In space-starved city centres worldwide the popularity of smaller species is continuing to increase amongst pet lovers. But a new trend for small, exotic pets is raising concerns about animal welfare.
Smaller spaces, smaller pets
Downsizing dogs and opting for a cat instead of a dog have been ways in which pet lovers have been able to keep pets in ever-smaller living spaces in space-starved cities worldwide. However, a rising trend in owning exotic pets – such as birds, lizards, snakes, turtles and frogs – is creating deep concerns about the ability for pet owners to provide these animals with the proper care.
Take Hong Kong: the number of legally imported exotic animals more than doubled from 497,000 in 2012 to over a million in 2016. In addition, concerns are growing that illegally imported species and ones requiring highly specialist care are also being kept as domestic pets. In the UK, the number of people who own pet snakes, lizards, turtles and tortoises increased from an estimated 400,000 in 2008 to well over one million in 2014.
It is estimated that around 4.7 million US households own a reptile and 6.7 million own a small animal (compared to 60.2 million with dogs and 47.1 million with cats). The animals might be small, the market is huge!
Exotic as new trend
In the US and UK, small pets such as degus and chinchillas are especially popular amongst millennials living in smaller apartments. This is because people want ‘something different’. Dogs can be noisy and large compared to a snake. Owners assume that a turtle will not move around as much as, for example, a cat. Yet, some turtles grow from a tiny 2 cm in length to 20 cm within two years and Leopard Geckos live up to 20 years! Acquiring such a pet is, therefore, a considerable investment.
Unfortunately, many pet owners are unknowing about the special needs of their unusual pets. This often results in the animals being abandoned or neglected: many need expert levels of care and husbandry that the pet owner is unable to offer.
Ways the industry can meet small pet needs
The reptile product market’s top two segments are food and treats, and enclosure heating and lighting. Indeed, the top reason such animals require veterinary treatment is when these key components are lacking. It is therefore important that the industry is able to respond by ensuring the availability of such products.
Suitable food is essential and it is a chance for the industry to ensure specific animal foods and treats are available for specialist diets. Fish, frogs and reptiles have all been shown to engage in play! Producers and retailers should offer pet owners ideas and products for novel stimulation.
Certain species need lots of room to explore and hide. A wide range of caves and hide-outs can be supplied in natural-looking stones and wooden log shapes, or ornamental styles. Leafy camouflage and rainforest canopy plants are not just beautiful in a home, but essential for the reptiles.
Key role for retailers
Of course, a large enough vivarium is also essential. Retailers should be able to inform owners regarding the perfect size vivarium – with thermometers and lighting – for different types of reptiles. As for small, furry species: they require premium food, space and social contact. Rabbits are often sold with far too small hutches. For these and other, highly social species such as the squirrel-like Sugar Glider, owners must be prepared to spend time with them. This is not the pet of choice to be left at home in a cage, while the owner goes out to work.
Retailers have a major role to fulfil. By offering expert advice they can boost sales based on a strongly caring and welfare-friendly basis. It is our chance to show our added value as product experts: helping clients to adapt their homes to their new, much-loved, small and demanding pets.
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