Small mammal owners love to watch their pets eat. Seeing a hamster enjoy a treat or a rabbit munch on its dinner is a great way to spend time with a small pet.
Manufacturers are meeting the demand for healthful foods that also please the small animal palate. A number of recently introduced products are geared toward both nutrition and taste.
"Pet parents are always looking for fun, new nutrition options, especially when it comes to treats," said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb. "More and more, we’re seeing an increased call for ‘guilt-free’ treat options."
Today’s consumers understand that even small items such as treats play a role in the overall health and well-being of their pets, Stock added.
"They’re seeking out options that they feel their pet will find appealing from both a nutrition and taste standpoint," he said.
Small mammals are becoming more popular as pets for adults, who want to provide their animal companions with the best foods and treats, said Sue Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing for F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc. in Sinking Spring, Pa.
"Small animals generally require much less care than dogs or cats, and that is driving their popularity among young adults, and with older adults who are ‘empty nesters,’" she said. "The experience of the dog and cat market demonstrates that once it gets going, the trend toward pet humanization is difficult to derail. It is likely that the trend toward indulging small mammals will continue to deepen as they are becoming increasingly popular as pets."
Starla Carter, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., said her store’s customer base seeks out the best brands in small animal food.
"They want a healthy pet and are willing to learn what’s best," she said. "We learn about what’s new and what has a high level of quality, and we share that with our customers. They appreciate the products and the open dialogue."
Gary Roberts, owner of Pet World in Lakewood, Colo., also sees a trend among his customers in purchasing healthful foods for small pets.
"Parents want their children to eat healthfully, and it’s great that we’re seeing that they pick up on that and learn to feed their pets the same way," he said. "I’ve owned the store since 1996, and we’ve seen some trends come and go. I don’t think you’ll ever see an owner compromise the well-being of a pet. Owners want the best quality at a reasonable price point."
Nutrition is paramount, according to manufacturers making upscale diets for small mammals.
"In February, we introduced five new additions to our Simple Rewards line of healthful, wholesome treats," said Oxbow’s Stock. "The new treats are baked and combine high-fiber hay with fresh flavors that include Peppermint, Apple & Banana, Bell Pepper, Carrot & Dill and Cranberry."
Jim Gorrell, brand manager for Healthy Pet in Ferndale, Wash., said that his company is in the process of renovating its CareFresh line of small mammal foods to appeal to pet owners looking for healthful choices.
"CareFresh Complete will include 10 real fruits and vegetables, like you’d find in a farmer’s garden, without any artificial colors, flavors or fake shapes," he said. "The result is a complete and balanced food and healthful treat in one."
Healthy Pet is making the changes due to consumer preference for a healthful diet for small pets, Gorrell said.
"Small animal owners know fruits and vegetables are healthful additions to their pet’s diet," he said. "Many small animal owners add fresh fruits and vegetables to their pet’s diet a few times a week as a treat."
Marshall Pet Products recently introduced Ferret Lax Soft Chews and Furo-Vite Soft Chews at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., said Linda Cope, global marketing manager for the Wolcott, N.Y., company.
Ferret Lax Soft Chews are a combination treat and laxative in one, and are designed to help ferrets eliminate dangerous hairballs, while Furo-Vite Soft Chews provide additional nutrition that could be missing from a ferret’s diet, Cope said.
"We developed these chews based on our successful Ferret Lax hairball paste and our Furo-Vite vitamin paste," she said. "We wanted to give ferret owners a fun, alternative way to treat common health issues such as hairballs and vitamin deficiencies, and bring a new, one-of-a-kind ferret chew to this niche market."
At Global, F. M. Brown’s Sons introduced a healthful treat designed for rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters and other small animals.
"We recently introduced Tropical Carnival Baked Pretzels and Baked Pretzel Sticks," Brown said. "They are a crunchy, interactive treat loaded with goodies taken straight from the farm: a blend of corn, peas, fiber-rich timothy hay pellets, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin seeds, strawberries and more."
Another new offering in the food category for F. M. Brown’s is Tropical Carnival Timothy Hay.
"Our hay is premium, loose packed, western cut timothy hay, and is a softer, leafier hay that is grown and harvested in the USA," Brown said.
The company also introduced Tropical Carnival Timothy Hay Craveables! in a 24-ounce bag.
"This is timothy hay loaded with real flaked corn, flaked peas, sweet potatoes, chunky papaya, chewy cranberries and all-natural oat sprays that small animals crave," Brown said.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News