If you’re in the process of getting a hamster, then you’ll need to think about their cage and all of the accessories that they will need. But what about a wheel? Are they considered necessary or can hamsters do more than okay without one? I spent some time researching to find out if this is something you really should be looking to buy.
So, do hamsters need a wheel? Hamsters do best with a wheel in their cage and it is generally considered a necessity. A wheel enables a hamster to run and cover the distance that they would naturally do in the wild (up to 5 miles/ 8 kilometers a day). Without a wheel, the confined space of a cage will not enable a hamster to burn off energy or exercise instinctively. A wheel also is known to help prevent boredom.
Movement is crucial to hamsters. While we love them for their cute and docile nature; it’s important to forget that they are very much still wild animals.
In the wild, hamsters are not the rodent to sit still!
It is even widely accepted, that they run up to 5 miles per day!
In fact, it’s typically at night, as they are nocturnal animals and explore during this time for food and nesting materials.
It is the darkness that keeps them safe from predators in the wild, so their movement and activity at night is definitely something you’ll need to think about and consider!
Nevertheless, let us now take a closer look at the importance of the wheel, whether it is possible to do without one for any length of time or if you can even take one out of your hamster’s cage if you find it to be particularly noisy!
Does A Hamster Need A Wheel?
It is generally accepted that a hamster needs a wheel. Within a caged environment; it is one of the few items that you can provide that enable them to replicate their natural movement patterns during the night.
For instance, if we take a look at the ASPCA’s (American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals) hamster care checklist, we can see a wheel is listed as an essential supply.
Furthermore, the RSCPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) or the UK equivalent body, also cites the need for this equipment too.
Wheels are important and serve many different purposes, from both a physical and mental perspective, which we will now take a closer look at below:
While we may keep them confined to a cage, hamsters are by nature a very active wild animals.
They are naturally very curious and are keen to explore their local landscape.
A wheel, therefore helps them to satisfy some of this desire to move around and satisfies the need to run.
Again, a hamster in a cage is more confined and limited in what it can do, and when.
This is why it is essential as an owner to provide them with things to do, and provide them with sufficient mental stimulation.
Outside of toys, a wheel is a great way for a hamster to engage in an activity in which they need to concentrate and give their full attention.
Activity and Exercise
Hamsters need to keep up a certain amount of activity and exercise in order to burn calories and maintain a healthy weight.
It’s definitely possible to overfeed a hamster, and an exercise wheel has a protective effect.
In the wild, food is scarce – but this is generally not the case when we keep them as pets and want to feed and treat them as much as we can!
Hamsters can and do become obese; it’s something we really need to watch out for as owners as it does impact their quality of life.
In fact, running on a wheel is not a by-product of captivity. This study even showed that wild rodents will use a wheel if it becomes available to them in nature.
More interesting yet; they will do this without the promise of food or a reward.
So, there is something intrinsically satisfying about the activity!
Is It Bad For A Hamster To Not Have A Wheel?
It is generally considered bad for a hamster not to have a wheel in its cage. In many ways, a wheel is considered to be an essential component to keep a hamster happy, healthy, and active. This is true for both Syrian and Dwarf hamsters.
The adverse effects a hamster will experience can include the following and is often the result of lack of sufficient exercise a wheel can bring.
Obesity is very common for pet hamsters; especially if they are not moving much to burn off their food.
Obese hamsters are susceptible to further complications, such as heart conditions including heart attacks.
Beyond this, issues can arise from the additional weight placed on the delicate frame and body; most commonly the hips, bones, and joints
So along with an appropriate diet, exercise is of equal importance.
Anxiety and Stress
Hamsters are prone to anxiety and stress; especially because they are being kept captive and they instinctively need to keep themselves safe from predators.
Without a wheel; your hamster has less to distract themselves with and keep themselves occupied.
Equally, the ability to run or to ‘flee’ is a natural response to stress. So being able to do this will enable a hamster to safely regulate its anxiety and stress levels.
They will feel as if they are able to ‘get away’ as they normally would be able to in the wild.
Stress hamsters often exhibit certain behaviors which indicate they are not in a happy and healthy place; clicking their teeth, jumping, running around the cage, or even moving items around.
Beyond this, bar chewing and the biting of the cage are commonly observed. It’s a habit that can be hard to break; plus it can be very noisy and persistent.
