Bedding

It may come as a surprise, but one of the most important aspects of keeping guinea pigs is carefully considering and choosing the right bedding. You need to think about allergies in both owner and guinea pig, if your cage or hutch is going to be inside or outside, monthly costs for bedding, availability in your area, and the health and fitness levels of your guinea pig (especially if your guinea pig is prone to fungal and/or dry skin problems, respiratory disease, or has arthritis, for example).

I have tried each of these beddings myself before reviewing them.

Natural By-Products

Woodshavings

The first thing to understand about woodshavings is they are a completely different product to sawdust. Sawdust is quite literally the dust produced during woodworking, while woodshavings are thin chips and curly shavings made from wood. Sawdust should never be used as bedding for guinea pigs under any circumstances because significant amounts of dust can and do cause respiratory difficulty and skin irritations.

As woodshavings are a by-product of woodworking industries, the general hard or soft feel of the shavings usually depends on what type of wood was used at the time. Therefore, you can't always guarantee that your bag or bale of woodshavings will be particularly soft. This type of bedding is not ideal for guinea pigs with bumble foot, urine scalded pads, arthritis, boars with a prolapsed penis, and especially guinea pigs recovering post surgery, most notably recently neutered boars. For this reason, woodshavings aren't what I would refer to as a "general purpose" bedding.

If you're looking for value for money however, compressed bales of woodshavings from pet shops and garden centres are usually good value for keepers of a small number of guinea pigs. For bigger numbers, large compressed horse-sized bales of woodshavings work out cheaper than buying several small or medium sized bales. Woodshavings are, by far, the easiest bedding to get hold of and are available in a decent selection of sizes.

I would personally never bed a long haired guinea pig on woodshavings because they tend to pick things up in their fur, leading to problems with matting and making it much harder to groom them.

On a more serious note, guinea pigs as a species have a relationship with respiratory disease, such as pneumonia and upper and lower respiratory infections, and dusty bedding is a well known contributor to such problems. Equally, dusty bedding provides a wonderful basis for dry skin and fungal skin infections. Woodshavings are an infamous culprit and although many owners use woodshavings as a cheap and easily obtainable bedding choice, this is still a very dusty bedding and one that isn't widely recommended especially with so many other preferable bedding choices available.


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Wood pulp

Wood pulp is dust extracted and has been produced at a high temperature to remove mould, bacteria and moisture. Through experimenting with various bedding types I've found that wood pulp is far less dusty than woodshavings (dust extracted and non dust extracted types), but not quite as dust free as hemp bedding (with the exception of Carefresh wood pulp bedding which appears to be very low in dust levels). However I did find that wood pulp is more absorbent than both hemp and woodshavings by a long way.

Most equine supplies wholesalers should sell bags of Megazorb, and an 85 litre (20kg) bag of Megazorb goes a long way, especially for people with a small to moderate number of guinea pigs. Although not a commonly obtainable bedding, it can prove to be very good value for money. Carefresh is more expensive but easier to obtain in small compacted bags, making it ideal for people with a pair or small group of guinea pigs.

One major annoyance with Megazorb is that it sticks to vegetables due to the pulp being in very tiny pieces. This problem doesn't seem to be quite as evident in Carefresh as the pulp is clumpy and more fibrous. Although guinea pigs can consume untreated wood pulp bedding with few to no ill effects, it's preferable not to help them consume any more than they need to. I therefore recommend placing their vegetables on a towel or in a feed bowl and not directly onto the wood pulp bedding itself, but this isn't foolproof because guinea pigs do pick up their vegetables and move them around.

As with woodshavings, I would personally never bed a long haired guinea pig on Megazorb because they tend to pick things up in their fur, leading to problems with matting and making it much harder to groom them. Carefresh on the other hand doesn't appear to collect in the fur with the same enthusiasm, again probably because the pulp is clumpy and fibrous and not in tiny pieces.

You can also bed Skinny Pigs on Carefresh, something I discovered upon testing this particular bedding with my own Skinny Pig at home, as the level of dust is secondary only to fleece, towels and Vetbed. Megazorb however, is comparatively more dusty and I wouldn't recommend using it with Skinny Pigs because even moderate levels of dust can contribute to fungal, dry and bacterial skin problems in this particular breed.

Other keepers I know have complained of the wood pulp smell. I personally have never identified this odour myself and I have always thought wood pulp to smell rather bland, however many people do find it to be rather unpleasant. If I were to be very analytical about it I would suggest that Megazorb has a more noticable smell to it than Carefresh, but this difference is very small to my own personal sense of smell.

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Hemp

Hemp bedding is a natural product made from the core of hemp plants and is sold as bags and bales of thin hard flakes. Many people use it to bed horses on as hemp bedding is easy to buy in bulk quantities, absorbs urine and water, and reduces odours.

