Getting a hamster is a major responsibility. Hamsters are naturally very active animals and need plenty of physical and mental stimulation. This can be in the form of running on wheels, burrowing their bedding, or climbing up ladders. A question hamster owners often wonder, though, is why do hamsters like running on wheels? There are many reasons for this.
Why Do Hamsters Need Wheels
Hamsters naturally love to run. They are nocturnal creatures thus, they are also very active at night. In their natural habitat, hamsters can run up to 10km in one night. However, when they are caged, they can’t be as active.
The hamster wheel is one way your hamster can get the exercise they yearn for and require.
Almost every hamster cage comes equipped with a wheel. Running on the wheel helps hamsters to become fit, healthy, and happy. Usually, hamster cages are equipped with toys such as tunnels, balls, ladders, and even seesaws. Once hamsters become familiar with these toys, especially their wheel, they will love using them.
But is a wheel a necessity for your hamster? A hamster wheel is unnecessary as long as you can figure out other ways to keep your hamster active. If your hamster spends time outside its cage and roams around a limited space, it can live without a wheel.
But a wheel becomes necessary if you keep your hamster in a cage without much to do. The constant movement of the wheel is a great way for your hamster to stay healthy and occupied. The wheel also helps hamsters to burn off extra calories. This keeps diseases caused by inactivity and obesity at bay.
It’s also important to remember that hamsters were born to run. It comes to them naturally, and they love the stimulation it provides. Therefore, when caged, they enjoy running on a wheel. They think it’s fun and gives them a runner’s high.
Many pet owners prefer to give their hamsters a hamster ball instead of a wheel. They believe this will let the hamster out of the confines of its cage and give the little animal a sense of freedom. However, there are a few dangers associated with using a hamster ball.
The ball can bump into things or can also fall down the stairs. This can cause your hamster serious injury. This is why it’s better to stick to a hamster wheel as your hamster’s primary source of activity.
Features of Hamster Wheels
A good quality hamster wheel is silent and runs smoothly. As stated above, hamsters are naturally nocturnal animals. Being tiny creatures with many natural predators, their nocturnal nature has helped them escape predators and find food.
So, if the hamster wheel is noisy, you will hear squeaking sounds all night. A good quality hamster wheel also prevents the hamsters’ delicate feet from getting stuck in the wheel. The hamster wheel should also be the right size for the hamster to run on. It should be big enough so the hamster can run without arching its back.
Tiny wheels can cause hamsters back pain and serious injuries. An 8-inch wheel is suitable for Syrian hamsters, while a 6 1/2-inch wheel is suitable for dwarf hamsters. Pet owners should also ensure the wheel is soundly built and firmly fixed.
If the wheel knocks over, it will not likely hurt the hamster but will deprive it of its routine running, which it loves. Open wheels are known to be hazardous for hamsters. Wheels featuring rungs can also be harmful to your little pet.
Read: Is a Pet Hamster Strong Enough to Survive Loud Auditory Stimuli?
How Long Should a Hamster Run on the Wheel?
Hamsters keep running on their wheel, on and off, day and night. However, they are more likely to run at night as they are more active. If your hamster is spending long durations on its wheel, it’s a good sign.
Indulging in physical activity implies a healthy and happy hamster. This exercise may seem excessive for such a tiny creature, but it’s natural for a hamster.
Without a wheel or other toys, hamsters will likely get bored. If you own a hamster, you must keep it from getting bored. Keeping a good quality, safe wheel in the cage will keep your hamster busy, especially at night, when it’s full of energy. Your hamster will remain fit in mental as well as physical health.
Excessive Running on Wheels
If your hamster runs on and off, day and night on the wheel, you might wonder if everything is okay. Could your hamster be running excessively?
Excessive running is a possibility. Even though running comes naturally to hamsters, it can become problematic if they have no other energy outlet.
If your hamster is confined in a small cage all day, it can become bored and restless. This may cause it to run excessively on the wheel. Rather than removing the wheel from the cage, you should let your hamster out. Let it run around and explore under supervision in a limited space. This will give your hamster something to do and will keep it busy.
Your hamster’s diet can also affect its running habits. If you are feeding your hamster very high-energy foods such as sunflower seeds, it can get hyperactive. It will turn to the wheel to burn off that extra energy.
If there are no other toys for your hamster to play with, it can also develop a wheel addiction. This addiction will cause it to take the wheel for extended periods. To avoid this, give your hamster other fun activities to indulge in as well. You can give it toys to burrow and climb and chew on. You can also frequently take it out of its cage and let it explore under your care.
What Problems Can Occur Due to Excessive Running?
Excessive running can cause a multitude of problems for hamsters.
- Blisters and sore feet are a possibility. This is especially so if the wheel has wire mesh or metal rungs. One way to avoid this is to paste duct tape on both sides of the wheel so that it’s more comfortable for your hamster’s feet. You can also fix cardboard through the rungs of the wheel for added comfort.
- Excessive running can exhaust your hamster. This can lead to dehydration and hyperthermia, especially if enough water is not available for them to drink. Your hamster may also collapse due to these conditions, which can also be fatal.
- There have also been instances when mother hamsters have neglected their babies to run on the wheel. This caused the babies to go through hypothermia and dehydration and could not be saved.
- Therefore, it’s very important to regulate mother hamsters’ activity on the wheel. Limit her exercise to a few minutes a day or remove the wheel from the cage if you notice the baby feeling discomfort.
Check: Can I Put My Hamster Cage on the Floor? [10 Reasons]
How to Stop Hamsters from Running?
Stopping your hamster from running on the wheel can be a task. There are a few tricks you can try to make this possible.
Setting up an external spot for your hamster can work. This area can serve as a playpen where your hamster can roam freely and explore. An open space to move around in, even for a few hours a day, can help your hamster blow off steam. It will not feel cramped in the cage, and they will also get to spend quality time around their owner.
Just like a person, a hamster also has its own unique personality. Some hamsters like spending more time on their wheel than others. Also, similar to humans, when hamsters run, it releases endorphins in them, giving them runner’s high.
Hamsters also thrive on routine and are full of energy at night due to their nocturnal nature. This is why they are most active on their wheels at night.
If you are a hamster owner and wondering why hamsters run on wheels, remember it’s for many reasons.
Wheels help hamsters meet their natural running instinct. They allow them to be as active as they want. Running on wheels also keeps hamsters healthy, which in turn helps avoid obesity. It also keeps them mentally stimulated.
Using hamster wheels is a great technique for hamsters to release their natural energy. When hamsters are confined in the limited spaces of their cage for the whole day, they can get bored. Wheels are one way for these interesting creatures to avoid boredom.
However, it’s also important for owners to take their hamsters out of their cages and let them roam around. But hamsters should be left in the open under supervision. They should not be left loose in large areas but have access to smaller spaces.
Exploring outside their cage gives the hamster something to do. They get the mental stimulation they require and don’t resort to excessive running on the wheel.
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My name is Everly. I am a Milwaukee-based mom of 2 and have been a proud owner of many hamsters throughout my life. Like many of us, my introduction to hamsters happened when I was very young. My family saw several hamsters come and go through the years, and I enjoyed playing with them, but I never fully appreciated them until I grew up and my own children decided to jump on the hamster bandwagon. At that point, I was determined to learn all I could about caring for these adorable pets. Read more