Guinea pigs need soft, clean bedding that is changed frequently in order to stay in top health. Litter training a cavy is very difficult and, as a result, they tend to eliminate in many areas around the cage. It’s essential for their health that bedding be replaced to keep down ammonia and keep them and the cage clean.
Ammonia is a component of urine. In high concentrations not only does it smell offensive to humans, but can eventually lead to respiratory problems for the guinea pig. Breathing concentrated ammonia will damage their lungs, burn their esophagus and create other health problems.
Though guinea pigs eat some of their feces as a natural part of their diet, it is a small percentage of the total. That creates the need to remove droppings from the cage regularly. Some pet owners solve the problem by placing the cavy on top of a wire mesh that serves as a floor. But this is uncomfortable for the pig and, over the long term, can be very harmful to their feet. They will develop painful and debilitating sores.
Lining the cage floor with materials that can be easily and inexpensively replaced is a far better solution for both problems. There are many valid choices, and a few potentially harmful ones.
Any hardwood chips or shavings can serve as a soft, absorbent material for lining the bottom of the cage.
Aspen is a popular choice, though in some areas it can be a little higher cost than other options. Cedar is to be avoided. It contains aromatic oils (phenols) that have been correlated with respiratory and liver problems by many studies. Pine is a common choice but it may have the same, though weaker, drawback as cedar. Make sure it’s well aired out before use. Discard it if it continues to smell after a week of airing.
Wood pellets are an option.
Made from a mixture of wood scraps, they’re cheaper and will last longer. But they are harder and may contain some potentially harmful aromatics. Ensure they’re well aired before use. If they become wet they can disintegrate, which may lead to becoming lodged in the eyes or nose of the guinea pig.
Paper-based bedding comes in a variety of types.
Paper is economical, soft and very absorbent making it good for odor control and walking. But when wet it may suffer the same problem as wood pellets, only more so. If it shreds, the particles can more easily find their way into the eyes or nose where infection becomes more likely. Dry, they may produce excess paper dust, again leading to the same problems. Use a quality paper product from a reputable manufacturer to avoid these problems.
CareFresh, Megazorb and many other commercial brands provide different types. They differ in absorbancy, support and dust content. Each has its advocates among cavy owners and experience will be your best guide. Try several.
Hay is sometimes used by those who want a ‘natural’ product.
Hay is an option, but it has many drawbacks. It is not as absorbent as other options and so will need to be changed daily. Also, since it forms part of the natural cavy diet, they may well eat the bedding. It is low cost when purchased in bulk, but if not used up within a few weeks it can be infiltrated with mold. That will increase the odds of respiratory infection.
Other flooring alternatives are available.
If the mesh is fine enough and the grid soft enough, it is possible to use tiles. One type, EnviroTiles, are popular with some cavy owners. They’re specially coated and come in 12 in x 12 in grids that can be connected together. The tiles have 394 holes per square foot. But observe your cavy carefully for broken toenails, sores or redness on the feet.
Specialized products such as VetBed are an option. Made of layered polyester and other materials, they wick away the urine, keeping it beneath the feet and belly, which is good. But they do need to be cleaned every few days.
Explore all your options.