichment to pet parents not only increases their basket size at checkout, but can also lead to repeat purchases as pet parents realize that enrichment can deepen the human-animal bond.” PB