How Long Can a Hamster Go Without a Wheel?

One of the most popular choices for first-time pet owners in the United States is a hamster, since they do not require as much care as a cat or dog. However, hamsters do have specific requirements you should keep in mind. For example, can you forgo getting them the dreaded squeaky wheel?

A hamster can go without a wheel for 4-7 days, according to the general consensus. That’s because hamsters love to run, and having a wheel benefits their physical and mental health. Specifically, it helps them burn pent-up energy, and having something to do keeps their stress at bay.

This article will further explain the reasons a hamster wheel is vital to the health and happiness of your tiny furry friend. If you cannot get a hamster wheel for any reason, I will also talk about alternatives to the wheel.

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Finally, if your hamster wheel’s squeaky noise annoys you, I have tips and suggestions to lessen that noise.

Why Does a Hamster Need a Wheel?

A hamster needs a wheel because it loves to run. Hamsters can run up to 3.10 miles (5 km) a day for six to 12 hours. To quote the Animal Humane Society (AHS) in the United States, “Exercise wheels are a must” for hamsters. A hamster’s emotional well-being also benefits from wheels.

Let us dive into the reasons an exercise wheel is a must for hamsters. (In case you raised your eyebrows at the word “must,” don’t worry: There are alternatives to hamster wheels if you can’t (or won’t) get them for one reason or other. But that’s for a later section!)

Hamsters Need Exercise To Maintain a Healthy Weight

Like humans, hamsters need to burn more calories than they consume to stay healthy. Otherwise, they will gain weight and suffer from obesity-related diseases. Hamsters already have a short lifespan, and the last thing you want is to shorten it further.

Like an obese human, an obese hamster runs the of developing diabetes and heart problems.

Unlike humans, hamsters can’t get insulin or heart surgery. To stay healthy, your hamster’s diet needs to stay balanced, and you need to encourage it to exercise via a wheel (among other things).

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Check out, How To Tell If Your Hamster Is Blind

Hamsters Need Exercise To Release Pent-Up Energy

Hamsters only sleep six to eight hours per day during daylight hours. The rest of the day, they are highly active. Imagine being awake for 16-18 hours a day and having a ton of energy!

Hamsters being awake for all those hours and having nothing to do isn’t fun for them. So they need to find some way to burn off all their excess energy, and a wheel is a perfect way to do that.

Hamsters Need Mental Stimulation

Another downside of being awake 16 to 18 hours a day is boredom for your hamster. You can’t exactly be there to play with them for that long, since you have other things to attend to.

Sure, you can spend four to six hours telling them what awesome little furballs they are, but that leaves 14 to 16 hours for them to spend alone.

Besides, living in a confined space doesn’t allow your hamster to do much. Bored hamsters, like bored children, can become aggressive. Here are signs of boredom in your hamster:

  • Bar Climbing. If your hamster’s cage has bars, your hamster might climb these from time to time, which means they’re bored.
  • Biting. If you notice your hamster biting their cage, that means they are acting out of boredom and frustration.
  • Monkey-swinging. Hanging upside-down off the top bars of the cage is another sign of a frustrated and bored hamster. You should pay close attention to this particular sign because if your hamster falls, they could injure themselves.
  • Pacing. Your hamster might repeatedly pace around in a circle or back and forth.
  • Wall Jumping. If your hamster’s cage is glass or plastic-sided, your pet might bounce against them when bored.

If you don’t want to risk your hamster getting injured because of boredom, a wheel is your best bet for preventing that.

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Hamster Wheels Prevent Anxiety and Stress

Even seemingly carefree hamsters get anxious and stressed as humans do. Being unable to exercise not only packs on the pounds, but also makes them suffer from the diseases I talked about earlier. Also, the lack of mental stimulation can make them antsy.

In addition to the factors I already talked about, here are the other reasons your hamster may feel anxiety and stress:

  • Change of environment. Remember when you brought your hamster home and how skittish they seemed at first?
  • Natural fight or flight instinct. Since hamsters are small creatures, they’re more likely to run from a predator than fight it. Even if it’s just running around in a circle, the feeling of being able to flee is enough to calm them down.

Here are some signs that your hamster is stressed out or anxious:

  • Aggressiveness. An aggressive hamster will be more antsy than usual. If your hamster is emitting grunts, baring its teeth, or pinning its ears back, it’s ready to attack and you don’t want your fingers anywhere near it.
  • Behavioral changes. Stress causes hamsters to behave differently. If your ordinarily outgoing and friendly hamster suddenly becomes shy and sad, this could be a huge indicator that your furry friend is stressed.
  • Compulsive behavior. Compulsive and repetitive behavior is usually a sign of stress in animals. If your hamster is constantly cleaning itself, gnawing incessantly, scratching, or in the most extreme cases, mutilating itself, this is a definite sign of stress.
  • Hair loss. Noticed any bald spots on your hamster lately? If the answer is yes, this is a sign that your hamster is chronically stressed. A stressed-out hamster will pluck out their hair through constant scratching, causing bald spots to occur.
  • Muscle rigidity and tremors. When a human is stressed out, their muscles tense up, and muscle tension sometimes leads to body tremors. The same thing happens to hamsters, and unlike humans, they cannot get a massage to relax their muscles!
  • Not eating or drinking properly. A stressed-out hamster will not feel comfortable eating or drinking as they did before. So if you notice an untouched food dish and an unchanged water level in their bottle, do what you can to reduce your hamster’s stress ASAP. This is an issue that could lead to more significant problems down the line.

