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Why Do Hamsters Love To Run On Wheels?

(Last Updated On: May 28, 2022)

Exercise wheels are an essential part of every hamster’s cage setup. Without them, hamsters wouldn’t have enough to do, lacking the physical and mental stimulation needed for life as a pet.

Hamsters like exercise wheels due to their natural desire to travel long distances. Also, they sleep for 12 hours a day, so they have lots of energy when they wake up.

Exercise wheels minimize boredom, burn off weight, and prevent stress-related stereotypies, such as bar biting and monkey barring.

Exercise wheels must be large enough to accommodate a hamster’s size and prevent its spines from curving. Small wheels can cause long-lasting spinal damage and joint pain.

Many hamsters even refuse to use exercise wheels, developing stress and anxiety as a result.

Do Hamsters Need an Exercise Wheel?

All captive hamsters need an exercise wheel, regardless of their species. A hamster wheel is just as important to a hamster’s physical health and mental wellbeing as food or water.

If hamsters don’t have enough to do in captivity, they become bored and stressed. Stress can be fatal in hamsters because their tiny hearts can’t cope with it, so owners must do everything they can to prevent it.

Wheels also have other vital uses, which are the reason why hamsters love running on exercise wheels:

Encourage Physical Activity

Hamsters are highly active animals. They run up to 6 miles each night in the wild, which is impressive for their small size. According to Live Science, when wild hamsters are awake between dusk and dawn, they spend their time:

  • Foraging for food
  • Digging burrows
  • Breeding
  • Running away and hiding from predators

That’s why pet hamsters must have plenty of opportunities to be physical. Physical activity enables them to express their natural behaviors and live as closely as they would in the wild.

Simply exploring their cage night after night and burrowing doesn’t provide enough mental and physical stimulation.

how long can a hamster run on its wheel?

Prevent Obesity

Without an exercise wheel, hamsters would spend their days eating and sleeping, increasing their risk of obesity. Experimental Animals describes how obesity is already well-established in hamsters, predominantly because of unhealthy, high-sugar diets.

Not only do wheels keep hamsters in shape, but they ensure their heart remain healthy, making hamsters less likely to develop health conditions, such as diabetes, later on in life.

Ease Boredom

We’ve mentioned how hamsters become bored if they don’t have enough to do. Even though hamsters are small, they rely on enrichment to stave off stress and anxiety. A bored hamster will engage in self-destructive behaviors to entertain and self-soothe itself, such as:

Exercise wheels are the best form of enrichment. They’re even more effective paired with other boredom breakers, such as chew toys, textures for hamsters to explore, and hideouts.

Do Hamsters Like Running on Wheels?

Exercise wheels enable hamsters to cover a similar distance to what they would in the wild. Even the largest hamster cages don’t provide enough unbroken floor space for hamsters to run the miles they are instinctually programmed to. Wheels are a great way for them to burn off excess energy and sharpen their cognitive function.

Running also releases the same endorphins that we experience when we exercise. This makes hamsters feel good, which explains why they’re so happy to run on their wheels for hours and hours without stopping.

Because most hamsters sleep for approximately 12 hours throughout the day and take micro naps during the night, they have lots of energy to get rid of before dawn.

What Kind of Exercise Wheel Is Suitable for Hamsters?

Choosing the right size wheel is essential. A study published by Laboratory Animals discovered that hamsters display a clear preference for larger wheels measuring 35 cm in diameter.

Small wheels cause spinal damage and long-term issues, such as arthritis and fractures. As a result, any wheel that makes your hamster’s spine curve is too small.

Because of the potential health issues, hamsters have specific wheel size requirements depending on their species, which consists of:

Hamster SpeciesWheel Size
Syrian hamsters:28 cm (11 inches) in diameter
Chinese hamsters:26 cm (10 inches) in diameter
Dwarf hamsters:20 cm (8 inches) in diameter

Circular wheels are far better than truncated shapes. Not only that, but the wheel shouldn’t have a mesh surface. That’s because mesh causes bumblefoot and painful sores after prolonged periods of running.

Wire gaps are also dangerous as hamsters get their limbs stuck. This is one of the most common causes of broken bones. Wood or plastic wheels are the most popular kind, and both are safe for hamsters to use.

