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Wood Bedding for Hedgeogs:
The Danger of PhenolsAnyone who has looked on the Internet for what to use for hedgehog bedding has probably heard people say that pine and cedar are bad. What you usually do not find is an explanation of what is bad about them. The problem is a chemical called phenol that naturally occurs in these woods. Phenols are what make pine and cedar smell so nice and acts as an effective bug repellant, but can be dangerous to small animals.
I am not an expert on the topic, but I have talked to a few experts (wood workers, chemists, and veterinarians). All of the experts I spoke with agreed that pine can be safe if kiln dried because heat treating causes pine to release the phenols.
Cedar does not lose as much of the phenols as pine, so it does not become safe and should never be used for small animal bedding. It is marketed as a small animal bedding, but can poison the animal over time. Cedar is associated with allergic reactions and organ failure. Cedar can be great for large animals who aren't down in it and can't escape breathing it, but it is not good for hedgehogs.
If pine is properly heat treated, it can be great bedding to use. It is effective at odor control, cheap, and easy to use. After trying nearly every possible bedding alternative over the course of several years, we finally settled on a combination of kiln dried pine and compressed pine pellets as a bedding for our animals.
I did receive a caution from my veterinarian at one point, that I feel is important to pass on. He had another client who raises guinea pigs and who also uses pine bedding. She had purchased a sack of pine bedding from the local feed store and upon opening, thought it smelled extra piney. She thought it was odd, but didn’t think anything of it at the time. She changed cages as usual, then the next day found something horrid. Many of her guinea pigs were dead or looked as though they had received severe burns!
Upon necropsy, the veterinarian found that the deceased guinea pigs looked as though they had been baked in an oven. The internal organs showed signs of phenol toxicity. His conclusion was that the bedding had been improperly cured and the phenols had essentially baked the animals. He cautioned that if you get a batch of pine that smells extra piney or does not appear to have been thoroughly dried, do not use it! Return it immediately and try a different batch, as batch quality can vary tremendously. I was reminded of a small family of hedgehogs I had once taken in as rescues. They all had chemical burns on their legs and bellies from the cedar bedding they were living on.
As small animal owners, we have to be aware of the possibilities and monitor the products we are using to make sure that the quality is safe for our pets. For some people this may mean avoiding pine and cedar altogether, while for others who do not have other options available, it will mean being aware and doing your own quality control.
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