Exercise wheels keep hamsters entertained. Syrian hamsters need a wheel measuring 28 cm in diameter, while a dwarf’s wheel should be 20 cm.
Without them, hamsters are at risk of becoming bored, stressed, and overweight. When hamsters stop using their wheels, you need to figure out why.
If your hamster’s exercise wheel is too small, it’ll find running uncomfortable. Check the wheel’s not jammed and can spin properly.
Illnesses and injuries, like bumblefoot, may explain your hamster’s inactivity. However, the most common reason why hamsters no longer use their wheels is old age.
Unfortunately, when hamsters reach old age, they slow down suddenly and without warning. When this happens, they don’t have long left to live.
Why Is My Hamster Not Using Its Wheel?
Most hamsters love running on their wheels at night. Exercise wheels provide many benefits, as they:
- Prevent obesity
- Ease boredom
- Encourage exercise
If you discover that your hamster isn’t running on its wheel anymore, you’ll want to discover why. Otherwise, it could have a detrimental effect on its health and wellbeing. There are various reasons:
Small Wheel Size
The most common reason hamsters abandon their exercise wheels is because they’re too small.
Small wheels produce serious back problems by causing their delicate spines to curve. Not only is this painful, but it’s often impossible for hamsters to run properly. Most pet stores sell wheels that are far too small.
There are specific requirements when it comes to the right wheel size. Syrian hamsters need a wheel measuring at least 28 cm in diameter, while dwarf hamsters need one that measures 20 cm.
A study by Laboratory Animals confirms that bigger wheels are better. Researchers found that hamsters prefer larger exercise wheels measuring 35 cm in diameter or more. If the wheel is too small, your hamster will stop using it.
Poor Wheel Design
Your hamster needs a wheel with a solid construction. That means there should be no mesh bars or wire gaps that they could hurt themselves on.
Inadequately designed wheels increase the risk of injury and make it difficult for hamsters to run. They also cause bumblefoot, a painful condition that results in sores and cuts on the bottom of the feet. There’s no way your hamster could run in this condition.
The best wheels are made from solid wood, cork, or plastic without any raised bumps or ridges. If your wheel has metal bars, you can make it safe by lining it with cardboard.
Wheel Has Stopped Turning
Perhaps your hamster’s stopped running on its wheel is that it’s become jammed by something, such as bedding or a chew toy that’s gotten caught underneath.
If your hamster can’t easily turn the wheel, it will soon give up on it altogether. You may even need to re-encourage your hamster to start using it again once you’ve removed the blockage.
To prevent your hamster’s exercise wheel from getting blocked or jammed, spin it every night before you go to bed to make sure it turns properly and move small items from its immediate vicinity. That way, at least your hamster will only go a few hours without being able to use it.
While this is less common, a noisy or squeaky wheel may put your hamster off running in it. Hamsters have poor eyesight, but they have good hearing to accommodate it.
However, because they’re prey animals with sensitive hearing abilities, many hamsters find noise stressful. The RSPCA confirms how hamsters are sensitive to high-frequency sounds.
You may be able to fix the noisiness by adjusting the wheel’s tilt or tightening the wheel to the stand. If you can’t, choosing a silent spinner will reduce the noise.
Illness or Injury
We’ve touched upon how injuries make it almost impossible for your hamster to run, particularly if they affect the legs and feet. However, illnesses are also responsible for the unwillingness or inability to run.
Hamsters are prey animals, so they hide their illnesses to prevent predators from seeing them as an easy meal. That’s why it’s difficult to tell when a hamster has a health condition.
The most common signs of an illness include:
- Greasy or abnormally wet fur
- Runny nose
- Discharge from the eyes
- Dull, sunken eyes
- Wet tail
- Loss of appetite
If there’s nothing wrong with the wheel and you have one that’s big enough, take your hamster to the vet.
Inadequate Nutrition or Dehydration
Hamsters deprived of essential nutrients lack the energy they need to run on a wheel.
