This article is from the Fall 2001 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Nichole Royer
|Whether you use
pelleted beddings, or
a combination, the
important thing is the
health of your pet.
Cedar and pine. For many years these were the choice beddings to use for small animals. They were inexpensive, readily available, attractive, absorbent, soft, and covered up odors with a pleasant scent. Though cedar was often referred to as being “too strong” for small animals, pine was the #1 choice among rat, mouse, hamster, rabbit, and cavy owners. In fact, those two bedding options were essentially the only ones available. Everyone used them.
In 1993, that all changed. In the July–October issue of AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales an article written by Elizabeth R. TeSelle was published. This article, titled “The Problem With Pine: A discussion of Softwood Beddings,” was responsible for a total and complete turn-around in the husbandry practices of a great many rat and mouse owners.
Prior to this article, people had noticed that rats and mice kept on cedar tended to develop respiratory problems a little quicker than those kept on pine. Since the animals kept on pine also eventually developed respiratory problems, this was not particularly noteworthy. In 1992–1993 the rumor began circulating that possibly neither cedar nor pine bedding was a good choice. Most people dismissed this, however, since their animals appeared healthy, and no one knew what was supposed to make cedar and pine so “bad.”
Elizabeth TeSelle’s article changed almost everyone’s view on those products. In it she discussed exactly what in cedar and pine was bad, why it was harmful, and cited a number of studies that highlighted the harmful effects of these products.
In her article she noted that the House Rabbit Society first became aware of the consequences of using pine in 1989 (Harriman 8–9). That year they had a rabbit die unexpectedly during a spay operation. They ran this rabbit’s blood work and discovered elevated liver enzymes. When other rabbits in their care were checked, they noted that all of those with access to pine had elevated enzymes. When these rabbits were switched to cat litter, their enzyme levels returned to normal.
Without going to the lengths of doing blood work, etc., liver disease is very hard to diagnose. In rats and mice we often see deaths occurring after the onset of “old age” symptoms. These include loss of appetite, lethargy, and “fading away.” All of these are also symptoms of liver disease, and, according to TeSelle, “many cases of rats and mice dying of ‘old age’ may in fact have been related to liver failure.”
The author also pointed out that laboratories have known since the ’60s that both cedar and pine shavings contain phenols (Vesell, Cunliffe-Beamer). “Phenols are caustic, poisonous, acidic compounds present in softwood.” These compounds cause irritation to the lungs (making it easy for bacteria to enter), as well as causing damage to the liver and kidneys.
The author goes into further detail (I highly recommend reading her original article) and needless to say, all of this caused great concern to those of us who were using these products. Were we essentially killing our animals? All the evidence said yes, and this prompted many of us to go searching for new products. It caused quite a bedding dilemma.
In the beginning, the search was almost futile. The only alternate products out there were those made for birds and reptiles, none of which were entirely satisfactory. Eventually we discovered that laboratory supply companies carried products which were used by laboratories for their rats and mice. These products were wonderful, but only readily available to those of us lucky to live near a distributor.
Over time, word got out. We made it a point to tell everyone we met at displays and shows about cedar and pine. People started asking their pet shops for alternatives, and slowly companies discovered that there was a market for these products.
We can now report (quite happily) that there are an almost bewildering variety of options available, and there are new products coming on the market every year. The alternatives are many and varied, and now readily available.
While softwood shavings contain phenols, hardwood shavings do not. This makes them an excellent choice for small animal beddings.
This is the product most commonly used by fanciers. It comes in large bales and consists of very small “chips” 1/16″ square. It is soft, absorbent, and at $12 for 2.34 cubic feet, it is one of the most economical beddings. It does have its disadvantages, the biggest one being that it is a laboratory bedding and is not regularly available through the pet industry. Sani-Chips® are also very messy; being fine chips they tend to get scattered all over and are easily tracked. They also are very sterile looking, and they are not fluffy. Many people use Sani-Chips® as a base, and add a small amount of another (more expensive) bedding to add texture and “fluff.”
Sani-Chips® are manufactured by PJ Murphy Forest Products Corp., P.O. Box 300, Montville, NJ 07045, 1-800-631-1936, (973) 316-0800, Fax: (973) 316-9455, e-mail: email@example.com, https://pjmurphy.net/services/animal-bedding/
Shredded aspen is another popular bedding choice. Unlike shavings, this product is finely shredded wood (long fine strips). It is one product which has become very accessible, and relatively inexpensive. It can be found at both Petco and Walmart, as well as many other pet shops, and can be purchased in bulk through some feed stores. It is light and fluffy, so mice and hamsters enjoy using it for nesting. It does have the drawback that it is not very absorbent, so many people combine it with another bedding (usually Sani-Chips®). It also tends to be rather dusty.
One company that has shredded aspen in large bales is Harlan Teklad, P.O. Box 44220, Madison, WI 53744, 1-800-4-TEKLAD (483-5523), (608) 277-2070, Fax: (608) 277-2066, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, (company bought out by Envigo 2015, see web site for company details) 7093 Teklad Shredded Aspen Bedding.
This product is just starting to make an appearance in the commercial pet industry (Petco/PetsMart), though some fanciers have been able to obtain it through laboratory suppliers for some time. This product is the only one that closely resembles pine shavings (minus the smell and phenols, of course). Like pine, it is attractive, soft, and reasonably absorbent. In the past, it has been fairly expensive; however, with its appearance in the commercial market, the price should be reasonable.
The manufacturer we buy our large bales of aspen shavings from is Northeastern Products Corp., P.O. Box 98, 115 Sweet Road, Warrensburg, NY 12885, 1-800-873-8233, (518) 623-3161, Fax: (518) 623-3803, www.nep-co.com or https://labbedding.com/laboratory-grade-aspen-and-shredded-aspen-shavings/. They also make other forms of hardwood beddings in chips, shredded, and pellets as well as corn cob bedding.
This product is similar to Sani-Chips® in shape and size, just more red in color. It is made from maple, beech, birch, or poplar woods, individually or mixed, and comes in a regular or coarse texture. It didn’t seem to work as well as Sani-Chips® and left a red residue in the cage when it came time to clean. Like the other hardwood beddings, it doesn’t absorb very well and needs a pelleted bedding such as Gentle Touch™/Aspen Supreme™ underneath to absorb the moisture and odor.