Hamsters are incredibly active animals. Often reminiscent of squirrels, for whom people often say are completely restless, hamsters need a lot of activity to feel comfortable. People may think that hamsters running on wheels is a gimmick, but it’s actually a form of exercise to them.
Moreover, it’s a form of exercise that’s crucial – without exercise, hamsters feel dull and stressed out, they need an activity to function well. This is because they’re constantly moving around in the wilderness, and this instinct doesn’t go away just because they’re kept as a pet.
If you want your hamster to stay healthy, and just as important as that, if you want it to be calm enough to have a healthy relationship with you – the owner, you’re going to have to provide a way for the hamster to exercise. This can be done in many ways, and we’ll be discussing all of the ways your hamster can exercise today.
In this article, we’ll be covering all forms of exercise for hamsters, and what should you allow your hamster to do. There are many things you can do for your hamster to let them exercise and you should always try to keep them as active as possible. Today, we’ll be taking a look at those exercises. Without further ado, let’s get started!
1. Exercise Wheel
This is without a doubt the most popular form of exercise for hamsters. It’s the wheel you’ve seen in every film or TV-show that showed a hamster. This shouldn’t be considered an optional accessory – this is a must-have for every hamster. These wheels provide entertainment and physical activity for the hamster.
This wheel turns about when the hamster steps inside and cause the hamster to run as he continues to turn it around – it’s basically a treadmill for hamsters. This wheel will help your hamster burn off boredom and extra pounds (a form of expression, hamsters don’t weigh that much).
There are many cages that come with the exercise wheel attached to them, but if you don’t have a wheel (or it’s broken), you’re going to need to buy a wheel. You need to make sure that the wheel is solid. Hamsters will instinctively chew everything, and some of them will stop biting metal once they realize that there’s no actual use to it – but if your hamster is that stubborn, then it’d be best to buy a metal running wheel, as they’re most likely to chew through a plastic model. Buying mesh or barred wheels is dangerous, as the hamster can get its feet stuck between the slats or bars.
Also, different species of hamsters need different kinds of wheels. Syrian hamsters need wheels that are at least 8 inches in diameter, although if you buy a 10-inch wheel, you’re good for the rest of their life. Dwarf hamsters need a wheel that’s at least 6.5 inches in diameter. You don’t want to buy a wheel that’s too small, as that can cause major back problems for the animal. If you buy a wheel that’s too small, the hamster will stop using it after a while and it will get bored.
If your hamster is a female and she’s a nursing mother, then take the wheel out. The hamster will lose interest in her young and won’t get off the wheel. There’s also the option of the young running on the wheel together, which creates the potential for injury.
2. Exercise Ball/Hamster Ball
This ball is a great way for your pet to both have fun and explore its surroundings, getting better acquainted with your home. Hamster balls are plastic balls your hamster can enter and run around. This is great because your hamster is protected and can’t hurt itself (as long as you establish an area where it can move, if it falls down the stairs in the ball, then it’s definitely hurting itself).
All you have to do is let the hamster enter the ball and then close the lid to the ball safely. The only dangers to this toy are drop off points, like the aforementioned stairs. Your hamster will power the ball with its feet, just like with the wheel, but unlike the wheel (which just spins in circles), this ball will actually take your hamster places. Your hamster will be able to explore your home and get more comfortable in the environment.
The sizes for the exercise balls follow the same rules as with exercise wheels, so you can take a look at that section if you’re interested in sizes.
Make sure to be present when your hamster is using the ball outside the cage – other pets may want to play with the ball and that’s just a barrel of dynamite waiting to be lit. It’s best to let the hamster run around a flat ground (like a single floor of the house) with all the doors closed.
One of the greatest advantages of this toy, in comparison to letting your hamster freely roam your home, is the fact that it can’t get stuck under any furniture. However, you have to make sure that the ball you’re choosing has ventilation holes small enough. If they’re too large, your hamster might get their feet stuck in those holes, or even their heads (they tend to push their heads in literally every open hole).
Since hamsters have such poor vision, it’s best to buy a ball that’s made from clear plastic. Tinted plastic is also an option, but why only make matters even worse. Another thing that you should keep in mind is the lid/flap of the ball, which you open and close from the outside. It would be smart to put a sliver of scotch tape over it, just to make sure that it doesn’t accidentally open while your hamster’s running all over the place.
Children, just like pets, are sort of a hazard to this way of playing, as they may be tempted to kick the ball. You should also keep in mind that a ball that’s too large will cause your hamster to be thrown around it once they reach enough speed, because of inertia. Also, if the ball is properly sized and they still manage to reach enough speed, the same effect may be achieved.
You shouldn’t let your hamster run around for longer than 20 minutes – they’ll tire and get dizzy, so it’s time for snacks, dehydration, and rest after 20 minutes.
3. A Secure Playing Area
You should make an enclosure outside the cage, where your hamster can roam freely. Take four planks, each three feet long, and make a frame. Set that frame down on the ground and let your hamster play in that area. Make sure that the planks are tall enough, as hamsters are very good at climbing and they might climb out of the frame – if your hamster gets loose you’re going to spend hours chasing it.
Your hamster should be able to move freely. Even if you haven’t purchased any toys for your hamster, it will still run around and enjoy the free space. However, you should definitely buy toys. They’re cheap and they keep your hamster entertained. Play is exercise and toys are the tools of play that lead to exercise.
