Do Hamsters Need an Exercise or Running Wheel? (With Tips)

Hamsters are active pets that need to get enough exercise. They love running around and need plenty of space to do so. Most hamster owners want to give their hamsters the possibility to be as active as they would be in nature. The most common product for this is an exercise wheel. But do hamsters need an exercise wheel?

Hamsters are active pets and a wheel can help get them enough exercise. Most hamsters will use a wheel and run several miles each day. A wheel should be between 27 and 30 cm (11″ to 12″) in diameter, with a solid surface (no mesh or rungs). A metal or wooden wheel is most suitable for hamsters.

Exercise wheels are a popular and necessary accessory in hamster cages. Most of the wheels are made from plastic and aren’t suitable for chewing hamsters. It can sometimes be challenging to get the right exercise wheel for your hamsters, and even when you get the right one, there’s still a risk that problems might arise.

This article’s sizes don’t apply to dwarf hamsters, which are way smaller than Syrian hamsters. For dwarf hamsters, you should read the following article: do dwarf hamsters need wheels?

In this article, you’ll learn why hamsters 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 hamsters.

Why Does a Hamster Need a Wheel?

Hamsters need a wheel to get enough exercise and to mimic their natural behavior. They have an extensive territory in the wild and are very active creatures that run a lot. In the wild, hamsters will run several miles while foraging and will use their running skills to escape predators.

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

  • scatter food around the cage: this mimics the foraging behavior. Your hamster 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 hamster. It’s recommended for a solitary hamster to get at least a cage with 10,000 cm² of floor area and at least 60 cm (24″) in height.
  • provide play-time outside of the cage: a playpen outside of the cage can ensure that your hamster gets 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 hamster-proof and keep an eye on your hamster while it’s outside of the cage.

Even if you provide these activities to your hamster, an exercise wheel will still have benefits. Most hamsters like to run on the wheel and it provides a perfect exercise for them. Running on the wheel will keep your hamster healthy and can extend its lifespan.

What Kind of Wheel Is Suitable for Hamsters?

Not all exercise wheels are suitable for hamsters. A perfect wheel for a hamster should:

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

Plastic, wood, or metal wheels?

Most running wheels are made from plastic. These are good as long as your hamster doesn’t start chewing them. Hamsters like to chew on objects in their cage and a hamster wheel can be an easy target for your hamster.

Ingestion of plastic is dangerous for any pet, including for hamsters. So a chew-proof (metal) or safe to chew wheel (wood) is much better.

What size should the wheel be?

An adult hamster needs a large hamster wheel that is between 27 and 30 cm (11 to 12 inches) in diameter. A Syrian hamster can grow up to 6 inches (15 cm), much larger than dwarf hamsters. The wheel should be big enough to allow your hamster to run in a comfortable angle with a straight back.

If you’ve got a smaller hamster or a young hamster, you can use smaller wheels, but the wheel should always let your hamster run with a straight back to prevent problems. This means that the wheel should be at least 20 cm (8 inches), even for younger hamsters.

What should the running surface look like?

When you’re thinking of an exercise wheel, the 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 hamster can get bumblefoot (painful sores) from walking on rungs and mesh and get it by running on such wheels.

Choose an exercise wheel with a solid running surface without mesh and no rungs. Most modern hamster wheels provide such a solid running surface and are safe to use.

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 hamsters get its feet 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 hamster can become obsessed with running on it
  • running (for a long time) can sometimes cause sores

Stereotypical behavior

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

Although most hamsters will use the running wheel each day for short periods, it’s possible that your hamster will show stereotypical behavior.

The most common stereotypical behavior for hamsters is the obsessive running for a long time on the wheel.

Sores on feet

Some hamster 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 for only a few hours during the evening and night.

Recommended Products

Hamsters should be given a wooden or metal running wheel with a solid surface and a diameter between 27 and 30 cm (11 to 12 inches). This means that there are only a few products that are suitable for hamsters.

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 hamster. Wooden running wheels can be harder to clean but aren’t impossible to clean.
  • Wodent Wheel: a metal running wheel that is 11 inches and most owners report that hamsters can run on them without a problem.

If you do want a plastic running wheel (and your hamster isn’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 hamster will chew on it. Otherwise, it would make a perfect running wheel.

Related Questions

How long can hamsters go without a wheel?

A hamster can’t live without a wheel in a captive environment for more than a few days. There is no exact data on how long it can live without a wheel. If your hamster can’t use a wheel, provide it with at least a lot of playtime outside of the cage and/or a large enough hamster ball.

How many miles does a hamster run at night?

According to the RSPCA, a hamster can run up to 5 miles a day. Some other sources say that hamsters can run up to 6 miles a day. A hamster won’t run this distance in one long run. Your hamster will spend short periods running on the wheel, accumulating the 5 miles. 

Can a hamster run too much on a wheel?

A hamster can develop an obsession with running on the wheel, running several hours each night. This excessive running behavior is often caused by stress. Find out what causes the stress and try to fix it (for example a small cage or no toys).

Is it bad for a hamster to not have a wheel?

Hamsters need a wheel to get their necessary activity each day. A wheel is a necessity in a hamster cage. It’s bad for the health of your hamster if you don’t provide a wheel. Your hamster will experience stress and will not get enough exercise, which can cause obesity.

Want to Learn More?

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

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

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