Care of Captive Rodents - Choosing Bedding for your Pet Rodent
The right type and quantity of bedding or substrate is very
important for rodents. Rodents use their bedding to help
keep their nests clean by absorbing urine, to provide them
with insulation to help themselves and their young keep warm
enough, and for cover to make themselves feel secure. If
they are breeding they will also need the right type of
bedding to make a cozy nest for their young.
Don't ever buy cedar or pine bedding for a rodent (or most
other pets) even though these types of bedding do help mask
odors, as the volatile oils in the wood can damage the
rodent's lungs, skin, and eyes. This is especially true for
rats and gerbils, which seem especially sensitive to pine
oils. Sawdust of any type is a bad choice, as it causes
allergies in a lot of animals. Other types of wood shavings
(such as the often used aspen) are okay to use, and chip-
like litter made from reprocessed paper is also recommended,
as it is both non-toxic and environmentally sound.
Litter made from corn cobs is often used for large birds,
but it isn't very suitable for rodents as it doesn't absorb
urine well, and is not moldable or comfortable enough for
rodent nests. Hay is too stiff and sharp for bedding for
most small animals as they can injure their eyes when
burrowing in it. The same is true for straw unless it is
chopped very fine.
Sometimes you can find chopped cardboard for sale at a pet
store, which is a good supplement to the other bedding as it
makes very little dust to stir up your allergies, it is very
absorbent, and low cost if you buy large quantities.
If you have access to old newspapers that are printed with
the soy-based non-toxic inks that some environmentally-
conscious newspapers use these days, shredded newspaper will
make your rodents happy. You might also use other shredded
papers, such as cheap paper towels or toilet paper if you
have only one or a few small rodent pets.
Don't use paper that has been scented, the scented papers
may be toxic or at least cause allergies. For the best
absorbency and odor control you'll want litter commercially
produced for rodent cages.
Even if you are using commercial litter, your rodents will
probably appreciate unscented paper towels or toilet paper,
including any empty toilet paper or paper towel cores, and
will happily shred the paper, hide and play in the cores,
and eventually convert it all to bedding by themselves.
Many people who keep a number of rodents add things such as
boxes and pipes so that the animals can burrow in the
bedding without having all their tunnels collapse on them.
The important points in choosing bedding for your rodent
cage is to learn what your species prefers in type and depth
of bedding, to make sure that whatever you use is non-toxic
and to keep it as clean as possible to help prevent disease.
Whatever bedding you choose to use, it must always be kept
dry. The cage itself should be washed every time you change
the bedding, and disinfected with a well-diluted bleach
solution at least every two months, more often if you have
more animals in the cage. Rinse the cage after the
disinfectant has been on it for a few minutes, and dry it
thoroughly, preferably in the sun, for at least twenty
minutes before adding more bedding and returning your pets
to their primary cage.
One important consideration when cleaning the cage is that
many types of rodents will kill and eat their babies if the
babies have been handled by people, perhaps because their
instincts are triggered by odor. If you must move baby
rodents to clean the cage, try touching the young only with
clean gloves or a few tissues, and for as short a time as
Rodent Health Care Tips