Alternative bedding for guinea pigs

Article and photographs by Laura Humphreys RHA/Assistant Editor

Alternative beddings (material or fabric bedding) is the collective term for the material-based beddings you wouldn’t typically associate with guinea pigs; This article is written based on my eight years’ experience with using this type of bedding. There are two main beddings that fit into this classification – fleece and Vetbed. Information on the specific uses of each is given later in this article, but first, the basic pros and cons of using an alternative bedding, as below:

It is important to remember that alternative beddings can really only be used for piggies that live indoors, or those living in a specially designed temperature con-trolled shed; alternative beddings are not advised for use in outdoor hutches as these piggies require stacks of hay to keep them warm… hay on top of fleece or Vetbed isn’t the best combination! 

Prior to the first use, run your new fleece or Vetbed through the washing machine at least 2-3 times. Brand new unwashed beddings don’t work with moisture as effectively as bedding that has been“broken in” by washing. Never Use any fabric softener/conditioner when washing beddings as this reduces the bedding’s ability to wick urine. 

You should cut the bedding to size after these initial washes, and always allow an additional two to three inches of bedding(minimum) on all sides to accommodate any shrinkage associated with long term use. It is recommended that you buy at least 2 or 3 full sets of your bedding so that you can immediately replace the old bedding with fresh rather than having to wait to wash and dry a single set. 

Under-beddings

Under-beddings are important to use with alternative beddings because fleece and Vetbed themselves are not absorbent. As moisture is wicked right through the fleece, or in the case of Vetbed down through the Vetbed to its base/backing, the moisture needs to be absorbed by something at this point to prevent any pooling of urine and to allow more moisture to wick through, keeping the surface continually dry. Favoured under-beddings are bath towels/sheets, or mattress “incontinence pads”. Newspaper is inadequate as an under-bedding when using fleece – although it can work relatively well withVetbed– and puppy training pads are also very limited in their efficacy. 

Feeding Hay

Guinea pigs still need free access to ample amounts of fresh, loose stranded hay as part of their daily dietary requirements. It is inevitable that hay will betracked across the fleece, but it need not be spread to the point there is a layer of hay over the entire fleece. Using correx or large litter trays, create a feeding zone within the cage: a section that is not made up with fleece or Vetbed, but with newspaper, hay and – if desired– a traditional bedding. 

A small lip (no higher than two inches) on the correx or litter tray will help minimise hay being dragged back into the fleece/Vetbed area.Preparing to WashThere will be poops, hair and usually hayon the surface of the fleece or Vetbed, all of which need removing prior to washing in the machine. You could choose to vacuum the debris up prior to removing the bedding from the cage, and/or you might choose to fold everything up inside the fleece to Vetbed and shake everything off into a bin or outside before washing.

When shaking outside, ensure you give the bedding a thorough shake, beat it all over with the back of a dustpan brush to loosen things a little more, and brush it all over to get rid of the worst of the waste. It won’t be completely clear, but the aim is to at least get all the loose debris and all larger pieces(strands of hay and all the poops) off. While many owners wash their fleece,Vetbed and underbeddings in the machineas normal, many others choose instead to place all their piggy washing inside a pil-lowcase, duvet cover or specially-designed wash bag’ to protect their machine from any remaining debris on the bedding.

Alternative beddings are vastly better than traditional beddings when a guinea pig is ill, whatever illness the pig is suffering. Fleece and Vetbed wick urine through to the under-bedding leaving the surface dry,they are soft on all areas of the pigs body,can be washed and replaced very frequently at no extra cost, allow for monitoring of particular symptoms (e.g. blood in urine, or leakage of a wound), and do not act as skin or respiratory irritants.If a guinea pig with either a parasitic or fungal problem is bedded on fleece or Vetbed,simply soak the bedding and under-bedding for one hour in a Virkon solution followed by a wash in the machine as usual. 

Individual Bedding Reviews

Beddings are reviewed by: a) cost and availability, and b) washing.

Fleece 

a) Availability: 

You can buy fleece from many different types of outlets – fabric stores, art and craft shops, homeware departments, even supermarkets. Search for fleece throws or blankets, or if buying from a fabric store or buying online, choose to buy fleece by the metre according to how much you require. Fleece will not readily be cut to size, but it is very easy to trim to the exact size and shape you need for your cages.

There are a few different fleece types to choose from. The smooth and flat polar fleece is the type usually recommended and used. Anti-pill is another very popular one; it does not bobble after heavy use and years of washing, unlike polar fleece which can bobble a little a few years down the line. Sherpa fleece tends to be best used in-side cosies and cuddle cups rather than as the bedding – its surface tends to be more like Vetbed in texture, bobbly, soft and atouch fluffier than polar and anti-pill. 

Cost: Depending on where you buy your fleece from, and how much is required, it can cost as little as £10 to acquire two cage sets for 2x4ft cage.

b) Washing Advice:

Wash all fleece at 60°C for a thorough cleaning. Use a biological or non-biological detergent. Avoid any strongly scented detergents. Never use fabric softener/conditioner. 

Vetbed 

a) Availability:

Vetbed is widely available in pet shops locally, on the high street, and online. It is not always primarily marketed as a bedding for small animals, instead it is advertised for use with dogs, but it is a very popular bedding for guinea pigs too. Petlife International market the original Vetbed. Over the years a few Vetbed alternatives have come onto the market, especially online; some of these have worked and lasted better than others so if you want quality guaranteed, it’s worth investing in the original Vetbed by Petlife.

Cost: Vetbed costs are typically muchhigher than fleece. For two cage sets to fita 2x4ft cage, expect to pay no less than£40, often more. However,Vetbed is known to last as long as a decade, so still proves to be a highly cost effective bedding.

b) Washing Advice:

The original Vetbed by Petlife can be washed at 90°C. For all other Vetbed materials, and for routine washing, 60°C is appropriate for a thorough cleaning. Use a biological or non-biological detergent. Avoid any strongly scented detergents. Never use fabric softener/conditioner.

Final Words – Opinions on Alternative Beddings

Reading the behaviour of guinea pigs should be the rule as far as human opiniones. The large majority of guinea pigs love alternative beddings: popcorning and doing ‘zoomies’ is a very common sight for pigs new to it, and many favour sleeping on fleece bedding or Vetbed, or cosies, when given the choice between that and a traditional bedding. 

Hay obviously needs to be given ad lib and as proven in this article, this is easily achieved.  Beyond that whether you try alternative beddings for your piggies is down to your personal situation (cage size, number of piggies, access to your own washing machine and outdoor area, your own time commitments etc.). 

Things may seem a little tricky to understand in the immediate term, but as soon as you have mastered the routine of this type of bedding, it becomes time effective as well as financially cost effective. I currently have five 2×5 C&C cages occupied and it takes less than an hour to do a full cleanout, even with the residents of each cage “helping” with the process.


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