Just like for dogs and cats, small animal parents buy treats for their pets because the animals enjoy them and humans derive satisfaction from giving them. Manufacturers of treats for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, and other small animals say the key to driving sales for treats is to offer a variety of products that answer consumer demands for nutrition, enrichment and convenient formats. 

Although small animals garner less attention than larger pets in the pet specialty retail space, the category has grown. 

“Small animal treat sections evolved over the years to become beautiful displays of natural, healthy snacks for small animals,” says Sue Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing of Brown’s Pet Foods, F.M. Brown’s Sons. “Retail stores listened to their customers’ requests for nourishing treats that are also fun for their pets.”


Consumer Trends

Of course, customers continue to look for treats that their pets not only enjoy, but also serve as a source of nutrition or a supplement to their overall diet. To find the nourishing treats for different types of small animals, it’s important to see if they include healthful, beneficial ingredients. 

Consumers read labels on their own foods, and they do the same for their pets’ nutritious items. 

“Healthy ingredients that are low in sugar are gaining importance in the small animal treat category,” says Gina Nicklas, marketing specialist with Kaytee. “Pet owners want to provide their pet a special treat without sacrificing their health.” 

Those healthy ingredients include whole pieces of fruit, vegetables, and botanicals. Timothy hay has long been an essential ingredient in small animal food and treats, because it provides fiber for digestive health, and gives pets a tasty snack. Kaytee offers several Timothy treat options such as the Timothy Biscuits baked with apple or carrot and Timothy Roll ‘n’ Toss, a chew and treat combo.  

One of the factors driving demand for small animal treats is that pet owners are learning more about their pets’ needs. 

“Customers are learning that in the wild, animals will often consume a wide range of foods that all have different nutrient profiles,” says Miranda Huntley, regulatory specialist, R&D Nutrition Division for Zoo Med Laboratories. “Customers want to replicate this natural phenomenon as best as possible.” The company makes a vegetarian Small Animal Mineral Block that features apple, spinach, and rose petals and is for rodents. 

For its part, Brown’s offers a natural and safe to chew Bunny Diggin’ Box and a Hemp Fiber Mat that can be placed inside the box. “This allows the small pet to take their treats and food into the box and stimulates the natural chewing, foraging, bunching and organizational behaviors that were passed down from their wild ancestors,” Brown explains. 

Brown’s offers Tropical Carnival Natural treats for small animals, with sun-ripened wheat sprays, oat sprays, sweet potatoes and other ingredients. The treats are formulated to enrich the lives of small pets, as all the Tropical Carnival Natural Behavior products for rabbits and guinea pigs are designed to provide a foraging and playful experience. As an example, the company’s Tropical Carnival Natural Behaviors Bio-Treat is a combination of natural timothy hay, rose petals, flaked peas, marigold flowers, hibiscus flowers, blue cornflowers, chamomile flowers, birch leaves, nettle leaves and raspberry leaves. 

Consumers also want premium, natural ingredients, says Claire Hamblion, marketing manager for Supreme Petfoods. They are seeking treats that are low in natural sugars and do not have added sugars. High fiber elements such as hay are important, as are foraged ingredients. 

Aside from featuring different ingredients, treats come in all different shapes and sizes. Training treats, a large category in dog treats, are making their way into the small animal treats realm. According to Nicklas, small, bite-sized pieces such as Kaytee Healthy Toppings help pet parents reward their pets without filling them up, while keeping them intrigued. 

Besides offering nutrition and entertainment, treats can also provide enrichment. Other shapes, such as sticks, are gaining popularity because they provide enrichment activity as the pet discovers the different ingredients. 

“There are many ways to provide enrichment, through toys, décor, new substrates, etc., but we love providing enrichment with food treats that can provide new smells, tastes, and visuals for the animal,” says Huntley. 

In addition, treats that vary in shape and size encourage people to interact with their small pets and let them observe the animals’ natural behaviors.

“The treat may be eaten in different ways by different species,” Hamblion says “Some like to carry it away to nibble later and some like to seek out their treat or approach it from a height.” 

The better ingredient trend, and the variety of shapes and formats, are expected to continue. “In recent years, pet owners have become more health conscious with the products they purchase for their pets,” Nicklas says. “Real whole ingredients and treats with dental or digestive benefits will see success.”


Opportunities for Retailers

Taking the time to ensure a small animal section is easy to shop will encourage incremental sales throughout the store. 

“We have identified that there is a need to be able to select the small pet foods the pet parent wants quickly in order to create time to browse the rest of the store,” Hamblion says. “Our research identified that the small pets sector was the decider for many shoppers – if they cannot find their small pets food they will leave and make all their purchases together elsewhere.”

The challenge for retailers is the small pet section is a complex one, with multiple species and food types. Supreme Petfoods assists retailers by providing point of sale materials. 

“For some time, we’ve championed ways to make this category easier to shop with all the upsides that has for those looking to buy for multiple species,” Hamblion says. “We really believe that getting this right is fundamental to successful pet retailing.”

Hamblion adds that Supreme Pets’ packaging is designed to draw the eye to the brand and then guide the shoppers across the section so they can buy everything they need, such as kibble, treats, hay and bedding. 

“It ensures the space is completely shopped and becomes a source of satisfaction rather than frustration,” Hamblion says. “We believe that these insights are really important and are very happy to share our knowledge.”