do gerbils need wheel

Do Gerbils Need an Exercise or Running Wheel to Stay Active?

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Gerbils are among the more active pets you can get. They love running around and need plenty of space to do so. Most gerbil owners want to give their gerbils the possibility to be as active as they would be in nature. The most common product for this is an exercise wheel. But do gerbils need an exercise wheel?

Gerbils are active pets and a wheel can help get them enough exercise. Not all gerbils will use a wheel, so provide your gerbils with enough other ways to stay active. A wheel should be at least 20 cm (8″) in diameter and have no bare rungs. The wheel can be made from wood or metal.

Exercise wheels are a popular accessory in hamster and gerbil cages. Most of the wheels are made from plastic and aren’t suitable for chew-loving gerbils. In fact, it can sometimes be difficult to get the right exercise wheel for your gerbils, and even when you get the right one, there’s still a risk that problems might arise.

In this article, you’ll learn why gerbils need wheels to stay active and healthy. You’ll learn everything there is to know about exercise or running wheels (including common issues) so you can choose the best one for your gerbils.

When Does a Gerbil Need a Wheel?

Gerbils have a fairly large territory in the wild and are very active creatures. Not only do they love to dig tunnels, but they also love to run around and forage food. In the wild, gerbils will also use their running skills to escape from predators.

A pet gerbil will need to get the same activity to stay healthy and free of stress. You can do a lot to assure that your gerbils stay active:

  • scatter food around the cage: this mimics the foraging behavior. Your gerbils will look for the food and can spend some time doing so.
  • provide a large enough cage: a small cage won’t provide enough running space for your gerbils. It’s recommended for a pair of gerbils to get at least a 20-gallon cage that has 2,500 cm² of floor area and is at least 30 cm (12″) in height.
  • provide play-time outside of the cage: a playpen outside of the cage can ensure that your gerbils get more space to run around and have fun. If you have the space to provide a playpen you should make sure that the room is gerbil-proof and that you keep an eye on your gerbils while they’re outside of the cage.

Even if you provide these activities to your gerbils an exercise wheel can still have benefits. Some gerbils just like to run on the wheel and it provides a perfect exercise for them. Running on the wheel can keep your gerbil healthy and can extend its lifespan.

What Kind of Wheel Is Suitable for Gerbils?

Not all exercise wheels are suitable for gerbils. A perfect wheel for gerbils should:

  • be made from the right material
  • be large enough for a gerbil
  • have a suitable running surface

Plastic, wood, or metal wheels?

Most running wheels are made from plastic and while these can be good for hamsters, they’re not suitable for gerbils. Gerbils love to chew on everything they can get their paws on, including their wheels. But ingesting plastic can be dangerous for your gerbils.

A better choice is to pick a running wheel that’s made from wood or metal. A wooden wheel can be chewed on and can be replaced if necessary. A metal wheel is chew-proof but can make more noise.

What size should the wheel be?

Hamster wheels are too small for gerbils and should never be used. Your gerbils need larger wheels that have are least 20 cm (8″) in diameter. It’s possible that your gerbils need even larger wheels with a diameter of 25 cm (10″). The wheel should allow your gerbils to run in a comfortable angle with an (almost) straight back.

What should the running surface look like?

When you’re thinking of an exercise wheel chances are that you imagine a metal wheel with rungs and gaps between them. These kinds of wheels used to be very popular but are dangerous for pets. Your gerbils can get bumblefoot (painful sores) from walking on mesh and can get it by running on such wheels.

Another risk with rungs is that your gerbil’s tail can get caught between the rungs. If it gets caught between them it can cause pain and even infection. Since you want to provide the best care for your gerbils, you don’t want to let this happen.

Instead of wheels with bare rungs and gaps, choose an exercise wheel with a solid running surface without gaps between the rungs.

Risk Associated With Running Wheels

If you choose a wooden or metal running wheel that’s large enough and has a solid surface there’s no risk that your gerbils get their tails entangled or stuck between the rungs and there’s no risk that they will ingest plastic.

You do have to understand that there’s an inherit risk with running wheels:

  • your gerbils can become obsessed with running on them
  • running (for a long time) can sometimes cause sores
  • they can cause “wheel tail”

Stereotypical behavior

Running on a wheel is repetitive and does seem without a real function or goal. But gerbils do run on wheels and the motivation for them to do so is still not fully understood.

Although most gerbils will use the running wheel each day for a short time, it’s possible that your gerbil will show stereotypical behavior.

An example is the obsessive digging of the cage floor. This is often associated with a lack of a deep layer of bedding. Another stereotypical behavior can consist of obsessive running for a long time on the wheel.

Sores on feet

Some gerbil owners have noted that running on a wheel can cause sores on the feet, even when there’s a solid surface and no gaps between the rungs. Some might even notice blood on the wheel.

The sores come from excessive running and the friction this causes. There’s little you can do about it. You can change the running wheel or limit access to the wheel. For example, keep the wheel in the cage in the evening and take it out at night. Place it back the following day in the evening.

Wheel tail

A wheel tail is something that can happen to gerbils when they run in a running wheel that isn’t large enough. Your gerbil will not have a straight tail while running but will bend it over its back.

This “wheel tail” will prevent the tail from dragging on the wheel and causing pain. However, a wheel tail is to be absolutely avoided. If you notice this, it’s best to get a larger wheel (up to 12″) or get a flying saucer.

Recommended Products

Gerbils should be given a wooden or metal running wheel with a solid surface and a diameter of at least 20 cm (8″). This means that there are only a few products that are suitable for gerbils.

I would recommend the following products:

  • OMEM Exercise Wheel: a wooden running wheel that comes in a large and medium version. You can choose the size depending on the size and age of your gerbils. Wooden running wheels can be harder to clean but aren’t impossible to clean.
  • Wodent Wheel: a metal running wheel that is 11 inches in diameter and can also be used for gerbils.
  • Exotic Nutrition’s Treadmill Wheel: a metal (so chew-proof) flying saucer that is good to prevent “wheel tail” and is easy to clean.

If you do want a plastic running wheel (and your gerbils aren’t likely to chew on it), you can get the Exotic Nutrition Silent Runner. This is a running wheel with a 12″ diameter that is mostly made of plastic. It’s possible that your gerbils will chew on it. Otherwise, it would make a perfect running wheel.

Related Questions

Can gerbils run on flying saucers?

Gerbils can use flying saucers to run on. These alternatives to running wheels are better at preventing a so-called wheel tail. Flying saucers should be made of metal or chew-proof plastic. They should also have a large enough diameter, similar to that of running wheels.

Can gerbils run in a ball?

Gerbils can use balls but would rather just explore their environment with their own senses. Gerbils have only a limited sight and can bump or crash into furniture with the balls (causing stress). If you do get a ball, get a large one. See if your gerbils like using it and always be in the vicinity.

Want to Learn More?

If you’re interested in learning more about gerbils as pets (or want to learn about other pocket pets), please read the following articles:

If you’re interested in getting gerbils as pets you should also definitely read our beginner’s guide to keeping gerbils as pets and our gerbil care guide.

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