Why is Toxic Cedar and Pine Bedding Still Sold for Small Pets?

1979 piggyGuinea Pig Today

A photo of my pet guinea pig from 1979 on traditional wood shaved bedding. Cedar and pine beddings are no longer in favor although they are still stocked in many pet stores. Choose a bedding that is better for your pet's health, your allergies, and the environment.

While on the way to Pet Expo, I shared an elevator with a hotel employee who happened to glance in my carrier and catch sight of my guinea pig. “Those were my favorite pets as a child. I had one that lived 9 years! I bet you love the smell of those cedar chips, don’t you?” Very nice lady but the elevator was not the place to break into a lengthy conversation on the debate of cedar bedding and the reasons I no longer use it.

Back in the late 1970’s, my guinea pigs, hamsters and gerbils lived long lives on chipped cedar bedding. I used to love the smell of opening a fresh bag. My parents even installed a cedar linen closet in our home. Wood shaved bedding is still used for pets in many parts of the world. Since the mid 90’s though, websites have been denouncing cedar and pine and informing pet owners that wood bedding is deadly. What was the reason for this change and if it was so clearly toxic, why was it still being sold?

Cedar and pine bedding became popular among small animals because the wood shavings controlled odor and naturally repelled bugs. Many pet owners enjoy the smell of the fresh wood shavings, but the smell is due to compounds called “aromatic hydrocarbons.” Unfortunately, these phenols have been implicated as a potential health risk. They can cause respiratory problems and changes in the liver with long term exposure.

According to exotic veterinarian, Dr. Lianne McLeod, studies of laboratory animals have shown changes in liver enzymes on animals housed on cedar bedding but there is not much information on a direct link between these changes and disease or clinical symptoms. Changes in liver enzymes in laboratory animals is enough to affect results of testing. Therefore, laboratories doing research using guinea pigs began avoiding these types of bedding in order to keep results standardized.

When did these types of bedding become associated with being toxic? Many of the studies on wood toxicity have actually been conducted on humans, who are exposed to these woods and their by products in the wood product industry. These studies often compare the incidence of disease in lumber workers compared to workers in other industries or the average population.

While information on the toxic properties of Cedar and Pine are all over the internet, actual scientific data to support these claims are few and far between. Our research found many of these resources were pointing to two articles that discuss pine and cedar shavings as toxic. The first, Respiratory toxicity of cedar and pine wood: A review of the biomedical literature from 1986 through 1995 written by Jeff Johnston, doctoral candidate in epidemiology from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from April of 1996. The second, an article by Debbie Ducommun also known as “The Rat Lady,” which sites scientific information as well as her own observations and experiences.

What’s sad about this information is it’s just plain confusing to the average person. In general, the attitude towards cedar in regard to small pets is usually negative. It’s pretty agreed upon that cedar is not to be used. However, there is still a debate over pine and some feel that kiln-dried pine is safer than traditional wood bedding. The actual data on the scale of the health concern is unknown.

Aside from any problem of toxicity, asthma and respiratory diseases increased by 42% from 1982 to 1992 and are aggravated by airborne particulates. Dusty bedding can be a problem for individuals suffering from these conditions. Some individuals with inhalant allergies may be sensitive to the aromatic hydrocarbons from wood. This might have been another reason many companies began developing alternative forms of pet bedding.

So the answer to why cedar and pine is still sold is stores might lie in the fact it is not *clearly* toxic, as many of us might have thought from reading so many websites. It is presumed toxic. Here at Guinea Pig Today, we do not promote the use of cedar or pine bedding. When it comes to the safety and health of your pets, why risk it? Alternatives abound and come with the added benefits being hypoallergenic and better for the environment. While the experts continue to bicker over the details, our pets can live comfortably on an alternative bedding.

We chose fleece with recycled paper bedding in our litter pan and an open hay bin for rummaging. Swept and freshened daily and cleaned weekly. What do you use?

