Bedding material for animals: chickens and others

Bedding material comes in many options, and there are pros and cons to each one.

Depending on the animal and its life stage, bedding varies by species and age.  Obviously, livestock and hoof stock, like cows, sheep, horses, alpacas and llamas, work well on beddings of straw (not hay, that is what they eat) although some people use shavings, such as pine shavings.Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 9.49.37 PM

With domestically kept chickens, ducks and turkeys (and other related poultry animals) straw shavings can be dangerous, as they are slippery and unstable, and can cause a condition called “splay leg”, where the legs go uselessly out to each side and the animal can neither stand up nor walk, and can result in permanent paralysis and subsequent death.

I worked for 11 years at an avian and exotic veterinarian clinic, and saw many cases of splay legged birds. Our treatment options wavered from surgery, hobbling and such treatments as putting (smaller birds) in Dixie cups with their legs tethered together with cotton or gauze wadding between their legs to keep them in the proper position. Usually treatment was successful, although many times it seemed to take an excruciatingly long time to determine the outcome.

Straw can be used on adult animals as bedding, but it is imperative to keep it clean and tossed and refreshed, and given the nature of its fibers, that can be costly as well as difficult to determine what is soiled and what is not.

Previously mentioned, pine shavings are a very popular bedding material, and can be bought in 50 lb. bales relatively cheaply. Pine has a nice aroma, and is very absorbent.  It is relatively easy to visually articulate wet or soiled areas, and those areas can be scooped out with an item like a cat litter scoop so refreshing that bedding can be relatively cost-effective. There are cautions to be had with some animals, such as chicks or ducklings, who might try to forage in the pine shavings and erroneously ingest them, which can cause health problems such as crop impactions and other things.

Cedar shaving, on the other hand, can be very deleterious to many animals’ health, causing such problems as eye issues and most especially respiratory complications, but can also cause skin irritation issues. Cedar is not recommended, however, it is still commercially sold as bedding material, and should not be.

Cat litters come in many varieties and are sometimes used as bedding, probably most often with wild life rehabilitators.  Cat litters come in clay, sawdust, sand substances, and recycled newspaper, which is bound up in big balls designed to help cats who have been declawed (I do NOT recommend that, declawing, that is, for many reasons, that will be a new blog).  When using cat litters, one needs to be sensitive to the dusts associated with many of the products, as well as some of the “perfumed” products, which can interfere with an animal’s lung system when having to live in close proximity to the litter.

Finally, newspaper and blankets/towels/sheets etc are used for bedding by dog and cat breeders and by rescue groups or people dealing with sick avians or felines.  Newspaper is cheap to come by and easily recognized as soiled and can be replaced, and bedding can be washed and replaced but it is more labour intensive.

My mammal pets lovelovelove their beddies and I often cuddle up with them, frequently to their consternation as they wonder how soon that I will go away and leave them to their space. My dog’s beds rival mine in luxury and comfort, and that is how it should be, since being a pet dog is a job in and of itself, but my dogs are working dogs and they deserve all the down time that they can get, as they keep a roof over my head and put food on my table.

So, that ends up my thoughts on bedding, if you have any questions, please feel free to call.

Dorene Olson
Certified Animal Behaviour Consultant, APDT, CPDT, IAABC, BA

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