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Why Do Hamsters Run on Wheels? (2 Reasons for this Behavior)

Oliver Jones

Most suitable hamsters 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. They need to have 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?

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

Natural Tendencies

Hamster-running-in-a-wheel_AlexKalashnikov_shutterstock
Credit: AlexKalashnikov, Shutterstock

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.

“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.

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Credit: PrakapenkaAlena, Shutterstock

Hamsters get a rush of endorphins when they run, similar to the way that 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.

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 and its quality, so you aren’t kept awake with incessant spinning and squeaking.

It might also be handy to get them a ball to run around in when they wake up in the early evening while you are awake. This way, they can feel like they are going somewhere and get to explore while still doing something that they love. It can also be quite entertaining!

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!


Featured image credit: Billion Photos, Shutterstock

Oliver Jones

Oliver (Ollie) Jones - A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master's degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.