Are Hamster Wheels Safe? [How To Pick]
When first owning a hamster, I read horror stories online about hamsters dying or breaking bones on hamster wheels.
At the same time, there are plenty of resources saying how much exercise hamsters actually need, and a wheel is a key piece of exercise equipment for a hamster in captivity.
What are you supposed believe?
Well, I have taken the information and put together the answers in a quick, easy-to-read format. The spine shape really surprised me at first, but now I completely get it.
Are Hamster Wheels Good For Hamsters
Hamster wheels can be quite safe for hamsters, provided they meet three safety criteria: correct size, correct fit, and a solid track surface. A fourth component is the wheel’s weight to ensure the hamster can actually turn the wheel. A poorly made and fitted hamster wheel can cause physical ailments that may lead to a need for euthanasia.
What To Look For In A Safe Hamster Wheel
To provide the health benefits of a safe hamster wheel, hamster owners need to evaluate three criteria. Let’s look at how to select the right size, fit, track type for your hamster.
Hamster Wheel Size
The size of a hamster wheel depends on the size of the hamster. Generally speaking, a hamster can fit into a wheel that is 2 times its body length.
Hamster length x 2 = Wheel Size (minimum)
For instance, a 5.5 inch long Syrian hamster would fit in an 11 inch hamster wheel.
Regardless of the formula, a 6.5-inch hamster wheel is the smallest we would recommend, even for your tiny Robo hamster.
Hamster Wheel Fit
The hamster wheel size formula above is a starting point for the size of a hamster wheel in proportion to your hamster’s size. Different breeds and sexes of hamsters are different sizes. See our hamster breed chart.
Once you know the general wheel size from the formula, you now need to test fit your hamster. Place your hamster in the hamster wheel and watch the shape of their spine when running.
You do not want their spine to curve up in any type of a U-shape. Instead, you must ensure the hamster’s spine is flat, just as when the hamster is walking on a flat surface.
If the hamster’s spine is not flat, frequent hamster wheel use will lead to back and spine-related health issues.
When a hamster’s back is curved upward, it means you need a larger hamster wheel. Go up 1 inch and test again.
Hamster Wheel Surface Type
Hamster wheels come in many shapes and sizes. However, the inside surface of the wheel must be solid, without holes or mesh.
Hamsters have small feet, toes, and nails. Any surface with even the smallest opening provides an opportunity for broken bones and even amputation of limbs for your little hamster.
When purchasing a hamster wheel, ensure that the running surface is solid.
Hamster Wheel Weight
Did you say hamster wheel weight? Why does that matter?
Yes, the weight of a hamster wheel matters.
The entire reason for a hamster wheel is to provide a safe place for your hamster to walk and run to be healthy. If your dwarf hamster cannot even turn that gigantic 21-inch hamster wheel, it does her no good at all.
So, look for a lightweight hamster wheel with a sturdy base. Lightweight and quiet hamster wheels will not be the most inexpensive ones, but they will do the job they are intended to do very well.
Unfortunately, manufacturers do not measure and market hamster wheel turning weights, so you will need to put your hands on the wheel and test them out before finding the best. Or, take a look at some of our Safe Hamster Wheel Options below.
What Are The Dangers Of A Hamster Wheel
Improperly made or fitted hamster wheels can be wheels of death. That’s why selecting the right wheel is so important. Here are some of the dangers of poorly made hamster wheels.
- Fractures / Broken Bones – Sadly, it is not uncommon for hamsters to suffer broken bones caused by hamster wheels with surfaces that are not solid. Hamster legs, toes, and nails are easily caught in the holes of non-solid surfaces while the wheel is spinning wildly. This is preventable.
- Amputations / Dismemberment – Just as disheartening are the hamsters that lose limbs each year due to poorly constructed hamster wheels. Again, non-solid track surfaces are the primary cause of amputations. Just think about a wheel spinning fast, a hamster’s tiny foot getting caught in an opening on the track surface. The hamster’s full body weight is flung out of the wheel while the foot remains. It’s not pretty. Again, this is preventable.
