What Guinea pig bedding options are available? Which is best? Read about the different kinds and the pros and cons of each.
Bedding is an important component of your guinea pig’s environment. He will sleep on it, burrow in it, and spend most of his time within inches of it. As a guinea pig owner, you want a bedding that is comfortable for your pet, not too expensive, easy to maintain, and hampers the build-up of ammonia odors from urine.
The Pros and Cons of Various Types of Bedding Materials
Wood-based beddings can come in the form of wood shavings, sawdust, or wood pellets. The important thing to know about wood is that cedar contains aromatic phenols that are believed to cause respiratory problems and liver damage in guinea pigs (Purdue University).
It also contains plicatic acid, which is also harmful to guinea pigs. Some guinea pigs are allergic to cedar and can develop severe skin rashes when they come into contact with it. So never use cedar shavings as your bedding of choice for guinea pigs.
Some people use pine shavings, but even though pine has less aromatic oils than cedar, a guinea pig’s sense of smell is very sensitive. What doesn’t smell to you can have quite an aroma to him. One study suggested that rabbits kept on pine bedding had elevated liver enzymes, so there is some doubt as to the safety of pine bedding for small animals.
Kiln-dried pine has less aromatic oils than regular pine, but it doesn’t not remove all the oils. There is a possibility that pine can irritate the upper respiratory system of some guinea pigs. If you can opt for something else, it’s probably best to do so.
- Aspen shavings or pellets
Aspen shavings are simply cuttings from aspen trees, and aspen is a non-aromatic hardwood. Aspen is safe for guinea pigs. However, it does not provide much odor control, so if you use it, you will need to clean the cage pretty frequently.
Cons: No odor control
Cost: around $8 for 2 cubic feet
- Cypress shavings or pellets
Cypress is a non-aromatic softwood that is safe for guinea pigs. It is fairly difficult to find, however, and is usually sold as mulch. Cypress is softer than aspen, and absorbs moisture more readily than aspen.
Cons: No odor control
Cost: around $8 for 2 cubic feet
Sawdust is not a good choice, no matter what kind of wood it comes from. It can get in the eyes, it can get inhaled or ingested, and it doesn’t have much absorbency. It has virtually no odor control. When wet, it can clump up and get stuck on your guinea pig’s hair and make a nasty mess. Plus, it tends to be difficult to maintain and clean up.
Hemp-based beddings are safe for guinea pigs. They are very absorbent, odorless, dust-free and soft. It is a fast-growing plant and, therefore, a sustainable resource. Two popular brands of hemp bedding are Aubiose and Hemcore.
Pros: Absorbent, odorless, soft, and dust-free. Lasts longer than wood shavings.
Cons: More expensive and harder to find than wood shavings
Cost: I saw it for sale in the UK but not the US, so I don’t know the price in the US or if it’s even available in the US. You can buy it on amazon.co.uk for 9.95 pounds for 0.25 kg.
I could put this in the wood category, but it’s different enough that I’ll give it its own category. Carefresh is a product that is made from wood pulp fibers that are too short to be made into paper. The fibers are processed into what looks like shredded egg cartons. It’s paper base inhibits ammonia formation so it’s very good for absorbency and odor control.
Cons: More expensive than wood shavings
Cost: You can buy a 4.5-lb bag for around $7 or $8.
- Some people use shredded newspaper as bedding, but it doesn’t absorb liquid or odors much at all. If you don’t clean the cage frequently, you could get quite a nasty mess.
- Compressed Paper-based Pellets
Two companies who make compressed paper-based pellets include Yesterday’s News and Crown Animal Bedding. They offer good absorbency and good odor control but they are more expensive than most of the other options.
Cons: Fairly expensive
Cost: You can buy a 15-lb bag for around $10-$11.
Corncob-based bedding is not very expensive, but it really shouldn’t be used as a guinea pig bedding. It is not very absorbant, doesn’t inhibit odors, and if your guinea pig eats it, it can cause intestinal problems. It is also prone to develop mold growth.
Straw is rather stiff, and guinea pig have punctured their eyes with the stalks of the straw when used as bedding. Therefore, it is not recommended. It doesn’t absorb liquids well and has no odor control. You should not use it.
Using hay for bedding is plausible and many people do so, but usually they add a more absorbent bedding underneath the hay. It has some absorbency ability, unlike straw, but not very much. It has no odor control, and it can grow moldy when it gets wet with water or urine.
If you get Timothy hay from a farm or feed store in a bale, it usually softer and more suitable as a bedding than the store-bought kind. The store-bought bags are usually dried to prevent molding which makes it harder and stiffer and less suitable as a bedding material.
Pros: Guinea Pigs love eating it, tunneling through it, and playing in it.
Cons: It’s not really absorbent and can mold when wet.
Cost: You can buy a small 24-ounce bag for around $6.
Fleece bedding is popular with some guinea pig owners. It cuts down on the cost of supplies, since you don’t need to keep buying shavings or pellets. Some people like the look of fleece in the cage, as it “decorates” the cage area. With fleece, however, you need to clean the cage daily, or maybe once every two days.
You should also put something absorbent underneath the fleece layer, even if it’s just a layer of towels. When you wash your fleece bedding, be sure not to use aromatic detergent since guinea pigs’ have an enhanced sense of smell.
Pros: Looks nice, reusable.
Cons: Requires frequent upkeep and maintenance. Also, fleece may be bad for the environment. An article by NPR indicates that every wash releases plastic microfibers into the environment, and it ends up in our food, our water, and inside animals and people.
Cost: You can make your own (free), or you can purchase it for anywhere from $6 – $40 or more, depending on the size and where you get it from.
Cat litter is not a good choice at all. First of all, many of the commercial cat litters have chemicals added to them to help with odor control. If your guinea pig eats that, he can get quite sick. Even if you buy plain old clay litter, he can still eat it and get sick.
Cat litter is hard and rocky, as well, so it doesn’t make a good bedding choice. Furthermore, many cat litters will clump when they get wet, and since guinea pigs’ bellies are right on the litter, the clumped, wet litter sticks to their hair and just makes a general mess.