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Old 01-28-2019, 09:45 PM   #1
mikatelyn
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Default Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

Hi,
New, first-time hamster owner here.
I purchased Smokey, a 4-ish month old male Syrian hamster, from Petco about 6 weeks ago.
I have read through this, and other, forums fairly extensively and he is now in an appropriate cage (48" x 18" aquarium) for the past month, with an 11 inch wheel. For about 2.5 weeks he's also had an ~17" x 15" section of his cage where the substrate (all living things paper bedding) is about 9" deep. He has dug tunnels throughout this area, and this is also where his den/nest is.
While he has a sand pit area that he uses as a potty, I'm also fairly certain he's doing a lot of pooping and peeing in his den.
The last time I was forced to clean out his den (he was in a crittertrail enclosed 7 inch wheel at that time) I had left it for 2 weeks and there was caked poop and pee at the bottom of the wheel, and all of his bedding was horrendously malodorous (I had read I was cleaning too much so was trying to refrain from messing with his cage so much). I put the cleanest parts of the bedding that I could find (still very smelly) back in, but he was really freaked out by the clean and wouldn't even go back in the wheel. He also reverted to being really timid and sleeping a lot for a couple of days afterwards.
I'm finally making progress with taming him with lots of bathtub/playpen playtime, and I don't want to lose ground. How do I clean out his den? I can't just spot clean it, all the tunnels will collapse. I plan on doing the "European" technique that Erin from Erin's Animals recommends, where one puts 1/3 of the old substrate back in, but I feel like he's still going to get really freaked out. Should I leave him in the cage and let him watch the clean? Or put him somewhere else? Last time I put him elsewhere and he started acting really frantic as soon as he realized his den had been messed with. If there's a hoard do I just put food back buried into the substrate and hope he finds it? I don't think I can reform the tunnels for him. Any advice would be appreciated.
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Old 01-31-2019, 03:59 AM   #2
buttercuplols
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

I am having this exact same issue and was going to ask about it. Hesper has some odd sleeping arrangements and I'm a bit confused on how best to deal with it so you are not alone! I look forward to seeing what some of the others say about this!
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Old 01-31-2019, 09:15 AM   #3
cypher
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

It can be tricky to spot clean when they burrow down deep & make a tunnel system, does your ham have a house mikatelyn? I was just thinking if he had a large enough house over the area where he burrows down you could try putting a small sand tray in there & he might use that.
I wouldn't clean the cage while he's in there, I think that's too stressful for them, all you can really do is try to figure out where he's peeing & just clean that trying not to destroy too much else, you don't need to worry about poo as it's dry & they do eat some of it so that's best left for a while until it really needs doing. I would try to replace the hoard at least close to where it was if you do disturb that too.

buttercuplols what's Hesper up too? Is she peeing where she burrows down too?

Young hams don't pee that much so if they use a tray at least some of the time you shouldn't need to be cleaning anywhere else too frequently, they can have awkward habits sometimes though & you have to try & figure out what works best for them, sorry that's not terribly helpful!
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Old 01-31-2019, 06:23 PM   #4
mikatelyn
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

Thank you both for your replies! I do feel better knowing I'm not the only one who has this issue.
Thanks, Cypher, for the tips! It does give me some interesting ideas about putting a partially buried sandpit in a candy jar near his den. He does seem to preferentially use sand as a potty. In his play area he'll go potty in the sand pit I have in there too. The sand pit in his cage is on the other end, so I think he might be too lazy or sleepy to go there from his den in the middle of the day, but maybe if he had a closer one?
I do give him a few options for housing, including an igloo on top of the digging pit, but he has so far ignored all of them in favor of simply digging into the substrate, and nowhere near the igloo.
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Old 01-31-2019, 11:12 PM   #5
cypher
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

It might be worth trying a different house, the igloos aren't the best, plastic can get a bit of a condensation build up & get a bit damp & I don't think they're dark enough.
If you can get a large wooden house that's the best although they do need to be painted inside with a non toxic paint to waterproof them, a cardboard box about the size of a shoe box is great too, if you cut the base out & keep the lid then you can just lift the lid to check inside, cut out a small door & maybe put a bendy bridge in front of the door to make it really dark in there, he would probably still burrow down into the substrate but he might come up for a pee!
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Old 02-01-2019, 01:25 AM   #6
buttercuplols
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

Hi again guys! mikatelyn, you are most definitely not alone in being totally befuddled by them and what's best to do sometimes! I'm so confused on how to spot clean for a few reasons. Don't know where the pee is half the time. And her burrows being damaged.

Oh, cypher! Your response really made me laugh....

