Hey, humans. When it’s time for you to (ahem) go, I'd bet you prefer it to be in a place that is comfortable, clean, and not very smelly. It’s the same for small animals. You want the pets you live with to be healthy and safe, so think carefully about what you are putting into the litter box before they put their stuff into the litter box. Choosing the right litter for small animals is super important.
Not all litters are the same!
Some are more absorbent and some reduce odors better than others. Unfortunately, too, some pose health risks to small animals, so we absolutely wanna stay away from those.
Rabbit rescue groups and rabbit care experts agree that the best litters are those that:
1. Do not make much dust (Because who wants to get that up their noses, into their lungs, and open the door to infection?!)
2. Do not clump (Clay-based cat litters could cause a nasty blockage if your bun ingested the material.)
3. Are absorbent (Rabbits can develop urine scald from sitting in wet litterboxes. Imagine diaper rash… but through fur! No, thanks.)
4. Are free of scents, powders, and other ‘special’ ingredients (Pooping and peeing are natural activities, so why not keep it simple?)
Companies that sell litter for small animals sometimes add artificial scents and colors to products so that humans find them more pleasant or think they are “better” somehow. Small animals don’t want that stuff. It's icky. And dangerous.
Rabbits and other small animals also don’t want the ‘natural’ stuff of pine chips and cedar shavings. While those may smell lovely to you, they're also dangerous. Softwood gives off phenols. Phenols are organic compounds. Without going too deeply into the chemistry, you should know most simply that phenols vaporize into the air and they are toxic. When phenols have entered the body, the liver tries to get them out. The rabbit’s liver makes more and more enzymes as the exposure to phenols continues. Now, suppose your small animal needs medication for some unrelated issue. The liver is not on the top of its game, so the medication will not be processed as it normally would. It won’t be as effective. Plus, the phenol exposure might put your small animal at risk for liver disease or cancer. Fortunately, since so many alternatives to softwood shavings exist, it is easy to avoid them.
As I like to say, when you provide a good litter, your pets will be relieved! (We do love a pun.)