A couple of years ago, my oldest son asked for a guinea pig for Christmas. I think caring for animals is an important skill for kids, and my oldest has always been a great helper with our dog and ducks. We had a discussion about how Santa doesn’t bring animals and that mommy needed to be sure he would be responsible for caring for a pet before she’d allow one.
We picked up books about caring for guinea pigs at the library and spent weeks reading over them. We talked about what type of jobs he would need to do. We talked about how animals poop and when you have an animal, you’re responsible for the poop- even if it does sound gross.
On my part, I did a lot of research on cage size, supplies, and bedding. I quickly discovered that small animal bedding can be pricey. With the recommended size for a guinea pig cage, you can go through a lot of bedding in a short time.
Not only is the bedding expensive, but some types of bedding can be hazardous to your pet’s health. Cedar and pine shavings can cause respiratory issues, allergies, and skin conditions. I try to minimize the expense of my animals by making sure we care for them properly… it’s nice to avoid unnecessary veterinary bills.
And while paper bedding is compostable- the plastic bag it’s wrapped in is not.
Did I mention that bedding is messy? Guinea pigs kick the paper bedding out of the cage, along with everything else.
I discovered that many people are now using fleece cage liners as an alternative to traditional bedding. You have an initial upfront cost for the liners, which you can make or buy, and then you reuse the bedding.
It’s easy. It’s affordable. And it’s oh-so-cozy. It also seems to prevent a lot of mess from ending up outside the cage.
Benefits to Cage Liners
- There are quite a few benefits to cage liners.
- They’re eco-friendly
- You can shake out the hay and poop into a compost pile
- They’re compact and easy to store
- They’re affordable
- They can reduce bedding mess
- When made correctly, they can protect the bottom of your cage.
Guinea pigs are a bit delicate and can't have wire under their feet like rabbits can; my understanding is that they're prone to bumblefoot which you may be familiar with if you have chickens.
As a result many of the cages have a soft bottom made of vinyl fabric. It's easy to wipe down but spilled water or excess urine leaks through to the floor or table under your cage.
I sew my cage liners so that they're heavy enough that the guinea pigs can't move them, and thick enough that the urine shouldn't leak through, provided you care for your pets regularly.
Drawbacks to Cage Liners
There are a few drawbacks to these cage liners.
- The cage may need to be cleaned more frequently to remove waste
- Sometimes guinea pigs find ways to dig underneath to hide
- There's an upfront cost
- You have to wash them
- They need to be brushed off very carefully before you put them through the wash or you'll make a mess of your washing machine.
Cleaning the Guinea Pig Cage
I was told that cages with reusable liners needed to be cleaned more frequently. I have not found that to be true. The reality is is that poop smells and guinea pigs smell, and paper bedding shouldn't be hiding that smell any better than reusable bedding. They don’t poop more with reusable liners, it’s just more obvious.
Ideally, you want to scoop out poop daily to keep the cage floor clean, regardless of what type of bedding you use. Keep a tiny dustpan and broom by the cage, lift one edge of your liner, and the poop will all shift downhill into a nice neat pile.Sweep up and place in a bin to go out to the compost.
My process is pretty simple for cleaning the cage. I get a big empty bin. I carefully transfer all of the cage liners into the empty bin and carry the bin outside. Because guinea pigs eat a lot of hay and they poop a lot, you have a lot of waste that can get all over your floor if you're not careful.
Once I get outside, I take the liners to my compost pile which is next to my fence. I hang my liners on the fence and use a small brush to brush the hay and waste into the compost pile.
Here's a video of my process:
Making Cage Liners
These cage liners are easy to make. You simply sew together three layers of fabric. You'll want a stay dry layer on top, a fabric for absorbency in the middle, and preferably something water resistant on the bottom.
All fabrics used need to be safe to wash on hot so they'll survive your wash cycles.
Check out my blog for more information on how to sew cage liners for small pets.
Washing Cage Liners
After the hay and waste is off, I bring my liners back inside and put them through the washing machine. I wash them on hot and heavy cycle. They are dried on hot as well.
In the meantime, I put fresh liners, hay, feed and water in the cage.
If I have an area that gets soiled more than another, I may add two liners overlapping. If one gets wet, I can remove it and use the one underneath the rest of the week.
Upcycled Material for Liners
While I would love to have color coordinated liners and matching themed sets, I am thrifty. I used upcycled towels and pilled fleece blankets for many of my liners.
For my prettier liners, I buy fleece for the top and bottom, then sandwich old towels in between for absorbency. I sew the layers together. They are thicker to sew, and take longer to dry as a result, but they’re easy to change.
Estimated Cost Savings
I asked a few people how much litter they use each month and it seemed like 60 L is typical for two guinea pigs in the recommended cage size. This would cost anywhere from $150-300/year for bedding for two guinea pigs. Guinea pigs live 6-8 years so that’s roughly $1-2k in disposable bedding.
If you were to purchase cage liners, the nice ones range from $40-60/each. You’d want two so you can swap them out while the other is being washed. Properly cared for, I don’t see a reason why those liners won’t last for the guinea pig’s lifespan. Total cost: $80-120.
Naturally, if you make them these will cost less. They can cost anywhere from FREE (upcycling items in your home) to $22/liner. If you want a better idea of how to save and details on how to sew the liners, this is a detailed breakdown of the costs of paper bedding vs. reusable cage liners or check out my book, Sewing for Guinea Pigs.
I can’t say how these would work for rabbits or other small pets, but I imagine they would be similar.
Danielle Pientka is a stay-at-home mom to three boys and a blogger at DIYDanielle.com. When she's not chasing children, goats, or ducks, she's gardening, reading, sewing, or brainstorming her next DIY project. She is the author of How to Sew Cloth Diapers, as well as a few other sewing books. Her husband and she developed a sewing phone app, Sew Organized, available for iOS and Android devices. Connect with Danielle on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and YouTube, and read all of her Mother Earth News posts here.
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