Hamsters are animals that love their daytime rest but are known for their nighttime antics. In the wild, hamsters are very active running, finding food, and digging burrows. In order to provide them plenty of activity when owned as pets, the running wheel seems like a natural solution.
Many hamsters love their running wheel and use it every night. Sometimes though, hamsters do things we might not expect, such as suddenly not using their wheel. Other hamsters may be given a wheel and never get on it. What can this mean, and should you be concerned? Let’s take a look.
So, why is my hamster not using its wheel? There are several reasons your hamster may not be using its wheel. One reason is that your wheel may not be the proper size or most comfortable design for your particular hamster. A hamster that is ill or has an injury may stop running on their wheel to rest or until they feel better. Also, a hamster that is increasing in age may simply run less because they have less overall energy for activity. Last, a new hamster that never uses its wheel may just not prefer wheel running for exercise.
Plenty of reasons that really do depend on the circumstances.
So, you may need to be observant here and perhaps even monitor your hamster for a while.
For others of you reading, you may be able to identify the cause right away.
Nevertheless, the underlying cause will largely dictate how you respond.
But thankfully, there are several things you can try to help your hamster use their wheel.
So without further ado, let’s delve deeper, so you know exactly what to look out for and how to respond.
Besides, we don’t want that wheel going to waste and taking up much-needed cage space, do we?!
Reasons Why Hamsters Do Not Run On Their Exercise Wheels
There are several common reasons why hamsters may not run on their wheel. The most common reasons for a hamster not using its wheel are:
- The wheel is not the proper size and design for the hamster.
- Your hamster feels ill or has an injury.
- Your hamster is starting to age or is old.
- Your hamster doesn’t enjoy wheel exercise or is bored of using their exercise wheel.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these reasons.
The Wheel Is Not The Proper Size And Design For The Hamster
Hamsters come in a variety of species and sizes.
When full-grown, Syrian hamsters reach lengths of 5 – 7 inches, while most common pet dwarf hamsters will only reach 2 inches in length.
This means that there is no “one size fits all” hamster wheel.
A wheel that is too small will force a larger hamster to bend its back as it runs to fit the curve of the wheel.
Just like a human, a hamster whose back has to be constantly curved when running will start to experience pain over time.
This may make the hamster abandon the wheel in order to avoid back pain.
A wheel that is too large for a hamster will be hard for the hamster to spin.
If the hamster has to work too hard to spin or grip its wheel, it may not find running enjoyable.
For a larger hamster such as a Syrian, it is suggested that the wheel’s diameter be at least 8 inches.
For tiny dwarf hamsters, a wheel of 4-6 inches in diameter is best.
If you purchase a young hamster, you may need to start with a small wheel and change the wheel size as they grow.
Overall, wheel design can also influence a hamster’s decision to use the wheel.
Wheels made of thin coated metal bars are appealing at first, but as your hamster runs quickly, it may find that its legs slip between the bars making running uncomfortable or even hurting its legs.
Wheels that have solid plastic or wood flooring are typically the safest option for hamsters.
The other design elements to consider are noise and ease of spin.
Wheels that are excessively loud are not only annoying to humans trying to sleep; they can also annoy your hamster!
A wheel that doesn’t spin well is also not as appealing to your pet.
Check the axle on your wheel and make sure it is spinning easily.
Sometimes a wheel can become jammed or pinched, and a simple adjustment will have it spinning smoothly again in no time.
Your Hamster Feels Ill Or Has An Injury
Running a marathon with a head cold or a sprained joint isn’t something most humans would ever consider.
Even going to the gym for a light workout can feel impossible when we are under the weather. The same is true for our pet hamsters.
If your hamster has been consistently running on its wheel each evening and then suddenly abandons the wheel for two or more nights in a row, it is a good idea to give your hamster a quick health check.
A hamster with a dull coat, goopy eyes, wet tail (or bottom), or labored breathing is a sign of a sick hamster.
A hamster that is limping, squeaking when it walks, or has visible scrapes is injured and likely hurting too much to run.
If you suspect that illness or injury is preventing your hamster from wheel running, call your veterinarian for further evaluation to get your pet to peak health quickly.
Your Hamster Is Showing Signs Of Age
Hamsters don’t have long life spans when compared with many other pets, but they still go through all the same stages of aging.
Just as people slow down with age, so do hamsters.
Hamsters that have spent a lot of time running may have joints that are a bit achier than they used to be.
They naturally need to exert less energy and spend more time resting.
If your hamster has slowly started running less over time, it might be due to age.
Your hamster Doesn’t Enjoy Wheel Exercise Or Is Bored Of The Wheel
While many rodent pets have a life-long love of exercising on a wheel, some hamsters simply don’t enjoy them.
