Four walls and a bed of litter doesn’t leave much room for rodent aerobics. And despite having speedy metabolisms, it’s easy for small animal pets to pack on the fat and suffer health maladies when they don’t get the fitness they need.
Let’s Get Physical
Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets in Muncie, Indiana, says exercise is important for small animals.
“That sometimes gets overlooked with pet parents because many small pets are nocturnal or crepuscular and a lot of their activity time is through the evening and into the early morning,” says Whitehead, who notes hamsters scurry about for the equivalent of five miles per night. “It might not be obvious to owners that these animals are actually very active and need the tools and space to carry out their activities.”
Melanie Allen, avian product specialist with Mansfield, Massachusettes-based Hagen Group, the world’s largest privately owned, multi-national pet goods maker and distributor, notes that little critters need regular exercise for good mental health as well as physical well-being.
“It’s also important for the health of the pet to have an opportunity to safely explore life outside the cage,” Allen said.
Plus, providing fitness toys and accessories brings pets and their owners closer together.
“It increases the interaction between pet and owner and helps to build a better bonding experience,” explained Amanda Altman, marketing coordinator for Wolcott, New York-headquartered Marshall Pet, launched in 1993.
Fortunately, selling fun fitness SKUs is easier today than in years before.
“Consumers are more educated about the needs of their small animal pets and more connected to social online communities where the health and lives of their pets are discussed,” said Altman, adding that viral videos of adorable pets—like leashed and harnessed ferrets and hamster exercise wheel escapades—have certainly increased awareness.
A running wheel or spinning disk is a must in gerbil, mice and hamster cages to encourage self-driven exercise. Jane Morehouse, product research and development manager for Hayward, California-based Kordon LLC, recommends choosing these spinning products carefully for your set.
“The tread portion should always be textured and solid. Wire ladder-style bars or grids can cause feet and toes to be trapped. And the long tails of rats can be caught between the wheel sides and the mounting frame or axis, so try to find a design with a solid enclosed side that attaches to the framework, with the other side wide open for easy, unobstructed entry and exit,” Morehouse explained.
The market abounds with acclaimed wheels and spinners. Exotic Nutrition’s Treadmill Wheel features an all-metal design that runs on ball bearings for a virtually silent operation. PetWiser’s Wodent Wheel sports a semi-enclosed design and a solid rear wall to ensure that the pet stays safely within while spinning. And Prevue Pet Products makes a popular exercise wheel with an all-welded axle and powder-coated chrome silver finish.
Another crowd favorite is Kaytee’s Silent Spinner, available in 4.5-, 6.5- and 12-inch sizes; the company also recently launched a 10-inch version of this product, designed specifically for Syrian hamsters.
“It features an enclosed spinner hub to reduce noise, making it quiet compared to traditional exercise wheels,” said Mary Ann Loveland, senior associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wisconsin, which has been in business for more than 150 years.
Play balls offer a fun field trip for pets in a safe, round enclosure. Ware’s RollN-Around has a transparent see-through running area and brightly colored door. Kids who crave a pet workout in the form of a cute toy can opt for Penn-Plax’s SAM Monster Turbo Cycle, which resembles and rolls like a motorcycle powered by a detachable play ball.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors
Rabbits and guinea pigs shouldn’t use spinners or play balls, and they need more space than an in-cage exercise product can provide. Another worthy outside-the-cage option is a playpen. Notable wares in this space include Marshall Pet Products’ Small Animal Play Pen, with 18-inch wide by 29-inch high panels that can quickly be connected without tools; the Multi-Color Small Pet Playpen by Prevue Pet Products, boasting red, yellow, green and blue panels that will delight kids; MidWest’s Critterville Small Animal Exercise Pen, offering a play area of over 12 square feet; and Living World’s Critter Play Time, another easy-to-assemble and quickly collapsible pen, with blue and green panels that provide nearly 10 square feet of space.
Larger small animal pets can get a good workout via a harness and leash, too. Among the brands that entice customers are Kaytee’s Comfort Harness and Stretchy Leash (ideal for ferrets and rats), Alfie by Petoga Couture’s Kobi Harness and Leash set (suitable for cavies and rabbits), and the Soft Rabbit Harness with Leash made by Calunce.
Exercise Your Options
Like toys and other accessories, exercise products can quickly catch a shopper’s eye with the right placement.
“An in-store display helps consumers visualize the fitness possibilities,” Loveland said. “Contact your sales reps to request promotional or display merchandising.”
Using these goods in and around your cage setups can work wonders, as well.
“Make sure to include exercise items like wheels, discs and climbing platforms in your livestock habitats and cage displays so that customers can assess various options,” said Whitehead, who suggests assembling a pet playpen and placing livestock inside for patrons to pet.