Captive hamsters are at risk of becoming overweight. As active animals, they need lots of opportunities to be active, not only for their physical health but their mental well-being.
Captive hamsters need daily exercise, and they stay active by running on their wheels, burrowing, and playing with exercise toys for 10-30 minutes.
The amount of time depends on the hamster’s species, age, and health.
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 or hurting itself.
How Do Hamsters Exercise?
While exercise isn’t a concept that hamsters understand, they keep themselves healthy by running around, often for many miles each night.
Because owners only have a limited amount of 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 have access to one in their cage. They also enjoy being scatter-fed, and scattering food across the top layer of substrate encourages it to move around the cage to find its food.
You can also place large food items, such as mealworms and nuts, into different substrates, like sand and coco soil to encourage your hamster to dig.
Hamster Exercise in the Wild
Wild hamsters don’t exercise the same way we do, keeping themselves active by covering miles of ground while exhibiting natural behaviors.
Many of the activities hamsters carry out require a significant amount of physical energy. They’re essential for their survival, and that’s why hamsters must remain fit and healthy to stay alive.
Hamsters remain active by:
- Foraging. Hamsters come out at night searching for food. They store what they find in their cheek pouches and hide it in their burrows for later.
- Escaping predators. Hamsters are prey animals with many predators, so they constantly have to run away from danger.
- Digging burrows. Nature Protocols describes how all rodents dig burrows. Hamsters dig tunnels that can reach up to 0.7 meters deep.
- Breeding. Procreation is essential to the survival of hamsters because of their prey status.
- Fighting. Hamsters are territorial and fight other hamsters – often to the death – for dominance.
These activities keep hamsters fit, helping them evade dangers.
Do Hamsters Need Exercise Every Day?
Hamsters are always active in the wild, so they must get exercise in captivity to mimic natural behaviors and prevent:
- Weight gain
- Destructive behaviors associated with a lack of stimulation
Experimental Animals explains how obesity is common amongst hamsters due to unhealthy sugary 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 at all times.
- 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 it from getting bored.
You can even put your hamster in a drained bathtub while you play with it at night to give it a larger space to run and roam around in.
How Long Should a Hamster Exercise?
When hamsters aren’t sleeping, they’re being active. Hamsters can run up to 6 miles a night in the wild, so they cover much longer distances than most people realize.
As a result, hamsters should exercise for approximately 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 out-of-cage time
Unfortunately, there’s no steadfast rule regarding how long or often hamsters should exercise. All hamster species have various 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 does in one night should amount to at least a couple of hours of exercise in total.
You should weigh your hamster once a week to monitor for weight gain. Sudden or rapid weight gain shows your hamster isn’t getting enough exercise and needs more activities to encourage it to move.
Can a Hamster Over-Exercise?
While hamsters need to exercise every day, there are instances when over-exercising can cause problems. For example, hamsters that run on their wheels too much without pausing for a break are more likely to end up with painful sores and blisters on their feet. This condition is called 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 a much safer option, particularly if your hamster enjoys running on its wheel.
Your hamster may also get too thin or dehydrated from over-exercising. This shouldn’t be a problem if you provide enough food and water.
However, if you notice your hamster becoming too thin, increase the amount of food and water you provide to fuel its activity levels. Sedentary hamsters won’t need as much to eat.
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 delicate organs.
Other health issues related to a lack of exercise include:
- Heart disease
- Stress, which exacerbates pre-existing health conditions
Hamsters that don’t exercise are more likely to display disruptive behaviors, such as bar biting and monkey climbing. This can have a detrimental effect on a hamster’s health and wellbeing over time.
Can Hamsters Go Outside in Their Ball?
While hamster balls have historically been a popular way to enable hamsters 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 their 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, making hamsters go into a panicked state. There are better, safer ways of exercising your hamster, so don’t take the risk.
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 constant access to an exercise wheel. Whenever your hamster feels restless, it’ll jump on the wheel and run as fast as it can.
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 enjoy running through tunnels, chewing on toys, and eating tasty treats. While it may not seem like these items provide a significant amount of exercise, playing with them keeps hamsters physically stimulated.
Even the simple act of chewing expends a lot of energy. Most hamsters turn to their toys in between running on their wheel and burrowing.
Provide Deep Bedding
As mentioned, hamsters spend much of their time burrowing tunnels and nests. This is where they sleep and store their food. Hamsters don’t typically start burrowing unless they have at least 6 inches of bedding – some even need 10 inches or more.
Providing enough bedding is one of the most effective ways to ensure your hamster gets plenty of opportunities to be active, even before it has emerged for the night.
Hamster-Proof Your Room
Hamsters enjoy being out of their cage for a little while each night. 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 or bathtub, or you can hamster-proof your 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. Similarly, 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 will chew whatever they find.
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 you’re sure the space is safe, let your hamster out of its enclosure and supervise it while it roams around.
You can let your hamster out as often as you like. Some hamsters enjoy nightly free-roaming time, while others are happy to settle for a few times a week.
Hamsters must be able to mimic their natural behavior by exercise multiple times throughout the deal. An exercise wheel and deep bedding are essential items, but the more enrichment you provide, the better.