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Home, Sweet Home: Innovations Make Habitats Enjoyable for Pets, People

Glenn Polyn//May 1, 2022//

The green lizard in a terrarium at the resort Vinpearl

Home, Sweet Home: Innovations Make Habitats Enjoyable for Pets, People

Glenn Polyn //May 1, 2022//

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With the rise in new pet acquisitions during the COVID-19 pandemic – specifically, three of the four main “other pet” types – manufacturers, brands and retailers have the opportunity to reach a new audience of consumers. These new pet parents are eager to shop for a setup and other supplies to care for the new addition to the family. Whether your customer is a new reptile, aquatic, small animal, bird, cat or dog parent it’s important to educate them on the needs of their new companion animal.  

Besides the obvious dietary needs, enclosures should also be explained to best suit the animal; One size does not fit all for certain companion animals like herptiles (reptile and amphibian) and small mammals (or “small animals”). Interest in these particular animals rose during the COVID-19, with the exception of birds, and 12.2 percent of all U.S. households own one (or more) type of pet other than dogs and cats, up from 10.8 percent five years ago.  

Retailers should be capitalizing on this growth, filling shelves with expanded offerings that include an array of enclosures and habitats. Shopping for some animals, like cats and dogs, can be straightforward. However, for other pet categories, such as reptiles and small animals, shopping can be a tricky course to navigate.  

The pet’s environment plays a key role in its physical and emotional well-being and the cages, crates, aquariums and enclosures are designed with the pet’s natural behaviors and lifestyle in mind. If retailers can explain the reason behind purchasing a certain enclosure to better educate the customer on their new pet it will benefit all those involved including the animal. 

Brands also take into consideration the interests of pet parents, such as sustainable products and aesthetically pleasing designs when creating enclosures, but most importantly the animal comes first.  

Zoo Med has spent over 40 years providing “the supplies and knowledge needed to successfully care for reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and other exotic pets to keep them happy and healthy.” The company’s website features not only a range of products, but also a care and education center with general education, UVB and lighting, supplements and substrates and impaction sections. This center provides information on reptile needs to make for an easier shopping experience, and Ashley Rademacher, the company’s animal care and education director, explains the brand has “been able to grow our product line of terrariums to better accommodate a wide variety of species and support their individual behaviors.” 

For example, Zoo Med’s paludariums and terrariums feature a deep base below the door. This is ideal for a bioactive habitat to allow for the appropriate drainage layer, substrate layer and accommodate a clean-up crew. “This is especially helpful for nesting females and fossorial species that spend a fair amount of time under and within the substrate layer,” said Rademacher.  

The company also recognizes the creativity aspect involved in habitat design and likes to look at its terrariums as blank canvases and its terrarium decor, substrates and extras as the paint reptile keepers can use to create their own masterpiece. 

When Zen Habitats redesigned its original enclosures, the company took into consideration owners’ desire for a more convenient product. “These enclosures are made of the same great materials as our original line, but arrive mostly assembled, and all the customer needs to do is affix eight screws, and they are ready to go,” said Zen Habitats CEO, Randy Williams. “If the customer needs to break down the enclosure, say because they are moving, they can easily do so with the Meridian enclosure line.” 

While convenience is for the pet parent, the companion animal’s natural instincts and behavior are taken into consideration regarding the materials used to construct the enclosure. Instead of using glass, Zen Habitats uses bamboo finished wood or PVC panels, which eliminates reflections and retains heat better than glass. These materials eliminate the chance that the animal, like a bearded dragon, could see their reflection and mistake it for a challenging dragon, which could cause stress to the reptile. It’s a natural instinct to want to fight when looking at what they think is another animal.

Williams also says that the enclosures “support the natural instincts by allowing the animals to explore horizontally and vertically, provide a more significant heat gradient for proper body temperature regulation and offer the option of going bio-active in the enclosure.” 

Another natural instinct that Zen Habitats takes into consideration is the fear of being approached from above. A hand coming down on the animal could remind them of birds of prey and thus cause stress. To combat that fear, the enclosures are all front facing. 

