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October 1, 2014

Products that resemble people food, from the shapes to the flavors, are just one of the latest trends in treats for small animals.

There is a also an increasing variety of flavors to choose from, unique treats created for specific species and a large selection of all-natural or sugar-free options – perhaps one of the biggest trends in this category.

Treats play an important role in a small pet’s healthy lifestyle. Depending on the type or style of treat, it can give the animal something to do to relieve boredom while in the cage, it encourages the natural instinct of foraging, the gnawing promotes healthy teeth and gums and no matter what type of treat is given, it helps improve the bond between the pet and the owner and makes having the pet a little more fun.

These reasons help make the treat category an important one for retailers to promote. Unlike toys and cage accessories, treats are a consumable item, and something pet owners are highly likely to purchase.

According to the latest survey by the American Pet Products Association, 82 percent of small pet owners have bought treats in the previous 12 months, 42 percent of those purchasing 5 or more packages. And the category is growing, with a 13 percent rise in purchases over the past two years.

Healthy Options

Pet owners are paying more attention to the ingredients in the foods they feed their pets, and for this reason all-natural products are becoming more popular in the small pet category.

“It’s something that we’ve seen expand in the dog and cat category, and it’s gaining traction for small animals as well,” said Sue Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing, F. M Brown’s Sons, Inc.

The company’s Tropical Carnival Natural Treats are its answer to this trend, with six varieties, including Mini Corn on the Cob and Sweet Potato Yummies.

Oxbow Animal Health launched its Simple Rewards line in 2009, to provide an alternative to conventional options at the time that included added sugars, fats and carbohydrates.

“Small pets aren’t designed to digest these types of foods, so we formulated a line with a wide range of flavors all using healthy, all-natural ingredients,” said Melissa Ross, director of marketing and education, Oxbow Animal Health.

Coming in both freeze-dried and oven-baked varieties the line offers plenty of options for consumers, and the newer Simple Rewards Medleys combines the freeze-dried fruits with high-fiber Timothy hay pellets for a pet-pleasing treat.

Providing healthy foods to pets is an important priority, and one that’s even more top of mind with the rise in concern for pet obesity. To give pet owners a guilt-free treat option, Vitakraft Sunseed recently expanded its popular Drops line to include all-natural, no-sugar added varieties in flavors including Dandelion Drops for Rabbits, Parsley Drops for Guinea Pigs, Red Beet Drops for Hamsters and Wildberry Drops for Chinchillas.

In addition to the ingredients, treats promote healthy teeth and gums for small pets by giving them something to gnaw on, helping keep their teeth trim while providing an activity to relieve boredom. The specially designed ridge in Brown’s Crinkle Crisps promotes tooth and gum health, as do the Crunch Sticks from Vitakraft, which are triple-baked to encourage chewing.

Getting Specific

While many of the treats available are well-suited for any species of small animal, some product lines have species-specific treats, helping attract those loyal pet owners, especially for more exotic species, or for those looking to meet an animal’s specific nutrition needs, such as added vitamin C for guinea pigs or meat products for ferrets.

For example, Stewart Pet, long known for its freeze-dried treats for dogs and cats, recently introduced a chicken and liver treat for ferrets. The items were so successful that they added turkey earlier this year.

Vitakraft Sunseed is also reaching out to exotic pet owners. In addition to its already established Chinchilla Cocktail, the company recently launched a Vita Prima Wigglers and Berries Trail Mix for hedgehogs. Made up of celery, strawberries, and a hedgehog’s favorite, mealworms, this treat is perfect for the foraging animal.

Creative Fun

While it’s important for treats to be healthy and made from good ingredients, this is also a category that can be full of fun, blurring the line a little between toys and treats.

One of the newest items in Vitakraft’s SunSations line is the Yumbo Pop, an unpopped cob of corn that can be popped in the microwave and hung in the animal’s cage, or it can even be used unpopped.  The corn gives the animal something to play with as it reaches and grabs for the food.

Another fun item is the Greens to Gro! product from Brown’s. This kit comes with everything you need to grow your own wheatgrass, a favorite for rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals. For those pet owners who love to garden or like doing projects with their children, this product provides and activity for the pet owner as well as a treat for the animal.

It’s also fun for customers to purchase products for their pets that mimic foods they eat themselves. Vita Prima’s Pizzas and Marshall Pet Products’ salad bowls are made from ingredients that small pets crave, such as dried pieces of fruits and vegetables, but they look enough like pizza and salad to make it feel like the pet is sharing a meal with its owner.

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