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In the wild, hamsters love to run long distances, often running for several miles per day! In captivity, as they are kept in smaller cages, they will require adequate exercise to be happy and healthy.
In addition to purchasing a larger hamster cage with tunnels and places to run and hide, adding a hamster wheel can be a great way to give your hamster its needed running time.
Having heard of complaints and stories from others, many new owners wonder are hamster wheels safe for my new pet?
In general, hamster wheels are considered safe, as long as the wheel is made of good material, is of the appropriate size, and is sturdy and well-secured. Not all hamster wheels are created equal, so choosing a safe option is important!
To learn more about choosing the best exercise wheel for your cuddly friend, and for tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your purchase, keep reading!
How To Choose The Safest Hamster Wheel
With so many alternatives ranging from wire mesh to plastic wheels, from free-standing to clip-on, and from big to small, it can be very hard and confusing for hamster owners to make the best choice.
Do not fret, we’ve got you covered!
When making your choice, consider the following aspects related to safety:
- What material is the wheel made from?
- Is the running surface solid or mesh?
- What size is the wheel?
- Is it free-standing or attached?
Hamster Wheel Material
There are three main options for materials; plastic, wood, and metal.
Plastic wheels are considered to be the safest hamster wheel option overall. They are generally inexpensive, relatively quiet, and come in a variety of colors.
The only downside is that hamsters love to chew on their cage contents, and will likely gnaw at their plastic wheel often. Ensure that the wheel you are purchasing is labeled “non-toxic” for the increased safety of your cuddly friend.
Wooden wheels are another good and safe alternative material. They are generally durable and more sturdy, so they are less likely to topple over and cause injury. However, they are harder to find, more pricy, and much harder to clean.
Metal running wheels are considered the least safe of all. Typically made of wire mesh (more on the dangers of this below!) metal running wheels have a bad reputation for causing serious injuries. Although the metal wheels are long-lasting and durable, and unlikely to be damaged by your hamsters chewing, the risks associated are too high.
Don’t forget, hamsters are nocturnal so they will likely spend their whole night on the wheel. This means a quiet operation running wheel is essential for your sanity! In general, plastic wheels are quieter but make sure to always check that it is labeled as “silent”. Some wheels will require occasional oiling of the joints to keep them silent.
When selecting your running wheel, opt for one made of plastic or wood.
Regardless of the material of the wheel, make sure that the surface on which your hamster will be running is completely smooth. Not only are smooth-surface wheels safer, but they are easier to clean making your hamster’s cage more sanitary.
The main reason metal wheels are so hazardous is that the running surface is made of wire mesh, with tiny holes in which your small pet’s limbs can get caught. This can lead to a serious fracture and even dismemberment. A fractured leg can cause severe pain and if it heals incorrectly can lead to permanent limping.
Avoid purchasing plastic or wooden wheels with holes on the running surface, as your hamster’s feet can get stuck and cause serious injuries, similar to the wire mesh wheels. If your hamster gets injured while on its running wheel, veterinary consultation may be necessary.
A smooth-surface wheel with a curved edge is the best option, as it will prevent foot injuries and prevent your hamster from getting flung off the wheel. Wire wheels should be avoided at all costs.
Consider the size of your hamster when selecting its wheel. Larger hamsters will require larger wheels. In general, a larger Syrian hamster will require a wheel that is at least 8 inches in diameter, while smaller dwarf hamsters will only need a wheel that is about 6.5 inches in diameter.
As a rule of thumb, while running on its wheel your hamster should have a completely straight back. Any arching of their back indicates the wheel is too small and may cause your furry friend back problems.
When selecting a wheel size also consider the weight of the wheel. If the wheel is too large and too heavy, your small dwarf hamster may not be able to move the wheel!
A safe hamster wheel will be large enough for your hamster to run comfortably with a straight back.
Free-Standing vs. Clip-On
Free-standing hamster wheels come with their own stand and can be placed anywhere within the cage. Clip-on wheels are secured onto the side of the hamster cage and can sometimes come built-in the cage.
Both have their advantages, with free-standing wheels generally being quieter as they do not rattle against the side of the cage, while clip-on wheels are more secure and less likely to topple over.
If cohabiting your hamsters, ensure your wheel is placed high enough so that your hamsters can easily fit underneath the wheel. This way if one hamster is on the wheel and the other decides to run underneath, it is not crushed or injured.
Both free-standing and clip-on wheels can be safe options as long as they have a solid surface, are stable, and are adequately placed.
Purchasing a high-quality, non-slip, plastic wheel that is axel-free is the best way to keep your hamster healthy and to avoid boredom. Here are our top two suggestions ranked for best safety.
- The wodent wheel is a great, popular choice for many hamster owners. Its solid, non-slip running surface prevents injuries, and limited openings mean your hamster is unlikely to get flung off the wheel. Additional benefits include silent operation and a large size suitable for most hamsters!
- The flying saucer wheel, although not a traditional wheel is a great alternative as well. Unlike traditional wheels, flying saucers offer a flatter surface to run on. They are great for hamster owners who co-habit several pets together, as multiple hamsters can run on the saucer together.