If you have purchased a young, healthy hamster and it isn’t running, the real answer may be that it simply doesn’t want to.
A hamster with a large cage may also find wheel running less necessary as it spends time running around its entire space.
If your hamster appears active with the exception of running on its wheel, then you don’t need to feel concerned.
Leaving the wheel in the cage will give the hamster the option of running if he decides to start running one day.
What Happens If Hamsters Don’t Exercise?
Just like a human or dog, a hamster that doesn’t exercise can become overweight. In extreme cases, they can become obese. Equally, they can begin to suffer from boredom due to the lack of mental stimulation this activity can provide.
At first, a fat hamster makes for a cute mental picture, but the reality is that extra weight is hard on a hamster’s legs, back, heart, and lungs.
As your hamster becomes heavier, running and exercise becomes harder, and they, in turn, exercise less while gaining more weight.
A hamster that isn’t exercising can also experience increased boredom.
Just as boredom isn’t the best for human mental health, it isn’t the optimal lifestyle for hamsters.
Hamsters who are bored can become destructive to their habitat and spend extra time trying to escape the safety of their cage.
In order to stay both physically and mentally healthy, hamsters need to exercise.
This can be on a wheel, digging in their cage, exploring a secure play area (under owner supervision), or simply running the flat surface of their cage.
How Much Exercise Do Hamsters Need?
Hamsters need regular daily exercise. Young, healthy hamsters may run several miles for exercise in the wild or on wheels as pets during a single night. Older hamsters require less exercise but still a sufficient amount relative to their age, health, and needs.
The need for regular running style exercise is the reason that many hamsters use wheels.
However, wheels are not the only way for hamsters to get exercise.
Your hamster can get exercise through a combination of digging, climbing, running flat laps of its cage, and wheel running.
Hamsters may spend long periods of time resting as they age, but they should still receive daily exercise.
Older hamsters have a larger need for rest and energy conservation than young hamsters.
Just like older humans, hamsters can become sore and stiff and may not find exercise as appealing as they reach the last part of their lifespan.
If you are concerned about your hamster not using its wheel for exercise, spend an evening observing its behavior.
- Is your hamster doing a lot of digging?
- Is it climbing and running around other parts of its cage?
- Do you have your hamster out of the cage being held or exploring a safe play space before you go to bed?
If you notice all of these things, then your hamster may still be getting plenty of exercise, even if it doesn’t seem overly interested in its wheel.
Don’t forget; your hamster may not be using its wheel when you are awake but could certainly still be using it during the night as you sleep.
How Do I Get My Hamster To Use Their Wheel?
If you fear that your hamster is not getting enough exercise and would benefit from more wheel use, there are several things you can do:
Check Your Hamsters Wheel Size
If you do see your hamster on the wheel, look at his back. Is it curving when running?
If so, your hamster would benefit from a larger wheel.
Is the wheel not spinning smoothly even if your hamster attempts to run?
You might try something smaller or lighter.
And you can get them for a great price on Amazon.
Check Your Hamster For Injury Or Illness
If your hamster is injured or ill, it will not enjoy running. Take time to hold your hamster and make sure it is healthy.
If your hamster has signs of an injury or appears lethargic and ill, take it to a veterinarian.
As the illness or injury heals, your hamster is likely to start running again.
Try A Different Wheel Style
Wheels come in a variety of materials.
Even if your wheel is a proper size, your hamster may not like the style or material of your wheel.
Try using a wheel with solid flooring or one designed to make minimal noise as your hamster runs.
Rearrange Your Cage
Sometimes a wheel in a new area can spark renewed interest in the wheel for your hamster.
If a hamster has grown bored with its wheel, it may enjoy running on it in a new cage spot.
Place Treats On The Wheel To Encourage Wheel Exploration
Sometimes a hamster that is not used to having a wheel will need some encouragement to explore this new equipment.
A simple treat on the wheel could get your hamster to stand in the wheel, and when it realizes that it spins, it is off to the races!
As you can see, there are multiple reasons your hamster is not using its wheel.
Tackling these reasons one at a time can help you find a solution that gets your hamster up and running.
If your hamster never warms up to the wheel, don’t panic.
You can always try a new wheel.
Besides, wheels are generally advised for hamsters.
But if you just cannot get your hamster to take to one, instead, spend a lot of time observing your hamster and the types of activity it enjoys.
From there, you can encourage it to participate in that behavior regularly.
Maybe that’s in a pen, perhaps it’s in a ball outside of the cage.
So long as they are moving and safe, all should be well.
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.