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Pros and cons of using rubber "wood chips" as substrate inside indoor enclosures?

Discussion in 'Tortoise Enclosures' started by Stoneman, Feb 4, 2019.

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  1. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    Alright, so I know 90% of everyone on here is going to blow a gasket at the thought of someone using rubber flooring for their substrate, but, I would like for you to look at the facts with me and hopefully you can learn, or provide experience or some other valuable insight after reading and thoughtfully responding if you have something to contribute. I apologize for beginning the thread so defensively, but I have started conversations like this and I have gotten a lot of flak.

    I am not particularly interested in building "natural" settings. I think they are only natural superficially, and are not natural in the right ways. For example, I use artificial grass and bacteria resistant yoga mats for substrate now. There are areas for potentially egg laying adults that have clean play sand mixed with coco coir. No top soil. This is much easier to know that the soil does not contain harmful parasites, toxic chemical compounds, etc. It is a controlled environment. Plastic boxes with sponges attached to the roof have proven to be much more successful than a wood container with long strand sphagnum moss which is known to cause compaction and other digestive problems.

    Another point, people say they should do best in natural settings, but how many of us keep our dogs in natural settings? I am guessing just about none. They love their pillowy dog bed, the couch, your bed, they don't love living in the dirt in a cave. And neither do we, even though that was most natural for us for a while. Without shoes.

    So with all that being said, why not rubber wood chips? It strengthens their muscles because they have to climb over and dig into the uneven terrain. The rubber acts as a great shock absorber on their joints or in case they fall. The rubber, unlike bark, repels moisture, poop, and microorganisms that porous wood soaks up, and makes it nearly impossible to clean thoroughly. The rubber can be cleaned periodically and reused. As long as it does not rot it has a long life. It is recycled rubber which lowers environmental impact. The only ways that it can become toxic, is if it is either heated or burned. So if I have safe, smart heating system and use chunks that are large and durable enough to not be easily consumable, I think I have the best of both worlds.

    Has anyone ever used this? Or had it in your yard around a tree that your tortoise was exposed to?
  2. wellington

    wellington Well-Known Member Moderator

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    So stop starting threads like this and you won't get the flak. No, I'm just picking on you. It's good to question new things and ideas. Just remember though the flak comes from love and passion to do the best for our tortoises. It's not usually meant to be taken personally.
    I don't like the rubber because of the smell. I looked at the stuff the big box stores sell for landscaping. Little nuggets but big awful smell. Outside the smell might eventually disappear, maybe. In an indoor enclosure, yikes.
    I also like to use coconut coir or dirt. To me it's better for their legs and muscles. I don't like any of the fake stuff like carpets or linoleum. However, I do have rubber type shower liner under the substrate to keep wood from rotting.
  3. ZEROPILOT

    ZEROPILOT Well-Known Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    I have many, many times seen my tortoises eating a bit of substrate when they forage for food.
    I would avoid petroleum based anything if just for that reason alone. (Rubber wood chips)
    Also, rubber mulch is made from car tires. So how many stray steel wires etc could there be lurking in it? And is it good for an animal to be in constant contact with the chemical compounds?
    I think it sounds like an overall bad idea.
    Substrate that gets soiled is easy and inexpensive to change and to find.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  4. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    The substrates we recommend have properties that inhibit mold, fungi and bacterial growth.

    Not absorbing water, like bark, is a bad thing. You want a substrate that can be kept damp. As the dampness slowly evaporates out of the bark over time, it adds to the ambient humidity.
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  5. Toddrickfl1

    Toddrickfl1 Well-Known Member Tortoise Club

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    Rubber wood chips are made from recycled car tires. I don't see where this would be any more beneficial or healthier than organic substrate.
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  6. jsheffield

    jsheffield Well-Known Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    I don't see the cost/benefit of switching to a rubber chip substrate working out for me.
    • the rubber they're made from offgasses continuously
    • it would inevitably contain (or break apart into) pieces small enough to be ingested
    • substrates like cypress mulch hold some moisture, which is a good thing for maintaining humidity
    • cypress mulch seems to (im my experience) inhibit molding, fungi, and bacterial growth
    • once it's time to clean or replace the natural substrate I use, I can compost the old stuff and get a new bag pretty cheaply
    I didn't read anything in the OP that changed my mind about the substrate I currently use, or made me want to try rubber chips in my Darwin's enclosure ... that being said, I'm interested and willing to have my mind changed.

    Jamie
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  7. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    I see what you guys mean. You have changed my perspective.

    I had not thought about how it would constantly make their enclosures smell like a tire store. I don't want my house to smell like a tire store. I am going to check it out next time I see some for sale, but the fact that it doesn't absorb water is kind of an issue I was not thinking much about before, the issue being that if a substantial amount of water spills, that that water will remain and grow into a potentially hazardous culture.

    There are some attractive properties though. Rubber that does not get dry rot will last a really long time. If everything on the road can't break down rubber, I don't think a tortoise is going to be able to eat it if the sizes are all screened to be too large to eat. However if a small piece were to slip through the cracks, and were to get eaten I don't think the digestive would break it down, and could cause impaction issues. I believe petroleum jelly is used for biological purposes because the body just doesn't pick it up, kind of like insoluable fiber. I could be wrong, but that's what I have been lead to believe.

    Rubber does not retain moisture/ water, so if it is cleaned regularly it seems to be great to repel microbes. As long as there is adequate aeration.

    The chips I have seen for use on yards, like for sale at landscaping stores, seems to not be strong enough, partially broken down or constructed of a rubber with poor durability. If it was not soft it might offer some practical application, but if it does not even do that then it is of no use.

