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 in captivity.
Hamsters like exercise wheels due to their natural desire to travel long distances. Also, they sleep 12 hours daily, so they have lots of energy to expend when they awaken.
Exercise wheels minimize boredom, burn off excess weight, and sometimes 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 spine from curving, as small wheels can cause spinal damage and joint pain.
Do Hamsters Need an Exercise Wheel?
All captive hamsters need an exercise wheel, regardless of species. A wheel is almost as important to a hamster’s physical and mental well-being as food and water.
If hamsters lack things to do in captivity, they become bored and stressed. Stress can be fatal because their hearts can’t cope, so owners must do everything possible to prevent it.
Wheels have other vital uses, hence why hamsters love running on exercise wheels:
According to Live Science, when wild hamsters are awake between dusk and dawn, they spend their time:
Pet hamsters must have the opportunity to be physical because it enables them to express their natural behaviors and live similarly to in the wild.
Simply exploring their cage night after night and burrowing doesn’t offer enough stimulation.
Without an exercise wheel, hamsters would spend their days eating and sleeping, leading to weight gain. Experimental Animals describes how obesity is common in hamsters due to unhealthy, high-sugar diets.
Not only do wheels keep hamsters in shape, but they ensure their hearts remain healthy, meaning they’re less likely to develop health conditions like diabetes.
Even though hamsters are small, they rely on enrichment to relieve stress and anxiety. A bored hamster will engage in self-destructive behaviors to entertain and self-soothe, such as:
- Bar biting.
- Excessive grooming.
- Monkey barring.
- Pacing up and down the cage.
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 miles.
Wheels are a good way to burn off excess energy and sharpen cognitive function.
Running also releases the same endorphins that we experience when exercising. This makes hamsters feel good, which explains why they’re so happy to run on their wheels for hours without stopping.
Because most hamsters sleep for about 12 hours during the day and take naps at night, they have lots of energy to expend before dawn.
What Kind of Exercise Wheel Is Suitable for Hamsters?
Choosing the right size wheel is essential. Laboratory Animals discovered that hamsters prefer larger wheels measuring 35 cm in diameter.
Small wheels cause spinal damage and long-term issues like arthritis and fractures. As a result, any wheel that makes a hamster’s spine curve is too small.
Due to the potential health issues, hamsters have specific wheel size requirements depending on their species, which consist of the following:
|Hamster Species||Wheel 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 better than truncated shapes. Also, the wheel shouldn’t have a mesh surface because it causes bumblefoot and painful sores after prolonged running.
Wire gaps are also dangerous as hamsters get their limbs stuck, which is among the most common causes of broken bones. Wood or plastic wheels are the most popular and safe for hamsters.
When setting a 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.
How Do Hamsters Know How To Use a Wheel?
Hamsters are curious creatures who’ll explore every inch of the cage.
Hamsters have poor eyesight and can only see things close enough to them, so they rely on their sense of touch and smell to determine what’s what.
They’ll instinctively run when they step onto the wheel and notice the ground move underneath them.
Some hamsters need help finding where their wheel is located. If you’ve built a bond with your hamster, you can pick it up and place it on its wheel. Otherwise, entice it to step on the wheel with food.
Why Do Hamsters Run at Night?
Hamsters are described as nocturnal and crepuscular.
The latter is more accurate because hamsters are awake between dusk and dawn. Hamsters are active at night, so you’ll rarely see your hamster on its wheel during the day.
Hamsters run at night because 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 a hamster running on its wheel during the day, it’s likely because its natural sleeping pattern has been altered. 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’ll 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 obvious signs of stress.
While running shouldn’t cause problems, monitor the hamster’s environment to determine whether there’s anything else you can add for enrichment.
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 stop if they feel unwell, but you must provide adequate nutrition and fresh water to keep them healthy. While hamsters are unlikely to run themselves to death, excessive running causes:
- Painful foot sores.
Hamster wheel addiction also causes females to abandon their young, putting their lives at risk.
Why Does My Hamster Run On Top of His Wheel?
While their activity levels vary depending on how energetic they feel, they can run for hours.
Depending on their personalities, hamsters run continuously until they’re ready to do something else or take regular breaks to eat and explore.
You can determine how a hamster behaves by setting up a night vision camera and monitoring its movements. Put the camera where you can fully see the wheel.
Many hamsters climb to the top of their exercise wheel to escape their cage. The wheel gives them enough height to reach the roof, where they attempt to escape.
However, they rarely succeed unless the wheel’s stuck with bedding or another obstacle. Hamsters could also hurt themselves if they fall onto something hard.
How Long Can a Hamster Run On Its Wheel?
While hamsters’ activity levels vary depending on how energetic they feel, they can run for hours.
Depending on their personalities, hamsters will run continuously until they’re ready to do something else or take regular breaks to eat and explore between sprints.
You can determine how a hamster behaves by setting up a night vision camera and monitoring its movements. Position the camera where you can observe the wheel.
Exercise wheels are vital for a hamster’s physical health and mental health. Choose one large enough to comfortably accommodate the hamster’s size.