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