Posted on September 19, 2020 by Monique Hanford
There are so many different types of guinea pig bedding that it can be confusing to know which one will be best for your guinea pigs.
As long-term guinea pig owners, we have tested many bedding options with our own guinea pigs to see how well they perform. With that experience, we can help you decide on which bedding is best for your guinea pigs and for your set up.
Guinea pigs need bedding as it provides a hygienic and comfortable environment in which to live.
Firstly, they need a layer of substrate in the bottom of their enclosure that will absorb urine. Without this, a guinea pig’s coat will become damp, dirty and smelly, and will in turn lead to sores and nasty conditions which will make them ill.
Secondly, they need a comfortable layer on which they can lie down as well as one that is comfortable for running around. Guinea pigs are very active pets but have particularly delicate feet. The bottom of their enclosure should be smooth and flat without any mesh or grid structure. If you have a grid-based enclosure it will need a smooth base added to it prior to adding the bedding.
There are several bedding options for guinea pigs and this includes both disposable and washable, with each available in various materials. These include wood shavings, paper based bedding, hemp and fabric (fleece liners, bath mats).
There are many different options if you choose to use disposable bedding for your guinea pigs.
It is very important that any disposable bedding you buy is dust extracted. This is because guinea pigs have very delicate respiratory systems and dusty bedding poses a big risk to their health.
We also recommend you opt for bedding that has not been dyed or bleached to make it look more attractive. Guinea pigs will often nibble at their bedding so the more natural it is, the less likely it is to cause them any health problems.
Here are the main substrates:
Although wood shavings are very popular with small pet owners, not all wood shavings are safe to use for guinea pigs.
Pine shavings can be used but it must be kiln dried so that it’s safe for guinea pigs. The drying process removes the toxic aromatic oils (called phenols) that are naturally in the pine. Although these natural oils give the wood a pleasant smell, the aromas are dangerous to guinea pigs. The phenols irritate a guinea pig’s system and can cause severe problems which may result in illness or death.
Aspen bedding can also be used and doesn’t need to be kiln dried as it doesn’t contain the oils found in pine bedding.
Cedar shavings are not safe for guinea pigs and should never be used as bedding for these small pets, as they contain particularly large amounts of aromatic oils.
Hemp bedding is a safe option for guinea pigs, although this is not one of the more commonly used bedding options and not as widely available in pet shops. It is derived from the natural fibers of the hemp plant.
Wood pulp bedding can be used for guinea pigs but is not widely available in different brands. It is not that popular amongst the guinea pig community compared to other types of bedding.
Paper is processed to make a soft and fluffy bedding for guinea pigs. This is not so widely used as fleece liners or wood shavings but is a safe and comfortable bedding for your small pets.
Shredded cardboard can also be used, providing it has been processed to be safe for guinea pigs. It should be unused, and is usually made from offcuts from the cardboard industry. The processing involves softening, dust extraction and shredding so it is small enough to be comfortable for them.
Reusable, washable guinea pig bedding is very popular amongst the guinea pig community. Many guinea pig owners choose this option because it enables them to create a more colorful home for their small pets.
As bath mats are designed to absorb liquids, they can also prove a good bedding for your guinea pigs. These have grown in popularity over the past few years as more pet owners have found that it can work well as a cheaper alternative to fleece liners.
This is the only bedding we have not yet tried, although many people who have used them are really happy with how they perform as an alternative washable bedding.
One of the main concerns for new guinea pig owners who are going to keep indoor guinea pigs is the smell. In fact, guinea pigs aren’t smelly pets and their enclosures will only smell if they are not cleaned out often enough.
Certain types of bedding tend to become smelly quicker than others, and may need changing more often. A good absorbent bedding will not only soak up urine well but should also absorb smells.
Although fleece liners are very popular, we found these began to smell sooner than other types of bedding and would need changing more frequently.
Most substrates will naturally have either little or no smell, or occasionally a mild pleasant aroma, as is the case with kiln dried pine shavings.
Although unnecessary, some manufacturers add fragrance to the bedding, and this is most commonly done with the fluffy paper bedding.
We recommend you avoid these fragranced substrates as we always believe that natural is best for a guinea pig’s sensitive respiratory system. Even if the scents added to the bedding are “natural”, it may not be good for your guinea pigs to be in an environment where that scent is always present.
If you have indoor guinea pigs, you may want to avoid wood pulp bedding which tends to have what most people would describe as a rather unpleasant aroma, and it is much stronger than any other bedding we’ve used.