'What's Hesper up to?'

Goodness only knows!!!!! She's a tiny nutter!

First week she slept in her big terracotta house and peed in her wheel. I cleaned the wheel.

She peed in the house next. I downsized the house to a dwarf one to give her more cage space and put a potty next door and I couldn't find wee for ages. Plus she got the hump about the house change, packed her small hamster bags and moved her nest to under a bendy bridge (I keep thinking of Red Hot Chili Peppers about this!!)

I then found some pee in her sand bath and she has been using the house as a small hoard and to poo in (I thought they weren't in control of this?!) After this I changed the sand in the bath for fresh sand and she stopped using it as a potty then?!

I think she's going in one of her tunnels or potentially in her nest which I don't want to disturb again if I can help it due to the upset last time.

Soooo currently she poos in the house, sleeps under a bridge and who knows where she wees???!!! I would like to spot clean but I've no idea where to start as she's so confusing and I don't want to go digging through her nest or all the substrate as she's spent so long making lovely burrows and tunnels! I've now had her about 8 weeks I think. It's not too smelly or anything as it's loads of Fitch but I'm wondering whether to do a partial change Erin-style to try and work out what's going on and I'm considering putting the bigger house back in after all.

So sorry to waffle on your thread mikatelyn but I did think it was kind of relevant for you to see the madness I'm contending with too! I will post a pic of Hesper's cage on her thread at some point later too and would welcome suggestions regarding the layout, house situation and anything else, of course!
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Old 02-01-2019, 01:51 AM   #7
cypher
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

I think the problem might be with cleaning & changing things around stopping her from settling on one pee spot.
If she pees in the wheel it's fine to leave for a while, my Chinese have all peed in the wheel constantly & I just clean it once a week, if it gets too smelly you can just give it wipe down with a damp paper towel between times but it shouldn't need it.
When they pee in the sand it tends to clump up & you can usually lift those clumps out fairly easily, the little shovel thing(?!) that you get with some litter trays is good for that I've also used an old tea strainer to just scoop it out. That way you rarely need to completely replace the sand.
Don't worry about where she poos, that is often in the nest or with the food hoard sometimes just scattered about especially near the wheel but as it's dry you can leave it for quite a while without it being a problem.
I would just try to avoid cleaning or changing anything for a while & wait & see if she sticks to one place for peeing, it's such a little bit if you can't find it right away it's not going to get too wet in there, when you do fine it it's probably best not to clean it out entirely, if you leave just a little bit of peed on substrate/sand or whatever she goes on it might encourage her to keep using the same place.
All my Russian boys just had the one nest & were very good either peeing in a little sand tray in the house or in the sand bath but my female always had 5 or6 nests at any one time! Once she'd got everything as she wanted it she stuck to peeing in two places & didn't change so maybe just give it some time & see what she decides to do.
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Last edited by cypher; 02-01-2019 at 02:01 AM.
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Old 02-01-2019, 01:49 PM   #8
buttercuplols
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

Thanks cypher. Once again reassuring my hamster-related paranoia! I'm not too worried about the poo, and the wheel is sorted now but you're right; I probably changed things up a bit too quick and stressed her a bit. She's doing so well on taming I don't want to do that again and have a set back so I think I'll take your advice an just leave her environment be for a bit longer.

mikatelyn, I hope you are feeling cool about your hamster stress too! At the end of the day I'm sure they're a fair bit more chilled about these things than we are! I don't know about you but the worry keeps me up at night much more than the actual hamster does! (Thank goodness for the advances in quiet wheels over the years!)

Cheers to you both once again! I'm even so grateful for the input and support!
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Old 02-01-2019, 07:44 PM   #9
mikatelyn
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

Thanks to both of you for the stories and the tips!
I'm going to try to clean the digging pit/den this weekend. I'm hoping to just find the source of the ammonia smell and leave as much of the substrate and tunnels intact as possible. It's not weird to smell different parts of your hamsters bedding, right?
I'm going to try a bigger/darker housing over it too and the sand pit. I think his prior options didn't get dark enough, now that i'm looking at it. He does seem to hate light. Or just us. He seems to want to wake up when we go to sleep, and go to sleep when we wake up. Although sometimes he'll just want to play and play, and other times like he's never met me before. More questions about this.. I think I'm supposed to start a new thread for a slightly different topic though?

I'll keep you posted on how it goes!
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Old 02-03-2019, 06:21 AM   #10
buttercuplols
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Default Re: Question about cage cleaning when den is part of a tunnel system

Haha! I have to sniff everything! That all sounds cool. Hope you make some progress and definitely keep us up to date!
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