The Dangers of Cedar Bedding for Guinea Pigs
When it comes to bedding for guinea pigs, most of us have two things in mind. 1) What’s healthiest and 2) What’s best at controlling odor. With so many options on the market, it’s hard to know what’s safe. Cedar bedding is one of the most common mistakes new piggie parents make. You’re friendly neighborhood guinea pig writer right here made the same faux pas a good 25 years ago. After all, it’s readily available, wallet-friendly, and smells like your grandma’s cozy linens from the old hall closet. Those smell-good natural oils help it repel moisture and humidity, making it a natural repellent to creepy crawlies. What’s not to love? Well, when it comes to small animals, quite a bit.
What’s so bad about cedar?
Those aromatic oils – called phenols – that are so good at repelling insects also harm the livers of small animals like guinea pigs. Plicatic acid is known to cause damage over time; scientific studies have shown that aromatic softwood beddings can alter the biological functions of the liver. Your guinea pig doesn’t need to ingest the bedding to be in trouble. By inhaling the fumes, the toxins in cedar wood shavings pass from the lungs to the blood and are filtered through the liver. The liver can handle a small amount of toxins – detoxification is part of its job. But when consistently bombarded with poisonous compounds, it will inevitably begin to fail.
The phenols, which give shavings their scent, are also damaging to the respiratory system. The acids given off from cedar shavings can destroy the cells that line the lungs and trachea. People that work in cedar (and pine) sawmills have even been shown to be more likely to have asthma than those working in other types of dusty environments. Our little friends have much more sensitive noses and respiratory systems than we do. Living on cedar wood shavings constantly irritates their nasal passages, throats, and lungs. This leaves them more susceptible to harmful bacteria that can cause upper respiratory infections and pneumonia.
Need more convincing? Since 1967, the laboratory animal community has recognized the potential toxicity of cedar; the compounds in cedar bedding cause changes in the body that make it unsuitable for use in lab animals. While the dangers of cedar are still far from common knowledge, that alone is evidence enough for us!
Safe Bedding Alternatives
Odor control and absorbency is important, sure. But we know a safe, healthy, and comfortable bedding option should also be free of dyes, perfumes, and respiratory irritants. Sorry cedar, there are other materials that fit the bill.
1) Paper bedding. Paper bedding is virtually dust-free, super cozy, and doesn’t contain harmful aromatic oils. Our paper is not from the potentially dangerous leftovers from reclaimed paper production, called sludge. It’s also not from recycled paper that has been printed on, so you know there are no toxic residues. Try unbleached white paper bedding to spot dirty areas for easier spot cleaning.
2) Aspen wood shavings. It’s totally possible to save a few bucks and still buy healthy guinea pig bedding. Our aspen shaving bedding is made from kiln dried wood shaved from logs, not from the potentially dangerous fibers from reclaimed paper production that contain detectible levels of dioxin. Plus, aspen is recycleable and compostable.
3) Pine pellet bedding. Pine is a tricky one. Pine does contain abietic acid, also known to cause early liver disease and respiratory system damage. Just like cedar, it naturally has those pesky phenols. The difference is pine can be kiln dried to be made safe for small animals. No worries about phenols here. Our pine pellet bedding is denser, with more fiber packed in to each pellet (hello, extra absorbency). It’s also free of the toxins associated with wood stove pellets. Pine -1, Cedar – 0.
Ayars GH, Altman LC, Frazier CE, Chi EY. (1989) The toxicity of constituents of cedar and pine woods to pulmonary epithelium. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 83, pg. 610-18
Cunliffe-Beamer,T.L., et al. (1981) Barbiturate Sleeptime in Mice Exposed to Autoclaved or Unautoclaved Wood Beddings. Laboratory Animal Science 31(6), 672-675
Vesell, E.S. (1967) Induction of Drug-Metabolizing Enzymes in Liver Microsomes of Mice and Rats by softwood bedding. Science. 157, 1058