EXERCISE WHEELS & BALLS
~ courtesy of Ham-Ham Love group.
The wheel is one of the top priority accessories within a hamster’s cage/habitat. In the wild, they can run as much as 9km a night! Obviously this is not possible within the confines of captivity but the wheel provides the solution for this important exercise and activity. The correct wheel is therefore something you absolutely need to invest in, and a good quality one could last you through many hamsters’ lives without having to replace.
ABSOLUTE MINIMUM WHEEL SIZES
DWARFS (Winter White and Campbells) - 20cm - 27cm /7.8-10”
(a really small dwarf can use an 18cm/7" wheel, but NO smaller)
SYRIANS/TEDDY BEAR – 27cm-35cm/11-14"
FLYING SAUCER WHEELS need to be about an inch or two (5cm) larger.
*****Having a wheel that is too small and causes the hamster's spine to arch, can cause severe back pain and complications, especially in later life*****
*****The hamster should look like it’s running on flat ground - no gap under it's body, nor with an arched back, nor sideways with it's head sticking out *****
Some people buy the SMALLER SIZE/MINI WHEELS while their hamsters
are babies and then upgrade as they grow but, seriously, they outgrow the
mini wheels within about a month. We therefore recommend that you
save money by buying the adult sized wheel right from the start.
Good wheels run really easily and a baby will still be able to use it with
no problem, but won’t outgrow it.
Click to go to:
Info about BUMBLEFOOT
When in doubt.....
..........get a wheel that is bigger rather
than a little too small!
There are some easy wheels that you can make yourself if you cannot find a correct one in your town. Look on our DIY STUFF page.
NOTES OF CAUTION:
Hamsters can become trapped in the narrow space behind the wheel and the cage bars, particularly in the case of those wheels that attach to the bars. We have actually had this happen to a member on our group where the hamster got trapped and, in his desperate attempt to free himself, his jaw was broken and his skull crushed. Sadly, he had to be mercifully euthanised. We therefore recommend freestanding wheels that can be set with a decent enough gap between the cage bars and the wheel, instead of those that attach to the bars.
Hamsters can sometimes develop quirky little antics when using an upright spinner or a flying saucer. Some appear to simply like "flying off" the wheel, either when stopping or mid-spin; some may be inexperienced with "appropriate" stopping; and others just may simply not get the hang of stopping properly. In any of these cases it is a good idea to clear a "flight-path" and remove hard objects so that he has a clear soft landing onto bedding, or you can opt to change to a wheel that has a front covering with holes in it (like the Orbital Wheel).
Good video by Erin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TZj8JT000E
UPRIGHT SPINNERS are available as free-standing and ideal for tanks and bins) habitats.
NOTE: If you have a long-haired Syrian, it is best to avoid wheels with long central spines sticking out as the fur can get caught, stuck and twisted, causing much pain. If this is the only kind of wheel you can find, rather get it in a much larger size than the minimum.
BEEZTEES WHEELS are 30cm and great for both Syrians & Dwarfs. SUPER SILENT!
We recommend that you seal the wood & cork before using, in order to prevent urine from soaking in and making it smell. Two or three coats of Gripseal or Wondaseal will do the trick.
Mesh wheels are usually listed as bad wheels, but this MPET “TRAINING WHEEL” is a really good one, since it doesn't have the dangerous cross-bar across the opening, but YOU HAVE TO LINE IT with something solid immediately (e.g. lightly textured place mats, flattened corrugated cardboard/corrucard, thin card, etc.)
This wheel is available in many pet shops & online stores, e.g. https://www.hyggelighamsterhaven.co.za/product-page/mpet-wheel-xlarge
BE SURE TO ORDER THE CORRECT SIZE:
The Small size is not suitable for any of our hamsters in SA, and the Medium is not highly recommended.
Large/XL (27cm) is perfect for Dwarfs and Syrians (unless you have a super-large Syrian, in which case please look at other 30cm wheels)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for its REASONABLE PRICE compared to other wheels...and SUPER SILENT too.
Lining the MPet Wheel is really very simple and you do not need any special skills to achieve this. One place mat is sufficient to cover the Large size wheel. The clips can also be lifted slightly from the back to slip the lining underneath them to conveniently hold it in place. If necessary, 3 or 4 tiny pieces of strong flat double-sided tape under the front section and the join will secure any flapping.