There are many toys you can purchase at the pet store, but we’ll list a few of them. You can even use some of these inside the cage.
A piece of rope – you can hang this piece of rope from the top of the cage – this is great for climbing.
Twigs – you can simply take twigs from any tree and let your hamster play with those. It will bite them and chew on them, which will exercise their jaws, and it will also provide your hamster with the materials they can carry around and build stuff with.
You can also make toys out of everyday household items, like toilet paper rolls. Hamsters will roll these rollers around and have fun with them. This is actually very similar to the movement provided by the hamster ball, as they have to push with their forward feet. It will provide fun for a long time, at least until they realize that they can chew that up, as well. You can also use a tin can (once you’re removed and smoothened all the sharp edges), which makes an even heavier exercise tool. The next level to this can be a glass jar, but take the lid off and let the hamster explore the inside.
Small pebbles and stones. These will act as weights for your hamster, it will pick them up and carry them around, roll them, and build things with them.
You can also cut multiple entrances and exits to cardboard or a wooden box and let your hamster play around with it. This is actually great because it will resemble its natural environment (as hamsters live in complex burrows with many entrances and exits in the wilderness), and the hamster will naturally enjoy it.
We’ve already explained that hamsters live in tunnels when they’re in the wild, so making a tunnel labyrinth is going to be a great form of exercise for your hamster. You can do this in two ways, collect used toilet paper rolls, or you can buy hamster tubes.
Using toilet paper rolls is the cheaper option, as the hamster is definitely going to figure out that it can simply chew through those.
Buying hamster tubes is the better option. These tubes are connectable, which allows you to create any shape you want and any sort of maze you want to. They’re also more stable than used toilet paper rolls, so you don’t have to worry about your hamster breaking them or disassembling them from the inside out. This gives the hamster a lot of places to climb and plenty of tubes to run around through.
You can actually use this in the cage, but also let your hamster leave the cage to a playing area via these tubes – this is great because your hamster can get to its playing area whenever it wants to. And if you’ve made the walls tall enough, then it won’t be able to escape from the playing area, and the hamster’s exercising will be completely independent. You can also create a tunnel that lets your hamster leave the cage, with the other end of the tunnel returning to the cage, which ensures that it won’t run away. You can create tunnels that are incredibly complex, but still have only one or two entrance and exit points.
You also have cages that have tubes installed in them, or you can purchase two cages and connect them, making an interesting habitat. You can also cover the whole wall with tubes and watch your hamster crawl on the wall. There are so many options with this, and since hamsters love tunnels, they will enjoy it too.
The only thing you should keep an eye out for is the size of the tubes in diameter. You don’t want to buy a tube system that’s too tight for your hamster – they will get stuck and you’ll have to get them out.
Hamsters are natural climbers, so allowing them to climb is a great way of exercising them. If you have a metal mesh cage, you’re most likely going to notice that your hamster is climbing on the walls. This is completely normal, and if anything, you should encourage it!
If you’ve developed a healthy relationship with your hamster, it’s most likely going to try and climb on you. You should allow this as well if you don’t have any problems with it on the hygienic front, and hamsters won’t scratch you or hurt you in any way.
Aside from that, you can attach ropes, twigs, etc. in their cage to create a climbing environment.
The only downside to this is that having a metal cage is definitely great, especially for ventilation, but there is a problem that you might be overseeing – and that’s their droppings. To resolve this, place a sheet of newspapers on the bottom of the cage and take it out when you gauge that it’s time to change it.
If you have a Roborovski hamster, then you should be careful with metal cages and consider buying a mouse cage. These hamsters are great at crawling through small spaces and they will use this to escape.
6. Obstacle Courses
You can also create obstacle courses for your hamster – include toys, branches, twigs, rope, and all sorts of things that your hamster has to crawl through, jump over, climb over, etc.
This is a great way for them to exercise their muscles and have fun at the same time, just make sure that you’re using an enclosed area for these courses, as they’re likely to escape if you don’t.
There are things you should keep in mind when exercising your hamster. Safety should always come first, that’s why you shouldn’t let other pets near the area where your hamster’s playing. Cats and dogs are 100% guaranteed to chase, and most likely catch your hamster, so it’s best to isolate them while your hamster’s playing. Another thing that you should always keep in mind are other hazardous things, like electricity – hamsters will maybe try to chew through electric cords, touch sockets, etc. If contact is ever achieved, it will most definitely kill the hamster, so make sure that your hamster can’t reach any of this.
Another hazard that’s very dangerous for hamsters is sudden drops. This means: staircases, shelves, couches, tables, etc. – hamsters can’t see well, and when they’re on the couch or on a table, they will run around and possibly fall off, or even jump off the table or couch because they can’t see that it’s ending. And even if they see that the table is actually ending, they can’t gauge how tall it is and how high of a fall that is, so it’s best to enclose an environment for them when they’re playing like this.
It’s also important to keep your water supply ready and full. Hamsters can get very tired and very dehydrated when they’re exercising, so it’s important that they can go back to their cage and rehydrate whenever they need to. It’s also important to have treats ready for them once they’re done. You shouldn’t let your hamster exercise for longer than 20 minutes at a time, and make sure that they rehydrate whenever they’re done.