I didn't know there was a problem until I started researching prior to picking up my ratties. In the past I had kept rats on shavings and thought nothing of it, but that was a long while ago. There are two problems thought to be associated with using softwood shavings for cage litter. Here's what it's all about:
Heat treating the wood makes some difference, but animals kept on treated wood still have high levels of liver enzymes, which suggests that it's still not perfect.
Some shavings, such as Spruce or Aspen, are fine to use but I rarely see shavings either online or in the local pet shops that actually have labelling which tells you what they're made of. I also remember having a pet gerbil who suffered recurring eye problems due to dusty shavings, even when I went out of my way to look for dust-free bags.
Quote from Harlan Teklad http://www.teklad.com/bedding/pine.asp
* Please note that we supply softwood pine shavings to the research community because there is still a demand for it, primarily with housing larger farm-type animals, such as sheep, goats and pigs. However, regardless of the amount of heat processing, some residual resins and aromatic hydrocarbons remain in all types of softwood bedding materials, including pine and cedar. These have been shown to cause elevated liver enzymes, and some respiratory irritations and ailments in several species of small mammals. For this reason, we do not recommend the use of pine shavings as a contact bedding material for rodents, rabbits, guinea pigs or other small mammals.
The following are my personal opinions and experiences of different cage litters, and sometimes UK specific. The suitability of litters is fairly subjective, so please experiment to find your own favourite litter.
There are many brands of paper-based cat litter, some of which are safe, some which aren't. I started off using a recycled newpaper litter called Bio-Catolet, which many rat owners find very absorbent and good at keeping down odours. I didn't like the smell of the litter itself, and found it unpleasant once it was wet. Even with removing the soiled litter each day, I needed to change it completely twice a week.
Other commonly used brands available in the UK are Yesterday's News, and Bob Martin's paper based litter, neither of which were available to me locally. It's important to check the labelling on litters, because some litters which claim to be paper based also contain a large proportion of clay, which can be damaging to the lungs.
When I went off Bio-Catolet, I switched to using old towels for bedding. This is a lovely clean way of keeping rats, but it just makes so much washing. The towel needs changing every day - I tried leaving it for two, but it really got too smelly. The house was lovely and humid with all the wet towels hanging around the place, too.
I was so pleased to find Carefresh small animal bedding in my local petshop. It's a recycled newspaper bedding, nice and soft, and I was even more pleased with it after trying it for a few days. At last I had found a litter that was safe for my ratties, seemed very absorbent, and didn't have a strong smell. It lasted for a whole week if I just cleared out the soggy corner every day. Some people find that it gets thrown out of the cage, but we've got such a nice deep tray that it wasn't a problem.
Then I began to worry that I was becoming allergic to the ratties, because I was getting wheezy after cleaning their cage. But when I spent a day with a lot of interaction with the rats and had no trouble until the evening when I cleaned up the cage, I realised that it wasn't the ratties at all. I was reacting to the Carefresh! Time to look again.
My son had picked up a sample bag of hemp bedding called 100% Green at a rat show, so I thought that now would be a good time to try it out. There wasn't enough to cover the base of the cage, so I visited the web site to find a local stockist. When we drove out to visit them they didn't have any in stock, only a different brand called Hutch Hemp. I used this for a week, but it wasn't a very good trial because although we started the week with 100% Green in the cage, it was slowly replaced with Hutch Hemp during the week as I replaced the soggy bits. The 100% Green is chipped, and light in colour, while the Hutch Hemp was shredded, and darker in colour making it more difficult to find and remove the soiled litter each day. I greatly preferred the 100% Green, which is now available on the Pet Company website. I didn't find hemp as absorbent as Carefresh, and the smell began to become noticeable after four days, so I had to change out all of the litter.
While looking into using 100% Green, and discussing it on a ratty mailing list, the suggestion of using recycled cardboard came up. This is a bedding made of strips of corrugated card. It comes in huge bales as it was originally made for horses.
Conclusion: I'm a convert. I've used cardboard bedding for a week now. There's been no odour at all, which is important to me as the ratties live in our front room. I haven't been sneezy or wheezy with it at all. Because it's fairly cheap I started the week with a deep layer, so I've just removed the litter from the soggy corner each day and spread out what was left. I'll recommend this stuff to everyone. Brilliant!
Annette, June 2002.
Now that Ideal Bedding is no longer available, our litter comes from Earthly Enterprises in Worcestershire. Even with the postage costs it's economical, but you can collect it from them, or order four or more bales to benefit from combined postage costs. You could also check out Easy Bed in Lancashire.
Five months later, I'm still happy with this bedding. Great stuff.
Safe, cost-effective and environmentally-friendly pet bedding - suitable for your small furries right up to rabbits! You can buy Ecopetbed from Earthly Enterprises.
To order Ecopetbed bales:
Finacard is a finely chopped eco-friendly cardboard litter. The finer cut gives more absorbency and a softer litter for small animals.
I am now supplying Finacard to local pet keepers in Rugby and the surrounding area. I am gaining cost reductions due to bulk purchase, and am happy to pass this reduction on. Email me if you're interested.