DON'T BOTHER WITH THESE string hacks.
They may look pretty cool but your efforts will be destroyed in one night! Furthermore, the woven kind of hack can be abrasive and pretty harsh on the little feet, risking bumblefoot and painful abrasions.
(Cork sheeting also looks good, and is kind on the feet, but unfortunately many hamsters love ripping that up too. Worth trying though, in case your particular hamster isn't a ripper).
*NOTE: Other mesh wheels have a cross-bar over the opening and definitely need to be avoided for hamsters*
Note that because plastic is slippery, most hamsters will pee in them to make sticky for extra traction.
You will therefore have to wash them every few days.
Open front styles can simply be wiped clean and then given a proper wash every week, but others need to be taken apart each time in order to clean out joins and frames.
Leaving urine to accumulate and get old tends to attract nasties (like mites, ants, & flies), and will also affect the health of your hamster's feet.
Available in perfect sizes 21cm, 25cm, 30cm usually from Takealot.
Recommended and known to be silent.
Get the largest (30cm).
Can be a pain to clean, because you have to disassemble every time, but can be put in the dishwasher.
Seems some are noisy, but others not!
Available from Cat Box Hyper:
Packaged by DARO in SA but note that the largest (NVI530) is only 25cm and therefore NOT SUITABLE FOR SYRIANS...DWARFS ONLY.
DO NOT get the smaller NVI1548, which is only 16cm.
Excellent spinner and super silent!
PAWISE SILENT SPINNER WHEELS
These are relatively cheap wheels and may not last very long before they seize up, start rattling or squeaking.
Decent style but please make sure you get the correct size (many sold in shops are the smaller sizes).
Cheap but VERY NOISY!
Wheels that develop squeaks, or where the mechanism gets a bit worn and start rattling, can be remedied by winding simple plumbers tape around the axle....many good wheels can be disassembled if you look carefully at the mechanism.
Some people use olive/vegetable oil, Vaseline, or glycerin, for squeaks but this does eventually attract dust and goes gummy. However, it should be easy enough to give periodic cleans if you have a wheel that can be disassembled. Be sure to wipe any excess away to avoid your hamster being tempted to lick.
Rubbing candle wax or unscented soap on the squeaky parts also works extremely well and is less likely to get gummy.
SO DO CHECK OUT THE MECHANISM OF YOUR GOOD WHEEL BEFORE YOU RUSH OUT AND REPLACE IT.
FLYING SAUCER wheels are obviously only free-standing and will take up more space in the habitat than an upright wheel, so would be fine for larger spaces. However, if you have a minimum size cage, these are still better than a bad or undersized upright wheel.
Please be aware that these need to be about
an inch or two (5cm) larger than the upright wheels.
Your hamster should look quite small in/on it.
Dwarfs: 23cm (9") and Syrians: 31cm (12")
DO NOT BUY THE SMALL ONES THAT ARE
COMMONLY FOUND IN MOST PET SHOPS.
Note: Many people report that these saucers do not last as long as uprights - apparently the mechanism/axle wears out or it starts squeaking quite quickly. See Good Tip below.
~ Cassidy Christiansen (Hamster Worldwide Care)
VERY BAD WHEELS
*** DO NOT BUY! ***
REPLACE ASAP IF YOU HAVE ONE OF THESE!
There are a few easy wheels that you can make yourself if you cannot find a correct one in your town. Look on our DIY STUFF page.
MESH AND RUNGED WHEELS need to be avoided unless you are going to line them with something solid immediately, as these often cause serious injuries in hamsters including broken legs and toes, and a painful condition called "bumble foot”, all of which will require urgent veterinary attention.
WHEELS WITH CROSS-BARS across any part of the open side/s are an ABSOLUTE NO-NO because there is little that you can do to eliminate the risk posed by that bar. Many hamsters stop running and then stick their heads out, or jump out, while the wheel is still spinning or swaying and then get chopped by the bar, often causing an injury serious enough to warrant an expensive and traumatic trip to the vet, not to mention the pain. Never ever get one of these wheels for any hamster, even if “your aunty’s” hamster never had a problem with one….the risk is not worth it! There is a hack on the DIY page where you can use the barrel of these kinds of bad wheels to make a new safer wheel.
