Owners commonly provide exercise balls to give their hamsters exercise and mental enrichment.
Unfortunately, recent studies show that being in a ball is a highly stressful experience for hamsters and commonly causes injuries.
Hamsters dislike exercise balls because they feel threatened and can’t hide and protect themselves. Hamster balls get hot, and the build-up of pee and poop makes conditions unsanitary and dangerous.
There are better ways of ensuring your hamster gets the exercise it needs. Exercise wheels allow hamsters to run unrestricted, while toys encourage them to forage and chew while providing mental stimulation.
Why Are Hamster Balls Bad for Hamsters?
While hamster balls seem like a great way for hamsters to get exercise and enrichment, they have many dangers. If you’re wondering, “are exercise balls safe for hamsters?” you should know that they have the following issues:
Prevent Natural Instincts
Hamsters are prey animals, and it’s vitally important for them to have hiding spaces to retreat to. However, according to the Hamster Society, exercise balls prevent hamsters from being able to run away and hide from danger.
Balls create the illusion that they’re in a large, open space, preventing their natural instincts from fleeing making them feel vulnerable to predators.
In exercise balls, hamsters can’t hear, see, or smell very well. Balls are rarely made from clear plastic, meaning that hamsters are confined within a tiny space and can’t see where they’re going.
Similarly, most exercise balls are 2 mm thick, preventing them from using their whiskers to sense where they’re going. This is why hamsters continually bash into furniture and walls while running around in a ball.
Because they can’t see and hear very well, hamsters can’t tell where they’re going. Unfortunately, they often roll off uneven surfaces and down stairs as a result, leading to serious injuries such as:
- Internal bleeding
Also, hamsters get their feet stuck in the ventilation slits, ripping off toes and nails or breaking their delicate limbs.
While exercise balls have ventilation slits, they allow urine and feces to build up while hamsters run, which hamsters do more frequently under stress.
Not only does this cause unpleasant, unsanitary conditions, but the urine can cause painful ammonia burns. Overexposure to pee and poop is also likely to cause bacterial infections, which exacerbate pre-existing health conditions and can also be fatal on their own.
Lack of Ventilation
Because ventilation slits are at risk of becoming clogged by urine and feces, conditions inside exercise wheels become unpleasant due to a cocktail of ammonia, heat, and a lack of fresh air.
This is stressful, but it can also lead to dehydration due to the temperature inside the ball rising too quickly and hamsters don’t have access to water.
Most exercise balls are only 13 cm in diameter, which is far too small for hamsters to use comfortably. This causes their backs to arch, resulting in long-term spinal damage, as well as general pain and discomfort.
Even large hamster balls are rarely appropriate, particularly for larger female Syrian hamsters that are typically bigger than other species.
Not all hamster balls are created equal. Cheaper balls are flimsy enough for hamsters to escape, particularly when they’re repeatedly bashed against hard surfaces.
Prolonged banging eventually causes the door to pop open, allowing hamsters to escape. Hamsters can get into the smallest places and make themselves home by hoarding food, making them difficult to find and retrieve.
Are Hamster Exercise Balls Stressful?
While it may appear that hamsters are happily running around in their balls, chances are they’re terrified from the ordeal and are attempting to escape.
Hamsters don’t have the same brain capacity as humans, meaning they don’t understand that they’re trapped and will soon be released.
Because exercise balls are such a stressful experience for hamsters, they attempt to chew their way out of them through the ventilation slots. This results in cracked or broken teeth, which is painful and makes it difficult for hamsters to eat and chew solid pellets and seeds.
What’s more, owners tend to put their hamsters into their exercise balls as soon as they wake up. However, hamsters aren’t always in the mood to exercise and prefer to gently awaken by exploring their surroundings for any change and foraging for food.
Not only are exercise balls stressful, but they also lead to exhaustion. Hamsters end up running round and round without a break, causing their small bodies to become dangerously tired.
This can lead to dehydration and hypothermia, both of which are life-threatening.
Are Hamster Balls Ethical?
Deciding whether a hamster ball is ethical or not is a personal choice.
That being said, several animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, The Tierärztliche Vereinigung für Tierschutz (the German veterinary association for animal welfare), and Hamster Society, do not recommend hamster balls because of the injury risk and stress they cause.
Because hamsters can’t communicate with us through words, it’s impossible to tell whether your hamster is happy in its ball or not, even if it doesn’t seem too bothered.
However, because balls are so unnatural, it’s only fair to assume that your hamster is stressed and wants to get out. For that reason, many people believe hamster balls to be unethical.
Do Hamsters Like To Be In a Ball?
Because balls make it impossible for hamsters to flee and take cover from danger, they feel threatened.
Hamsters can hide underneath bedding and inside hideouts when they’re in their cage, so being exposed inside an exercise ball isn’t a pleasant experience.
Not only that, but stress exacerbates health conditions, causing harmful bacteria to grow. Being in an exercise makes hamsters more likely to become sick.
When Can I Put My Hamster in a Ball?
The only time you should put your hamster into a ball is when transporting it from the cage to another area, such as a playpen or travel carrier.
Some hamsters, especially those that haven’t been tamed or are sick, don’t like being handled. Balls are an efficient way to move hamsters without causing stress or harm.
They’re also beneficial if your hamster attempts to wriggle or jump out of your hands while you hold it, preventing injuries associated with being dropped from a significant height.
Once you’ve tamed your hamster and it feels comfortable around you, you can hold it in your hands instead.
Should You Put Hamsters in a Ball?
According to Experimental Animals, hamsters are prone to obesity because owners unwittingly feed them unhealthy, high-sugar diets.
As a result, hamsters need daily exercise in short 10-30 minutes bursts, and they also need constant enrichment to stave off stress and boredom.
We’ve established that exercise balls are unsafe, but there are other accessories that hamsters can use for physical and mental stimulation instead, such as:
- A large exercise wheel measuring at least 20 cm in diameter for dwarf hamsters and 28 cm for Syrians
- Chew and foraging toys that keep hamsters engaged
- An enclosure measuring at least 80 x 50 cm that allows space for accessories and enables hamsters to roam and run
- Different substrates that hamsters can dig into, such as sand and coco soil
Exercise balls don’t replicate natural conditions. Hamsters are happiest and less stressed when their home is as close to their wild habitat as possible.
While you could argue that exercise wheels come under the same category, they don’t trap hamsters in the same way as balls do. Hamsters can also use their wheel as often as they like, and most use it on and off throughout the night, giving them complete control.
How Often Should Hamsters Go In Their Ball?
Owners that use exercise balls should limit each session to a maximum of 45 minutes. 15-20 minutes is the best amount of time for hamsters to explore and run before getting overheated, exhausted, or dehydrated. Hamsters need to exercise every day, but they benefit from different forms of enrichment, so they don’t need to go in a ball every day.
However, as mentioned, as long as hamsters have an exercise wheel and other accessories and playthings to explore, they don’t need to go into an exercise ball.