Guinea pigs make amazing family pets. They are not known for intelligence, but they are cute and make fun sounds. One of the hassles of keeping small animals is that they require bedding or litter throughout their cages. I’m going to outline the most common options and the pros and cons.
Shavings are the typical go-to bedding for the average guinea pig. They are available in cedar, pine, and aspen. Cedar, because of the oils found within, can cause respiratory and kidney disease. Pine also contains oils that may cause disease. Aspen does not contain oils so is considered safe. Other options, like recycled newsprint, are also available. Personally, I hate using shavings. They are messy and get all over the place. They kick up easily and hold moisture, making the cage smell. They need tending daily to stay clean. However, shavings can be purchased at most supermarkets and all pet stores. Shavings also compost well, so will help out your garden.
Fleece took off as the bedding of choice for many guinea pig owners. Fleece is cut to fit the cage, then hemmed. Multiple layers are placed under the dirtiest sections of the cage, and change frequently. Fleece bedding can match the décor of the room, or a holiday theme. There are two major downsides to fleece. The first is that they must be washed regularly. If your home does not include a washing machine, you will be forced to carry dirty fleece to the laundromat. If you have access to a washer, the cost savings are significant. Also, some guinea pigs chew fleece bedding. This can cause major emergency health concerns to their digestive system.
Some guinea pig keepers bed their pigs on pelleted food. Cost-wise, rabbit pellets are inexpensive, and suitable for guinea pigs. Pellets hold less moisture than shavings, and are compostable. Pigs will eat soiled pellets, and changing litter is a heavy chore.
While investigating the possibility of using feed pellets, I came across pine pellets. Horse owners use pine pellets as stall bedding, which makes them very inexpensive for the quantity needed. When purchasing pine pellets, I assumed that if the oil danger was present, it would affect horses—which have much more significant costs. I found pine pellets to work very well for my pigs. Once the pellet gets wet, it disintegrates into something that feels like dirt. The pellets create some dust, but no more than shavings. The bedding is stirred daily, which encourages evaporation of liquids. I used a dust pan to stir the dirty pellets out and clean pellets in. A 50lb. bag would last four weeks with four pigs, and the odor was minimal.
Some people choose to keep their pigs in cages with mesh bottoms, much like rabbits, but guinea pigs have much smaller feet and can become seriously injured on mesh. Guinea pigs should never be kept on mesh. While available, corn cob bedding expands when wet and when eaten, can cause blockages. No matter which bedding you choose, it’s important to establish that your guinea pig will not eat whatever bedding you choose (except, of course, pellets.)