Zilla also offers a front opening terrarium with removable doors, top insert to help maintain humidity levels and screened hinged lid for easy access and airflow. Appropriate thermoregulation is critical in order for the animal to digest nutrients from its diet and maintain optimal health. “Reptiles have specific temperature, UV and humidity needs based on what region of the planet they come from. Temperatures and humidity levels outside of that requirement can lead to your pet developing illness, most commonly a respiratory infection,” explained Melissa Kelly, brand manager for Zilla. 

“While respiratory infections in reptiles is treatable, it is contagious and can spread to other reptiles in your collection. It is also expensive and avoidable by keeping your reptile in the correct temperature and humidity,” Kelly said.  

The Zilla terrarium is designed to maintain the appropriate humidity and temperature for your specific pet, and the additional plastic inserts can be utilized to increase humidity when needed.  

For aquatic hobbyists, size is a major factor in habitat purchases, but also aesthetics. Jessica Deering, associate brand manager for Aqueon, says it’s important to know how many animals you will have and how big they will get and “knowing that information before purchasing your aquarium is important to ensure you provide the best environment for your aquatic life.” 

Trends in “non-traditional” pet ownership have seen an increase due to factors such as hypoallergenic pet trends, reasonable cost to maintain, being appropriate for smaller living spaces, quietness and relative ease of care. The enclosures for these animals provide consumers the inspiration to create their own slice of the tropical rainforest or arid desert right in their home. The animals that are in this category can be a colorful accent to any room on their own, but their enclosures allow creative expression. 

The LED MiniBow Aquarium Kit is a bow-front desktop aquarium with a low-profile hood with energy-saving LED lighting, built-in power filtration and contemporary style with an added base. Its compact size makes it ideal for smaller spaces such as a dorm, table top or kid’s dresser. Aqueon aquariums come in a variety of styles and sizes for both beginners or experienced aquarists. Product offerings include standard glass rectangle aquariums as well as corner, edgelit cube, reef-ready and rimless aquariums.  

Ultum Nature Systems also creates rimless aquariums after the company was inspired by the prevalent rimless aquariums seen in such countries as China, Japan and Germany. Matthew Chang, co-founded and CFO of Ultum Nature Systems, remembers coming back to Los Angeles from overseas and not being able to find rimless aquariums available for sale.  

“As lifelong hobbyists we grew up with cheap plastic rimmed tanks. However, we loved the minimalistic look of rimless aquariums. The actual technology and manufacturing process to mass produce 45-degree mitered edges for glass was in development for many years. We were the first company to perfect the process and bring it to the mass market,” said Chang, adding that he went through the trials and tribulations of creating rimless aquariums, which he sees as possessing a “timeless look,” because he wanted to progress not just the aquatic hobby itself but the lifestyle surrounding it. 

Made from glass, Ultum is taking conscious steps to ensure that the hobby can be sustainable.

“We are always working with our suppliers to find the most eco-friendly way of packaging and the most efficient supply chain solutions,” said Chang. “We hope that consumers make conscious decisions about keeping an aquarium versus being an impulse purchase because the bettas were on sale.” 

The small animal category covers a range of animals from chinchillas and rabbits to guinea pigs and gerbils. Oxbow Animal Health’s small animal habitats, like the multi-level habitat released in 2021, support every aspect of the natural, species-specific behaviors of some of these animals.  

“Chinchillas and rats are animals that utilize not only flat, single-level spaces, but really love to get vertical by jumping or climbing,” explained Kellie Hayden, marketing coordinator of campaigns and collateral for Compana Pet Brands, maker of Oxbow products. “Our multi-level habitat takes this into account, while also providing enough space for food, water, natural chews and hiding places.” 

Natural animal behaviors and instincts provide ample opportunity to create enclosures to nurture their habits. Hayden says pet parents should understand and nurture “the behaviors that these species have developed over time.” The multi-level habitat features a front door that creates a stable perch for chinchillas or rats to relax, feet-friendly ramps that are designed for comfort and to prevent injuries to toes and feet and sturdy, angled metal splash guards to keep the area surrounding the habitat clean and dry. 

