Why Hamsters Like Running on Wheels

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Hamster in a roll of paper
Photo by: Henry Lai on Unsplash

In the wild, hamsters are extremely busy. They are naturally nocturnal creatures and will run around all night scavenging for food from dusk to dawn. Although many hamsters live quite well as domesticated pets, their nature doesn’t change. To keep your hamster healthy, you need to make sure that you’re providing enough space for them to run around. A hamster wheel can be just the ticket. Here’s what to know about hamsters and hamster wheels.

Why Do Hamsters Like Running on Wheels?

Out in nature a hamster runs all over their habitat to search for food. Your pet hamster has no need to seek out food, but that doesn’t quell their need for exercise. A hamster wheel gives your hamster the ability to run and release their energy, much like they would in the wild. The hamster wheel gives the hamster a way to get more exercise in a small space. Even if you provide toys and other options for play, a hamster needs to be able to run to maintain a healthy weight and to reduce boredom.

Are Hamster Wheels Safe?

In general, hamster wheels are safe. There are some things to know to make sure your hamster won’t get hurt on the wheel. First, avoid hamster wheels with small holes or gaps. Hamsters have small feet, which can get caught easily. Ideally, the surface of the wheel should have a grip or small tread.

Next, you want a wheel that is stable and won’t turn over. Wheels that attach to the cage are often very sturdy, but they can be noisy. If you replace the built-in wheel with a stand-alone wheel, make sure that it won’t fall over. Hamster wheels are usually made of plastic or metal. Although metal stands up better to chewing, metal wheels can be harder on a hamster’s feet; plastic wheels are considered safer. Spending a few more dollars on a well-built wheel that will stand up to your hamster’s nightly exercise will save you a lot of headaches.

Can a Hamster Run Too Much on a Wheel?

Hamsters will use their wheel a lot so it can be difficult to tell whether your hamster is excessively running out of boredom, excess energy or natural instinct. When hamsters seem to be spending a lot of time on their wheel, you should look for other clues that indicate a problem.

  • Sores on feet – just as humans get blisters, hamsters can have foot sores, too. If you see any small sores on your hamster’s feet, you should check the surface of the wheel to make sure it’s comfortable and safe.
  • Exhaustion – hamsters need to drink a lot of water after running. Make sure your hamster has clean, fresh water each day. If your hamster isn’t drinking, it could be indicative of too much exercise.
  • Neglecting babies – mother hamsters can neglect their babies to run on their wheel. In this case, you may need to remove the wheel so she takes care of her offspring.

Hamster cage

If you spot these signs, you’ll need to find ways to make the habitat more engaging. Make the cage bigger or add split levels, so your hamster has more room to roam and explore. Add tunnels, ladders or tubes for a stimulating environment. Make your hamster work a little harder for its food by hiding it under the bedding or in different places. Take your hamster out of the cage and let it run in a supervised area each day.

How Big Should a Hamster Wheel Be?

Your hamster wheel should fit your hamster. Generally speaking, dwarf hamsters need a 6.5-inch wheel or bigger. Syrian hamsters should have a wheel that is at least eight inches. You should watch your hamster run on the wheel to make sure the wheel is big enough for your pet. The hamster’s back should be straight as it runs on the wheel.

Types of Hamster Wheels

You’ll find dozens of hamster wheels on the market. One thing to remember when buying a hamster wheel is to make sure that it gets ventilation. Your hamster can overheat while running. You also want to make sure that you can easily clean the wheel. Offering two different types of hamster wheels can give your hamsters more variety, especially if you own two or more hamsters.

Wodent Wheel – This standalone hamster wheel is approved by the ASPCA. It’s affordable, safe and quiet.

Flying Saucer – This saucer style wheel fits in smaller spaces, but if you have a larger hamster, you’ll want to get the bigger size.

Comfort Wheel – This wheel can be freestanding or attached to a cage.

An alternative to a hamster wheel is a hamster ball. Your hamster should be able to run with a flat back in the ball, just as they do in the wheel. A dwarf hamster may be fine in a 7- or 8-inch ball, while bigger hamsters need bigger balls. When you’re using the ball, supervise your hamster carefully; a drop down the steps could be dangerous. Expect to spend between $15 to $20 for a good quality ball.

Hamsters need a lot of exercise. Hamster wheels and balls are just the ticket to provide exercise and stimulation. Your hamster will enjoy new environments and new toys.

About the Author
how to clean a hamster

Dustin Williams

Dustin Williams is a third generation aquarist and tropical fish fanatic. He grew up surrounded by various pets including; dogs, cats, turtles, hamsters and of course, aquarium fish. He has owned his own aquarium since Y2K and is experienced in keeping all types of freshwater tropical fish. He currently owns a 67 gallon tank with various African Cichlids and writes content for his personal aquarium website.... Learn More

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