Softwood Shavings are Dangerous for Small Pets
By Chandra Moira Beal
You are standing in the small animal aisle of the pet supply store picking out a brand of litter. If there is a picture of a rabbit on the package, it must be safe for rabbits, right? Wrong! Maybe even dead wrong!
It is now well documented that rabbits exposed long term to litter and bedding materials made from pine and cedar shavings can suffer fatal health issues. The main concern with pine and cedar wood shavings has to do with natural, volatile chemicals in the wood called phenols. If you open a bag of shavings and sniff, you can smell these woodsy aromatic oils. Phenols are known to cause damage to the rabbit’s liver enzymes, and can alter the rabbit’s ability to handle standard prescribed drugs.
Rabbits who are constantly exposed to phenols, as when locked in a cage with wood shavings in the litter tray, are at great risk. By inhaling the fumes, the toxins pass through the lungs into the blood and are finally filtered through the liver. The rabbit’s liver tries to remove the phenols by producing other enzymes that destroy them. This is a natural defense against environmental toxins that all animals share.
Constant exposure to phenols causes rabbits to produce high quantities of the counteractive enzyme. This, in turn, decreases the effect of certain drugs, including certain injectable anesthetics for rabbits. In a study of rodents, exposure to phenols caused drug efficiency to be decreased by 40 percent. Rabbits are already very limited in what kinds of drugs they can take safely, so exposing them to phenols puts them in a grave situation.
Phenols are not found in the same amounts in hardwoods such as aspen, so hardwood shavings are safer than softwood shavings, but may still contain enough volatile oils to cause liver damage.
There are many more safe litter options now than there were just a few years ago. Each litter has a different absorption rate, weight, scent, and tracking capabilities. Because rabbits tend to nibble on everything and can easily inhale the dust, it is important to choose a non-toxic product. I encourage you to try one of the many new litters designed for use with rabbits.
© Copyright by Chandra Moira Beal. All rights reserved.
San Diego, California