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Old 03-07-2023, 08:51 AM   #1
heidii
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Default "Bioactive" Enclosure

I want to preface this post by saying this isn't something I have plans on doing, just thought it was an interesting topic. I have read other threads posted about bioactive enclosures on here, as well, so I have a general understanding.

I have been running a hamster rescue for a little while now, and have been designing up some care guides of appropriate care. I am trying to link my recommendations with actual scientific studies, mainly conducted on Syrian hamsters. Due to that reason, I want to specifically be thinking about Syrian hamsters with this post.

Syrian's originate in Syria (surprising) - specifically the region surrounding Aleppo. They are also found in other areas, like Turkey. Ultimately, their region is very large has quite a diverse range of foliage, soils, sands, etc.

With that being said, they are not ever exposed to high humidity tropical-like settings. I feel as though that is all of our first thoughts when we hear bioactive enclosure, but this is not what I am referring to.

An enclosure must be humid enough to allow for plant growth, yet not moist enough to cause mould. Soils are known to hold humidity really well, but I was wondering what alternatives there could be that would actually suit a hamster?

Realistically, this is what hamsters are exposed to. I think the main difficulty is taking what is safe in the wild, and converting it into something safe in a 100x50cm enclosure. That must be where the difficulty is, right?

I feel as though making an enclosure as natural as possible would make certain hamsters happier. I have two male Syrians, absolute oafs that just like to snooze all day. Sure, maybe they would benefit from more of a naturalistic enclosure, but my thoughts are more with female Syrians.

With my rescue, I've taken in numerous female Syrian Hamsters. They are NEVER as happy as any other species of hamster, let alone male Syrians, with the exact same things. I was thinking a naturalistic enclosure would be what suits them better.

I started thinking this a few months ago, when a female Syrian, called Peeve, preferred her naturalistic things SO much more than anything else. She didn't make a soft nesting area with all the Kaytee I gave her. Instead, she would sleep in a little hut on top of COCO CHIPS. Not even coir, hard, hard chips!

She since has been adopted, but now I have a lovely girl called Willow. She seemingly has the same issues that Peeve did. I understand females need more space and more enrichment, but does anyone have any studies done on relatively bioactive enclosures, using dryer soils/substrates, on specifically female Syrians? I think it would be interesting to see.

Like I said before, this isn't something I'm planning on doing, so please do not get riled up that I've mentioned this. I've been reading all kinds of studies on bedding depths, but found nothing on actual substrate.

I mentioned earlier I found a post about bioactive enclosures. Here are some of the points I read:
•Humid environments are very dangerous for hamsters.
•Soil isn't safe for hamsters.
•Moss is something I would strongly discourage
•Live plants should not be used in the cage and potted ones outside the cage can be unsafe due to the soil.
•Hay can be very sharp and cause eye injuries
•Very deep substrate honestly does the job
I think this is an interesting topic and would love to see it developed. Personally, I don't use live plants in my enclosures, but I do use hay and moss. I found no ill consequences of it, actually the opposite! Moss is so good at covering small gaps, and all my hamsters seem relatively keen on keeping their current wee spots. Hay is great to help the sturdiness of burrows too.

Any thoughts on any of this?
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Old 03-07-2023, 10:23 AM   #2
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Default Re: "Bioactive" Enclosure

I've seen this subject come up before. Ultimately, bioactive enclosures cannot be done safely and appropriately for hamsters. One thing I don't think has been addressed is the significant issue of things like pathogens in any soil(organic can even have more than conventional).

Any sort of soil could become humid. Even a safe substitute like coconut fiber whether chips or coir needs to be used very carefully & sparingly otherwise you run into the same humidity issues.

As far as hay goes it can be used with precautions like making sure you don't have sharp bits. Another very important precaution is freezing the hay before adding it to any enclosure otherwise you risk introducing all kinds of pests which some members have had to learn the hard way.

Live plants are still a very bad idea with hamsters for reasons that have been addressed on the forum previously. You're always better off offering safe fresh foods and making sure they don't end up rotting or molding in the cage. Of course all fresh produce should be rinsed regardless of being organic or not for basic food safety. I can't say for sure the need to rinse produce gets mentioned here enough but it really is important.

As far as replicating the wild environment goes I do think it's something a lot of people can get caught up in without realizing the wild is far from perfect and not everything is as safe as it seems. Clay for example is fairly common in soils, but we know with captive hamsters clay is not safe since it can cause digestive blockages. Wild animals are also far more likely to harbor parasites & general pathogens from soils etc but we obviously don't want that for captive hamsters.

The best thing we can do as a compromise that considers safety for captive hamsters is set up enclosures in a way that allows for natural behaviors like burrowing and foraging while still using only safe materials.

Personally I do think it's entirely possible that at least some female Syrians could be even more demanding of enrichment than the stereotypical males. Other than the basic foraging & burrowing I'd be curious to see if having things that could be safely destroyed might help at all for some females, as well as any role ease of destruction might play in that.
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Old 03-07-2023, 02:28 PM   #3
sushi_78
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Default Re: "Bioactive" Enclosure

I think bioactive enclosuees for hamsters probably only really work in a very large, well-ventilated enclosure which possibly also has some kind of drainage system where the humidity and moisture levels can be kept in balance. Hamsters are much better suited to a drier environment than a humid and even our homes may be slightly more humid than is ideal for them. I think in this kind of enclosure, safe live plants could work but I'm wary of them in smaller enclosure (apart from perhaps small potted plants in a safe substrate) due to the amount of moisture and light needed.

Soil isn't inherently unsafe for hamsters. Wild hamsters live in soil, after all. The problem is that commercially bought soils may be treated with things that aren't ideal for hamsters to be living and in also that there's a risk of them carrying bacteria which pet hamsters with their likely less well-exercised immune system (compared to a wild hamster which lives in an environment with lots of bacteria) may not be able to cope with.

When it comes to things like hay, I think here it's beneficial to move away from viewing things as simply safe or unsafe and consider safety as a spectrum from the most safe things with the fewest risks to the least safe things with the most risks and possibly also the fewest benefits. Looking at safety in this way allows for more nuanced discussions where people can have different opinions without anybody necessarily being wrong. In my experience the simplistic view of just safe vs unsafe tends to lead to quite unproductive discussions and also a huge amount of misinformation (I have seen people genuinely claim that hay is poisonous to hamsters, probably they came across an unnuanced discussion online where it was said to be unsafe). Hay, like almost everything, has a small risk associated with it (the risk of eye damage), and also some benefits. It's possible to minimise the risk and maximise the relative benefit by choosing softer hays. Personally I choose to use hay but some people prefer to avoid it. On the other hand, I don't like using egg boxes in enclosures because I worry about bacteria from the outside of the egg, whereas lots of people do use egg boxes and I've yet to hear of a hamster getting sick from one. It would be a boring world if we all did things the same way and had the same opinions.

I also use clay sands because I find they have various benefits over quartz sands or play sand and my own research hasn't yet turned up anything alarming with regard to confirmed risk but I know some people prefer not to use them.
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