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Home > Ask A Vet > Why Do Hamsters Run on Wheels? 2 Potential Reasons & Vet Tips (Vet Answer)

Why Do Hamsters Run on Wheels? 2 Potential Reasons & Vet Tips (Vet Answer)

Hamster runs on wheel

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Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Written by

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Most suitable hamster enclosures come with some kind of wheel, as though it were just as important as their food and water bowls. While the wheel that comes with a cage might not be the best quality, it serves as a sign of how to equip a hamster cage appropriately.

Hamsters and wheels go together like dogs and long walks. Hamsters need something to run on, or they will not stay healthy for long. Hamsters often suffer from obesity issues, no matter how well you feed them or how balanced their diet is.

But why do hamsters love to run on the wheel? Even when they fall off over and over again?

There are two primary reasons for their behavior: It is ingrained into their genetics and they like it. It turns out that hamsters are pretty straightforward creatures!divider-hamster

The 2 Reasons Hamsters Run on Wheels

1. Natural Tendencies

These tiny rodents are meant to be long-distance sprinters. In the wild, hamsters can run up to 5 miles, or 10 kilometers, each night in their search for food or to escape from predators.

As a species, they are born to run. It is something that comes naturally to them, and they do it well.

Syrian hamster in green hamster wheel
Image Credit: Punyaphat Larpsomboon, Shutterstock

2. “Runner’s High”

What’s more, hamsters just enjoy running and do it for fun.

This theory was tested on a similar species in the wild: mice. Researchers set out a running wheel in their native habitat. Even without the need to seek food or stay away from predators, the wild mice still joyfully hopped on the wheel and ran and ran.

Syrian hamster play with an hamster wheel
Image Credit: Johannes Menge, Shutterstock

Hamsters get a rush of endorphins when they run, similar to how humans do when we exercise. They enjoy this happy feeling, which might be close to experiencing a runner’s high. Paired with their natural desire to run, they are happy to do it all the time.

Fun fact: When hamsters get going at full tilt, they can clock 600 strides a minute. Stunningly, that is four times faster than the fastest recorded racehorse.

Imagine the distances that could be covered on the back of a horse-sized hamster!

Do Hamsters Need a Wheel?

Considering the natural behavior of their species and the limited space a hamster has under human care, a hamster wheel is absolutely necessary. By providing this and other forms of environmental enrichment, we help have the freedom to express their natural behavior. Studies have proved that besides the benefit of exercising, hamsters provided with a wheel did not engage in stereotypical climbing and bar-mounting behaviors. Moreover, females that were allowed to run in the wheel had significantly larger litters, which is a positive health sign.

Important Consideration When Choosing a Hamster Wheel

When choosing a wheel for your hamster, please ensure that this is the right size for your hamster species and is built with the right material. A wheel that is too small will cause the hamster to curve in an unnatural position, predisposing them to back injuries. A wheel that is made of thin wire bars can injure their feet due to abrasion, predisposing them to sores or even pododermatitis or bubblefoot infections. Another issue with wire wheels is that their tiny feet or fingers can easily get trapped between the steps, causing injuries such as fractures or even dismemberment. 

Therefore, it is very important to choose a wheel that is the right size so that your hamster can run in a natural position and have enough traction to avoid getting trapped or injured.

You can expect your hamster to run the most between dawn and dusk since they are nocturnal animals. That is why it is best to put a bit of thought into your hamster’s wheel, its safety, and its quality, so you aren’t kept awake with incessant spinning and squeaking.



Hamsters are very simple creatures. Most of them run on a hamster wheel just because they want to and they like it, in addition to it being part of their instincts. Hamsters run a lot in the wild, and having a hamster wheel is a great way to help them get their exercise in a much smaller space than their natural habitat. When choosing a hamster wheel, considering their safety and the build quality is in your hamster’s and your best interest.

FeaturedImage Credit: ToNN Stocker, Shutterstock

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