Skip to main content

PawTracks may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Why do hamsters run on wheels? Human behavior holds the answer

Little did you know, when you brought home your hamster you actually adopted a tiny marathon runner. These miniature creatures are well known for loving that wheel, but it’s hard to imagine how much they actually train until you have one constantly working out in your own house. The good news is they love to run and it keeps them happy and healthy, as long as it’s done in moderation. But why do hamsters run on wheels? Like so many things about our pets (and possibly ourselves) the answer lies mostly in their evolution — and ours. 

Why do hamsters need to run on a wheel?

Small pets have big exercise needs. In the wild, hamsters (or at least their ancient ancestors) run four or five miles per night — which is a lot for the little guys! In a cage, that means they need to make up that mileage on the wheel since they don’t have a large landscape in which to forage. Imagine if you only had one room to walk in to get all of your exercise. Luckily, hamster wheels and other toys help keep your rodent fit, engaged, and content. A bored animal might try to escape, turn lethargic, or even get aggressive. As a pet owner, you should provide plenty of enrichment to ensure that your little one stays occupied. 

Hamster peeks sweetly out of her wheel
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Are hamsters happy when they run on a wheel?

While running is an important part of a hamster’s need for exercise, it also releases endorphins, exactly as it does in human beings. If you have ever experienced a runner’s high, you understand why your animal adores her routine. For extra confirmation that it’s all in good fun, watch your critter or take videos of her rocking out on her cage accessories. Just make sure it doesn’t get too excessive. Everyone’s feet get tired sometimes and these cuties can develop sores or other issues from too much running.

How do I stop my hamster from running on a wheel?

As mentioned, your energetic creature needs to blow off steam, and running is a great way to do it. However, there are other things they can do to hit their daily exercise quota. Pets who seem to be training too much might need a break, so try out a few of these tricks to remedy the situation. Sometimes they go at it so hard because they’re feeling cramped and want more room to roam, and you should oblige them as best you can. Set up a spot in the house, like a playpen, for the both of you to get some quality bonding time. Having that extra space, even for just a few hours per week, will take the edge off of feeling cooped up. Also, check to make sure that the cage is big enough. While most hamsters prefer to live alone, they still need plenty of room to spread out. 

Hamster studiously runs in her golden wheel
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What else should I provide my hamster for exercise?

It’s not just exploring outside of the housing that will ease their urge to run a nightly 10K — you should also offer other entertaining playthings. Hamsters often love to climb, crawl, shimmy, and burrow, so you want to provide opportunities for them to explore inside the cage too. They won’t necessarily take to all of those activities though, which means you can try out a thing or two and see what sticks. Invest in some tubing, ladders, tunnels, and other toys to round out the funhouse and keep your furry friend’s mind and body busy.

No matter what kind of personality your pet has, they’ll love to get in their daily steps. Think of it as an opportunity to expand your horizons, too. Feel free to squeeze in your daily workout while they’re doing theirs or pull them out for a little human/hamster bonding time. Just make sure to always keep a close eye on your hamster, even when in a pet-safe enclosure. Lastly, no one likes the same thing all the time. Even if you find a perfect way to set up the cage, you’ll need to mix it up now and then. During one of your weekly cleanings, put everything back a little differently, or swap in a few new toys just to keep everything interesting.

Editors' Recommendations

Rebekkah Adams
Rebekkah’s been a writer and editor for more than 10 years, both in print and digital. In addition to writing about pets…
7 telltale signs of a dying hamster (and what you should do)
Here's how to figure out if your pet hamster is dying (or possibly just hibernating)
Vet checks out small hamster

It's one of the saddest parts of owning a pet: We know that someday we'll have to say goodbye. Our pets never live long enough for us, and preparing for the end can be painful (though important). Your pet hamster will be with you for between two and three years of happy life — full of spinning wheels and treats. Once they're getting close to the end, though, you'll want to help ease their passing, keeping them warm and comfortable.

By paying close attention to the signs of a dying hamster, you can be ready to step in as a pet parent and help them finish the end of their life well. Watch out for any of these symptoms, which should be accompanied by a visit to the vet, since they can have a few different causes.

Read more
Is my rabbit pregnant? 5 telltale signs you should know
Look for these signs to confirm your rabbit will soon have babies
Baby rabbit being held by owner

What's better than one pet rabbit? An entire litter of bunnies (as long as you're prepared for them, of course). If you've been wondering, "Is my rabbit pregnant?" now is the time to find out for sure. After all, you don't want to be caught unaware and suddenly have a whole new colony of animals in your hutch.

Sometimes, lady bunnies can take on the behaviors of expectant mamas, but it's actually a false pregnancy. The best way to find out if your rabbit is pregnant is to take her to the vet and have them confirm it. However, when you're figuring it out yourself, you should look for the signs that a rabbit is pregnant. If you spot these behaviors, be sure to call your animal doctor.

Read more
What you need to know about sugar gliders before you get an exotic pet
Follow these steps to set your sugar glider up for success
Sugar glider clings to their owner's thumb

Choosing a small pet involves almost as much deliberation as selecting a breed of dog. While there are a lot of factors to take into account, a sugar glider might turn out to be the perfect fit with their curious personality, attachment to your family, and fondness for pockets.

Like any exotic pet, gliders require expert care plus some dedicated research to choose the right breeder or pet store. But with the right prep, your new mammal will fit in perfectly and bond with the whole family. Keep reading to find out if sugar gliders are good pets.
What are sugar gliders?
Unlike most little pets, sugar gliders aren't rodents but marsupials. This gives you a few distinct advantages, as they behave differently from hamsters, guinea pigs, or gerbils. For starters, these are highly social creatures and they will bond with every member of the family and even other pets in the house. Because gliders don't smell like the animals your cats and dogs like to chase — rats, gophers, and bunnies, to name a few — many bigger pets can get along with your new friend. You'll need to introduce them carefully, but they can form lifelong attachments to each other.

Read more