However, when using a hemp product for guinea pigs you must be aware that some brands are treated with essential oils such as citronella (for a fresh smell) and eucalyptus (a decongestant). Guinea pigs do enjoy chewing their bedding and as eucalyptus oil in particular is known to be poisonous to guinea pigs, any bedding containing this oil must never be used for bedding guinea pigs on. On the same note, it's not preferable to use bedding treated with citronella oil as this may cause harm to your pets if consumed (something I have no actual proof of but I'm applying common sense to it). The best (and only) hemp bedding to use is one that is completely untreated. There are two hemp products that are safe to use, and they are Aubiose and Bliss Basic, which have not been treated with essential oils, while products such as Hemcore, Bliss Citronella and Bliss Eucalyptus are treated with essential oils and therefore not suitable.

As with woodshavings, hemp based beddings tend to be quite hard with sharp ends, making them unsuitable for post surgery guinea pigs, boars with a prolapsed penis, guinea pigs with arthritis, and guinea pigs suffering with bumble foot or urine scalded pads. Hemp is by far the worst bedding choice for post surgery guinea pigs, especially recently neutered boars, due to the sharp nature of the flakes, as poking the wound with them can cause inflammation, discomfort and even infection.

I would also never bed a long haired guinea pig on hemp because they tend to pick things up in their fur, leading to problems with matting and making it much harder to groom them.

Hemp is not quite as dusty as wood pulp and woodshavings, however you should be aware that the dust content is still a risk to the respiratory health of your guinea pig, especially if they already suffer with respiratory disease.

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Cardboard

Cardboard bedding is made from chopped up or shredded cardboard that has been dust extracted before packaging. Bedxcel, Finacard, and Ecobed (the latter being made from recycled cardboard) beddings are primarily used for bedding horses on and are cheap to buy in bulk quantities, although these aren't the easiest beddings to find.

Cardboard bedding is soft for guinea pigs to walk and sleep on, and is also suitable to bed recently neutered boars on. My personal preference is not to use chopped cardboard for guinea pigs suffering with arthritis due to the uneven surface it creates, but finely shredded cardboard is a more appropriate option.

They can eat the cardboard as extra roughage, although some owners cast doubt over the long term health effects of eating it due to the toxicity of the coloured ink used on the cardboard - the same doubt can be cast over some heavily printed newspapers. My personal experience is that I've seen no ill effects from my guinea pigs chewing and eating cardboard breakfast cereal boxes, both black and white and colour printed newspapers, and also the boxes from multi-pack cans of fizzy drinks.

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Alternative Beddings

Fleece

Fleece is known for being very soft and kind on paws. You can buy cheap 100% polyester fleece from mother and baby stores, fabric shops, markets and eBay, and it comes in a variety of patterns and colours. In the same way as towels and Vetbed, fleece is ideal for use with recently neutered boars and other guinea pigs who are post surgery because it's non-allergenic and has no flakes to poke into the wounds.

You may need to wash your new fleece two or three times before use to encourage it to wick properly, as urine and water tend to sit on the top of brand new unwashed fleece. Some keepers recommend that you avoid using fabric softener on fleece because it also inhibits the ability to soak up liquids, although I've never noticed this problem, and I recommend using a non-biological liquid on a 40 degree wash cycle.

Fleece used as bedding is very quick to change when cleaning out, simply by swapping the soiled fleece for fresh fleece. You can then roll the soiled fleece up and shake it out in the garden before putting it through the washing machine. Debris should be removed before putting the fleece through the washer or you may clog up the machine. Alternatively, you can buy special wash bags to put your fleece in to prevent debris from going into the drum. After washing animal bedding, I always put my washing machine through an empty 90 degree cycle before washing my clothes, and I also clean under the rubber ring just inside the door to remove debris. If you have young children I would use caution when using the same washing machine for animal bedding and children's toys and clothing. However, I know some owners with young families who use the same machine for both animal bedding and children's items, running an empty 90 degree wash cycle between the two, with no ill effects on the children.

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Towels

You can buy cheap towels and towel bales from department stores and supermarkets and they come in a huge variety of colours.

Towels are nice and soft under paws. Freshly neutered boars must be bedded on something soft to protect the wound and prevent discomfort from scratchy bedding, making towels an excellent choice.

Towels used as bedding are very quick to change when cleaning out simply by swapping the soiled towels for fresh ones. You can then roll the soiled towel up and shake it out in the garden before putting it through the washing machine. Bits of hay and poo should be removed before putting the towels through the washer, or you may eventually clog up your washer and need to call the plumber. After washing animal bedding, always put your washing machine through an empty 90 degree cycle before washing your clothes, and clean under the rubber ring just inside the door. Please take note of the caution applied to fleece (above) when using the same washer for both guinea pig bedding and children's toys and clothing.

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Vetbed

Vetbed is a fleece-type bedding manufactured originally as a dog bedding and for veterinary use. There are many similar products on the market, but the original Vetbed has a distinctive green backing.

