Hamsters are busy little critters, and their owners often see them scurrying about, hoarding food, or running on their exercise wheels. In the wild, these nocturnal rodents live in a variety of habitats and spend their days foraging for food, hunting, and evading predators. Because they’re prey animals, these creatures have agile bodies developed for running.
A hamster runs up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) in a single night on average, according to the San Diego Humane Society. They may reach speeds of up to 6 miles per hour (9.65 km/hr). A hamster’s agility is evident in how they abruptly change direction, leap, and climb.
This article discusses hamsters’ running and traveling habits, including why and how fast they run. It also covers how to ensure that your pet hamsters receive enough exercise. Read on to learn more.
As a hamster owner, you’ve probably noticed that hamsters spend the majority of their daytime hours sleeping. As night falls, they wake up, scurry around and become more active.
This behavior isn’t exclusive to hamsters in captivity. Even wild hamsters spend most of their day sleeping in burrows. At dusk, they emerge and begin their quest for food.
As noted, the average hamster travels around 5 miles (8 km) every night, but they’re capable of covering more ground if necessary. That distance isn’t covered in a single run, however. Because hamsters are prey, they frequently stop to watch out for predators, as well as to gather food and drink.
Contrary to popular belief, a hamster in captivity does not have reduced exercise requirements. In fact, they need the same amount of exercise and energy as their wild counterparts. Despite their small size, hamsters need quite a bit of space for running.
With that said, most hamster owners don’t have a lot of space, so they must provide their furry friends with alternative ways to exercise and explore. I’ll go more in-depth into exercising a hamster later in this article.
In the wild, hamsters live in deserts, gardens, foothills, river valleys, and farm fields. Scientists have seen some of them living at elevations up to 11,811 feet (3,600 meters). Interestingly, regardless of the terrain, most hamsters have similarly built bodies — small, compact, and built for dodging, hiding, and evading.
Specifically, they have four front toes and five rear toes. Because of their body development and bone structure, hamsters are fast, agile creatures and excellent climbers.
Hamsters run between 3 and 6 miles per hour (4.82 and 9.65 km/hr). Syrian hamsters have large feet, so they cover more ground, but they take more frequent breaks while running. The Campbell’s Dwarf Hamster, known for its abrupt movements and speed, runs up to 3.73 miles per hour (6.5 km/hr).
In comparison, the average human woman runs around 6.5 miles per hour (10.46 km/hr) — and maximum hamster speeds aren’t far behind. While speed varies from hamster to hamster, they’re all capable of covering a considerable distance in a short period of time relative to their size.
According to the Louisiana Veterinary Medical Association, hamsters are nocturnal creatures that showcase territorial behavior. As such, most hamster species are solitary, rarely tolerating others except during mating season. They spend most of their lives alone.
Hamsters run for many reasons, including predator evasion, territory monitoring, food gathering, mate hunting, and energy expenditure. These creatures tend to run everywhere they go, stopping only to detect predators or eat and drink. Their tiny bodies are well-developed for sprinting and agility.
Their burrows protect them from predators and the elements. It’s only at night that hamsters awake to explore their territory, searching for food or “prey,” such as insects — and they run most of the way.
The primary reason hamsters sprint wherever they go is to protect their lives. These creatures are prey animals, so they must be both quick and agile to evade any predator that gives chase. If hamsters were slow, sluggish, and poor climbers, they’d never escape with their lives.
Although hamsters may travel long distances in a single night, they never run five miles in a single sprint. Regular breaks are necessary to their survival. During these frequent breaks, hamsters remain hyper-focused, listening intently for sounds of predators lurking in the darkness nearby.
Hamsters may even stop to take note of the nearest and safest space to hide should they encounter a wild cat, bird, snake, or other predators.
So, hamsters run to escape and protect themselves — but it’s not just running that keeps them safe. Hamsters have impressive agility. They’re excellent at dodging attacks, switching direction at the drop of a dime, and sprinting from a standstill.
The average wild dwarf hamster maintains a territory of around 1.35 square miles (3.46 square kilometers). Syrian hamsters require double that amount — which is quite a bit of space for such a small animal.
Due to their large territories, hamsters need to cover large distances to protect their space, find food, and locate mates.
Food gathering is one of the most important parts of a hamster’s short life. They spend a great deal of time running to and fro along the boundaries of their territory.
As they run, they stop frequently to gather food that they stash in their cheek pouches. Once they’ve gathered enough food, they scurry back to their burrow, where they store the food for safekeeping.
Interestingly, despite their hoarding behavior, hamsters search for food every night. Hamster owners should regularly observe their hamster’s food intake, as they’ll hide food around their enclosure.
Hamsters have incredible energy levels. They constantly move about in a fast, focused manner, often looking quite frenzied. Even when they stop to eat, their movements are quick, with ears perked up to detect danger. With seemingly endless energy and active nature, it’s no surprise a hamster’s metabolism is quite high.
A hamster’s heart beats between 310 to 416 beats per minute, and its high energy levels must be expended for optimal health. This is precisely why hamsters in captivity are often seen running on their wheel or scurrying around their cage.
