Aspen vs Fleece for Respiratory Health

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Feb 20, 2019
Hello all,

I have five female rats who live in a double critter nation. (Their names are Clove, Sage, Nutmeg, Saffron, and Juniper.) I love them to pieces, and I'm always trying to make sure I give them the best life that I can. When I first got them, and up until quite recently, I had them on fleece, with U-Haul furniture pads underneath. I used binder clips to secure the pieces of fleece and U-Haul pads to the cage pans. It was an okay system -- it didn't get very smelly, so I could do a full clean only every week. The only real problem I had was the destruction of the fleece and furniture pads -- the girls loved to chew holes all over them and even crawl under the fleece. But they are really cheap materials, so it wasn't too much of a problem.

However, in looking around a bit more into rat care, I saw that a lot of people think fleece is not a great bedding for rats and that aspen, hemp, or another suitable type of loose bedding is much better, especially for enrichment. (Because they can dig and burrow to a degree.) So, after a bit of thought, I modified their cage with a cement mixing pan and two small plastic bins attached to the shelves with zip ties, and started using aspen.

I noticed rather quickly that, even though the aspen I buy is kiln-dried and dust screened, there is always some amount of dust at the bottom of the pans when I clean. Along with this, I have noticed a fair bit more sneezing, and even droplets of porphyrin around the cage, such as in their food dish, that looks like it was sneezed out. Before I switched to aspen I didn't see anything like this, which leads me to wonder if there is some amount of irritation being caused by the bedding.

Because of this, I have been debating whether I should switch back to fleece. For the most part, I don't observe a lot of digging or burrowing behaviours, although having bedding does allow for scatter feeding, which I do at least partly most of the time. (However, it would be possible to put a dig box in a cage that uses fleece to enable this as well.) The girls were also well potty trained to use their litter boxes before I switched to aspen, and they now ignore the litter boxes for the most part. Along with this, obviously fleece and U-Haul pads are more reusable and economical than buying bedding on a routine basis.

I guess I'm just wondering whether anyone can advise about whether fleece with an absorbent layer beneath is a good bedding or not, and whether I should be worried about these minor respiratory issues. And whether I should value the potential enrichment loose bedding might offer over the dust-free nature of fleece. I don't think the respiratory issues they're experiencing are severe -- they aren't sneezing constantly, or having laboured breathing, or anything like that -- but like I said, it's definitely more than there was before, which has really given me pause.

Anyway thanks for any feedback anyone can give me! :)


Well-Known Member
Feb 1, 2019
I personally use carefresh as my bedding with some pieces of fleece thrown in for bedding-


Oct 5, 2019
Hey there! I also have 5 female rats in a double unit.
Out of the 5, only one is super destructive. When she starts chewing a hole, I scold her, and place a piece of clear packing tape over it.
She got tired of all of her projects being covered with clear tape and she stopped chewing destructive holes in the fleece. There are still a few penny sized holes here and there, but she stopped for the most part :)

I wouldn't use aspen just because I don't trust that it won't give rats respiratory issues (but that's just my opinion). If there is a PetSupermarket near you, they sell huge bags of crinkled paper shreds for $12. I would definitely switch.
If I were you, I would keep your top unit fleece and the bottom unit either paper shreds, "yesterdays news", or go back to fleece and try what I did.

Oh! Also, when I have notebook paper I am done using, I put it in my cage and my rats chew it up and shred it, and build nests. Maybe that's what your rats are wanting to do. I would definitely put more things in your cage for your girls to chew up!

When I used to let my rats free roam in the same room as their cage, they learned that the bottom floor is the exit, so they spent all night digging holes in the fleece and tray trying to escape. Then, I switched their free roam room to a different room so that I have to carry all 5 rats instead of just opening the bottom floor doors, and they stopped chewing holes on the bottom floor.


Loving rats since 2002.
Staff member
Jul 21, 2007
Northeastern Ontario
Any type of loose bedding will create dust. I did try aspen for a while and care fresh and other loose soft bedding and I never cared for any of it. Rats don't really burrow like other rodents. But they can sure build great nests with bedding. But when I had chewers, I would place newspaper or plain paper over the fleece where the rats liked to chew. It did deter them, they loved ripping up the paper.
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New Member
Jul 13, 2020
St. Louis
I know this is really old, but just a tip for others who have fabric chewers - try NOT clipping the liner down! I cut it 3 inches or so big on all sides and tuck it under. Overall, they leave the top level alone. The bottom they do usually get around to pulling it up. I fix it every couple days when I clean their litter and then otherwise I let them do their little reorganizing. They win by getting to do what they do, and I win by not having to replace fabric very often. Big liners eventually get cut down to small liners. Small liners get cut up into nesting material or braided into ropes.

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