Captive hamsters are at risk of becoming overweight. As active animals, they need to stay active, not only for their physical health but their mental well-being.
Captive hamsters need daily exercise, which they get by running on wheels, burrowing, and playing with exercise toys for 10-30 minute bursts.
Between dawn and dusk, the total amount of exercise should be about 2-3 hours. The activity level of hamsters depends on their age, health, fitness, and species.
As well as providing access to a large exercise wheel, you can let your hamster out of its enclosure to roam. However, you must hamster-proof the room to prevent it from escaping.
How Do Hamsters Exercise?
While exercise isn’t a concept that hamsters understand, they keep themselves healthy by running around, often for several miles each night.
As owners only have limited space in their homes, captive hamsters can’t run as far or quickly as they would in the wild. They also never need to run away from predators or travel long distances to find food, which puts them at risk of becoming overweight.
Hamsters will run on an exercise wheel if they can access one in their cage. They also enjoy being scatter-fed, so scattering food across the top layer of substrate encourages them to move around the cage.
You can place large food items, such as mealworms and nuts, in the bedding to encourage digging.
Hamster Exercise in the Wild
Wild hamsters stay active by covering miles of ground while exhibiting natural behaviors.
Many activities hamsters perform require significant energy. They’re essential for survival, so hamsters must remain fit and healthy to stay alive. Hamsters remain active by:
- Foraging. Hamsters come out at night to find food. Then, they store what they find in their cheek pouches and hide it in their burrows for later.
- Escaping predators. Hamsters are prey animals, so they constantly run away from danger.
- Digging burrows. Nature Protocols explains that all rodents dig burrows, and Hamsters dig tunnels that can reach up to 0.7 meters deep.
- Breeding. Procreation is essential to the survival of hamsters due to their prey status.
- Fighting. Hamsters are territorial and fight other hamsters for dominance.
These activities keep hamsters fit, enabling them to avoid danger.
Do Hamsters Need Exercise Every Day?
Hamsters must get exercise in captivity to mimic natural behaviors and prevent:
- Weight gain
- Destructive behaviors
Experimental Animals explains how obesity is common amongst hamsters due to unhealthy diets. That’s why it’s so vital that hamsters have access to items they can play with every day, such as:
- A large running wheel. Choose one that prevents the spine from curving. This should be left in the cage for your hamster to use.
- A playpen. This will enable your hamster to run and explore.
- Toys. Find toys that encourage chewing and foraging, and replace your hamster’s toys to prevent them from getting bored.
You can even put your hamster in a drained bathtub while playing with it at night to give it a larger space to run and roam around.
How Long Should a Hamster Exercise?
When hamsters aren’t sleeping, they’re being active. Hamsters run up to 6 miles a night in the wild, so they cover much longer distances than most people realize.
So, hamsters should exercise for 10 to 30 minutes over multiple short periods. Hamsters are small, so they tire quickly. Good examples of physical activities include:
- Running on the wheel on and off.
- Foraging for food to store in its pouches.
- Cleaning its skin and fur in a sand bath.
- Digging through various substrates found in the cage.
- Burrowing tunnels within deep bedding.
- Exploring its playpen during any out-of-cage time.
Unfortunately, there’s no steadfast rule regarding how long or often hamsters should exercise. All hamster species have different exercise requirements due to their different shapes and sizes.
However, you’ll notice that your hamster won’t spend long periods doing just one thing. All the activities it performs each night should amount to at least a couple of hours of exercise.
Weigh your hamster once a week to check for weight gain. Sudden weight gain shows your hamster isn’t getting sufficient exercise and needs more activities to promote movement.
Can a Hamster Over-Exercise?
While hamsters need to exercise every day, there are instances when over-exercising causes problems.
For example, hamsters that run on their wheels too much are more likely to get painful sores and ulcers on their feet, known as bumblefoot. The main signs of bumblefoot include:
- Red, swollen feet
- Ulcerations on the feet
- The inability to move around
Mesh hamster wheels are a leading cause of bumblefoot. A solid plastic or wooden wheel is much safer, particularly if your hamster enjoys running on its wheel.
Your hamster may also get too thin or dehydrated from over-exercising.
Can Hamsters Die from No Exercise?
Most hamsters stop exercising when they feel unwell. Hamsters may not die from no exercise, but they die indirectly from becoming sick.
Hamsters that don’t exercise are most at risk of becoming obese, which puts excessive strain on a hamster’s vital organs. Other health issues related to a lack of exercise include:
- Heart disease
Hamsters that don’t exercise may display disruptive behaviors, such as bar biting and monkey barring.
Can Hamsters Go Outside in Their Ball?
While hamster balls have historically been a popular way to enable them to exercise, they’re now widely considered unsafe. Hamster balls have small air holes that allow hamsters to breathe.
Unfortunately, hamsters can get their toes and nails caught in them. Some owners have even reported hamsters ripping their nails and toes off while running around in their balls.
Being in a ball is a stressful experience for hamsters. They have no access to food or water, and because hamsters have poor eyesight, they can’t see where they’re going, causing them to bash into solid objects.
Hamster balls dull the senses, causing them to enter a panicked state.
How To Get Your Hamster to Exercise?
Hamsters will naturally exercise without much encouragement. However, you must ensure your pet has the opportunity to be as active as possible with the following things:
All hamsters need access to an exercise wheel. Whenever your hamster feels restless, it’ll jump on the wheel and run as fast as possible.
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews explain how rodent brain reward systems get stimulated when they run on a wheel. Hamsters enjoy this activity, as it enables them to reach full speed.
Hamsters can’t do this in their enclosure, so running prevents them from feeling cooped up.
Hamster Exercise Toys
Hamsters like running through tunnels, chewing toys, and eating treats. While it may not seem like they provide much exercise, playing with them keeps hamsters mentally stimulated.
Most hamsters turn to their toys in between running on their wheel and burrowing.
Hamsters make tunnels and nests where they sleep and store food. Hamsters don’t usually start burrowing unless they have 6-10 inches of bedding.
Hamster-Proof Your Room
Hamsters enjoy being out of their cage each night, as out-of-cage time enables them to stretch their legs and explore a wider area, staving off stress and boredom.
As mentioned, you can use a playpen, bathtub, or hamster-proof room to make it safe and secure.
Before free-roaming, seal off all exits and entrances to prevent your hamster from escaping. You should also block gaps underneath furniture.
Tidy up all wires and items your hamster could chew. Hamsters have ever-growing teeth, so they have a natural urge to bite things and chew whatever they find to wear them down.
Set up a play area with an exercise wheel, hideouts, food, water, and toys. Your hamster will play with these items in between exploring the room. Once the space is safe, let your hamster out of its enclosure and supervise it while it roams around.
Hamsters must be able to mimic their natural behavior by exercising several times a night. An exercise wheel and deep bedding are essential items, but the more enrichment you provide, the better.