Written by Yvette Mackail
for ANRA's news from the Nest Vol.1.4
So many people use pine and/or cedar products for their pets. It's not surprising when some of the most commonly available, cost effective and easiest to obtain products are wood shavings. It's not unusual to see the captions like "the perfect bedding for all small animals" and terms such as this written on bags of pine shavings and on the packaging of other types of wood products. When in the place of these slogans, should be warning labels instead, telling us of the effects these aromatic, dusty products have on our small animal pets.
The 'fact' is - these products are not only not 'ideal' but they're very harmful. The dust factor of most shavings is enough of a worry, without the underlying chemical reasons.
Trees in the Pine and Cedar families, are soft woods, high in essential oils. These oils are what give the woods their characteristic scent. Most essential oils are irritant to us, if breathed in to excess. Rats and Mice are no different.
One of these groups of essential oils is in abundance in pine and cedar products, phenol. This highly irritant substance causes the 'lovely fresh scent' of pine & cedar products that many people find pleasant. Cedar wood is even made into 'natural moth balls' because of the strong scent is enough to deter insects.
What people need to remember is that when we smell these products we're only merely having a brief whiff, we don't then spend the next five days living on it, sleeping in it, eating some of it, peeing on it and the whole while breathing in the vapors. Our pets do.
Every creature has a particular health issue associated with their breed. From aquatic life, where it's usually fungal infections, right through to us humans, where it's the common cold. For rats and mice, it's respiratory tract infections.
Many populations of rats and mice have mycoplasma endemically through the lines. In fact if a test was done on the mucosa of most fancy pet mice and rats respiratory tracts, it would come up positive for mycoplasma pulmonis.
This condition in itself is not the real bother, it's the drop in performance of the animals immune system caused by this, that results in secondary infection that leads to the health complaints that we see in our pets. The most common being various types of pneumonia.
So the last thing you should want to do is bed your rats and mice on a substance that is going to irritate their weakest area.
Scientific research has shown that the aromatic oils found in red cedar can be the cause of serious health issues. The tests also showed that long term use of Pine and Spruce products can cause similar health complaints. For the sake of our pets, it's much safer just to avoid all these products altogether, opting for other, if not a little more expensive, bedding options.
BEDDING ALTERNATIVES to SHAVINGS
These vary depending on where you live in the world. Here in Australia our choice is rather limited compared to places in the US for example. Below I've listed some of the types we can find here.
Various types of shredded paper beddings - can be used, unbleached & unscented toilet papers & tissues as well as paper towel. Newspapers are not generally recommended as the inks used to print them are usually toxic and your pet will ingest these toxins as they chew the paper. But if you really want to use newspaper, then contact the press that printed the paper to find out if the ink is nontoxic or not. If it turns out that the ink is safe, then the main disadvantage is that it may stain the animals coats.
Some pet stores even sell bags of the shredded paper, they bag up themselves from packaging they get some of their own products in. This is usually fairly cheap and if it's shredded paper you want to use, then you can also be happy that you're helping the forests by recycling the paper even further.
If the ink is safe, the main disadvantage is that it may stain the rats' coats.
Breeders Choice litter is a pelletised bedding made from recycled newspaper. This is a fairly widely used product by both pet owners and pet stores alike. The issue has been raised of how safe these pellets are, should they be chewed, as it is made from newspapers, thus you'd expect it would contain printers ink. When we enquired with the makers of this product, they answered us by saying that the paper is washed/wetted, before it's pelletised and that the majority of ink and certainly any ink residue (that pesky problem with newspapers graying your hands) would be washed out.
Lite'N'Easy - sometimes called CareFresh so I'm told?- This is an irregular shaped light grey, light weight bedding,that offers good deodorising qualities for Rats and especially mice, who need it more. It is made from recycled yellow pages phone books. This product is not as readily available here in Brisbane areas as the other products, but if you scout around you can find it. It can also be ordered in bulk from interstate.
Max's pet litter is a biodegradable semi pelletised bedding made from corn husks. It offers some deodorising qualities, and the bonus that if your pet decides to eat any, then it is safe. While Max's used to be my personal choice, recently this pelletised bedding has proven to be quite dusty, so we've stopped using it until they improve it and get back to producing the high quality product we were used to a year or so ago.
NOTE:- There is another type of corn cob bedding that has been mentioned to me not too long ago. A larger pellet than the Max's, that is not dusty. It's apparently available interstate, the name escapes me right now though. But if anyone's interested I can find this out again.
Popcorn - We sometimes use popcorn as bedding for our guys in their travel cages. Though we've not tried it in their normal living areas, it may be one suggestion, you can't get much more natural than freshly popped corn and it's cheap to buy and to pop at home yourself.
They do eat a fair bit of it when you first put them in, so you need to put a generous layer down to ensure there is enough left to be used as bedding after they're done chowing down on it.
There are also the livestock type beddings, but some of these can pose a danger to rats and mice.
Lucerne pellets - These are one of the safest beddings to use, as they are completely edible. They offer moderate deodorising and good absorption.
Various Chaff's - namely Lucerne chaff, while it is a natural product & safe to eat, it's not very absorbent. Wheaten & Oaten chaff are not suitable bedding materials for rats & mice. They have many sharp bits (especially the oaten type) and rats have been observed to get very small, very sharp pieces lodged in the corners of eyes and under their skin causing abcesses.
Straw or hay - does even less to absorb liquid or eliminate odour, although some rats and humans like it. The majority of straws and hays, contain too many sharp ends that can scratch eyes and cause irritation when they become wedged in strange places, like armpits, scrotal folds and ears.
Sugar cane Mulch is a very cheap usually baled product. While it is natural, it's very unrefined and in many cases quite dirty. This product is not recommended.
In the US, so we hear, Aspen shavings are touted to be one of the best rodent beddings. We here in Australia can't get this type however. If you are still keen on using a type of shaving, then those from hardwood trees, especially oaks, contain minimal levels of oils and are much safer.
It is very rare that you will ever find 100% hardwood shavings already bagged up and for sale here in Australia. Even those that say hardwood, are usually only around 10%. Very few if any companies producing this type of product will give you a written guarantee that it is 100% hardwood. It's hard enough to get a verbal guarantee or even much verbal information from them. (Certainly none that I've encountered, including the no.1 shavings distributor in Brisbane ECW). So for this reason, unless you planed or chipped the wood yourself, and you know it is a hardwood variety, then you can never be sure.
When choosing a bedding for any small animal, you need to keep in mind that the majority of them just love chewing, especially rats and mice. So whatever you decide upon must be safe, as they will almost always end up ingesting at least a little bit of it. This goes the same for any toys, beds and food/water containers, they need to be made from safe materials, because they will get chewed.
IF YOU FIND ANY DIFFICULTY OBTAINING ANY OF THE BEDDINGS LISTED ABOVE, CONTACT EITHER MYSELF OR ANRA AND WE CAN POINT YOU IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.