Also, a stressed-out hamster is less likely to want to be held or petted by you. In extreme cases, they can develop wet tail or other ailments. So if you notice any of these symptoms, do what you can to reduce your hamster’s stress.

However, if you feel you have done your best to reduce their stress and they seem no better, I recommend a trip to the veterinarian. They’ll be able to advise you on how to help your furry friend.

So as you can see, having a hamster wheel is vital to having a happy and healthy pet.

Read Why Is My Hamster Lying Flat?

Why Don’t Wild Hamsters Need Wheels?

Wild hamsters don’t need wheels because they’re not confined in cages, unlike their domestic counterparts. In the wild, hamsters have plenty of space to burn off their energy and keep off excess weight, making wheels unnecessary.

That said, studies have shown that wild rodents will use the wheel if given the chance to do so. In other words, hamsters may not need wheels, but wheels can bring out their instinct to keep their tiny feet moving at all times.

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Are Hamster Wheels Safe?

Hamster wheels are safe in general. However, you need to choose the right one for your hamster for the wheel to be as safe as possible. Some considerations include the number of hamsters you have in one cage, wheel material, and the hamster’s size.

Here’s a further explanation of each factor contributing to the safety (or lack thereof) of hamster wheels.

Number of Hamsters in the Same Cage

If you’ve ever been to a pet store, you will notice that each hamster cage has multiple hamsters. You can see some of them trying to climb the wheel, while others get stuck underneath. In other words, having multiple hamsters in the same cage can be an issue.

On the flip side, if you only have one hamster, you do not have to worry as much about the wheel being a safety risk as long as you choose the right one — which brings us to the next section.

Wheel Material

When choosing a hamster wheel, avoid the ones that have been put together with metal wire. Metal wire wheels increase the risk of your hamster getting trapped and breaking its limbs due to misplacing its foot on the rungs. Instead, buy one that is made of plastic and is ribbed.

Hamster Size

Lastly, choose the wheel size based on how big your hamster is. In a small wheel, a giant hamster will have to arch its back too much. Conversely, a tiny hamster might not be able to make a wheel move if the latter is too large.

Read Why Is My Hamster Not Coming Out at Night?

Best Alternatives to a Hamster Wheel

Suppose that, for one reason or another, you do not want a wheel for your hamster. Maybe you don’t like the squeaky noise they make (more on that later!). Or maybe you have heard one too many horror stories about hamsters getting injured on their wheels.

No matter your reason for not using a hamster wheel, there are other options to let your hamster burn off their extra energy and stay fit. Here are some of those options.

Hamster Ball

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Hamster balls are excellent for many reasons. They allow your hamster to run around your home safely and securely. If you’re worried about your hamster rolling down the stairs, most hamster balls come with a stand that attach to the ball so your hamster can run around without getting lost.

Hamster balls come in a range of colors and sizes, so have fun when choosing one for your tiny friend. Make sure you’re selecting the right size to prevent beefier hamsters from getting back pain and smaller hamsters from struggling to get the thing moving.

Hamster Tunnels

Hamsters in the wild burrow into tunnels to sleep, hide food, and stay safe from predators. Not only does a hamster tunnel give your hamster a feeling of being safe, but it gives them plenty of space to run around. And hey, it’s probably fun for them to figure out which twist or turn leads to the exit!

Climbing Toys

Giving your hamster the ability to climb is another way to let them burn off excess energy. Climbing toys require a lot of movement on your hamsters part, so this will help stave off obesity. Considering the adverse health effects of obesity I mentioned earlier, your hamster will probably need this one.

Read How To Bond With Your Hamster

How To Reduce Noise From Hamster Wheels

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On the one hand, your hamster is nocturnal and will therefore do a lot of running at night. On the other hand, squeaky hamster wheels can impact your beauty sleep.

So how do you find a balance that will keep both of you happy? Luckily, I have a few suggestions to keep your hamster’s wheel quiet at night:

  • Soundproof your hamster’s cage with a thick blanket.
  • Lubricate the wheel to prevent squeaking.
  • Purchase a squeakless wheel.
  • Put your hamster’s cage in another room at night.
  • Do not remove the wheel. Hamsters are nocturnal, meaning the bulk of their running and other activities occur at night. By removing the wheel, you run the risk of a very bored and stressed-out hamster, which is the last thing you want.

Conclusion

The general consensus for how long a hamster can go without a wheel is four to seven days. Any longer than that, and you risk your hamster becoming stressed, anxious, full of pent-up energy, and packing on the pounds. If you don’t want a wheel because it is too noisy, you can always choose alternatives or take measures to minimize the squeaking sound they usually make.

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