Many store-bought seed mixes are packed with sugar and don’t contain enough protein. An imbalanced diet leads to nutritional deficiencies, making hamsters unwell.
Always ensure that your hamster has fresh water to drink and check water bottles every night to make sure they release water. Water bottle spouts commonly become blocked, particularly if you have sand in the enclosure.
A health condition or poorly-functioning wheel doesn’t always cause inactivity. Old age is commonly to blame.
When hamsters reach around two years old, their bodies start to slow down, and they have less interest in being active. This is normal, but it means your hamster will sleep more and move less.
You might want to remove the wheel at this stage and provide accessible forms of enrichment that your aging hamster can enjoy instead.
Do Hamsters Get Bored of Their Wheel?
Hamsters require mental and physical stimulation to be happy and healthy in captivity.
However, if a running wheel is all they have for entertainment, they’ll soon get bored. Hamsters spend their days in the wild foraging for food, evading predators, and digging underground tunnels.
You can replicate these behaviors by:
- Scatter feeding instead of putting all their food in a dish
- Providing at least 6 inches of bedding, with 10 inches at the deepest end
- Adding chew toys into the cage to help hamsters keep their teeth filed down
- Incorporating different substrates to explore, such as sand, hemp, corn cob, or coco soil
- Making minor tweaks to the cage layout so your hamster doesn’t get bored
If you don’t provide enough enrichment for your hamster, it’ll develop stress-related stereotypies. For example, it’ll start biting the bars and attempting to escape its cage.
Signs of boredom include:
- Sleeping more often
- Hyperactivity, where your hamster becomes more manic than usual
- Eating to excess
This doesn’t mean you should take your hamster’s wheel out if you suspect it’s getting bored. Providing more enrichment will keep your hamster busy. You’ll find that your hamster starts running on its wheel, albeit less frequently.
How Long Can a Hamster Go Without a Wheel?
Hamsters are active animals that run up to 6 miles a night in the wild, so they need to remain constantly active.
Most cages aren’t large enough to allow your hamster to run at full speed, which is why an exercise wheel is essential. Your hamster will be able to go for up to 4 days without a wheel, but it won’t necessarily be happy about it.
If you need to remove the wheel for any reason, allow your hamster plenty of free-roaming time outside of its cage. The benefit of this is that it will expend its energy and run at full pelt.
If you physically can’t put a wheel in your hamster’s enclosure, you’ll need to upgrade to a larger cage. In the meantime, you can add a racetrack to your hamster’s cage to enable it to release energy and be active.
You can make a racetrack by applying a large bendy bridge along the width of the enclosure. This will allow it to run at full speed. Place sphagnum moss in between any gaps your hamster’s feet may get stuck to prevent injuries.
How Do I Get My Hamster To Run On His Wheel?
You can’t make a hamster run on its exercise wheel if it doesn’t want to. Similarly, if your pet has an illness or injury, forcing it to exercise will worsen the problem.
You can use encouragement techniques to get your hamster to start running again. Use the following methods:
Hamsters are food motivated, so put a couple of your pet’s favorite treats on the wheel.
Fresh fruits work well as they have a distinctive smell. As your hamster goes to the wheel to investigate, it will start turning, encouraging your hamster to begin running.
Hamsters are only small and sometimes struggle to reach high places.
If you’ve made it too difficult for your hamster to reach its wheel, it’ll eventually give up trying. Place steps or a bridge in front of the wheel to enable your hamster to easily access it.
Take the Wheel Outside the Cage
Another effective technique is to re-introduce your hamster to its wheel outside its cage.
That way, your hamster has more space to explore with fewer distractions, enabling it to focus solely on how to use its wheel. You can also observe how your hamster reacts when it sees its wheel, allowing you to figure out why it may have stopped running.
Hamster exercise wheels are very important, so make sure yours is functioning properly to give your pet the best quality of life. Unless your hamster’s old or recovering from an injury, all enclosures must have a running wheel.