Over the years, pine shavings have been the standard material used for pet bedding. Generations of rabbits have been raised and bred on cages with pine beddings all to no worries. But lately, some experts claim that pine shavings may not be good for your pet rabbit’s shelter.
Experts report about the dangers of pine shavings
The use of pine, as well as cedar as bedding or litter material for caged rabbits, should be avoided according to experts. They agreed that the best option would be using superior materials like recycled paper or aspen shavings because these are safer for pets.
There are two reasons why cedar and pine must be avoided as litter. The first one is the recorded alterations in the rabbit’s liver enzymes. When the liver is affected, the rabbit’s body won’t be able to handle standard drugs anymore, and this can be dangerous, especially when your pet needs medication to treat an illness. And the next reason why pine and cedar should be avoided is that these materials have content that can cause cancer to animals. These two risks will be discussed further.
The danger of phenols
The dangerous components of pine shavings are known as phenols. These are naturally occurring volatile chemicals found in wood. You can instantly smell phenol when you open a bag of cedar or pine shavings; this is the aromatic smell that most people even find refreshing in pine. This odor is present because of the phenols in pine and cedar, and inhalation of these volatile chemicals in an excessive manner can lead to changes in the enzymes of the liver.
The liver does its best to remove phenols by secreting enzymes that destroy phenols. Call it the rabbit’s body’s natural defense against natural toxins in the environment. Our bodies produce these chemicals in very low amounts; however, excessive exposure to phenols can stimulate the liver to produce these chemicals in very large amounts.
The enzymes that the liver produces are needed to remove drugs, and this is where the problem arises. Drugs are needed for their desired effects like when antibiotics are needed to control bacteria in the body, or anti-seizure medications are used to prevent or control seizures.
If the liver enzymes are in high amounts, and the rabbit is given medication for any illness, the drug won’t be able to take effect as expected. Some of the most common drugs affected by excessive liver enzymes are xylarine and ketamine, which are forms of injectable anesthetics. Opioid painkillers like dexamethasone and theophylline are also affected, and thus these medications cannot be administered to treat pain in rabbits.
And the effects of phenols are not just found in rabbits. Almost all rodents and pets that use pine shavings have experienced similar effects. Rodents, for instance, have shown a 70% reduction in drug effectiveness after being exposed to phenols for a long time.
Cancer risk of softwoods
There are also reports that pets that are exposed to softwood shavings like pine and cedar are in danger of developing cancer. To support this claim, there are some epidemiological studies of sawmill workers who have developed an increase in cancer risk due to the constant inhalation of volatile phenols.
In the lab, rodents who were placed on cedar shavings were seen with an increased risk for cancer. And although the results of these tests are still inconclusive of the risk of pine and cedar shavings, it may be smart to avoid these materials for good. There are many more materials that can be used as beddings or shavings. Also, cedar and pine shavings are very expensive; safer and more affordable materials are available.
Other materials to watch out for
For added information, avoid the use of ponderosa pine needles as bedding as well. There were issues about this type of material on the west coast, stating that this has caused spontaneous abortions in domestic animals such as cattle. Ponderosa may also cause hormonal problems in animals and may also affect rabbits.
Some experts caution against the use of sawdust because this can be inhaled and may lead to respiratory problems. This is also important for other pets like hamsters, mice, and other rodents.
And if you plan to use newspapers, then be sure to check if the rabbit is chewing the paper. The ink in the newspaper can be toxic to rabbits. Inks can make them ill, develop stomach upset, and affect their overall development as well.
What is a better option for rabbit bedding then?
The type of bedding that’s perfect for your pet rabbit depends on the following features
- Your pet’s comfort – the foremost thing you need to consider when looking for the best bedding material is the comfort of your pet. Take note that your pet rabbit will likely stand on its bedding material all day. It will also likely lie down on the material, eat and poop on it. Therefore it’s important to have a bedding material with good absorption qualities and must also be soft to lie on.
A part of comfort is your pet’s security. He must feel secure inside its cage, and thus, the material should offer comfort and security. Whether a rabbit is in captivity or the wild, it will naturally be wary of predators. A soft and comfortable substrate will help them feel safe and secure.
- The climate from where you live – pet rabbits should be cared for in a place where there are 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. The bedding or substrate to use must be able to help keep the cage temperature constant.
Also, you must keep the cage away from direct sunlight, rain, wind, and snow. Temperature extremes can severely affect your pet’s health.
- The environment – oftentimes, pet owners are concerned about the smell of pet cages. Taking care of a pet rabbit is no exception. Using scented bedding or shaving may be the first thing on your mind to control the smell, but you must think twice.
Using bedding material with smells is not from the natural properties of the material but additives placed by the manufacturer. Yes, the material smells nice, and it can control the smell of urine and poop BUT, these may contain chemicals that can cause illness in rabbits. Also, cleaning a rabbit’s cage and changing its bedding daily is important to avoid molds. Changing the bedding daily will also help keep your pet dry and warm.
The best bedding for rabbits
Hay is the most widely recommended for rabbits because it is safe to eat and offers a nice and comfortable place for your pets to stay in. Hay is very important in a rabbit’s diet too. It improves digestion and keeps your pet regular. Chewing on hay daily can also help maintain your pet’s teeth.
But as with other natural materials, hay needs to be changed daily because this can easily develop molds. This is very important if the material is exposed to moisture. Also, you must make sure to use only safe hay since hay was taken from fields with toxins, and chemicals are dangerous if your pet ingests it.
Straw bedding is great inside your rabbit’s space. Straw is edible and will also help keep rabbits warm. Consider using a straw if your pets are in an outdoor enclosure. Straw is also nice to nibble and, like hay, can help control the overgrowth of teeth and will keep your pet regular.
Aspen bedding is safe and is an economical material to be used as a rabbit bedding. Rabbit owners understand that this is the best option too. You should remove dust and debris in the bedding before you place this in your pet’s cage. Also, aspen is okay to chew and eat.
Paper pulp is one of the best materials to consider because it is very absorbent and is perfect for indoor use. Paper pulp is safe and is free of dust.
Paper pulp is recycled paper, so this is environmentally safe for pets to chew on. This is also strong as it can absorb more water, around three times better than other materials. This will keep your rabbit dry and safe for many hours.
You can use shredded cardboard to line your pet’s cage. This is very absorbent and is very cheap. This material is safe to chew on, but make sure to remove any tape or staples on the cardboard you want to use. Cardboard is readily available, and you can combine this with paper pulp too.
Paper pellets are from recycled paper and are lighter compared to wood pellets. When exposed to water, paper pellets may expand to absorb it.
Wooden pellets have high absorbability but may be too heavy for flimsy cages. This will expand and can turn into dust when wet. Wooden pellets are commonly used as cat litter.
Another popular material is fleece. This is a soft cushion that can absorb water and moisture. But while this is soft and comfortable, it is also high-maintenance and should be washed often. You must have at least three or more fleece blankets for your pet.