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In A Flap About Fleece

A couple of wheeks ago we did a survey to find out what type of bedding people are currently using. Thanks go to the 263 of you that responded - we now have the Top 5 in order of popularity:

1) Newspaper and hay (93 votes)

2) Fabric - VetBed / Fleece / Towels ( 66 votes)

3) Megazorb (32 votes)

4) Shavings / Sawdust (22 votes)

5) Hemp bedding (9 votes)

Fabric bedding is becoming more and more popular, but problems are starting to emerge because the bedding is not being used / cared for appropriately. I'm aware of several instances where Humans changed over from using traditional bedding to fleece and after a while, their guineas (that had previously been fit and healthy) started getting sick. Recurring urinary / respiratory tract invections and fungal skin problems were the most common health issues. When you dig deeper and question how they are caring for the fabric, the problems become obvious:

  1. it isn't being changed often enough
  2. it isn't washed at a high enough temperature
  3. the wrong type of washing powder gel is being used:(

Once these issues were addressed or the the guineas were changed back onto "normal" bedding (such as hay and newspaper, Megazorb, Flax or Hemp), the problems went away.

Here are some thoughts about fabric bedding from Karen at Reading Guinea Pig Rescue...

The Animal Welfare Act 2007 states that "owners are responsible for ensuring that their animals' welfare needs are met". This includes the need for:

  • A suitable environment.
  • To exhibit normal behaviour patterns.

These are just 2 of the 5 "needs" that can be met, or failed to be met, by providing guinea pigs with the correct bedding. A suitable environment is one in which guinea can forage (a characteristic of guinea pigs), and it is a dry and clean (yet not sterile) home. Whilst it is well known that guinea pigs require the indigestible long fibre that hay provides to keep their digestive system "moving" and to promote the correct action of the teeth for dental wear, attention is hardly ever paid to the behavioural needs of guinea pigs. Quite simply a pile of good Meadow Hay (that has a low nutritional value, unlike the green "treat hays") provides a most welcome boredom breaker for guinea pigs. Piles of fresh hay should be provided daily for a guinea pigs' health and all-round wellbeing.

During my last few years doing guinea pig rescue, I saw a rise in guinea pigs being kept indoors. However, this seems to be coupled with a rise in fleece bedding, not the purpose made VetBed and similar, but cheap and cheerful fleece that is made for Human use. Unfortunately however appealing or cute this may look, or easy and acceptable to maintain in the Human home, it is not providing the needs as outlined by the Animal Welfare Act. If your equine bedding (or the like) does not fit in with your house, then maybe guinea pigs don't either?

My "standard" on bedding when rehoming was that it must be guinea pig friendly. Most people know why shavings shouldn't be used, but it seems to me that fleece is being encouraged as the "new shavings" when it comes to bedding. I personally find the idea of yet more washing and drying when it isn't needed quite unwanted, but also the need to wash at 60/90C each time is too costly for me. I am told 40C is enough, but alarm bells don't ring the moment a guinea has a, for example, fungal/ urine infection, so why risk it? You don't just wipe the Correx in the Cavy Cage with water until you know there's a guinea that has an infection and then start using a disinfectant! Prevention is better than cure.

Guinea pigs often come into rescue with behavioural issues, and it is just as important that these are remedied as well as any medical conditions. A cheap and simple remedy to get things "kick started" is to provide guinea with all their basic needs, one of which is a suitable environment in which they can forage ie a big pile of hay! This is by no means a cure-all, but it goes a long long way towards helping the guinea pigs get back to being guinea pigs. It pains me just as much to see guinea pigs that are not allowed the freedom to forage in a large space as it does to see a guinea pig living on its own. Hay hay and more hay on top of a forageable bedding, and VetBed under houses for those who want it is the way it goes here. My own guineas live happily in herd of 8:)


 

Top Tips When Using Fabric Bedding

1) Frequency of washing - a warm, damp environment created by guinea pig urine is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. Any type of fabric bedding must be kept dry to ensure that your guinea is not sitting / sleeping on damp bedding, so you will always need newspaper underneath the fabric to absorb urine. Washing bedding every couple of days will ensure that it stays dry and doesn't start to smell. Do bear in mind that some fabrics are more absorbent than others.

2) Washing temperature - a minimum of 60C, preferably 90C. Low temperature washing alone will not destroy all the germs and fungal spores. If you have guineas with Ringworm (which is easily passed on from animal to animal, animal to human, human to animal and human to human), how do you know that washing has killed off all the fungal spores? In this case you would either need to soak the bedding in a "proper" disinfectant such as Virkon or ConfiClean before washing at 90C, or preferably change to a "normal" bedding so that it gets disposed of when the cage is cleaned out, rather than being re-used with the potential for re-infection.

3) Washing powder / gel - needs to be non-biological. Biological washing powders often cause skin irritations to animals coming into contact with fabric that has been washed in them. Also avoid any products that are highly perfumed (often with cheap fragrance oils) and never use fabric conditioner.

4) Know how to unblock your washing machine filter / waste pipe! No matter how careful you are about removing hay from fabric bedding before washing, there will always be some left, so be prepared for blockages at some point.

5) Use VetBed rather than other types of fabric bedding as it has been designed for the purpose and wicks away urine, keeping your guineas warm and dry. You will need at least 2 or 3 sets to ensure that it can be washed every couple of days and have time to dry completely before being used again. Top tip: when removing bedding to be washed, leave it somewhere to dry out before you attempt to shake off the hay or brush it off, otherwise you will get covered in urine!

6) Natural behaviour - guineas need access to unlimited amounts of hay every day. 80% of their diet should consist of good quality hay to keep their teeth and digestive system in good order, and to allow them to express their natural behaviour (ie foraging). So, you need to allocate part of your cage to a large pile of hay for this purpose. When you look at pigtures of pristine cages with freshly changed fleece bedding, where are the pigs? More often than not, they are happily munching away in their pile of hay:) Only providing hay in hay racks / balls in order to keep the cage tidy is not acceptable unless the guineas also have an area to forage in. It is fine to put "expensive" hay in hay racks / balls to keep it off the floor, but there must be a foraging area as well.

My own thoughts? I'm not a fan of fabric bedding as it is too much like hard work for every day use. I've always used equine bedding such as Dengie MediBed or Flax (Equisorb / HippoFan / Jopack). VetBed does have its place and is very useful for keeping guineas comfortable on Vet trips (if you use hay, you will leave a mess in the consulting room for your Vet to clear up!). VetBed is also recommended for post-op guineas, but in my experience, whenever I have put some down under their Fiddlestix for them to sleep on, they have always preferred their pile of hay:) The only time I used VetBed on a regular basis was when Marvellous Marbles had bladder problems. He had a strip of white VetBed where he slept so that I could see if there was any blood or sludge being passed. Even this small amount was an effort to look after, but it did allow me to monitor his condition:)

 

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