Why Do Hamsters Run On Wheels? Ultimate Guide

Why Hamsters Run On Wheels

If you’ve recently adopted a hamster, you will know that one of the “must-haves” on any reputable hamster checklist is a wheel. The hamster wheel is an important and necessary piece of equipment that should be included in every hamster enclosure to meet both the physical and mental needs of your hamster.

Why do hamsters run on wheels? Hamsters are built to run, spending their nights in the wild foraging and evading predators. In fact, it is believed that hamsters can run up to six miles in a single night. This trait is not bred out of them when living in captivity, and the hamster wheel provides the outlet needed to meet their physical and mental demands. 

Read on for more information about your hamster’s need for physical exercise, the different types of wheels available, and how your hamster feels about their wheel.

Reasons Hamsters Run On Wheels

Over thousands of years, hamsters have been built to run. They run to find food, they run between shrubs to stay hidden from predators, and they run from potential threats. Hamsters are very small, with short legs, so they need to run to cover any measurable distance in a reasonable amount of time. 

Even though our pet hamsters are supplied with ample amounts of food and safety, the need to run continues to exist within them. Have you ever tried to suppress your body from moving when you are feeling energetic?

If so, you may have felt like the energy you have would almost literally burst from your body if you didn’t allow it an outlet. Hamsters are the same way, and suppressing their need to run will affect not only their physical bodies but their mental well-being as well. 

Hamsters Run Most Often At Night

If you have a hamster, you probably know that they are nocturnal by nature. Many small animals have evolved to sleep during the day and spend their nights foraging to help them stay hidden from predators (unfortunately for them, this has not gone unnoticed, and many predators have increasingly turned to night hunting over the years).

Our pet hamsters are not very far removed from their wild ancestors, and they will keep their nocturnal schedules even when in captivity.

Hamsters will use their wheels more often at night because that is when they are most active. When your hamster is awake during the day, it is usually only for short periods of time – to get a snack, to move around, and to eliminate. The evening hours are when your hamster really gets moving, and they will usually get moving on their wheel.

Do Hamsters Know They Are Running On Wheels?

Have you ever wondered whether your hamster realizes that he is running on a wheel, for the sake of running, without getting anywhere? Or does he believe that he is running toward a particular destination?

Hamsters are incredibly cute and make wonderful pets, but they are not known for their intellectual capabilities. It is likely that your hamster is running because his genetics tells him he needs to run, and he can accomplish this by getting on his wheel.

It is also very likely that he doesn’t give any thought to why he is running, as he is not a creature who contemplates his future plans and goals. Hamsters are not given to questions like “what am I doing here?” or “what is my ultimate goal in this activity?”. 

It has been found that when encountering a wheel in the wild, untamed hamsters will actually hop on and start running without any reward, but rather simply for the act of running.

Running itself is a physical exercise that releases endorphins into the body and “feels good,” and hamsters are no different than humans in enjoying the physical release that exercise provides. 

How Do Hamsters Figure Out How To Use A Wheel?

This brings to mind the question of how it is that hamsters seem to know what to do when presented with a wheel. Hamsters are curious animals and will investigate something unfamiliar to them in the safety of their enclosures.

Once they climb onto the wheel, they will realize that they are able to move it with their bodies. At this point, instinct will take over, and they will usually begin running. In this sense, hamsters do not climb into a wheel for the first time understanding what to do but will realize they are able to meet their physical needs through instinct alone once the wheel starts moving.

Why Do Hamsters Stop Running On Wheels?

If you have a hamster who does not seem to be injured, is eating normally, and is otherwise healthy, it can be perplexing should they suddenly stop running on their wheels. One reason your hamster may begin to lose interest in the wheel is if it is too small for him.

If the wheel is not large enough for his body, he may become frustrated (at best) or in pain (at worst) by having to contort his body to run. Upgrade his wheel size, and his interest should return. 

If the wheel is correctly sized, your hamster’s running may wane simply due to age. As a hamster ages, his need to run will decrease along with his energy. Some hamsters will run furiously until their last breath, while others will slow down significantly as they get on in age.

Can Hamsters Run Themselves To Death?

You may worry that your hamster will run himself to death, especially if he is in the same room as you, allowing you to hear him running on his wheel seemingly on end throughout the night. Rest assured that hamsters are able to regulate their activity levels on their own, and knowing they are safe and there are no potential threats near them, will hop off of their wheel for a rest as needed.

Remember, hamsters have been clocked running up to 6 miles in a single night – spending hours on their wheels is normal hamster behavior and nothing to be concerned about.

If you feel your hamster is obsessively running on his wheel, he may simply be running out of boredom. Add new toys and other obstacles to his cage (and upgrade to a larger enclosure if possible), giving him physical and mental stimulation beyond his wheel.

Choosing An Appropriate Hamster Wheel

There are many different kinds of hamster wheels on the market, and not all of them have been created equally. There are a few factors to consider when shopping for a hamster wheel – the design, the material used, and the size.

Hamster Wheel Design

Most hamster wheels are upright, and some are designed as free-standing saucers. The saucers are not functional for larger hamsters but may work for dwarf varieties.

While the saucers may work well when there are multiple hamsters wanting to run at the same time, the downside is that they can fall off when they are at full speed. For this reason, we recommend using both a traditional wheel and a saucer for dwarf hamsters if you have the space.

Traditional hamster wheels can stand upright through the use of a stand or can be affixed to the side of the cage. Whichever design you choose should be sturdy so that there is no risk of it falling over while your hamster is using it.

Hamster Wheel Material

You will find hamster wheels made with plastic, wire, or wood. It is important that you choose a wheel that is made with a solid surface (preferably with ridges on the inside, making it anti-slip). Both the wire and the mesh wheels can be harmful to your hamster, causing bumblefoot or entrapment.

Hamster Wheel Size

If you have a wheel that is too big for your hamster, it may be too difficult for your pet to get it moving. If you use a wheel that is too small, you run the risk of your hamster developing spinal deformities and skeletal issues.

A typical dwarf hamster will use a 6.5” wheel, while a typical Syrian hamster will use an 8” wheel. When your hamster is running on her wheel, her back should be flat and not curved upward – if there is curvature, that means your wheel is too small.

Hamster Wheels vs. Hamster Balls

Lastly, let’s talk about exercise balls. Every hamster cage should include a wheel, but there is another contraption that you can use to burn off some of your hamster’s excess energy, and that is the hamster ball.

If you would like to get an exercise ball to supplement your hamster’s exercise regimen, make sure that 1) she is closely supervised when in the ball and safe from curious pets and toddlers, 2) she only spends short periods of time in the ball, as there is no source of hydration available while she is using it, and 3) there is no way that she can fall from a platform or stairway while in the ball. If she is safe and her time spent within is reasonably short, a ball can be an excellent supplemental exercise.

Want to learn more about owning and caring for hamsters and other small pets? You can find my latest articles here!

Recent Posts