    I have heard it mentioned that cypress and orchid bark are antimicrobial, but I just brushed it off as an old wives tale. Do any of you guys have any links to scientific articles or studies about them? That would be great to read. I have tried to find them locally but it is outrageously expensive. Once I get to the northwest I will convert.

    I had the idea pop in my head about the rubber chips, and I wanted to post about it, but then got discouraged because I don't like hearing about naturalistic enclosures because I don't think naturalism is in itself best practice. That's why I started it out so defensive lol. I have had a cold the last few days so haven't been all there enough to respond.
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  8. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    There are a lot of stable and inert compounds that are inorganic, made in a lab, or not natural, yet extremely safe.

    However, there are a lot of volatile compounds and elements that are organic, natural, found in nature, that are extremely unstable and toxic.
  9. PA2019

    PA2019 Active Member

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    Please explain/cite the "extremely unstable and toxic" compounds found in standard organic substrates such as coir and fir bark chips that is advocated here on the forum.

    Car tire rubber (which is used in making rubber chips) has been researched and scientifically verified as having "several water-soluble compounds that can leach into water and have toxic effects on aquatic organisms." Furthermore, the addition of UVB bulbs(found in most indoor enclosures) can further increase the leeching of toxic compounds from the rubber mulch.

    Link to the above-referenced study

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15620758

    Some thoughts....
  10. jsheffield

    jsheffield Well-Known Member Platinum Tortoise Club

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    I'm thinking of using expired tylenol gelcaps as a substrate in my redfoot's enclosure ... ;)

    J
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  11. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer 5 Year Member

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    It does not repel microbes. To the contrary, it actually offers a lot of surface area for microbes to attach to, much like biological filter media in a fish tank filter.
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  12. TammyJ

    TammyJ Well-Known Member

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    Before this gets closed, as it just might if it keeps getting more entertaining, I will just say my worthless little bit.
    Just a thought on the comparison between dogs and tortoises in their "natural" habitats.
    A regular dog's natural habitat is in its owner's home and maybe even in the bed with the owner. It's not a wolf, it's a domestic animal. It's a mammal and lives with human mammals in their homes.
    A tortoise lives in the wild and its natural habitat is jungle or grassland, etc. So there is no comparison and that argument can't stand.
    OK. Rubber chips? Not for me or my tortoises. But thanks for the interesting thoughts!!!:)
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  13. Blackdog1714

    Blackdog1714 Well-Known Member

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    Do a human size test. Plastic seal the windows, doors and vents to create a closed chamber. Now use an old school paint that is not low VOC. Sit in there while the paint off gases for 2 hours. Now imagine 24 hours a day and you have rubber substrate for your Tortie. There is a reason people have demanded low VOC paints chemicals off gas
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  14. lisa127

    lisa127 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Those were my thoughts exactly. Dogs are not wild animals. They have been domesticated for ions. Tortoises are wild animals.
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  15. Yvonne G

    Yvonne G Old Timer TFO Admin

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    Hm-m-m-m. . . interesting. When I saw the subject line I wasn't even interested in reading the thread, but it kept coming up, so decided to read it. First thing I thought was the smell. And your tire store analogy is spot on. I hate that smell. And I can't imagine my poor tortoise having to smell it 24/7. "They" use it in school playgrounds under the swings and slides, so it can't be harmful, however those places are outside and not in an enclosure.

    So, for me, I say no thank you. But thanks for the discussion. It was interesting reading.
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  16. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    I appreciate your insight. I was in bed at night thinking this might be a good idea. I had not done research, so I am glad you have.

    Organic compounds can be very toxic. Cyanide is organic. Mercury is even more pure, an element. I never said anything about natural substrate options, I was responding to someone's general claim that natural is better than synthetic.
  17. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    I am not going to close the thread. I brought it up to see what the wise minds here had to say. Someone else might inquire about alternative substrates, or even this alternative substrate. So it is good to see ideas compared.

    Perhaps a modern dog's natural habitat is a couch, but what about the dogs bred over tens of thousands of years for purpose? Shepherds, guard dogs, hunting dogs. I am willing to bet when their owners didn't have couches or floors, they probably did not either. Or, what about humans? 75,000 years ago did we have lotions, synthetic shoes, memory foam pillows, cars, and refrigerators? Just because we have co-evolved, does not lead me to believe we are incapable of living in the elements. My point is that perhaps we all, including tortoises, don't thrive in the elements, but merely survive. Perhaps controlled, unnatural environments cause easier lives and greater longevity to many animals.
  18. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    I could see that. A lot of what I know about animals, I have learned from keeping chickens. In chickens, anything in wood is bad. As far as equipment goes, you want plastic or metal, because they are easy to clean. Wood is a huge no no because wood is porous, and will retain microbes and water. So the poultry experts recommend painting any structure that is wood with something that repels moisture so that it can be easily and thoroughly cleaned. Rubber, seems to me like a product that is non-porous and easily cleaned. So I didn't think it would be too much of a stretch to apply the same principles to tortoises. I can see what you mean about how it could create films of bacteria on the surface of the rubber, but isn't it intriguing how it can be cleaned periodically?
  19. Stoneman

    Stoneman Active Member

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    I had to look up what low VOC even meant. It is very concerning that is put in our homes. I will have to look up the relationship between VOCs and rubber some other time, as it is almost 5am, I've got to call it a night. Thank you for your response.
  20. PA2019

    PA2019 Active Member

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    I know you use plastic mats as a method for reducing parasitic and bacteria transmission, and your general aversion to organic substrates, but I want to point out that coco coir husk has been to studied and confirmed to be anti-bacterial. Please see the following two links validating the anti-microbial properties of the substrate.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4121915/

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X12000848

    Beyond the anti-microbial properties, there are multiple benefits such as increasing ambient humidity and providing a means for natural behaviors such as digging/scrapes.
    Stoneman likes this.
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