A scared hamster will also be more skittish and will be less willing to be handled. Not what you want to see in your pet.
In more extreme cases, they can even develop conditions such as wet tail or skin ailments.
This is why wheels and toys are in many ways required.
How Long Can A Hamster Go Without A Wheel?
It is not advised to keep a hamster in a cage for more than 3-7 days without a wheel.
While there is no specific timeframe to go by, and it will vary by hamster (their age, the type of cage you have, the number of accessories, etc.) anytime beyond this is going to have a negative impact.
In other words, the quicker you can get a wheel for your hamster the better.
That being said, there are definitely good wheels available and those you want to avoid.
Some are even outright unsafe!
We’ll be looking at the best wheel to get, and why, in a further section so be sure to keep reading!
Can I Take My Hamsters Wheel Out At Night?
It is not advised to take a hamster wheel out at night. In fact, this would be one of the worst times to do it. Of course, this is assuming your hamster is happy and healthy.
There are situations and circumstances where you may want or even need to take out the wheel temporarily.
For example, if your hamster is injured or develops saw feet. In these instances, it is advised to remove the wheel (which is likely insufficient) and seek veterinary advice.
This is usually, however, the exception rather than the norm.
For the most part, the wheel should remain. And here is why.
Hamsters are nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. Therefore, this is when they are most active.
It is during the night that a hamster acquires resources (food and bedding). They are small and vulnerable after all and need to keep themselves safe and protected.
Therefore, a hamster is most likely to use its wheel during the night.
And even then; do not be surprised if your hamster runs over 5-6 miles (10km) in distance during this time!
Of course, the thought of a squeaky wheel or a loud and noisy hamster is perhaps the last thing you want.
This is why you will want to consider the location of your hamster’s cage in relation to your bedroom.
It’s also why you may want to upgrade to a particular kind of wheel; one in which has been designed to not make any noise and is safe for extended use.
Let us now look at how to find the best wheel for your hamster.
What Is The Best Wheel For Your Hamster
There is actually quite a lot involved with finding the best wheel. Besides, it needs to be the best for your specific hamster, and the best for you as an owner!
From your hamsters perspective, a wheel needs to be:
- Of Sufficient Size; wheels that are too small forces a hamster to arch their back as they run, which can cause injury and complications. A wheel that has a diameter of 27-30 cm (11 to 12 inches) is advised.
- Of A Safe Material; some wheels have been known to cause hamsters to develop sores on their feet through friction.
- Has A Solid Surface; without any rungs, small holes, or gaps in which a hamster could get their feet trapped and that can cause an injury.
- Is Stable; that is not going to fall over while your hamster is using it. Whether this be an attachment to the cage or the general structure; it needs to be safe.
From there, you need to think about your own requirements.
From your perspective a wheel needs to be:
- Durable; you do not want to regularly be replacing the wheel. Sometimes paying a little extra will ensure this is a one time and not a repetitive purchase!
- Silent; you do not want a wheel that is going to be making a lot of noise. Besides, your hamster will most likely be using it in the night!
Taking all these factors in mind, I would recommend this wheel from Amazon:
This particular wheel has hundreds of positive reviews, while also meeting all the criteria as set out above.
It is also closed, meaning that your hamster will not be able to fall out sideways and at speed.
As you can see, there are actually many reasons why you would want to include a wheel in your hamster’s cage.
Besides, there is a reason why many cages have them installed for you already!
As such, a wheel should be considered a necessity for your hamster, rather than a nice to have.
A wheel in effect replaces space.
It gives your hamster the opportunity to run and is one of the best ways to provide physical, emotional, and mental enrichment to your pet.
Nevertheless, the wheel in which you choose is as important as having one itself.
You could quite easily make the argument that an inappropriate or potentially hazardous wheel is worse than not having one at all.
But at the end of the day, investing in high quality, silent wheel is important for both your hamster and your own sanity alike!
Beyond this, wooden or cardboard tubes, tunnels, hiding places, and other appropriate toys are some of the best things you can provide to keep your pet entertained.
In fact, these can be incredibly useful if your hamster decides not to take to the wheel. But that’s a topic I cover in another article that you can check out here.
Wondering else what your hamster may need? Well check out my other related guides below:
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.