Although Vetbed is quite expensive to buy, if cared for well and washed frequently it can last for several years. You can buy Vetbed online or off the roll at some pet shops, garden centres or supplies wholesalers.

Vetbed is best used as a winter bedding for guinea pigs as it retains heat and provides a soft bedding for snuggling into. It's also suitable to bed sick or convalescing guinea pigs on, ideal for boars who have just been neutered, and a good alternative for guinea pigs (and owners) with respiratory problems or allergies.

You can remove debris by hanging your Vetbed from the washing line and beating it with a panel or large brush, or you can use a dog Slicka comb to gently remove debris without ripping out the pile. I wash my Vetbed on a 40 degree cycle. After washing animal bedding, always put your washing machine through an empty 90 degree cycle before washing your clothes, and clean under the rubber ring just inside the door. Again, please take note of the caution applied to fleece (above) when using the same washer for both guinea pig bedding and children's toys and clothing.

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Half-Measure Beddings

Newspaper

Newspaper is the staple under layer for most other beddings, especially those that are loose such as hemp, woodshavings, and wood pulp. Used alone newspaper is a very sparse and unfriendly bedding choice, with nothing for warmth and little capability for absorbing moisture as it becomes damp and falls apart.

Guinea pigs enjoy shredding and eating newspaper for amusement and for extra roughage in their diet. Some people recommend against using heavily printed newspaper where the ink rubs off as there is speculation that the ink may be toxic and of harm when ingested, whereas others, myself included, use heavily printed newspaper without any problems. However, newspaper with printed ink that does not rub off is the popular choice, but this could also easily be down to the personal preference for not having the ink rub off on your fingers. I personally haven't seen any ill effects from my guinea pigs chewing and eating their newspaper.

Shredded newspaper can create a fun place to tunnel and play and can be used in addition to other bedding options, such as a generous pile of hay, for extra warmth.

Newspapers are cheap from corner shops, newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations so can be used generously underneath another type of bedding. Perhaps a very good aspect to using newspaper as part of your routine is that you can read it and then recycle it by using it as bedding, thus getting an extra use out of your morning read. And of course, remember to remove all of the staples!

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Hay

Hay is a staple part of the daily diet as guinea pigs do not produce their own Vitamin C. If you decide to use it as bedding you will need to buy a lot of hay to make sure you have enough to feed your guinea pigs and bed your hutch with.

Bags of hay are easy to find in pet shops and garden centres, while larger bales of hay can be found at wholesalers and equine suppliers. You'll need somewhere dry to store your hay if you're buying bales otherwise it'll go musty and mouldy quickly and you can end up wasting large quantities of it.

Your hay should be sweet smelling, not overly dusty and either green or yellow in colour. Hay bales in particular can become mouldy very quickly if the hay has not been allowed to dry properly before baling. To check the quality of your hay, first smell the bale to ensure it smells sweet - if it smells musty then further investigation is needed by opening the bale in the middle. If a lot of dust is thrown into the air when the bale is opened then it's harbouring fungal spores and not suitable for guinea pigs to consume. It will be accompanied by a foul mouldy smell and the hay will be damp and brown. If the bale is stored in the same building as the guinea pigs, remove it at once and open a door to allow fresh air in. With the door open, use a broom and dustpan and brush to remove all traces of the bad hay and dispose of it.

In my experience wholesalers and pet shops will issue a refund or replace the hay bag or bale upon producing the bad product. Delivery should be arranged when returning a bale of hay and never allow them to give you a partial refund because the bale has been opened. Ensure that the bale is an intact as possible however, and try to keep all flakes together. Store the bale inside or in a sheltered environment so you cannot be accused of improper storage and insist on immediate or quick pickup.

Hay is best used over a layer of newspaper and with another type of bedding, such as wood pulp, woodshavings or hemp to soak up moisture and provide a soft layer. You will need to change loose hay every day as it becomes soiled very quickly when they play and sleep in it.

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Straw

Straw is easy to find in bags and bales, is relatively cheap to buy and is bio-degradable so can be safely disposed of with the household rubbish.

When using straw as a bedding you will need to replace this once a day or once every two days as it will become quickly soiled. Straw is also not the warmest bedding option when used with newspaper as there is no layer of bedding to keep warmth in from underneath. Straw doesn't retain moisture so all water and urine will go straight through to the newspaper underneath, however when used in conjunction with a bedding such as hemp or Megazorb, moisture absorption is not an issue.

Guinea pigs are very low to the ground so they risk having their eyes poked by straw and causing themselves an injury - many keepers have never experienced this problem, however as there are some who have, it's worth mentioning for future reference. Some people believe a bedding of straw allows for better under-belly air circulation, and therefore a healthier coat on the belly.

Straw should never be used as a substitute for hay. Guinea pigs require hay in their diet and using straw as bedding does not mean you can do away with your hay supply.

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