Bedding is bedding, right? Your pet is just going to defecate on it anyway. Some choices really are better than others. I rescue guinea pigs and also have a house rabbit. I have tried several bedding options to see what works best. Small animal beddings available include kiln dried pine, aspen, CareFresh, Yesterday’s News, fleece, and more.
Kiln dried pine is the closest acceptable bedding to the traditional wood shavings (usually toxic cedar or pine). Every small pet owner hears about the dangers of pine if they do any research at all before buying (or hopefully adopting) their small pet. However, the kiln drying process removes the dangerous phenols from pine, making it an acceptable bedding choice. The main plus side of kiln dried pine is that it is so inexpensive. You can often find a large bag of kiln dried pine at a feed store or you can pay more for a smaller bag in a pet store. The brand I use is Thoroughbed, but there are many brands available. This bedding will absorb odors, is soft on your pet’s feet, and proper sized cages will look nice for up to one week. The downside is, some animals (especially guinea pigs) enjoy kicking bedding out of their cage. Kiln dried pine is light and will go flying across the room in all directions as your pair of cavies runs around their cage. This results in more vacuuming for you. If your pets are laid back and not running around all day, this is a great bedding choice. I use kiln dried pine in all four of my guinea pig cages.
When people think of safe pet beddings, they often think of aspen. Aspen is a hard wood, so phenols aren’t a danger like they are in soft woods. Aspen does not need to undergo a kiln drying process prior to being useable as a bedding for small pets. The bad news is, aspen is going to cost more than kiln dried pine in most cases. The cost however, is not usually excessive. With this bedding, there are usually thick chips available that my guinea pigs did not approve of, or there are thin strips of wood that are softer on the feet. I found aspen difficult to scoop in larger cages and I also found that it does not absorb odors for long. For a guinea pig cage, I would be cleaning the cage every 3 days rather than once a week. However, for something you are going to clean very often, like a rabbit litterbox, aspen works great. The great thing about aspen is that it doesn’t stick to a litterbox as much as kiln dried pine, making it much easier to just dump out the litterbox. I currently use kiln dried pine for my rabbit’s litterbox.
As people try to help our environment by recycling, two environmentally friendly, recycled paper beddings have come about. CareFresh and Yesterday’s News are both made of recycled paper. Both are fairly expensive. With kiln dried pine, I can buy an $8 bag and clean roughly 10 guinea pig cages. I can buy a $12 bag of aspen and clean about 4 guinea pig cages. But when I buy one bag of CareFresh for $20, I can only clean one to two guinea pig cages. I have not tried using Yesterday’s News for an entire guinea pig cage, but I estimate it would clean about two or three guinea pig cages. For some people, this amount of money is not an issue. If you only have one pair of guinea pigs, a pair of rats, a hamster, or even a single house rabbit, CareFresh or Yesterday’s News is probably still an affordable option. The difference between CareFresh and Yesterday’s News is the texture of the bedding. CareFresh is a nice soft bedding, while Yesterday’s News is a pelleted bedding. The problem I had with CareFresh was that it was dusty and it didn’t absorb odors well. When you have eight guinea pigs, you want a bedding that absorbs odors. CareFresh does make an even more expensive solution for this dust problem however, called CareFresh Ultra. I have not tried this bedding, so maybe it also absorbs odors better. Yesterday’s News didn’t seem to have as much of an odor problem. It was also easy to dump out of litterboxes. I couldn’t use it for an entire cage however, as the pellets are not soft and guinea pigs do not like to walk on them. Some small animals may also try to eat this bedding, as it looks similar to their food pellets. I was not impressed with these environmentally friendly beddings.
If there was some type of bedding that did not need to be thrown away, it could save pet owners even more money. This was the idea behind using fleece as bedding apparently. Fleece bedding is only sold ready for small animals by specialty stores (mostly online). I have never seen fleece bedding in a feed store or a pet store. You can also do your own fleece bedding by some variation of newspapers on the bottom lining the cage, a layer of towels, and a fleece blanket on top. Some people swear this is the greatest bedding choice ever. I was never more disappointed in a bedding option than when I tried fleece. The reason fleece is used on the top layer, is that urine will go right through. However, poop stays right on the top. This looks very lovely and presentable when you have guests over. Those who like fleece say you just need to vacuum it periodically and the fleece will look fine. I hate vacuuming, but I gave this one a wholehearted try and was vacuuming two to three times per day. In addition to always looking dirty, fleece has absolutely no odor control at all. So you’ve got stinky cages and pets walking around collecting poop on their feet. The real joy comes when it is time to clean the cage. You have to pick up the fleece and take it somewhere to shake off (or vacuum it clean). Then you have to pick up the urine soaked towels underneath. Take the newspaper and throw it away. If you go to the Laundromat to wash your fleece and towels, this bedding method will likely cost you more than kiln dried pine. If you don’t go to the Laundromat, you may clog your washing machine. The problem is, small animals such as guinea pigs eat a diet consisting mainly of hay, which sticks to fleece. Some people try to solve this problem by putting only a small amount of hay in a corner, but then the pets don’t get an adequate amount of hay. After trying this bedding method for about a week, I decided it was the worst small animal bedding idea I had ever tried.
Kiln dried pine tends to be the most economical choice. Aspen bedding can work well in many situations. CareFresh and Yesterday’s News probably aren’t going to be reasonable unless you only have one or two small pets. I would stay away from fleece no matter what, as to me it bordered on being a health hazard. Kiln dried pine, aspen, CareFresh, and Yesterday’s News can all be healthy bedding choices for small animal cages.