Lining your pet’s cage: Suitable substrates for small pets

‘Substrate’ is the technical name for what you use the line the bottom of your pet’s cage or enclosure.

Substrate soaks everything up when your pet goes to the toilet, as well as any spilt food and water. This helps keep their cage dry and comfortable. The only small pets that won’t need substrate in their enclosure are ferrets, house rabbits and house guinea pigs because they can be litter trained.

Substrate is not bedding or nesting material – which your pet will also need - but should still be comfortable for your pet to walk on. If your pet’s cage has a wire bottom, put a layer of lino down before you add the substrate.

Why is it important to choose the right substrate?

Your pet will spend most of their life walking on this substrate, so choosing the right product can really improve their comfort and quality of life.

  • Dusty materials can cause breathing problems in small pets.
  • Any chemical treatments can also cause health issues.
  • Choose a bedding that is ‘dust-free’ or ‘dust extracted’ and untreated. Even ‘natural’ treatments can cause problems for small pets.
  • Deodorising chemicals aren’t suitable for small pets.

Sawdust is very commonly used in small pet cages. However, this can irritate your pet’s lungs as it is very dusty, compressed paper bedding is a better choice as it’s softer, less dusty and will absorb wee well.

Recommended substrates

The following substrates are great options for rabbits, hamsters, mice, gerbils, chinchillas and guinea pigs:

  • Megazorb - A highly absorbent, soft wood pulp bedding often sold in bales as horse bedding. Keeps odours low.
  • Carefresh – A reclaimed pulp waste bedding with high absorbency, good odour control and low dust level.
  • Ecobed – A warm, soft, absorbent bedding with a low dust level.
  • Fitch – Recycled paper bedding which is soft, warm and very absorbent. Often sold in bales as horse bedding
  • Burgess Excel Ultra Absorbent bedding – A wood pulp bedding with high absorbency and odour control
  • Many people with indoor guinea pigs use vetbedding. It absorbs any wee away from your pet. Just shake off any dry pellets of poo before you pop it in the washing machine.

Remember that Gerbils and hamsters love to dig and may also appreciate a deep potting compost layer with additional paper bedding so they can create tunnels.

The ideal home

Find out more about the ideal homes for different kinds of small pets and how much space they'll need for a happy, healthy life. 

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About small pets

Read our guides to looking after small pets. 

More advice

PDSA Pet Store

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