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Selecting The Proper Pet Bedding

Updated on October 22, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

Bob has been in the pet supply business and writing about pets, livestock and wildlife in a career that spans three decades.

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Advantages/Disadvantage of Various Materials

Whether it’s your local pet shop or a big box chain store, you can count on them to have a large and varied array of pet bedding materials.

In selecting bedding the first rule should be: just because your pet’s species is pictured on the packaging doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK to use.

The bedding material that potentially can cause some health issues is soft wood, primarily cedar and pine.

Cedar is popular because its aromatic qualities help cover odors in a pet's environment, it has some insect repellent qualities, and can even kill certain moths, but it also can cause your pet to develop respiratory, liver or skin problems, or all three.

The culprit in cedar is a hydrocarbon called plicatic acid that can irritate the skin and the membranes of the eyes, nose and respiratory tract.

Also, cedar has been linked to liver problems, as studies of lab animals have shown that the plicatic acid increases liver enzyme activity.

Some believe that pine shavings aren’t all that innocent, either. A hydrocarbon called abietic acid is said to cause problems similar to those caused by the plicatic acid, but the difference is that pine shavings are kiln dried which alters the effects of the abietic acid.

Certainly the anecdotal data are largely supportive of pine shavings as animal bedding.

I spent two decades working at and owning feed and grain stores and, hands down, pine is the number one selling bedding for pets and livestock.

I live within an hour of 4 AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited zoos that come under USDA scrutiny as well, and they use pine shavings.

All facilities that house animals are inspected by the government and the requirements are head shaking.

For example, if you and I have some blemished produce, we cut the blemishes out and eat it. Zoos aren’t allowed to serve blemished produce to their animals.

Most everybody, pet owners and pet professionals alike, agree that aspen pine, a hardwood, is safer to use because it doesn’t contain some of the naturally occurring aromatic oils that soft woods do.

You'll find that aspen pine shavings are more expensive than cedar and and conventional pine shavings, and you'll find them wherever you get pet supplies.

Stores that don't specialize in pet products but have pet sections, such as grocery stores, will also usually carry aspen pine bedding.

Small animals usually do well in bedding made from recycled newspaper, which, by the way, is often recommended by veterinarians for newly declawed cats. It is highly absorbent and non-toxic.

Should the pet ingest some, it will likely pass through the digestive tract as added fiber; sort of like the powdered cellulose used in some dog and cat foods. The recycled newspaper bedding comes in various forms, such as pelleted or shredded.

Corn cob, another non-toxic bedding, enjoys some popularity with caged bird owners.

The problem with corn cob is that you have to maintain it regularly because when it gets wet, it can produce mold, which is a neurotoxin.

During the winter months the best bedding in a dog house is straw. Shavings, being absorbent, quickly turn into a frozen mattress because of moisture the dog brings in and because of moisture from his breath.

Hay, aside from being extremely dusty, is not as good an insulator as straw. Straw, being hollow (similar to a polar bear’s fur), is an excellent insulator, and not nearly as dusty as hay. The polar bear's hollow fur provides insulation (and buoyancy).

So, the bottom line is, it's pretty much a craps shoot. Veterinarians will probably tell you that, yes, there have been health problems believed to be caused by wood shavings, but they’ll also probably admit that most of their clients use wood shavings without problems.

If your pets are in wood shavings, watch for indigestion, loss of appetite and diarrhea (which can be symptoms of liver problems), runny eyes and noses, skin lesions and coughing.

If those symptoms appear, you should change the bedding type and make an appointment with your vet.

What About The Dog House

Dog owners who live in a region where the winters are cold want to be sure their dog is comfortable during the time it spends in its outdoor dog house.

Keep in mind that most dogs other than short haired breeds are naturally adapted to tolerate winter's cold temperatures a lot better than we mere humans are.

In the fall, just as most wild animals do, dogs will grow a thicker winter coat, and will shed it in spring.

But if they're lying on the floor of the dog house, they need a substrate that will provide comfort and insulation from the cold. The first things most people think of are blankets, pillows, or towels.

The problem with those choices is that moisture the dog brings in from the outside will be absorbed, resulting in the dog lying on a frozen mattress. Even his breath condensing on the surface creates that situation.

For my money, the best substrate is straw. Being hollow, it works on the same principle as a polar bear's fur, trapping air and creating an insulating layer between the cold, damp floor and the dog. It also provides a measure of comfort.

I wouldn't use hay. It doesn't have the insulating power that straw does, and it can be dusty. The seed heads in certain varieties of hay create debris that can cause respiratory issues for the dog.

Which type of small animal (hamster, gerbil, guinea pig, etc.) bedding do you prefer?

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    • Bob Bamberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Bob Bamberg 

      6 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for stopping by, Mellonyy, glad you found the hub useful.

    • Mellonyy profile image

      Mellonyy 

      6 years ago

      Great Hub! Thanks for the useful information provided!

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