Dzungarian hamster

Like all pets, small animals need to feel safe and secure in their own designated environment. Since their habitats are where they spend most of their time, it’s important for these tiny creatures to be situated in a habitat that properly fulfills their needs. 

As consumers continue to show an interest in learning more about their rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, etc., there’s greater demand for habitats that serve as not just a space for small animals to sleep in, but as a place to thrive in.  

“Consumers are looking for a habitat that not only satisfies their pet’s natural instincts, but allows them to interact with their furry friend in a safe environment,” says John Gerstenberger, vice president of development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products. 

Since the small animal category includes a variety of species, there are different products on the market to accommodate different animals’ natural preferences. For its part, Kaytee offers a wide range of habitats for small pets, including habitats specifically designed for guinea pigs and rabbits to those tailored for smaller species like gerbils and hamsters. The company’s newest introduction in this product category is the Kaytee Open Living Habitat, made specifically for rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s a large, open-format habitat that is connectable and customizable, and features a waterproof liner system with quick clean capabilities. 

With all these options available, there’s something out there to accommodate every small pet. However, new innovations are emerging as consumers continue to express their thoughts and feelings about small animal habitats.

“As small animal enthusiasts, influencers, social media experts and specialized

groups become more accessible and vocal about their wants and needs, manufacturers will have to stay attuned to the demands of the market to adjust and develop products accordingly,” says Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets.


Taking Advantage of Trends 

Through the power of the Internet and social media, consumers are more accessible than ever before. Thanks to viral videos and memes that highlight how adorable small pets are, more people can witness the joys of having a small animal. Of course, this accessibility also offers insight into this category’s latest trends. 

“We’ve noticed that DIY cages are trending, as many influencers and small animal groups on social media show how to make ‘bin cages’ that are larger and more appropriately-sized than what they feel they can find in stores,” says Whitehead. 

These pets may be small, but when it comes to the space in their habitats, bigger is proving to be better, especially if pet parents decide to expand their habitats over time. 

“New innovative small animal habitats are large and allow consumers to connect and expand for additional living space, feature open tops for easy pet access, and are easy to assemble and clean,” says Gina Nicklas, marketing specialist with Kaytee. 

In addition to looking for habitats with an ample amount of space, as consumers learn more about their tiny pets, they see more evidence that the small animal category is not “one size fits all.” As such, the demand for species-specific products has increased. 

“There is a significant call for more features within the small animal habitats that offer more customized and breed-specific natural habits,” says Gerstenberger. 

Of course, come consumers may not realize what their small pet’s specific needs are. Retailers can turn to manufacturers, like Ware, to help by providing educational materials that detail a species’ unique behaviors, diet, play and more. However, it’s important for retailers and sales associates to have a background in specific small animal needs.

“To help guide customers to the perfect habitat for their species, retailers need to first understand the origins of small animals,” says Nicklas. “Each small animal comes from a unique area of the world, making their living needs different.”  

Nicklas reveals that hamsters originate from desert terrain, where they would burrow and hide from predators. “With this instinct in mind, retailers should recommend hamsters a habitat with a tall bottom base where plenty of bedding can be placed to allow for burrowing and tubes and tunnels for exploration.” 

Since chinchillas originate from mountain regions where they climb, jump and perch, it’s important for these creatures to have a habitat with multiple levels to climb and areas to perch, according to Nicklas. She further explains that, since rabbits originate from European grasslands where they have plenty of room to roam around, it’s important for a rabbit habitat to have plenty of space.  

“Having sales floor staff who are well educated in the needs of the most popular small animal species is so helpful in guiding the customer to appropriate cage choices, as well as diet, exercise, and enrichment products,” Whitehead suggests. 

Of course, to make it as easy as possible for pet parents to locate products for their specific pet instores, retailers can organize products by species in one small animal section. 

“Separate small animal products by species and make the distinction clear, a guinea pig pet parent is looking for products different from a hamster pet parent,” says Nicklas. “When a separation is made, shoppers can more easily find what they need, and it offers a more enjoyable shopping experience.” 


Setting (and Selling) the Scene

Naturally, another way to ensure consumers have a more enjoyable shopping experience is to set the scene and show customers what the habitat would look like in their own homes. 

“Some tips and suggestions for retailers would be having assembled habitats on the shelf, as well as offering value driven starter kits,” says Gerstenberger. “Both of these make it easier for pet parents to envision what is needed (especially first time parents).” 

Now, to help assist new pet owners, Kaytee offers various My First Home starter kit habitats, which are designed to give new pet parents everything they need to begin caring for their pet. Available for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, ferrets, hamsters, and gerbils, each kit includes a habitat, food dish, water bottle, Clean & Cozy bedding, and a $10 off food rebate.

It’s important to keep in mind that since small animals have had the reputation in the past as a “starter pet,” many families may be new to the pet industry as a whole. 

“Entry-level small animal owners, often families with children, make up a healthy portion of the market, and they are more likely to purchase smaller cages at a low- to mid-price point,” says Whitehead.

With pet consumers, and especially with first-time pet parents, retailers need to learn a little bit about them and what they’re looking for. “Retailers must help the customer understand what small animal they are buying for, and help identify the unique behaviors, diet, play etc. for that individual species,” says Gerstenberger.

“Please consider asking the customer if this is their first time with this type of pet, quantity/age of pet(s), planned location of pet/habitat in home, and also asking will children be involved in the care,” he adds. 

At the end of the day, small pet parents prioritize their pet’s comfort just as dog or cat parents would. 

“As the humanization of pets continues, pet parents will continue looking for habitats that help make their pets more of a part of their home,” says Nicklas. “This means a habitat with easy access points, the ability for customization and features specific to their species of small animal.”  PB