Choosing the right bedding and substrate for your pet is as important as choosing the right food and housing. There are many choices out there, some good, some not so good, and some shouldn’t even be on the market. In some cases, it comes down to personal choice and what works best for you and your pet. But there are important points to consider to make sure your pet has optimal conditions, and also to avoid bedding that may actually be hazardous to your pet’s health.
Here is a list of commonly used beddings and substrates for small animals, and their pros and cons so you can make an informed decision which is best for your situation.
Aspen Shavings – Aspen is one of the best and safest beddings available, and also very affordable. It is perfect for rodents, rabbits and many snakes (especially species that like to burrow). Aspen is great for controlling odor and humidity and is a good choice.
Pine Shavings – There are mixed opinions on how safe pine is for rodents, but from personal experience and talking to other rodent breeders, KILN DRIED pine is safe and a good, affordable choice. Kiln dried is important, as it has had the oils removed, making it safe to use with rodents and rabbits. Make sure to choose the larger flake type over the smaller finely shaved pine, which can be dusty and cause respiratory issues in rodents and rabbits.
Pine Pellet – Pine pellets are also a good choice for rodents and rabbits.They are usually sold as horse stall bedding pellets at feed stores. Don’t wet them down as instructed for horse stalls. I’ve found the best way to use these in my rodent cages is to put a layer of pine pellets down, then a good layer of aspen or kiln dried pine over them. It really helps to keep things clean and odor free for a longer time than using shavings alone.
Cedar Shavings – Don’t use it! Cedar may look and smell wonderful, but the oils in cedar can be deadly to small animals, especially in small spaces. Cedar is great for putting in a sachet in your clothing storage boxes or drawers to keep things smelling nice and to keep bugs and moths out, but never use it in pet cages! I am baffled and saddened that cedar is still marketed toward small animal use, as I’ve heard of the dangers decades ago.
Care Fresh – Care Fresh is advertised as 100% natural paper and wood renewable product perfect for pets. It has great long term odor control. Sounds perfect, right? Unfortunately, the odor control includes baking soda, which is not safe for small animals. Many rodent and rabbit owners have reported their pets dying after switching to this product. Care Fresh has reported that they changed their formula after reports from pet owners and have removed the baking soda. Use this product with caution, or choose the variety that doesn’t include the odor control formula.
Plain Paper Bedding – Paper bedding is often sold as a safe and renewable bedding. The downside is that it has horrible odor and moisture control, and must be changed often. So not the best choice.
Corn Cob/Walnut – Corn cob and walnut shell bedding get mixed reviews. Some say it is great mixed with aspen, and others say avoid it altogether. On the plus side, it helps with odor. But there have been reports that some rodents have intentionally ingested it, and even though it is edible, it is not digestible and can cause impaction if enough is eaten. It also molds fairly easily, so should never be used in a humid environment.
Stay tuned for part two of this list, which include many substrates that are marketed more specifically to reptiles and arachnids.