A peer-reviewed study published in Elsevier’s Physiology & Behavior shows that Syrian Golden Hamsters consume smaller meals with more frequency during their nighttime exploration. Another study in the same journal showed that, compared to sedentary hamsters, exercised hamsters’ liver glycogen levels rose during the day and lowered at night.
The evidence uncovered during the study shows that hamsters remain inactive during the day, storing food as fuel for their bodies. When night falls, a hamster’s body mobilizes that fuel, using it to keep them moving along their journey.
In the wild, hamsters race around their habitats, covering quite a bit of space in a single night. This behavior is instinctive and necessary for survival. As such, hamster owners must provide their furry companions with ways to expend their energy.
This section covers three pieces of equipment that hamster owners can use to encourage their hamster’s instinctual desire for running.
The easiest and most common way to let a hamster run is with a hamster wheel. When choosing an exercise wheel, safety should be the first priority. Once the standard, metal hamster wheels are now considered dangerous, since a hamster’s feet may get caught in the rungs, leading to injury.
In addition, metal hamster wheels are noisy and — considering that hamsters are nocturnal — may cause too much noise for a person to sleep at night.
Size is important, too. Syrian hamsters should have a wheel at least 7 inches (18 cm) in diameter. Likewise, dwarf hamsters can work with at least a 5-inch (13 cm) hamster wheel. That said, most hamsters tend to gravitate towards the larger wheel given a choice. In any case, always choose a completely solid hamster wheel.
I recommend the Exotic Nutrition Hamster Wheel + Cage, available on Amazon.com. The design allows for silent operation and completely eliminates the need for a center bar, increasing overall safety. The product includes the wheel, stand, and all necessary accessories for securing the wheel to the hamster’s cage.
Plastic exercise balls are another way to provide your hamster a way to burn off extra energy and escape the confines of its cage. This encourages a hamster’s natural affinity for exploration too. When using a hamster ball, don’t let the hamster exceed 30 minutes of running time.
With too much running and no access to water, the critter may become dehydrated. After half an hour or less, move your furry friend back to its enclosure and offer freshwater.
For a quality hamster ball, I recommend the Lee’s Kritter Krawler Exercise Ball from Amazon.com. This affordable exercise ball has transparent, shatter-resistant plastic so you can watch your rodent as it scurries about. The ribbed interior provides an easier grip, allowing your hamster to move more efficiently.
A hamster playpen is essentially a safe, enclosed area where you can enjoy quality time with your pet. You can let the hamster roam freely by itself, or you can sit inside with your furry friend. These playpens provide excellent opportunities for bonding with your hamster while burning off energy at the same time.
Hamster playpens allow the rodent to explore freely without fear of getting into dangerous materials or being attacked by other pets.
You can make playpens more exciting by hiding food or treats in different areas. Adding objects, like the Niteangel Small Pet Fun Tunnel (available on Amazon.com), makes the playpen a more enjoyable environment. The tube expands up to 39 inches (99 cm) and contracts for easy storage. It’s made of durable plastic and encourages a hamster’s natural burrowing instinct.
For playpens, I recommend the Amakunft Small Animals Cage Tent, available on Amazon.com. This pen is breathable, easy to set up, and comes in six different color choices. It provides 10 feet (3.048 meter) of space for your hamster to run around.
To move your hamster to the playpen, you can pick it up with your hands (if the rodent is tame and used to handling) or use a carrier.
Playing with your hamster is a fun way to exercise your furry friend, but it’s best to reserve playtime for their most active periods, like the evening or at night.
If you wake your hamster during the day, you may stress it out since it’s not a diurnal animal.
Providing your hamster with multiple ways to expend energy is one way to be a responsible pet owner. However, you should be aware of signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
If you see any signs of heat exhaustion in your hamster, move it back to its habitat, offer freshwater, and keep the area cool if the temperature is too high.
Like all rodents, hamsters don’t have sweat glands. Without sweat glands, they cannot cool themselves the way humans do. Instead, heat dissipates through a hamster’s ears and tail. Some hamsters may even salivate as a response to high temperatures or exhaustion.
Keep your eye on your hamster when it’s exercising. Do not overexert your furry friend. Half an hour is more than enough time for a hamster to scurry around in an exercise ball or a playpen. When running on a hamster wheel, the hamster decides when it’s time to stop running.
Related Hamster articles:
- Why Does Hamster Pee Smell So Bad?
- How To Tame a Hamster
- Why Is My Hamster Biting Me
- How To Keep a Hamster Warm
- Why Did My Hamster Die?
Hamsters are busy little creatures capable of covering long distances in relatively short periods. The reason these rodents run so often and so quickly is to gather food, protect their territory, seek mates, and evade predators.
Without such quick reflexes and agility, hamsters would make for easy prey. Fortunately for them — and unfortunately for predators — hamsters have developed natural instincts and abilities to let them escape and retreat to their burrows, only to wake up and do it all again the following night.
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