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Is My Hamster Running Too Much? (Hamster Wheel Addiction)

Last Updated on: 4th January 2024, 08:03 pm

Hamsters need to exercise, so spending long hours on their exercise wheels is normal and healthy. The level of exercise depends on the hamster’s age, health, species, and weight.

If a hamster runs near-constantly, rarely taking breaks for food or sleep, it may have a wheel addiction. You may also observe other compulsive behaviors, like circling and pacing.

This occurs when a hamster develops an obsessive-compulsive disorder due to a lack of enrichment, an underlying health problem, or a fear-based environmental trigger.

Can Hamsters Over Exercise?

It’s possible for hamsters to over-exercise, but it’s uncommon. This is due to hamsters’ active nature and because they’re prey animals. The only point a hamster may be at risk of over-exercising is if it’s:

  • Stressed.
  • Bored.
  • Feeling unsafe.

Determining if a hamster’s running is normal and safe is a matter of assessing its health. A happy, healthy hamster running to burn energy will have a smooth, shiny coat and bright eyes.

It’ll also stop regularly to rest, drink, eat, or engage in other forms of play. If the hamster runs consistently, without rest, or neglects food and water, this is a red flag.

It’s likely unhealthy if a hamster limps when exiting the wheel or shows signs of a foot injury, like blisters, bleeding, or swelling. Some hamsters develop spinal injuries due to a wheel that is too small.

hamster won't stop running on wheel

How Long Should a Hamster Run on its Wheel?

No set time is ideal for a hamster to run on its wheel. Instead, it’s about:

  • Consistency.
  • Resting.
  • Eating and drinking.
  • Temperature.
  • Other entertainment sources.

According to the Journal of Biological Rhythms, hamsters undertaking other enriching activities wait longer between running sessions. However, it’s normal for the running to occur in 1-2 hour bursts.

So, a hamster can run 5-6 hours per night and still be healthy. That is, as long as it eats, drinks, and does other things. However, if a hamster runs continuously throughout the night until it becomes sick or exhausted, it’s a problem.

Can a Hamster Run Itself to Death?

A hamster can run until it collapses of exhaustion or heat stroke and dies, but it’s unlikely.  

Any animal’s drive to rest, eat, and drink is strong. The only point where a prey animal, like a hamster, would run until it collapses or dies is if it’s already in fear for its life.

Otherwise, a hamster may develop an unhealthy running habit that causes it to lose weight over time and dehydrate. The hamster may slowly run itself to death or cause issues, such as cardiac arrest and strokes, due to persistent strain on the body.

However, you would see the physical signs of its deteriorating health and intervene before death occurred. One exception is if the hamster is old, as excessive exercise might cause heart failure.

Why Won’t My Hamster Stop Running on Its Wheel?          

A hamster might constantly run due to an addiction to its exercise wheel. Hamster wheel addiction can be due to obsessive-compulsive behavior when it has no other way to exercise and seek stimulation.  

This can be dangerous, leading to excessive weight loss, over-exertion, fatigue, heatstroke, dehydration, foot injuries, anxiety, depression, and even death.

However, you can identify why a hamster runs compulsively and remove that motivation or stressor.

Lack of Enrichment

Hamsters are highly active and curious animals that need ample physical and mental stimulation.

According to Chronobiology International, hamsters with sufficient enrichment toys and things to do in their cage (as well as enough floor space) run for less time and less often on exercise wheels.

Toys that have the most impact on wheel running are tunnels and tubes. Also, add some chewing toys and partially switch the layout of the cage. However, don’t make too many changes at the same time.

Include ropes and other climbing toys to provide exercise and enrichment opportunities.

Fear

If you have a larger animal, like a cat or dog, don’t allow them in the hamster’s room.

If the hamster runs frantically at night without stopping, it may be a means of coping with a fear of predatory animals. Left unresolved, this could lead to physical and mental health problems.

Providing a secluded and quiet space that your other animals can’t access at night will be beneficial.

can a hamster die from running too much?

Hyperactivity

At times, hamsters constantly run because they have too much energy, which can happen if you provide a high-calorie, high-fat diet. The hamster will need to burn off the excess energy.

Hyperactivity can be caused by stress or specific medical issues. So, if providing more toys and new surroundings makes little difference, seek the expert advice of a veterinarian.

You can often rectify the issue by changing the hamster’s living conditions. The hamster could be acting out due to stress if the previous room is frequently disturbed.

However, in some cases, the behavior will continue no matter what you do to help, which means the hamster has an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

You may need to remove the wheel from the cage occasionally. For example, you could alternate the nights when the hamster has access to its wheel, providing alternative things to do.

How Can I Stop My Hamster From Running Too Much?

To ensure a hamster uses its exercise wheel appropriately, give it a large cage with enrichment toys.

If this doesn’t change its behavior, start spreading food throughout the cage rather than providing it in a bowl. This will simulate natural foraging behavior and provide mental and physical stimulation.

You can give the hamster time outside its cage to explore in a safe room. Doing this for a limited time will supplement the hamster’s enrichment options and make it happier in the long term.

If there are no signs of illness or injury, you can start by removing the wheel from the cage, changing toys around, and providing the wheel on a limited basis for exercise.

Spending more time with and playing with the hamster can improve wheel dependency. After all, you’re providing alternative enrichment sources and exercise.