Last Updated on: 24th September 2023, 03:38 pm
We often provide exercise balls to give hamsters exercise and mental enrichment. Unfortunately, studies show that being in a ball is a stressful experience for hamsters that can cause 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?” they have the following issues:
Inhibit Natural Instincts
Hamsters are prey animals, so they need hiding spaces to retreat to. However, exercise balls prevent hamsters from running away and hiding from danger.
Hamster balls create the illusion that they’re in a large, open space, preventing their instincts from fleeing, so they feel vulnerable to predators and threats.
In exercise balls, hamsters can’t hear, see, or smell well. Balls are rarely made from clear plastic, meaning that hamsters are confined in a small 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. That’s why hamsters bash into furniture and walls while running around in a ball.
As hamsters can’t hear and see well, they can’t tell where they’re going. Unfortunately, they often roll off uneven surfaces and down stairs, leading to injuries like:
- Internal bleeding
Also, hamsters get their feet stuck in the ventilation slits, ripping off toes and nails or breaking limbs.
While exercise balls have ventilation slits, they allow urine and feces to build up while hamsters run, which they do more frequently under stress.
Not only does this cause unpleasant, unsanitary conditions, but the urine can cause ammonia burns. Overexposure to pee and poop is also likely to cause bacterial infections.
Lack of Ventilation
Because ventilation slits risk 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 not having access to water.
Most exercise balls are only 13 cm in diameter, which is too small for hamsters to use comfortably. This causes their backs to arch, resulting in general discomfort and long-term spinal damage.
Large hamster balls are rarely appropriate, especially for larger female Syrian hamsters.
Not all hamster balls are of the same quality. Cheaper balls are flimsy enough for hamsters to escape, particularly when repeatedly crashing against hard surfaces.
Prolonged crashing eventually causes the door to pop open, allowing hamsters to escape. They can get into the smallest places, 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, the 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, resulting in cracked or broken teeth.
Owners put hamsters into their exercise balls as soon as they wake up. However, hamsters aren’t always in the mood to exercise and prefer to explore their surroundings for any change and forage for food.
Not only are exercise balls stressful, but they lead to exhaustion. Hamsters run around 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 is a personal decision.
Several animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, The Tierärztliche Vereinigung für Tierschutz (the German veterinary association for animal welfare), and the Hamster Society, don’t recommend hamster balls due to the injury risk and stress they cause.
As hamsters can’t communicate with us through words, it’s impossible to tell whether your hamster is happy in its ball, even if it doesn’t seem bothered.
Do Hamsters Like To Be In a Ball?
As hamster balls make it impossible for them to flee and take cover from danger, they feel threatened.
Hamsters can hide underneath bedding and inside hideouts in their cage, so exposure inside an exercise ball isn’t a nice experience.
Stress also exacerbates health conditions, causing harmful bacteria to grow.
When Can I Put My Hamster in a Ball?
Only put your hamster into a ball when transporting it from the cage to another area, such as a playpen or travel carrier.
Some hamsters dislike being handled, especially those that haven’t been tamed or are sick. 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.
Should You Put Hamsters in a Ball?
According to Experimental Animals, hamsters are prone to obesity because owners unwittingly feed them unhealthy diets. As a result, hamsters need daily exercise in short 10-30 minute bursts and 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, such as:
- A large exercise wheel that’s at least 20 cm in diameter for dwarf hamsters and 28 cm for Syrians.
- Chew and foraging toys to keep hamsters engaged.
- An enclosure measuring at least 80 x 50 cm allows space for accessories, roaming, and running.
- Hamsters can dig into different substrates, such as sand and coco soil.
Exercise wheels 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 full control.
How Often Should Hamsters Go In Their Ball?
Owners that use exercise balls should limit each session to a maximum of 45 minutes. However, 15-20 minutes is ideal 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 be put in a ball every day.
As mentioned, as long as hamsters have an exercise wheel, other accessories, and other things to explore, they don’t need to be put into an exercise ball.