Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A "Small Pet" Supplies Rant

I know this seems pretty grumpy way to start out the new year, but consider this a cleansing of my misgiving of the small pet supplies industry. Lately, I have been trying to cut spending wherever possible in order to save money for my wedding. The last place I would want to cut spending in on Umbra. She deserves the best care I can afford, but I'm noticing that a lot of the items marketed for small animal use, are way over priced.

Example 1: bedding/litter

Currently I use Carefresh Natural, which is made from the byproducts of paper mills. Not only is this resourceful (I'm a major green-nerd, I love it when we find uses for everything) but it also compostable. It is super absorptive, and is compressed to a third of it's size, which is convenient for storing. The drawback is the price (similar off brands are not much better). The 60L bag runs about $20, and I estimate that I go through about one of these a month. That's $160 a year. Considering I have just one small breed rabbit, multi-rabbit homes or large bunnies could go through much more (also depending how often you change the litter box, I do mine every other day).

Although I think Carefresh is a great product, I went in search of a less pricy option. I learned that the some of the Indiana House Rabbit Society members use wood-stove pellets for litter. I am assured they are safe for alternative litter. Similar pelleted fibers are marketed for pets, like this pelleted straw from Oxbow, runs about $12 for 8lbs. I got a 40 lbs of wood stove pellets at Lowes for $4, quite a  difference. I have yet to try them out, but I will submit a verdict soon. Wood pellets are available at most hardware/ home improvement stores.

Example 2: hay

We all know how vital hay is in the diet of most small herbivores. Rabbits need 24/7 access to hay, and a healthy rabbit will take good advantage of it. Usually I feed Umbra Oxbow band Western Timothy hay, but buying the bagged hay from the pet store really adds up. Most pet stores will carry bags up to 3 lbs and costing between $10-12. One store in my area carries a larger bag (6lbs I think) for closer to $20. Either of these options will cost you around $3 per pound.

Ideally, you would discover a local farm that sells Timothy, or some other high quality grass hay (i.e. not primarily alfalfa... good luck), in which case a bale will go for somewhere around $5. If you are unfortunate, like myself, local farmers and feed stores only carry alfalfa, or and alfalfa-grass blend (hard knowing if there is an acceptable ratio of the two). I have found some other alternatives. Pets Supplies Plus will order 50lb bales from Oxbow if you inquire. I ordered my first today for $64 (half the price per unit of the bags they keep in stock). Ask at your local pet store to see if they do the same. You can also buy from smallpetselect.com. I took advantage of a sale they had a while back and ordered an 8lb box for close to $20, a small savings from my usual purchase. At this point I will apologize for not making a review post as I had promised. They hay was pretty good quality, I was a little worried that the hay would get contaminated during shipping as it is only in a cardboard box, but the company seems genuinely interested in the well being of small animals and the website is educational. They also sell 50lb bales for $65, free of shipping costs when you sign up for automatic shipment schedule.

Example 3: Other

Today, I saw a play tunnel for cats for $7. It is much bigger than the one I have for Umbra and half the cost. Umbra's tunnel was marketed for small animals, including rabbits, however, she can just barely fit through it and she is not a big bunny.

It's tough finding toys for Umbra that are affordable and she will actually play with. Admittedly she is a really picky rabbit. She does love willow balls though. I haven't gotten her any lately due in part that the stores are always out of stock, and secondly they cost $4. That is kinda a lot for something she is going to demolish in less than a day. It aggravates me that we sell identical balls at my job for $1 for someone to put in a bowl on their coffee table. I desperately want them for Umbra, but I don't know if they are untreated!

Finally I can't tell you how many way over priced and cheaply made brushes, nail clippers and litter box scoops I have seen. If they are for "small pets" they are usually cheesy looking, like a little critter face for the handles and whatnot. Clearly this is a marketing gimmick used to lure in children. This leads me to a deeper qualm I have with the pet industry: small animals are not throw-away starter pets for parents to torture by leaving in the care of their irresponsible child (I note that this is not the child's fault) as a test for getting a "real pet" like a dog or cat. Hamsters, guinea pigs, even mice and of course rabbits are just as deserving of the best care that dogs and cats are. It is sad to see any animal abused as a means of making a profit, whether it is the breeder or the companies that provide the supplies.

It can be tough deciding what is worth buying for your animal friends. While I would like to save money, quality and safety must always come first. Umbra is not just a rabbit, she is a good friend of mine and just as much a part of my family as most people consider their dogs. She has a vibrant personality and specific needs, physical and social. We are nearing the second year of our friendship and I hope that I can provide for her so that she will spend many more with me.


  1. http://www.therabbithouse.com/blog/

    Tamsin has a lot of great ideas for keeping her naughty Scamp entertained and "working" for his food. He is a wild bunny, but in the UK, so he is pretty much the same as every other rabbit in UK and and not at all like our cottontails here in the US.
    Look for the section marked ENRICHMENT. From what I understand, he needs CONSTANT stimulation or gets super destructive and naughty.

    1. I've seen this site before but I will check out the enrichment section, I think Umbra is in definite need of it (she is being a little terror right now digging at the carpet)

  2. I live in wood stove country, so I could pick up bags and bags of wood stove pellets. I used a "bunny cage" bottom as their litter box. (That way they could both lie at an end and not get cranky.) Of course, the side effect was very heavy garbage bags.. ^_^; But they are BUNDERFUL for bunny litter!

    I use carefresh in Freddie's cage as it lasts and serves quite well for him. The wood stove pellets would be about the same size as a hind leg.. :D

    As far as hay went.. I generally paid for a bale at $5, took home a flake and let them give the rest away or add it to the pile for their own use. Sometimes a farmer would remember me and just give me another chunk for free. ("Oh its for a bunny? Well, heck, they don't eat much..") But those little plastic bags were sure rip offs! And the bunnies didn't much like it either!

    Umbra says she's perfect, its not HER fault if the carpet keeps attacking her and needs to be taught a lesson.

    1. I imagine that gerbils don't go through quite as much as rabbits.

      I don't have to worry about the heavy garbage bags, I'll just dump them in our compost pile. We recycle and compost so much that we rarely actually have garbage.

      Unfortunately there are no friendly timothy hay farmers here =[

  3. try Amazon.com and look under boredom breakers for bunny's they have a nice selection and some can be delivered free if they are supplied direct from them with super saver delivery when you spend 25$ or more

    1. will do. I found some DIY projects that looked promising as well.