Each habitat that Kaytee creates is designed specifically for small pets with their safety in mind as well as trends and demands from owners.

“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,” said Erin Lenz, senior brand manager for Kaytee Small Animal. “This means a habitat with easy access points, the ability for customization, and features specific to their species of small animal.” 

Litter trained rabbits, who can freely roam in a pet parent’s house like a cat would, can use the Kaytee Open Living habitat as a “home base” to keep their pet’s living quarters. This setup helps pet parents keep a large comfortable area for the rabbit to enjoy and return to whenever needed, while reducing mess around the house.   

“[Kaytee Open Living is] a large, open-format habitat, [that is also] connectable and customizable and features an innovative waterproof liner system with quick clean capabilities,” said Lenz. 

For woman- and veteran-owned Kennel & Crate, functionality doesn’t mean the design aspect of dog crates should suffer. Kennel & Crate owner Terri Kinnick Arnold explains that because her company’s crates are built to order, pet parents have the luxury of designing to fit their desires.  

“Dog parents love our kennels because we integrate their fur family’s cozy spot into the design and decor of their home. We can customize the color and finish of the kennel to the customer’s liking,” she said. 

With polyurethane-stained floors, “the occasional mess can be cleaned up with your favorite pet-friendly disinfectant.”  

Pet parents are interested in products that not only reduce messes in their house, or on-the-go, but also reduce damage to the environment. In the total pet care space, claims within all five sustainability areas are on the rise. According to market research experts at NielsenIQ, environmental sustainability is up 17.1 percent, sustainable farming and sustainable packaging are both up 13.4 percent and social responsibility up 10.7 percent. Despite being a durable, heavy-duty construction, the Ultra Vari Kennel from Petmate is an environmentally friendly product. Made from a minimum of 90 percent post-industrial recycled material plastic resin, this kennel caters to dog’s natural denning instinct. 

“Dogs are denning animals, and a plastic kennel is the ideal way to give them a place to feel safe and secure. Its safety and security provide superior solutions for both home sheltering and travel,” explained Richard BenBassett, vice president of consumer marketing and direct channel for Petmate. 

Cats enjoy the outdoors and cat owners should consider letting their feline friend explore the outdoors, safely of course.

“The Kitty Katio Pen & House are two separate units that can be used together, or separately, to provide a safe space for cats to get outside,” said Alex Canales, senior vice president of sales and marketing, New Age Pet. Cats can enjoy the fresh air and sun while keeping them safe and protecting local bird populations from a cat’s natural instinct to hunt. 

The Kitty Katio Pen & House, from New Age Pet, is made from ECOFLEX. The ECOFLEX material is a proprietary composite blend of new and recycled polymers and reclaimed wood fiber byproducts which makes for a durable and moisture resistant material. 

New Age Pet chicken coops are also made from the same material, as well as NeveRust stainless steel wire mesh.  

“Our chicken coops were designed with urban backyard chicken keeping in mind. Designed to be durable, compact and easy to clean,” said Canales. “Perfect for a flock of four hens up to 10 hens depending on breed. Our coops will easily outlast similar wooden structures giving you years of worry-free use.” 

John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development for Ware Pet Products, believes at its core, chicken coops allow for security, roosting, egg laying and sometimes even provide an exercise area where chickens will instinctually scratch and forage for items.

“Coops should always be a ‘safe haven’ so to speak, a place where they innately can be,” he added. 

Features of Ware Pet chicken coops include playpens, roosting bars, easy access nesting boxes, easy clean pull-out trays (on some models) and predator resistant security hatches. The company continues to innovate and will be releasing a new line of coops in the fall of this year.  

While having the right habitat is vital to a pet’s healthy life, time outside of the habitat is just as important. The significance of time outside of the habitat is not always communicated to new or prospective pet parents. Creating a safe, comfortable habitat is only one step of many to take to ensure a pet’s optimal health.