If you’re wondering whether to use disposable or reusable / washable bedding, you’ll need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.
While different people may have different opinions on these, we are basing our findings on our experience with each of these different types of bedding and the results they have given us.
Here are some pros and cons of using disposable and reusable bedding:
Disposable bedding comes in many varieties and does well on absorbency.
The advantages of disposable bedding are:
The disadvantages of disposable bedding are:
The advantages of reusable bedding are:
The disadvantages of reusable bedding are:
Hay doesn’t absorb liquids well, so as a stand alone bedding, it is not suitable. However, you can put hay on top of whatever bedding you use as the guinea pigs will love to hide underneath and nestle into it. It is best to use a soft bedding hay to avoid your guinea pigs getting eye injuries (known as hay pokes) from any stalky bits.
How frequently you change your guinea pig bedding will depend on the type of bedding you use, the size of your guinea pig enclosure and the number of guinea pigs you have.
It can also depend on the weather as warm weather tends to make the bedding smell much sooner.
If your guinea pigs are in an enclosure which is a good size and one that we recommend for the number of guinea pigs that you have, they may need to have a full clean out anywhere from every 3 days to 7 days. Washable bedding tends to need more frequent changing, whereas disposable bedding tends to last a little longer.
We are currently using the shredded card and usually do a full clean and change of bedding every 4 days. We also remove and replace any bedding that has become particularly damp or has piles of poops on a daily basis.
This really depends on where you live and where you buy it from. But in general, kiln dried pine shavings tend to work out cheapest overall. Buying in bulk can save you some money too, so if you can buy a couple of months worth of bedding in a larger quantity, this can save you quite a lot of money.
Fleece liners can work out much cheaper over time, despite being more expensive to buy initially. However, you do need to take into consideration the cost of electricity in washing them. If you use a tumble dryer rather than hanging them on a washing line, this will add to the cost too.
It is worth considering whether you may be allergic to certain types of bedding. I used hemp bedding for a while but found that it gave me similar symptoms to hay fever. There are many different allergies, and what is ok for one person may trigger allergic symptoms in another.
If you are prone to allergies such as hay fever, it might be advisable to try out new types of bedding in small amounts before buying too much, just in case it doesn’t work out.
One of the benefits of fleece liners is that they won’t aggravate any allergies, so this is a good option if the disposable beddings don’t suit you.
There are some types of bedding that may be ok for other pets but are not suitable for guinea pigs and they include:
Some guinea pig owners do use puppy pads but disposable pads can be dangerous. If your guinea pigs chew on them and swallow the fibers, it can cause serious problems, creating blockages in their digestive systems.
Disposable puppy pads should certainly never be used as a standalone bedding and we wouldn’t even recommend using them underneath any other type of bedding, just in case your guinea pig ends up gaining access to them.
There are plenty of other substrates to choose from that are cheaper and safer than disposable puppy pads. Consider using washable fleece liners or bath mats as an alternative.
Sawdust, unlike wood shavings, is extremely fine and, as its name suggests, it is dusty.
Dust is very bad for guinea pigs and can contribute to respiratory diseases which are very common in these small pets. Therefore sawdust should never be used in a guinea pig cage. Opt for kiln dried pine shavings instead.
Cat litter comes in many different forms but it isn’t designed to be a bedding for small pets, it is designed for cats to pee and poop in.
Not only will it be uncomfortable for your guinea pigs, but it may well contain chemicals or additives for odor control that is unsafe for them.
Even if you are using a litter tray in your set up as a potty area, you should not use cat litter as a substrate in the tray. Use one of the other recommended bedding types listed on this page instead.
If pine shavings are not kiln dried, the aromatic oils (phenols) will still remain in the wood and these are toxic for guinea pigs. Any pine shavings that are used in a guinea pig cage, hutch or enclosure must be kiln dried.
Cedar wood shavings are dangerous to guinea pigs for the same reasons as non kiln dried pine shavings. However, these contain much higher levels of the dangerous aromatic oils so pose an even bigger danger. Cedar shavings must never be used with guinea pigs. If you want to use wood shavings, opt for kiln dried pine or aspen instead..
Newspaper is not suitable to use as a bedding for guinea pigs because the ink may contain toxins that can be harmful to your small pets. If completely covered by another type of bedding, it can be used as a liner. But it isn’t absorbent and is not a suitable substrate for guinea pigs.