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Safe Bedding Choices: Aspen Shavings and Shredded Paper

One of the most important aspects of caring for small pets is making sure that they have clean, dry bedding.  Because your small pet will be going to the bathroom in the bedding, it is important to replace the bedding material regularly to avoid unpleasant odors and unhealthy conditions for both the pet and anyone who will be handling it.

There are a lot of choices on the market for small animal bedding materials, but two of the most commonly used products (cedar and pine bedding) may cause serious health problems for small animals.

What’s Wrong with Pine and Cedar Bedding?

When you think of cedar shavings, what comes to mind?  And how about when you think about pine shavings?  If you’re like most people, you probably answered both of those questions with the same answer–the distinctive smell that each of the woods have.

Those strong smells are produced by naturally-occurring aromatic compounds in the wood called phenols.  In small doses, the compounds are safe, and even pleasant to smell.  For a small animal that actually lives in an enclosure lined with fresh pine or cedar shavings, though, long-term exposure to such aromatic compounds has been linked to severe respiratory problems, allergic reactions, and disruption of normal liver function.  Cedar chips contain high phenol levels, making them a very poor choice for small pet bedding.

Pine shavings naturally contain much lower phenol levels than cedar, and correlation between the use of pine bedding and phenol-related health problems in small animals is much lower than with cedar.  Because pine shavings are often the cheapest and most common bedding material available (especially in bulk), you may still choose to use them for your pets.  If you do, it is best to purchase kiln-dried shavings, which have been heated to drive off moisture. This process also drives off much of the aromatic compounds, reducing the potential for exposing your pets to irritants.

Aspen Bedding

Aspen wood shavings are an excellent option for those who want to avoid phenol-containing bedding materials.  Aspen is a hardwood, so it doesn’t contain the aromatic compounds found in softwoods like pine and cedar, yet it is similar to pine shavings in terms of texture.  The high carbon content of aspen bedding, like other wood bedding materials, helps to keep pet urine from forming ammonia odors as long as it is doesn’t get too damp.

Aspen shavings are appropriate for most small animals, such as hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits.  Shredded aspen bedding is also a popular choice for owners of snakes and other reptiles.

Aspen pet bedding is similar in price or slightly more expensive than pine shavings.  Because the cost of a large bag of shavings is spread out over time, any difference in cost should be negligible, so there is little reason not to go for aspen bedding if you want wood shavings for your pet.

Buy Aspen Bedding from Petco.com

Shredded Paper Bedding

Another option for small pets is bedding made of shredded paper, or from wood pulp left over from the paper manufacturing process.  Just like aspen shavings, shredded paper’s high carbon content helps to prevent ammonia odors from forming, as long as it doesn’t get too saturated.  Even better, shredded paper animal bedding can absorb up to three times its weight in liquid, meaning that it does not saturate as quickly as wood shavings do.

Because the paper and wood pulp used to manufacture shredded paper bedding is recycled, paper bedding products reduce the consumption of trees for virgin materials.  Carefresh®, the most popular shredded paper bedding product on the US market, is also manufactured with non-toxic inks (or no inks at all), and is tested to ensure that toxic .  It is also heat treated to ensure that any aromatic oils in the wood pulp are completely driven off, and to sterilize the product to ensure it doesn’t introduce harmful bacteria or mold into your pet’s enclosure.

Purina also makes a paper-based litter, called Yesterday’s News. It comes as either pellets or “crumbles,” and is marketed primarily as a cat litter. Yesterday’s News generally gets a lot more mixed reviews from users than Carefresh® does.  The harder, more granular texture of the product also seems to be less appealing to some small animals.

While paper bedding products are a bit more expensive than pine or aspen shavings, many small pet owners opt to pay the small difference in price for the improved absorption and odor control that paper products provide.

Buy Carefresh Natural Bedding from Petco.com

Save Money by Buying Small Animal Bedding in Bulk

Just as with many other products, buying small animal bedding in bulk is a lot cheaper than buying it in small quantities.  While you probably won’t get any kind of deal when buying multiple bags of bedding in a retail pet store, you can often find bulk discounts online.  At the time of this writing, I know that Petco.com is offering 180 liters (Three 60-liter bags) of Carefresh Natural Pet Bedding for $44.91, which is about 45% cheaper than buying the smaller 14-liter bags.  That may seem like a tremendous amount of bedding, but it stays good indefinitely if stored in a dry place.