How To Choose The Correct Wheel For Your Hamster: Size, Type, Pros, and Cons

Written by Sarah Psaradelis
Published: September 19, 2022
Ā© Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com
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If you have recently brought a new hamster home and you have heard all the fuss over hamster wheels, whether you are needing help choosing the right wheel for your hamster, or you have bought the wrong hamster wheel and need to choose a more suitable option that is the right size for your hamster, then this article will help clear up any confusion and misconceptions about hamster wheels. Ā 

Hamster wheels are an essential item that all hamsters require. Your hamster should have access to a safe wheel that is right for its size. There are many different hamster wheels on the market, however not all these wheels are safe or recommended to be used by hamsters. Keep in mind, that just because a hamster wheel is marketed toward hamsters, does not mean that it is safe for them to use.

Making sure that the wheel is the right type and size for your hamster is important as hamsters will spend most of the night running on their wheels to release much-needed energy.

Do Hamsters Need Wheels?

In the wild, hamsters can run up to 8 miles per night in search of food, territory, and mates during the night. They are active creatures that enjoy running and exploring their environment, which is why it is not only important to provide your hamster with the right wheel, but also a large cage full of enrichment.

In captivity, it is difficult to provide your hamster with such a large habitat that would allow them to run the distance they would in the wild, which is why wheels are necessary for hamsters. Without a wheel, your hamster can become bored and feel stressed from being cooped up in its cage without being able to run.

Many hamster owners have noticed that their hamsters run on the wheel throughout the night as hamsters are nocturnal or crepuscular. The smaller the cage is, the more time hamster owners have noticed their hamsters run on the wheel.

Free roaming your hamster in a safe environment or handling them is not a substitute for a hamster exercise wheel, even if those activities are a form of exercise for hamsters.

Why Does Hamster Wheel Size Matter?

You may have heard that hamsters need very large wheels, which may be confusing if you do not understand why. Many hamstersā€™ owners struggle to fit a large wheel into their hamsterā€™s cage because the cage is too small to support the wheel size your hamster needs, which is why it is important that your hamster has a large cage (600-850 square inches minimum).

Hamster wheel size is important because if your hamsterā€™s wheel is too small then their backs will start to arch. This can make running on the wheel very uncomfortable for your hamster, which can lead to spinal abnormalities, back pain, or cause your hamster to not use the wheel because they are too uncomfortable. Since hamsters spend so much time on their wheels, imagine how uncomfortable it may be to have to constantly arch their backs to run.

The pain of trying to run on a small wheel can make their running posture uncomfortable, which is why so many hamsters will not run on their wheels if it is too small. So, if you have a hamster that is not running on its wheel, you may need to consider if the size and type of wheel are right to eliminate any discomfort.

Hamster running in a wheel.
This hamster wheel is far too small and will cause this hamsterā€™s back to curve backwards into a ā€œCā€ shape.

Ā©AlexKalashnikov/Shutterstock.com

Suitable and Unsuitable Hamster Wheels

There are many unsuitable hamster wheels sold in the market, which makes it important to familiarize yourself with the types of wheels that you should be providing your hamster with. Some hamster cages will come with a wheel that is too small, and many of the wheels you find in a pet store may be too small or are unsuitable for hamsters.

Suitable

Flat surface running wheels are the safest options for hamsters. These types of wheels have a smooth-running surface with no bars or mesh and are generally made from plastic, wood, or acrylic. However, not all flat surfaced wheel is safe as some of them will be too small for hamsters. The wheel itself should have no cross bars or spindles sticking out which could affect your hamsterā€™s running posture. You want to choose a wheel that is at least over 8 inches (20 cm) in size as a minimum.

Unsuitable

The unsuitable and potentially dangerous hamster wheels are small and do not have a flat, continuous running surface. Instead, the wheel may be made from metal and have a mesh or barred running surface. Even if the wheel itself is large, the wheel is unsafe. This is because the barred and mesh surface is uncomfortable for your hamstersā€™ feet.

