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The news in a nutshell according to the AFRMA (American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association-October 1993 News Flash) stated that cedar and pine shavings, the bedding choices most commonly used for small animals, have been found to contain toxins!

AFRMA says - Both cedar and pine contain phenols- that's the stuff that makes them smell good. Phenols are caustic, poisonous, acidic compounds. These compounds cause constant irritation to the nasal passages, throat, and lungs of small animals giving bacteria an easy opening, thus commonly causing pneumonia. Phenols also affect organs such as the liver and kidneys, because these organs are responsible for filtering toxins out of the body. When presented with a large amount of toxins over time they are unable to filter it all out and begin to fail. An animal with a damaged liver will have a depressed immune system, which can lead to other medical conditions.

Bedding or Litter?
Most manufacturers use the terms “bedding” and “litter” interchangeably. Don't think that small-animal litter and cat litter are the same things. Cat litter is too dusty for use in small-animal enclosures, and products specially designed for small animals are healthier for them. These products consist of materials as diverse as ground corn cob, ground walnut shells, shavings from cedar, pin and aspen trees, wheat grass and recycled paper. Litter or bedding is one of the most important components of a small animal's environment. Not only does it keep the animal dry and clean, but it often serves as a place for the animal to burrow and sleep as well. Here's what you need to consider when choosing a product for your bird or small pet.

Most bedding fall loosely into one of two categories:

  • Non-contact bedding, which is placed in a tray underneath the wire bottom of a cage. Animals like sugar gliders, rabbits and birds.
  • Contact bedding, which is placed directly in the animal's enclosure where it can be used for burrowing and nesting. Contact bedding generally is recommended for animals such as hamsters, rats and mice that like to burrow.

Bedding Choices
Most bird and small animal bedding are touted for their absorbency, which helps control odor in the home. Absorption is key when it comes to dealing with odor control.

Softwood Shavings - The most common type of bedding used for birds and small animals-pine shavings - is also the least expensive. This bedding is highly absorbent and is wonderful for burrowing. Cedar shavings are another softwood product sometimes recommended for use as a non-contact litter for rabbits or ferrets. However, some people are concerned about the health impact of aromatic oils in cedar shavings and to a lesser extent, in pine shavings. As I stated above, the matter is under debate on these two beddings. If you are concerned about pine or cedar shavings, aspen shavings are another option. Aspen shavings have no aromatic oils. It sells at a higher price point, but it was created specifically for those customers concerned about aromatic oils.

Corn Cob bedding is used because it's very absorbent and it's almost dust free. The biggest point is that it's heavy enough that if the bird, especially a big one, starts flapping its wings, the litter doesn't fly all over the place. Litter made of winter wheat grass is heavy, so it stays put in the bird cage also. Birds also may ingest corn cob or what grass bedding. However, the finely ground ingredients are not likely to harm birds, according to the manufacturers. Some avian veterinarians agree that ingested bird litters pose not risk of obstruction. Others, noting that birds such as young macaws tend to eat inappropriate items, recommend that baby parrots, recently weaned parrots or softbill-type birds not have direct access to these beddings.

Note: Concerns for Small Animals
Corn cob bedding when moist releases aspiragyllis bacterium into the home of these small animals. It can be fatal. This is especially true with hamsters who run the highest risk due to diabetes. The sugar in their urine feeds the bacteria. Customers have reported loosing hamsters due to corn cob bedding. We do not recommend Corn cob bedding for small animals.

Planning my new Aviary bedding
When I designed my new aviaries I wanted to make sure I chose the safest product for my birds environment. It had to be biodegradable and easy on the environment. I used corn cob in the past and found that I was always concerned the birds would eat the tiny pieces and they would have an obstruction. I must admit, to my knowledge, that never happened. I also used cedar chips/shavings in my cages in the past and they were fine. The price point was beyond my large flight requirements.

Waste Product Recycled
A friend introduced me to Coconut Husk products that are entirely biodegradable and have no negative effects on the environment, either during production or when being applied. The bedding substrate is made out of freshly discarded empty coconut husks- basically waste product recycled into nesting material and animal bedding. The husk chips are fresh water washed after chipping to remove dust particles.

Recycle again and again
The biggest selling point for the coconut chips was my ability to safely recycle it in my garden and back into the environment. A second point, and really as important from a visual standpoint, is the fact that the chips look very natural on the floor of my new aviaries. Your eye is not drawn to a light colored floor, but rather stays on the birds. The dark chips make cleaning and refreshing the bedding very easy. Once a week I go into the flights and remove any chips that have been soiled and replace them with clean chips. The light colored droppings from my birds show me exactly where the cleanup is necessary. When I used ground corncob and sand in the past, it was much more difficult and time consuming to see exactly where clean-up was necessary.

© lady gouldian finch.com 2011

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