December 1, 2014

But as pets coming from trusted breeders, they are far from endangered. In fact, in a world where hamsters and rabbits have long held a stronghold as traditional favorites in the small pet category, chinchillas are starting to make their own mark. More and more people are choosing chinchillas as pets and it’s important for retailers to be prepared for this growing market.

A Little Bit Different

While chinchillas are similar in many ways to other species in the small pet category, they do have some traits that set them apart. For one thing, that extremely soft fur is also very dense and shouldn’t get wet. If it does, the chinchilla could end up growing a fungus or having fur rot.
Instead, they groom themselves by taking dust baths which happens to be one more endearing trait for chinchilla owners.

“It’s really cute to watch them roll around,” said Lisa Kniceley, marketing and trade sales specialist, Vitakraft Sunseed. Both Vitakraft and Oxbow Animal Health offer a dust bath specifically for chinchillas.

The other thing that differentiates chinchillas from other small pets is their diet. Unlike species that enjoy fruits and vegetables in their diet, chinchillas don’t require the sugars, starches and fats found in those products. Instead, chinchillas need a diet made up of a nutritionally complete, uniform pellet. Otherwise, since chinchillas don’t really need a lot of food, they would eat the fruits and vegetables first and fill up, leaving the nutritious pellets behind.

“It’s basically the same principle that applies to humans with foods like trail mix,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager, Oxbow Animal Health. “Little chocolate candies aren’t the most nutritious ingredient in trail mix but that doesn’t stop us from wanting to eat them first.”

Luckily, there are some great products on the market to give your customers the variety they’re looking for and the healthy foods chinchillas need. The basis for chinchilla diets is hay, either alfalfa or timothy. Both are good for chinchillas. The difference is alfalfa hay is higher in protein and calories while timothy hay is higher in fiber.

Kaytee Fiesta Chinchilla Food, Vitakraft’s Vita Nature for Chinchillas and Oxbow’s Essentials – Chinchilla have alfalfa as the food base, while Sunseed’s Vita Prima Chinchilla Sunsations Natural Chinchilla Formula has timothy hay as their base for customers that want a high-fiber diet for their pet.

A testament to the growing popularity of chinchillas as pets is the fact that when new product lines are introduced, they now include a formulation specifically for chinchillas. For example, Vitakraft Sunseed recently launched a new line of all-natural, sugar-added varieties to their popular Drops line of treats and it included Wildberry Drops for Chinchillas.

“There seemed to be a lack of treat availability for chinchillas so we wanted to offer something fun that is also appealing to those owners who want natural items for their pets,” said Kniceley.

Vitakraft also has a Chinchilla Crunch Stick, with added calcium in it that chinchillas need to support tooth and bone development. The wooden stick on the inside provides something to continue chewing on even after the outer treat part has been consumed.

Pets International’s new Chew Toy Carrot Patch is another good option for chinchillas. The pack comes with three carrots each of a different texture, one wood, one sisal and one loofah, to provide dental benefits including gnawing, cleaning and flossing teeth.

“The variety of textures is perfect for chinchillas as it gives them something interesting to do while providing a health benefit at the same time,” said Jason Casto, director of Kaytee Hard Goods, Pets International.

Capitalizing on Chinchillas

Having a good variety of products specifically for chinchillas is a good way to maintain a good relationship with your customers who already own chinchillas. Seeing as how chinchillas are becoming an increasingly popular choice for first time pet owners, it’s important to take advantage of this opportunity.

One of the best ways is to have chinchillas for sale in your store.

“People looking for dogs and cats have other options with breeders and adoption services but the local pet retailer is often the only option for a new consumer seeking out a small animal, bird, reptile or fish as a new pet,” Casto said.

Another advantage of having chinchillas is that people can experience firsthand just how soft their fur is and almost immediately fall in love.

Make sure the staff is fully educated on the advantages of chinchillas, including their long life span (15 to 20 years) and the fact that their odor is less than other small pets so customers who are curious to learn more will have a resource.

Finally, set up a display of chinchilla products in your store to alert customers of the many new options for chinchilla owners. Even though chinchillas are still a small percentage of the small pet category, they are an important and growing sector and it’s important that customers realize there are new products being developed specifically for their beloved pets.

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