Your hamster may even get its leg or paw stuck in the wheel which can lead to injury. Mesh and barred wheels have also been associated with hamsters developing bumblefoot, which inflammation of their paw pads. The bars and mesh can cause open wounds in your hamsterā€™s paw pads, which puts them at risk of developing a bacterial infection that can be severe and painful.

What Types Of Hamster Wheels Are There? Pros and Cons Discussed

Letā€™s look at the different hamster wheels available on the market:

Flat-surface upright hamster wheels: These wheels come in different sizes, colors, and designs and have a flat and continuous running surface. Some wheels will come with slight ridges that your hamster can use for gripping when they run. These are the safest hamster wheel if they are the right size. These wheels can be wooden or be designed to be super silent when your hamster runs on them.

ProsCons
Comes in a variety of different colors, sizes, and designsMay be pricey
Considered to be a safe and suitable wheelĀ 
Large size options are availableĀ 

Flying saucers or disk hamster wheels: These are flat running wheels that have a flat, disk shape. They cannot be attached to the side of the cage, and they have a bowl-like shape. These wheels are safe for hamsters as they have a flat running surface, however, you will need to purchase a large flying saucer hamster wheel so that your hamsterā€™s back does not curve sideways when they are running. These wheels can be used in shallow hamster cages where there is not enough space between the bedding and the top of the cage to fit a large upright wheel inside.

If you choose to purchase a flying saucer hamster wheel, then the 11-to-12-inch (27-30 cm) size option is recommended for all species.

ProsCons
Comes in different colors and sizesOnly the large sizes are suitable
Safe for hamstersĀ 
Suitable for shallow hamster cagesĀ 

Barred hamster wheels: An unsuitable hamster wheel that is typically made of metal or plastic with horizontal bars as the running surface. They are generally cheap and can come in large sizes, however, they are not suitable for hamsters regardless of the size.

ProsCons
AffordableNot suitable for hamsters because of the barred running surface
Easily accessible in pet storesPuts your hamster at risk of injury or bumblefoot
Comes in different colors and designsĀ 

Mesh hamster wheels: The running surface will consist of small, meshed squares. These wheels can come in a variety of different colors and sizes; however, the running surface is unsuitable for hamsters and puts them at risk of developing bumblefoot or getting their paws stuck in the mesh and getting injured.

ProsCons
Easily accessible in pet storesDifficult to clean
Available in different colors and sizesCan cause injuries to your hamstersā€™ paws

Signs Your Hamsters Wheel Is Too Small

If you are curious as to whether your hamsterā€™s wheel is too small for them, these are the signs you should look out for:

  • Their back curves when they run.
  • Your hamster cannot straighten their bodies out on the wheel.
  • Your hamster has difficulty running on the wheel with a good posture.
  • Your hamster refuses to use their wheel or only uses it for a short amount of time.
  • They are struggling to push the wheel even if it is not heavy.
  • Their back forms a ā€˜Cā€™ shape when they are running.

How Big Should a Hamsters Wheel Be?

When it comes to your hamsterā€™s wheel size, the bigger it is, the better! This is because many wheels are way too small for hamsters to comfortably use and you want to ensure that your hamster has enough space to run comfortably with a straight back in a comfortable manner.

With five different species of hamsters varying in size, with the Syrian being the largest and the Robovorski being the smallest size, the minimum wheel size for each species of hamster will differ. Generally, you do not want to provide your hamster with a wheel smaller than 8 inches (20 cm) in size, especially when it comes to dwarf hamsters. Syrians will need a wheel between 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm) in size because they get very large.

Here is a simple minimum wheel size guide for each species of hamster according to their species:

Syrian hamsters: 10-12 inches (25-30 cm)

Chinese hamsters: 9-11 inches (22-27 cm)

Campbell dwarf hamsters: 8-10 inches (20-25 cm)

Winter White dwarf hamsters: 8-10 inches (20-25 cm)

Robovorki hamsters: 8 inches (20 cm)

Keep in mind that these are only the minimum wheel sizing requirements for the different species of hamsters and the size may vary according to the adult size of your hamsterā€™s species.