- Spine / Back Issues – A hamster wheel that is too small causes the front and back of the spine to curve up while the hamster is running. This puts significant, unnatural pressure on the vertebrae of the spine. Over a longer period of time, this pressure can cause debilitating back injuries that result in the need to euthanize the hamster. It goes without saying that a properly sized wheel will help prevent this issue.
Safe Hamster Wheel Options
Let’s face it; it is less common to visit a brick-and-mortar pet supply store that is not a national chain. Many hamster owners order their supplies online.
When ordering online, you do not have the ability to see, touch and test hamster wheels before buying them.
To help you buy what might work best for you and your hamster, we are providing a list of safer hamster wheel options that should work well for most types of hamsters.
6.5 Inch Safe Hamster Wheel
In the 6.5-inch hamster wheel size, we note that these are for smaller, even dwarf size hamsters. These hamsters may weigh less than 1 oz. Therefore an ultra-lightweight wheel is needed.
The Kaytee Silent spinner is made from plastic and has a solid track surface. It has an enclosed ball bearing design to keep it quiet and spins easily. The base is a solid wire base.
8.5 Inch Safe Hamster Wheel
Niteangel makes some of our favorite hamster accessories. Technically, this is an 8.2-inch hamster wheel, but it is so light and easy to turn, even a dwarf hamster should be fine in this.
This wheel has an enclosed dual-ball bearing hub and a solid track floor. The height of the wheel from the base is adjustable!
Unlike the wire base of the Kaytee, this Niteangel wheel has a solid plastic base.
11 Inch Safe Hamster Wheel
This is a popular closed hamster wheel from Suncoast Sugar Gliders. It is all black which is a preferred option for hamsters.
The enclosed design provides safety for your hamster. However, it does mean disassembling the wheel to clean it properly.
A positive of this wheel is that the ASPCA has approved it during their Seal of Approval program.
12 Inch Safe Hamster Wheel
The Exotic Silent Runner, 12-inch wheel, is great for large breed hamsters like the male Syrian and European hamsters.
We’ve linked to a package deal that includes the 12-inch wheel that includes the regular traction surface, a sandy track surface for nail trimming, and a cage attachment if preferred.
The solid base is sturdy and will hold the wheel well on a flat surface, while the rolling ball-bearing design keeps the wheel quiet and easy to turn.
This wheel is designed for easy disassembly for cleaning on a regular basis.
Hamster wheels are safe to use when they are sized appropriately, have a solid track surface for your hamster, and can turn properly with the weight of your hamster.
Generally, a wheel that is twice as long as your hamster is a good minimum starting size, but a bit larger is helpful to ensure the spine stays straight.
Expect to pay around $40.00 for a good hamster wheel. The extra expense will provide a safer wheel than the cheaper options.
Are wheels good for hamsters? Yes, hamster wheels can be good for hamsters. However, they should not be a replacement for ample room in a hamster enclosure with proper bedding depth and accessories. Be sure to follow the safe hamster wheel guidelines above.
What happens if you don’t give a hamster a wheel? Well, hamsters need lots of opportunities for exercise. In the wild, hamsters travel, burrow significant amounts of the night looking for food and keeping away from predators. When hamsters do not get enough exercise, they become stressed, bite, are aggressive, become withdrawn, chew on their cage bars, and other harmful activities. Ultimately this reduces the quality and length of a hamster’s life.
Can a hamster wheel be too big? Yes, but it is not because of the size, but rather the weight of the wheel. Hamsters will do great with larger wheels, but only if they can actually move the wheel with their weight. Hamster wheels that are too big will not allow the hamster to turn the wheel, and therefore they will not get the exercise they need.
Is it bad to take a hamster’s wheel out at night? If the wheel starts making too much noise, you can remove it as a temporary solution. However, it would be best if you replaced it soon. Hamsters need their hamster wheels at night since this is when they are naturally active. That is why most hamster owners will spend a little more on a hamster wheel with a silent ball-bearing design.