Cedar and Pine Shavings
Should you use pine or cedar bedding for your hedgehog? A great deal of debate surrounds the issue, but there are answers.
Basically, the health concerns with cedar stem from an aromatic toxin called Plicatic Acid. Studies conducted on humans link the occupational exposure to cedar and, hence, Plicatic Acid, to a 50% increased incidence of asthma. Effects of long-term exposure is unclear, although it is suggested that it may increase the risk of diseases such as glottal cancer. While pine does not contain plicatic acid, it does contain abietic acids, also associated with similar or identical symptoms after lengthy exposure.
So the question is, does the use of pine or cedar bedding pose a health risk to hedgehogs? To obtain a fair and non-biased answer, we need to look to the studies themselves. In every case, the studies looked at sawmill or pulp mill workers, mainly in British Columbia where the milling of cedar is a mainstay. In such environments, the workers are exposed to high levels of wood dust with protective breathing apparatus rarely being used. Therefore exposure levels are abnormally high and cannot necessarily be compared with the life of a hedgehog, living in a cage or aquarium, sleeping on or burrowing occasionally into wood shavings. In order for exposure levels to be equal, the hedgehogs environment would need to have a fair level of airborne wood dust present on a near-constant basis. It is likewise important to consider that the only definitive studies available, directly linking both toxins to type-I hypersensitivity reaction, have been those conducted on humans, particularly workers exposed to extreme levels of toxin-laden wood dust. So-called "evidence" with small mammals is still incomplete and sometimes anecdotal. That said, however, it is important to consider that - even after proper curing - plicatic acid levels are considerably higher in cedar than abietic acid levels found in pine.
Given this information, it is only logical for pet owners to err on the side of caution. Cedar should most definitely not be used as a bedding material for small mammals, including hedgehogs. The plicatic acid levels are far too high in both non-cured and cured cedar chips to be overlooked as potential health risk.
Pine on the other hand does contain high levels of abietic acid when not cured, but those levels drop significantly when the wood is properly cured. Therefore, while non-cured pine bedding should be viewed in the same light as cedar, properly cured pine is likely safe for hedgehogs if adequate ventilation of the cage is provided.
We've used cured pine bedding with our own herd from the time we first started into hedgehogs, over 6 years ago, 'til now. We haven't seen anything that would indicate that our hedgehogs are living any shorter lives than those that have been kept on alternative bedding and thus far we've only had one hedgie who displayed an allergic reaction to being kept on pine. She suffered a severe skin reaction and lost most of her quills within a week. Interestingly enough, she also reacted badly to aspen bedding. So, while I have no problem with using Pine, if you're at all concerned, I recommend you use something else. There are several alternatives including aspen and several paper products, but each has it's own disadvantages.
Aspen is a relatively safe bedding material although it can be rather messy unless it is bought in the chip form. Oftentimes touted as being the 'perfect' bedding material, especially for hedgehogs with skin allergies, this is not always the case. Although rare, some hedgehogs will experience an allergic response to aspen shavings.
Although not as comfortable as wood shavings, corn cob is a relatively safe bedding, but certain precautions need to be taken here as well. Problems have been reported with young male hedgehogs getting pieces of corn cob trapped in their penis sheaths, resulting in irritation, local infection and even urinary infection. If not detected soon enough this can even result in death.
Corn cob bedding also has a tendency to rot and mildew when wet, causing unpleasant odors and a not-so-pleasant environment for your hedgehog to live.
If the above two precautions are observed, however, corn cob will suffice as a hedgehog-safe bedding material.
Several paper bedding products are available such as soft products like CareFresh, or pelleted paper products. Both are reasonably safe although there have been cases where hedgehogs have choked to death on the softer products. From the perspective of comfort for your pet, there is debate as to whether pellets are too uncomfortable. In either case monitoring is recommended.