What size wheel is best suited to your hamster?
A hamster wheel is certainly a popular addition in our house, with our own little fur ball going crazy on it all night long. But what are hamster wheels really for? What different types of hamster wheels are available to buy? And what size wheel is best suited to your hamster?
How big should a hamster wheel be? A hamster’s wheel varies in size between species and sex. For dwarf hamsters the minimum recommended size is 6 inches, whilst for larger hamsters such as Syrians, wheels should be between 8-12 inches, with females tending to be larger than males.
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Personally, I would always veer on the side of caution and get the largest wheel possible. That way it will grow with your hamster and save you money in the long run.
The correct wheel size for your hamster
Not all hamster wheels are the same, as they are designed and built for different breeds.
Roborovskis, for example, are the smallest of the dwarf hamsters, growing to just 2 inches in size so can easily enjoy running around in a 6 inch hamster wheel. There are no noticeable differences between male and female Roborvoskis either, so the hamster wheel size for this species need not vary.
Winter Whites and Campbell hamsters also do not differ in size or temperament, however, they do require a slightly larger hamster wheel of between 6-8 inches, as they can grow up to 4 inches themselves. Although dwarf hamsters can share cages, it is recommended that you provide them with a wheel each – even if they prefer running together.
Chinese hamsters are not dwarf hamsters and although they do look of similar size, they tend to grow to around 4 inches. Therefore, Chinese hamster wheels need to be a minimum of 8 inches in size.
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Female Syrian hamsters tend to be larger than the males, but both genders are extremely solitary and territorial so will need to be kept on their own from around five weeks old. Averaging between 6-7 inches in size, they need a large wheel of between 8-12”.
What happens if you have the wrong size hamster wheel?
Most cages come with a built-in wheel of approx. 5 inches. These wheels are way too small, even for dwarf hamsters, especially as your hamster grows.
It is really important therefore that you buy your hamster the correct wheel for their size so that your hamster can run with a straight spine. Running with an arched back can cause problems in the future, such as curvature of the spine.
So, if you ever see your hamster running crookedly or right on the edge of its wheel, this is a signal that you should buy them a new wheel as soon as possible.
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Why do hamsters need a wheel?
Our hamster Oscar uses his wheel a lot! How do I know this…because it squeaks!!!! Squeaking aside, a hamster wheel is a must for any cage as it allows your hamster the opportunity to exercise even though they don’t have a lot of room. In the wild, a hamster can run for several miles in just one night, but they obviously can’t do this when confined to a cage.
With a wheel, your hamster can happily run long distances without ever having to leave home and the benefits of all that running means it can eat without getting fat. Some studies have even gone as far as to say that hamsters with wheels will gnaw on their cages less – although I have yet to find evidence of this research!
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Different types of hamster wheels available
Although hamster wheels are available in both plastic and metal, I would only advise buying a plastic one.
Metal wheels are likely to endure being chewed better than plastic wheels as metal is a stronger material, however, most wheels are made of mesh or bars. These are dangerous as they can cause injuries to your hamster’s fragile legs and toes if they fall through the gaps or between the rungs. Long term running on this type of material can also cause bumblefoot, which are abscesses on the bottom of the feet.
Plastic wheels are much safer as they are made from one solid piece of plastic, so there are no gaps for their legs to fall through. Just ensure that if you have a long-haired Syrian hamster, that you avoid wheels with spindles, just in case their hair gets caught.
Traditional v Saucer wheels
Wheels not only come in all different sizes but can include features for free-standing (saucer wheels) or cage mounting (traditional wheels) as well as silent ones that don’t make a noise.
A good wheel should be made of nontoxic material and have a grip for your hamster to run. Whether they prefer a saucer or traditional wheel is a personal preference, although this often comes down to the size of the cage.
It is also possible to make your own hamster wheel, from household items such as circular cake baking tins and lolly sticks, and although we have mastered making the perfect bin cage for our hamster Oscar, we have yet to try constructing him a homemade wheel.
There are several factors to consider when choosing a hamster wheel. First and foremost, you need to consider your hamster’s size and growth potential and always for the biggest wheel possible. Secondly, you should consider whether your hamster is most active in the day or at night. Some designs are quieter than others so these may be more preferable for nighttime runners. Lastly, you’ll want to consider how easy the wheel is to clean as hamsters can be messy.