Hamsters like to run on their wheel because in, the words of the great Bruce Springsteen, they were born to run. Hamsters come from hot sandy places, and they are active at night. In nature they can cover 10km per night – that’s a lot for such a tiny animal! They spend their time hunting for food, looking for a mate, searching for cozy nesting materials, checking out their territory, socializing with other hamsters and generally just enjoying being alive.
Running as far as their instincts tell them they should run would be next to impossible in even the most spacious cage without a wheel. A hamster running in a wheel isn’t stressed or unhappy. Your pet is being exuberant and enjoying his muscly little body.
If you are breeding hamsters, you might want to take the wheel out of the cage while the babies are still small. Mother hamsters have been known to neglect their babies while they get their nightly wheel sessions in. You should also make sure your hamster has plenty of fresh, clean water at all times of course, to avoid dehydration from exercise. Having the water quite near the wheel is a good idea.
Do Hamsters Need A Wheel?
You’ll notice that just about every hamster cage comes equipped with a wheel, and this tells you that yes, in captivity, they do need a wheel if they are going to be fit, healthy and happy. You should not just accept the wheel that comes with the cage – check to make sure that it meets the standards we suggest below. We’d also suggest that you equip your cage with toys – tunnels, ladders, balls, even a seesaw. Buy an assortment and change them around regularly to keep interest and involvement going.
If you’re looking for one check out our hamster wheel round-up.
What Makes For A Good Hamster Wheel?
First of all, you need to have a wheel that is smooth running and as silent as possible. You know by now that hamsters are nocturnal – active at night – so if your hamster is in your bedroom, you don’t want to spend all night listening to , squeak, squeak, squeak. There are several good silent running hamster wheels on the market.
Secondly, and actually, this is the most important thing, you want to have a solidly built wheel that Hammy can’t get his little delicate feet stuck in. Some cheaper wheels have gaps which seem designed for catching and hurting fragile feet. Look for a solid wheel with internal ridges to make running easier.
You should choose a wheel that is big enough for your pet to run in without having to arch his back. Constant arching of the back in a small wheel will create pain and possible injury. The general suggestion is an 8” wheel for a Syrian hamster, and a 6 ½” wheel if you have a dwarf hamster.
Finally, the wheel should be fixed and stable, so that your hamster doesn’t knock it over. Knocking over the wheel isn’t likely to hurt him, but it would deprive him of his treasured nightly exercise. A solidly built wheel with no gaps to catch tiny feet, that is silent running, and preferably made with a non-slip interior is the ideal.
Will Your Hamster Need Lessons In Wheel Running?
The answer is, “No!” Perhaps when you first introduce him to his new home, you could put a few especially nice tidbits on the wheel, like a peanut or a few sunflower seeds. (Not too many of these, as they can make your pet over energetic.) That will encourage him to explore. But as soon as he steps on his wheel, he’ll get the idea. The instinct to exercise is so strong that there won’t be any need for him to be shown what to do. Hamsters are intelligent and very curious, so he will explore all over his cage, including stepping into the wheel, which will of course move as soon as he is on it. And off he’ll go, racing along to his heart’s content.
How Long Do Hamsters Run On their Wheel?
If the wheel is squeaky or rattles, it can feel like forever! The answer is that Hammy is going to spend a lot of time on his wheel, on and off, all night long. Don’t forget, he needs to put in a couple of miles to feel fit and right. You should be happy if he is spending some of his time on his wheel, because that indicates he is healthy, and it will keep him fit. What to us seems excessive, to him is just his natural way of life.
However if he is on his wheel a great deal then it could be that he is very bored. Be especially alert to this if you don’t allow outside the cage playtime, or if he doesn’t have other toys. Treat your hamster almost as if he were a human toddler. Make sure there is a variety of safe things for him or her to do, and that you constantly change things around to avoid boredom.
So, hamsters need a good safe wheel, and it’s going to constitute a big part of their fun and exercise regime. Expect that he will spend a goodly amount of time on his wheel, but ensure he has other fun things to do and to play with , especially at night when his energy levels are high.