Bedding has a significant role to play in how clean your guinea pigs, and their cage, are. You have many options: wood shavings, commercial recycled newspaper pellets, cellulose-fiber bedding (my absolute favorite is Carefresh), and other, non-traditional options like a natural bedding of soil (which is something I’ve always wanted to try) and towels.
Wood shavings used to be a more popular choice, but it’s been proven many times that any kind of wood shavings is a bad choice for your guinea pig. The volatile compounds that make wood shavings smell nice are also a potential health risk, especially respiratory problems and (possibly) liver issues. Where I live the climate is very damp and my house is prone to molding, and my guinea pig Cashew already has some respiratory issues, I’ve noticed. Cashew gets a cough during the winter, where he gets some sort of guinea pig phlegm, but he rarely coughs at all if the house is aired out often and a space heater is kept on near the cage to dry out the dampness. (What also helps is constantly dry bedding.) Any kind of bedding that irritates Cashew’s sinuses is a big NO in my opinion.
Commercial recycled newspaper pellets
I used a brand of newspaper pellets before, and although it was a cheap bedding alternative compared to some kinds, it was also very dusty and Cashew’s allergies really flared up. Also it retained urine quite a bit and if I missed a spot, it stunk like ammonia the next day. If your guinea pig doesn’t have allergies and you are very thorough with cleaning the cage, I recommend this kind of bedding.
The one and only kind of bedding made from cellulose fiber that I would recommend, from personal experience, is Carefresh bedding. It’s soft and my guinea pigs thoroughly enjoyed burrowing and scratching around in it. When the bottom of the cage is layered thickly and compactly with Carefresh, it is so easy to clean, it was like a miracle was handed to me in the form of puffy cellulose fiber. It disposed of any ammonia smell, which is something that everyone can appreciate if you share living space with others. This is my absolute favorite bedding ever. The only problem that such a miraculous form of bedding provides is the cost. Carefresh is expensive, and rightly so for the quality of the product. But alas, for those of us who are not made of money, this is also a highly improbable choice. But if you can afford it, it would be my Number One choice if I were you.
Alternative bedding options
Probably the most economical choice you could possibly find, soil bedding is probably the most preferred choice of bedding by guinea pigs (although it can probably get quite messy). I haven’t used it myself, but the use of soil/dirt for bedding has gotten rave reviews from guinea pigs and their owners. I will try this option in the near future because it seems like the smart choice: it’s healthy for the guinea pigs (and for you), it’s the most natural and back-to-basics kind of bedding you could find. It will make your piggies feel like they’ve gone back in time to when their ancestors were living in the Peruvian heartland. (Plus it is totally compostable. Livin’ green with your guinea pigs has never been this easy.)
Towels aren’t the most hygienic choice compared to Carefresh (odor-reducing), or soil (naturally odor-reducing), but they’re the cat’s meow when it comes to doing it DIY-style. If you know how to sew, you can specially tailor the towels to fit the cage (whatever shape or size) perfectly, so you don’t have to use multiple towels, which after using towels for almost three years, is extremely irritating. (It’s much easier to clean one towel rather than three.) You never have to go to the pet store or find some more dirt, you can just wash and dry the towels, and you’re done. Using towels is definitely a convenient option, and I’d recommend it to anyone on a time and money budget. (The only thing you have to keep in mind is that if you have more than one guinea pig you’ll have to clean the cage every day, or else it reeks of ammonia. Plus guinea pigs do like to chew things – you may find that you’ll be learning how to sew if you didn’t know how before, to sew up all the little round holes appearing in the towels.) Just don’t leave dirty towels too long before you wash them because they will stain and smell like death.
In books, magazines and on websites, people will say that you only have to clean your guinea pigs’ cage every so often. This only applies if you have one guinea pig. When I first adopted my guinea pigs, I adopted two at once so I wasn’t eased into the transition. I learned very quickly that they made lots of mess, all the time, and I had to adapt and clean them every day. If you have two or more guinea pigs, the most hygienic thing you can do for them is clean them every day. I know I’ve been really tired, and just put a blanket overtop yesterday’s mess, and regretted it in the morning. The guinea pigs may not be able to tell you they like being clean, but no animal wants to wallow in its own feces. It is just generally unclean and not very nice at all.
I’ve also realized with Cashew’s sinus issues, that a clean bed equals no coughing or sneezing in the middle of the night, and no runny eyes. But when his bed is filthy and damp, his eyes run freely and he coughs all night long (which, believe me, is reason enough to clean it day in and day out). It’s not how you want your pet to live. When you adopt an animal, you’ve already pledged to try and give him or her the best life you can, and that includes making its life as calm and happy as possible. And I know that Cashew is miserable when he’s having allergy problems. So I buck up and I clean their cage and make sure they are as comfortable as possible. Pets are the most loyal creatures on earth, so we owe them that.