Dwarf hamsters can do great on 12-inch (30 cm) wheels, however, Syrian hamsters are usually too large for smaller wheels that would be ideal for dwarf hamsters. Hybrid hamsters (a mix between Winter White and Campbells) fall into the same wheel size category as other dwarf hamsters do.

A hamster in an exercise wheel
An exercise wheel is essential, whether your hamster gets time out of its cage or not. A smooth running surface is preferable to bars like this one has.

Ā©Katinka Bakos/Shutterstock.com

Consider These 6 Factors When Choosing a Hamster Wheel

These six factors will influence the type and size of the wheel you buy, so they are important to consider when it comes to choosing the right wheel for your hamster.

The Size Of The Wheel

The size of the wheel will vary according to your hamsterā€™s species, but large wheels are always best. The wheel should be large enough that your hamsterā€™s back does not curve when they are running to avoid any discomfort. Choose a wheel that fits the minimum of your hamsterā€™s species wheel size, but donā€™t hesitate to buy a large wheel if your hamster is on the bigger side.

There should be at least one inch in the front and back of your hamster when they are running. Young hamsters will grow quickly, so you can offer them an adult-sized wheel to save you money in the long run if it is not too heavy for them to push.

The Type Of Wheel

Only choose suitable wheels for your hamsters that have a flat and continuous running surface. Stay away from wheels that have a barred or mesh running surface as these wheels are not suitable for hamsters. Wheels with a flat surface but small ridges for grips are fine for hamsters if there are no slits or holes in the wheel where your hamstersā€™ legs or paws could get stuck.

The Wheel Placement

If you have a barred cage and would like to place the wheel on the bars of the cage, make sure that the wheel you choose includes the attachment piece that allows you to place the wheel onto the bars securely. If you have an enclosure that does not have bars, then you should choose a wheel that comes with a secure stand that allows the wheel to be free-standing in the enclosure.

Noise Level

Some wheels will be louder than others due to the placement of the wheel on the spinning axel. There are many suitable hamster wheels that are created to be silent when hamsters run on them. If you have your hamsterā€™s enclosure in your room where you sleep, it is important to choose a quiet wheel for your hamster so that it does not keep you awake at night when they are running on it.

Some wheels may get noisy over time as the running axel begins to become worn, you can make the wheel quiet again by taking the wheel apart (if possible) and rubbing vegetable oil or coconut oil on the bar to make the wheel turn smoothly.

Your Hamsterā€™s Running Posture

When your hamster runs on their wheel, its back should not be bending. Their legs should also be in a normal position and not seem abnormal when running as this is usually an indication that something is not right with the design of the wheel. Hamsters will struggle to run on barred or mesh wheels, which is another reason these wheels are not recommended. Make sure your hamsterā€™s back is completely straight with enough space in front of their head and by their tail when they are running on the wheel.

The Wheelā€™s Weight

Some hamster wheels can be pretty difficult to push because the spinning surface is not smooth. Hamster wheels that are heavy or scrape against the running axel may make the wheel difficult for your hamster to push. Choose a wheel that has a smooth turn when the wheel is spun so that your hamster does not get tired from having to exert extra energy to get the wheel spinning. If the wheel has a smooth spin, then it is easier for your hamster to use regardless of the species size. This enables small hamsters such as dwarfs to use large wheels.

Final Thoughts

Hamster wheels make a great form of enrichment for hamsters to release energy. You can encourage your hamster to use their wheel by ensuring that it is safe for them and is the right size for them. The most important factor when it comes to choosing a hamster wheel is to make sure that their backs do not curve, which could indicate that the wheel is too small. Fortunately, there are many wheels on the market that are suitable for hamsters and have a large diameter that allows them to run comfortably.

If you are looking for a good wheel for your hamster, check out this article: 7 Best Hamster Wheels for All Sizes

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Hamster on a wheel isolated on a white background
Hamster on an exercise wheel
Ā© Billion Photos/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I am a big animal lover that not only enjoys owning and getting to care for them, but also to write about them! I own many fish, along with shrimp, hamsters and a docile tarantula. Writing has become my passion and I am grateful to be able to write about the animals I love so dearly so that I can share my knowledge and expertise in the articles I write.

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