What's the deal with substrates(Bedding)?
Bedding is an very important topic for small pet owners, due to our animals literally living in it. Everyone has a preference when it come to which is best and highly favored. We would like to talk about the different types and their pros and cons and what we use here at the rescue today. It can also be a bit overwhelming deciding which to use with so many choices out there. This isn't going to be going into brands but type of substrate. Hopefully we can help you make informed decisions with your rodents. Now lets talk about substrates shall we.
Pine, Ceder and/or sawdust wood shavings- Now we believe this shouldn't be used in anyway with small animals. These products are dusty and they cause problems with your rodents respiratory systems which can lead to death. They need to stop selling this for small animals. Some people say it's ok if its kiln-dried but I have no experience with it. So kiln-dried pine may be fine. Now we are not alone in saying stay away from these products.
Aspen shavings- Now these hard wood shavings are low dust and don't mess with their little systems. They're also very absorbent and don't cost a lot for the volume you get. One of the cheapest beddings and does well with odor control. Can easily be found at pet stores and online. Being a hard wood aspen isn't very soft and kind of ruff. This one of the substrates we use here at the rescue.
Hemp Bedding- Is very absorbent and do help with odor control. But this one comes with a higher price tag and we've only been able to find it online. Another draw back is due to it drying so well it can cause Ringtail(Tail Necrosis) in young rodents. Not one we highly recommend but a case can be made for it.
Paper Bedding- Probably one of the most used substrates out there. Other then wood shavings of course. Paper bedding comes in many different styles. The different styles are made from recycled paper pulp, shredded tissue, shredded paper and/or newspaper and shredded cardboard. Some styles are better then others at both absorbance and odor control. Prices also very buy volume and color. You can also DIY paper bedding to bring the cost down. Wouldn't recommend just straight newspapers or shredded paper as bedding cause they have no odor control and then your rodents stuck breathing in ammonia and that's not only bad for them but also gross. Other styles of paper bedding do better at trapping ammonia and they're also soft for your rodent to burrow in. Like wood shavings can be easily found. We use two kinds of paper bedding here. Three if you count yesterday's news as a paper bedding and not paper litter. There is a wood shavings with paper bedding combo available but they use softwood so please avoid this product.
Fleece- Now this one can be a real hot button issue for some. Some love it and others feels it terrible. Fleece is not the best at odor control or absorption and must be changed frequently. Also you have to sew something else to it like U-Haul liners for absorption. Which makes it an expensive opinion especially if you have chewers. Honestly it seems Guinea Pigs are the only rodent that does well with it. People use it in rat cages to make it look cute and nice. And that's for the human not the rodents. Plus the rats will just destroy everything within minutes. We should do what's best for them and try and replicate their natural environment. Rats like to dig and forage around. Fleece doesn't really allow for this so they will tend to tear it up. Not all but most do. You can put a dig box but they will still rip it up for nesting. Allowing them to display natural behavior is what's best for them. So we don't recommend fleece for anything other than Guinea Pigs. And even then should be changed every other day. Fleece is expensive, bad at odor control and absorption and just not a great substrate.
Cat litter- This one also comes in different styles but are all to dusty and not safe to use. Also please avoid clay litters. Now there is one style and brand that is safe for your small animal, Yesterdays News by Purina. These are paper pellets and don't have baking soda in them. Baking soda isn't good for them cause again dust. The store brands tend to use it in there paper pellet litter. Yesterdays News is very absorbant and is amazing at odor control but is expencive if used as the only bedding. We don't recommend it as the only substrate used due to they can't make tunnels in it. We use it in substrates to help with odor control and we do use it as litter for our rats that our litter trained.
Hay- This alone isn't a good substrate. It can be costly and very dusty. Remember dust is bad for their little lungs. Most rodents will end up eating small amounts of bedding and some rodents can't digest certain types of hay like alfalfa. Now small amounts of orchard or meadow type hays mixed in help hold tunnels for burrowing animals. Plus they can digest those types if eaten. Hay isn't good alone but mixed in with another type is awesome for your digging rodents. Now this isn't common for people to use but we have seen it happen from time to time.
Corn Cob- Now this one is technically a litter but is different enough to get it's own section. As its name suggests it's made from dried and and large ground corn cobs. It's the best at odor control and absorption. And is very low dust. So much so it's the only substrate used in labs that have rodents. They actually legally have to use it cause its humane. Its more expensive then wood and paper bedding. It's not in every pet store but is easily accessible online. But most major pet stores should have it. It's not the softest but it will keep the ammonia away better then the rest. But it offers no enrichment for them, meaning they can't burrow and trust they love to burrow. You'd need to mix it with paper or aspen bedding for tunnel making. But by doing that it offers the same amount of odor control as yesterday's news litter.
Scented bedding- Please never ever use this type of bedding. Rodents have little delicate respiratory systems and this just causes havoc on it. Worse then pine or cedar hands down. Many people have lost pets with this product. Another product that shouldn't exist. If the sent is that bad to you please try different bedding type or use an air purifier.
Bio-Active- This one is awesome cause once set up you don't actually have to clean it out. The substrate that is, you still have to pull out and clean the cage accessories. But the substrate will actually clean its self. That because it will have it's own cleaning crew. The cleaning crew are a couple of different types of bugs that will deal with pop and any mold. They are spring tails, isopods and meal worms. Now the larger bugs will need to be replaced due to the rodent digging and eating them up. There is an upfront cost but maintenance is cheap and easy after that. Plus it encourages natural behaviors which is always awesome. There are more pros than cons with this bedding option. But do your own research cause it might not be right for your type of rodent. Would totally recommend for large deep rat cages. This ones not for everyone or rodent.
Now we'd like to let you know what we use here at the rescue. We use a few different types of substrate here. We like to mix different types for maximum odor control depending on the rodent type. We use a mix of paper bedding(recycled paper pulp), aspen and a little bit of orchard hay for female mice. Odor control is awesome and the hay helps support their little tunnels. Male mice get Aspen, paper bedding(recycled paper pulp), yesterday's news and hay. Rats we use Aspen and yesterday's news litter mix. We also put cardboard boxes in the cage for then to tear apart and make their nests. Our little hamster friends get paper bedding(clean&cozy), Aspen and orchard hay. We also use sand not dust for hamster baths. Dust is to fine of a powder and can harm your hamsters respiratory system. We like a mix of different types of substrates. We think that multiple textures also add a bit of enrichment and helps with odor control. Please also avoid substrates with baking soda cause that too is a irritant for their lungs. Now you don't have to mix beddings, it's just what we like to do here.
We've now talked about each type and their pros and cons and what we do here at the rescue. Please also do some more research on your own to make a well informed decision. Don't be afraid to experiment with the safe substrates to find out what works for you and your pet. Thank you for taking time to read this.