When setting your hamster wheel up, place it on the lowest section of your cage so that bedding doesn’t get trapped and stop it from running. It’ll also prevent the wheel from falling on your hamster if it decides to burrow underneath it. Alternatively, place it on a wooden platform with dowels to minimize the risk of accidents happening.

How Do Hamsters Know How To Use a Wheel?

Hamsters are curious creatures who will explore every inch of their cage. They have poor eyesight and can only see things that are close enough to them, so they rely on their sense of touch to determine what’s what. As soon as they step onto the wheel and notice the ground move underneath them, they’ll instinctively run.

That being said, some hamsters need a helping hand figuring out where their wheel’s located. If you’ve built up a bond with your hamster, you can pick it up and place it on its wheel. Otherwise, try enticing it to step on the wheel with food.

Why Do Hamsters Run at Night?

Hamsters are described as both nocturnal and crepuscular.

Because they are awake between dusk and dawn, the latter is most accurate. Hamsters are active during the nighttime hours. They spend their days sleeping, which means you’ll rarely see your hamster on its wheel during the day.

Your hamster runs at night because that’s its natural behavior. It’s too dangerous and hot to come out during the day in the wild. Captive hamsters aren’t too far removed from their wild cousins, so they haven’t lost these instincts.

If you notice your hamster running on its wheel during the day, it’s likely because its natural sleeping pattern has been disturbed. Keeping the lights on 24/7 will cause this unbalanced behavior.

Do Hamsters Run on Wheels When Stressed?

All hamsters deal with stress differently as they all have different personalities. Running is one of the main ways hamsters keep themselves stimulated. However, a hamster running on its wheel too much is one of the most noticeable signs of stress.

Happy hamsters should spend a significant amount of time exploring their cage and cleaning themselves in their sand bath, as well as running in their wheel. Hamsters without enough to do will use their wheel as an outlet for stress.

While running shouldn’t cause any problems, monitor your hamster’s environment to determine whether there’s anything else you can add for enrichment.

do hamsters need an exercise wheel?

Can Hamsters Run Themselves to Death?

Many hamsters run furiously on their wheels. Because of their small size and stature, it can seem as if their small bodies will give up at any moment.

Fortunately, hamsters will stop if they feel unwell, but you must provide adequate nutrition and a constant supply of fresh water to keep your hamster healthy. If it doesn’t drink or eat enough before or after running, it could develop health problems.

While hamsters are highly unlikely to run themselves to death, excessive running causes:

  • Painful foot sores
  • Exhaustion
  • Dehydration

Hamster wheel addiction also causes females to abandon their young, putting their lives at risk. Similarly to running because of stress, you must ensure your hamster has enough to do with its cage to prevent wheel addiction.

Why Does My Hamster Run On Top of His Wheel?

We’ve mentioned how hamsters run up to 6 miles a night in the wild. While their activity levels vary depending on how energetic they feel, they can run for hours at a time.

Depending on their personalities, hamsters will either run continuously until they’re ready to do something else or take regular breaks to eat and explore.

You can determine how your hamster behaves by setting up a night vision camera and monitoring its movements. Be sure to put the camera where you can fully see the wheel.

Many hamsters also climb to the top of their exercise wheel to escape their cage. The wheel provides them with enough height to reach the roof, where they attempt to make a getaway.

However, they rarely succeed unless the wheel’s stuck with bedding or another obstacle. You’ll want to keep an eye on this, as resourceful hamsters could easily escape if given half the chance.

They could also hurt themselves if they fall onto something hard.

How Long Can a Hamster Run On Its Wheel?

While their activity levels vary depending on how energetic they feel, they can run for hours at a time in captivity. Depending on their personalities, hamsters will either run continuously until they’re ready to do something else or will take regular breaks to eat and explore in between sprints.

You can determine how your hamster behaves by setting up a night vision camera and monitoring its movements. Be sure to put the camera where you can fully see the wheel.

Exercise wheels are vital for your hamster’s physical health and mental wellbeing. Choose one large enough to accommodate your hamster’s size. If you’re unsure, always go bigger, as a large wheel won’t affect your hamster’s ability to run. Small wheels, on the other hand, create significant problems.