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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10 Responses to “Why is Toxic Cedar and Pine Bedding Still Sold for Small Pets?”
  1. Alena Loiselle says:

    We use fleece and recycled paper bedding, too. Even though they are having such a hard time coming to a conclusion regarding toxic compounds in the wood, has anyone ever put their nose in a bag of wood chips and taken a deep breath? That dust is terribly irritating to human, allergic or not . Can you imagine a small animal living in that?

  2. Sarahjane says:

    We use Aspen shavings for our guinea pig’s houses. We try not to use pine at all. Cedar is a big no no. Haven’t tried the fleece method but looking into actually as a great economical way.

  3. Sarah says:

    I use fleece and I’ll never go back! I used to use aspen shavings (would have preferred recycled newspaper bedding, but it’s expensive!) and they were messy and dusty. Fleece is wonderful and economical – not to mention much more pleasing to the eye!

  4. Christine says:

    I used to use Aspen shavings and occasionally Pine when I first got my boys. I now use fleece bedding, but I have to say, the only reason I switched was because I needed a cheaper bedding solution. I knew they would be fine in whatever I used, as piggies have been living in shavings of various types for decades, as the article states. But I digress. Washing towels and fleece sheets is a lot cheaper for me than buying a huge bulk thing of shavings every 2 weeks.

    I do miss the smell of the wood shavings, though, but either way my piggies are happy. 🙂

  5. Crrrystal says:

    I use fleece and only fleece. I have a kitchen area in one of my cages with a separate fleece liner. For my second cage, well, the boys don’t really understand the concept of a hay box; they prefer the kitchen area to be the entire cage. I have fleece and towel “pee pads” where they tend to go the most, and those get changed every couple days.

    I started out with Carefresh (because I couldn’t remember which wood chip was safe and which wasn’t). Also very dusty. I encourage everybody to switch to fleece whenever possible… not only is it less work, but it’s also cleaner and a LOT more nose-friendly!

  6. Karine Jans says:

    The reason why dangerous products for pets are still sold, is because there is no law against them and the manufacturers don’t care, as it makes a profit and that’s all that matters. The ones in charge around the world don’t care enough about pets to make a change.

  7. Becky says:

    We got cedar bedding for our Guinea pigs about a month ago, and Rheu are both dead now. They were in separate cages, and my daughter noticed a change in behavior right after the change. Their eyes were dry, they quit eating, and after about a week or so they were both dead. Stay away from cedar! I wish we had known!

  8. Nicole says:

    I have been raising rabbits and guinea pigs since I was a child and have never had any of them have any of the illnesses mentioned. We always have used cedar shavings and have never had an issue. We had rabbits and guineas live well past their quotas, so to speak. None of which have ever been sick. They have all died from either old age, or a predator got them. No sickness and disease. I think the bad hype about using wood is spread, just like traditional light bulbs, to make more money on other products that cost a lot more and give you a lot less.
    Also, I would never use anything with plastic in it, like fleece is usually made with polyester, which is just woven plastic. Plastics are far more toxic. There are a gazillion studies linking plastics to asthma and other illnesses. I have read testimonials of how people removed plastic from their homes and used natural woods and metals and glass and were cured of those types of ailments. All plastics, including linoleum floors, off gas and do so for their entire lives…forever basically. So you end up with some heavy duty toxins in your air in your home. Which most people never air out or let the sun in on either.
    We like all things that God made. Wood is good. Plastic is toxic. Sunshine won’t kill you, but the chemicals you put on your skin sure will. Basic common sense. People seem so quick to believe so much garbage now a days. It is just sad how easily led people are.
    Oh, and we pray over our animals. That helps. Our cat is 21, our husky was 16 when he passed away….it works.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] you know that keeping guinea pigs on cedar or pine shavings is not the best choice? There are many different things you can use for flooring in guinea pig cages. Paper-based litters […]

  2. […] do some more research and see what I can come up with. I did find an interesting article though. Why is Toxic Cedar and Pine Bedding Still Sold for Small Pets? – Guinea Pig Today I just wish I would have known this before now Reply With […]

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