Your dog deserves a cozy place to sleep—one that keeps him warm in winter and cool in summer. In addition to the outer fabric, the filler contributes much to the overall comfort of a dog bed. There are various materials to choose from, and many factors can influence your selection. Arthritic and older dogs need a more supportive mattress, while puppies and smaller dogs can get by with a fluffier material. Take your dog's needs into account when making comparisons.
Solid Foam Mattresses
For older dogs and those with arthritic joints, hip dysplasia or other motion-limiting medical conditions, the best bet in a dog bed is a good firm foam mattress. Most of the commercial orthopedic beds available use foam as all or part of their most expensive beds -- sometimes topping them with a soft layer of polyester batting to make them more comfortable and snuggly. You can purchase pre-cut foam or buy a larger piece and cut it down with a serrated knife, but make sure it is at least 7 inches thick if you want an orthopedic-style bed. Thinner or less dense foam is fine for younger, healthy dogs, but large dogs need a thicker mattress than tiny dogs in order to distribute their weight more evenly.
Polyester Fiber Fill
This has long been the favorite filler choice for crafters and quilters because it's washable, lightweight, easy-to-use and inexpensive. It is also hypoallergenic so is a good choice if you or your dog has sensitivities or allergies to other -- usually natural -- stuffing like natural latex foam, horse hair or plant materials. The only real drawbacks are that the cheaper materials tend to clump after a few washings and, of course, it is not especially supportive for heavier dogs. It is fine for most smaller dogs, however, and is inexpensive enough to replace occasionally if it clumps. A bonus with “polyfill” is that it insulates, so it makes a warmer, cozier bed than some other fill materials.
Cedar shavings are often used as bedding material for all sorts of pets -- but not without controversy. In addition to containing aromatic substances called thujaplicins, which can cause allergic reactions in some people and animals, that same aroma can irritate a dog's sensitive nose. At the same time, there is little dispute that cedar repels fleas, moths and other insects, so it's definitely beneficial as well. Many concerned dog parents find that enclosing a small cloth bag of cedar shavings inside a layer of other filler -- like polyester fiberfill or foam is an acceptable compromise. Let your dog's reaction be your guide.
Long before we had synthetic materials like polyester, or even the technology to turn natural latex sap from rubber trees into airy, yet supportive foam products, people stuffed mattresses and pillows. Traditional fillers include hair -- especially horse hair -- feathers, rags, grains, nut hulls, even sand, although the latter would not be easy to move and might be a shade uncomfortable on a cold night. If you prefer a natural and inexpensive filler, straw is a good choice. If you're looking for something simple and effective and don't mind whether it's natural or not, try clean rags -- T-shirts and old sweaters are perfect -- or re-use plastic grocery bags. Whatever stuffing you use, make sure it stays safely inside the bed. Beans, grains and other plant products may attract rodents or your dog, and any filler made up of small parts is a potential choking hazard, so beware.
By Deborah Stephenson
About the Author
Deborah Stephenson is a homesteader, lifelong organic gardener, former zookeeper, naturalist, artist and anthropologist who brings an eclectic range of experience to her writings. When not writing she can usually be found puttering in her extensive gardens or exploring the national forest next door with her dogs.