The great bedding debate

The small animal market is laden with all different kinds of bedding to choose from. For the new or novice small animal keeper the choice can be mind blowing. However, the suitability and the effectiveness of the different types of bedding are questionable.
For a start, many claim to have odour neutralising properties. To be frank, this is totally unnecessary and just encourages pet owners to have a poor cleaning routine. Animal noses are far more sensitive to smells than our own, just because the latest, wonder bedding claims to neutralise smells, does not mean your pet is not suffering from the build up of waste and ammonia.

Scented beddings too should also be avoided like the plague. Small animals, as a rule, have poor eyesight and live in a world of scent. Many have scent glands located in various areas which not only serve to mark out territorial boundaries but also help to comfort them and make things smell homely. If your pet is forced to live in a lemon or lavender scented world, you are forcing them to live a stressful existence;
not to mention the fact that if they smell strongly to our noses who knows how pungent they must be to their sensitive nostrils.

Wood shavings have long been a topic of hot debate among pet owners, breeders, veterinarians and pet shop owners alike as some people like them and others think they are terrible. I personally believe that no pet should be housed on them for many reasons. Cedar shavings are dangerous to the health of your pet, fact. These shavings emit aromatic hydrocarbons or phenols; these are the chemicals that make them smell ‘woody’. These chemicals have proven in laboratory tests to damage the lungs, causing
respiratory problems. More worryingly they have also been shown to damage the liver.


Due to the short life of our small pets, the damage to the liver may not show any noticeable effects but due the liver’s use in metabolising some anaesthetics, any damage it may have can increase the potential risks of any operation your pet may need. Pine shavings emit similar compounds but not a great deal of research has been made as to their side effects. The similarity to cedar, in my mind would be reason enough to
avoid this also.

Aspen shavings are safer but still not recommended as the dust levels may be detrimental to your pets breathing. Ask any horse owner and they will tell you that some horses can not be stabled in the vicinity of aspen shavings as it causes sneezing and coughing. Our small pets are the same, although some pets appear to live happily on these shavings the negative implications are too many to ignore.

Aside from breathing difficulties, many pets will suffer from sore eyes, noses and feet when housed on aspen shavings due to its abrasive nature. Guinea pigs are especially prone to dry and sore feet when they are made to live on wood shavings.

Of the many kinds of bedding on the market, the safest, and most effective must be chopped cardboard, often used as a stable bedding for horses. Marketed under several brand names, this is readily available online by mail order. It is dust and parasite free, safe, absorbent and perfect for our small animals. It’s also great fun to chew! Although it may appear costly, many companies supply this as a large bale, which will last a very long time and actually works out very cost effective. It can also be composted afterward
so is great for the environment as well as being a recycled product in itself.


If you are unable to get hold of cardboard bedding, the next best bet would be paper based small animal bedding, although the dust content can prove a problem for some animals and owners.

Rabbits and guinea pigs must be provided with a thick layer of hay on top of the bedding, especially if living outdoors. Ideally line the cage with a thick layer of newspaper as this will make things much easier when it comes to cleaning out.

At the end of the day, the choice of bedding is a personal one but in my view, if there is even a small risk of health problems from the use of a certain bedding, then the choice is a clear one, especially when safe alternatives are so readily available.