How Often Should I Change My Small Animal's Bedding?

You've decorated the cutest habitat for your pet with toys, decor and food. Whether you call a hamster, gerbil, rabbit, guinea pig or ferret your bestie, you want their home to not only be filled with fun but also feel fresh and smell clean. And what covers the floor of their space really influences that freshness and clean smell.

Do you know the best bedding to use in your pet's habitat and how often to change it? We have the inside scoop, tips and advice for you!

Features to Look for in Small Animal Bedding

Dr. Paola Cuevas, veterinary consultant at Petkeen, explains that small animal bedding should be dust-free, comfortable and absorbent to keep the habitat dry, warm, insulated and odor-free.

"It is important to carefully choose the bedding materials for your pet as dusty bedding can cause respiratory irritation. I like to avoid pine or cedar bedding which put off chemicals, fumes and dust," Cuevas shared. "Bedding is part of your pet's environment, and some can even provide environmental stimulation to your pet."

Products like Kaytee Clean & Cozy Bedding fit all these requirements. The small animal paper bedding is super soft, 99.9% dust free and three times more absorbent than wood shavings. This bedding also encourages burrowing and nesting, two natural instincts of our small furry friends.

And when it comes to odor control, regular habitat cleanings are key.

When to Change Your Pet's Bedding

You know how nice it is to slip into a bed with fresh, crisp sheets. Your pet also enjoys a clean habitat. Dr. Sara Ochoa, co-founder of How To Pets, is also a veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of West Monroe (La.). She recommends changing small animal bedding at least once a week to maintain hygiene and prevent health issues. It's also a good idea to spot-clean the habitat every day by removing small portions of soiled bedding.

"Ignoring regular bedding changes can lead to health concerns such as skin irritation due to the build-up of feces and ammonia from urine. Lack of regular bedding changes can also lead to the growth of bacteria that can harm your pet's health," she added. Plus, habitats that aren't cleaned regularly stink! And nobody wants smelly pet odors in their home.

Ochoa explains that ammonia build-up in soiled bedding can cause respiratory problems, leading to lung irritation and damage, or even pneumonia, because the substance is highly toxic. She says if you notice your small animal pet coughing or wheezing when you clean their habitat, it may indicate exposure to high amounts of ammonia.

Veterinarian Dr. Athena Gaffud adds to the conversation regarding the dangers of ammonia in a small animal habitat.

"High levels of ammonia could cause eye and nasal irritation," she elaborated. "Studies also showed toxic effects on other organs such as the spleen, liver, intestine and brain. It could also decrease food intake and weight gain."

Bottom line: Make small animal bedding cleaning a regular part of your pet's care routine. Once a week — or more often if you notice an odor — is a good rule of thumb if you want to prevent illness.

"A while ago, a hamster named Fudge came into my clinic weak and sick. After a thorough checkup, I found out their habitat wasn't cleaned regularly. Fudge had been exposed to high amounts of ammonia, which caused respiratory problems," Ochoa said. "We were able to treat Fudge, but it would have been better to keep their habitat clean and hygienic from the start. That would have prevented Fudge's health problems. Regular cleaning is essential for the health and happiness of small animals."

What about reusable fleece bedding?

A new popular trend among eco-conscious pet owners is to use fleece fabric in their small animal habitats for bedding. The reusable, washable nature of the substrate is enticing. However, it may not be a safe option for your snuggly friend.

Cuevas reminds us that small animals are chewers and will explore everything in their homes, including the bedding. "Fleece fabric is not digestible, so it likely will end up causing gastrointestinal obstruction, which can be fatal for your pet," she explained. "While you should try to avoid your pet consuming their bedding, it is important to choose bedding materials that won't jeopardize your pet's health if ingested."

Bedding made from natural plant-based materials is the best option since, ultimately, they are digestible if nibbled and swallowed.

Taking Care of Your Fur Friend

As you think about the best bedding options for your fur friend, Gaffud says to look for an eco-friendly choice that's biodegradable and made of material safe for your small pet. Then, change it out often. The Kaytee Clean & Cozy Bedding line is a natural paper bedding made of material safe for small animals and contains no harmful chemicals or by-products.

Paper-based bedding such as Kaytee Clean & Cozy Natural Bedding is not only soft and fluffy for burrowing and nesting but also absorbs five times its weight in liquid, provides odor control and is made from ingredients that don't contain harmful chemicals or by-products to keep your pet rabbit, guinea pig or hamster's home fresh.

Here's to healthy, happy days ahead with your pets!