AVOID THESE DANGEROUS WHEELS,
AND ALSO NEVER USE ANY WHEEL THAT IS TOO SMALL FOR YOUR SPECIES OF HAMSTER!
BUMBLEFOOT: The main cause of this incredibly painful, and often irreversible, condition is from bad wheels (as listed above). It starts with tissue becoming infected when the skin on the feet is abraded by an unsuitable surface or the foot/toe gets injured when getting caught in a bar, rung, mesh, or crossbar. This includes open-rung/mesh levels and ladders, not just wheels. If left too long without veterinary medication and correction of the cause, the infection will reach the delicate bones in the foot or leg and the hamster's leg will need to be amputated.
It is important to regularly check your hamster's feet, regardless of which wheel you have since some hams can still develop bumblefoot from prolonged running on a hard surface, and get him to an exotics vet as soon as you notice anything that looks like a sore under or around his feet. In this case, it would also be a good idea to remove the wheel until the infection has cleared up, and then consider lining your good wheel with something soft, like cork sheeting or a lightly textured place mat or corrugated cardboard. Never use anything too abrasive, like sandpaper or hard carpeting, on the wheel, since this will also result in bumblefoot.
If you are not going to bother with a correct wheel, rather do not provide one at all (although that would be unkind since the wheel is their best form of exercise in captivity, but it will be safer and spare your hamster a lot of pain).
You will have to dedicate yourself to providing some other method of regular and sufficient exercise!
REMEMBER: SIZE & STYLE MATTERS when it involves your hamster’s wheel!
JUST BECAUSE A PET SHOP SELLS IT, DOES NOT MEAN IT’S SUITABLE.
Certainly, HSA and most people do not recommend them due to too many dangers and known catastrophes. Aside from several risks, most of us also feel that the hamster is actually trying to escape this ball (he’s so close to being free but he just can’t get there…like a nightmare).
For certain hamsters they can be a great occasional accessory to enjoy, AS LONG AS YOU USE IT CORRECTLY.
Since these balls are very common hamster "toys" seen in most shops, if you feel you really want/have to use one, and for your hamster's comfort and to lessen the risks, there are a few things to consider before buying and using one:
VISIBILITY: If the ball is too dark in colour, or opaque (not transparent enough), your hamster cannot see where he is going, and will constantly run into walls, which can be very frightening for him. Many hamsters are afraid of such balls, because it's like being put into a dark box - and running into something every time he moves! Although coloured balls seem nicer for you to look at, remember that your hamster already has poor eyesight and, while he cannot see in fine detail, he can still see contrast. Putting your hamster in A CLEAR BALL IS SAFEST, and the least frightening - after running into several things in the clear ball, your hamster should figure out the contrasts of the objects/walls in your home. This cannot be achieved in a coloured ball. Note: if your hamster refuses to run in his ball (digs/scratches to get out, sits and grooms until taken out, it is possible that he's afraid in the ball.)
TIMING: Firstly, make sure your hamster is fully awake before putting him into the ball so that he doesn't become confused and frightened! Then, it is very important to know that he will need to be put BACK IN HIS CAGE AFTER A MAXIMUM OF 15-20 MINUTES. This will enable him to take a break and get some rest, get a drink, use the potty, and breathe some cool air (it gets hot in the ball!) DON'T FORGET ABOUT HIM! Believe it or not, many people do occasionally forget that the furball is out and about, so be sure to make some sort of note or set an alarm to remind you to retrieve him…all it takes is for the phone to ring, or some "emergency", to cause you to forget that your hamster is in the ball! Also, if you notice that he has peed or pooed in the ball, you should put him back in his cage so that he can properly clean himself…it’s not fair to let him keep tossing about in the mess, or become trapped in a steamy ammonia hell.
The CORRECT SIZE ball is important! Most balls sold in shops in SA are way too small for any hamster. The balls should be about the same diameter as the recommended wheel sizes. If you have a dwarf, the smaller medium size ball is best. For young and smaller Syrians, the medium sizes are good. For larger adult Syrians, a "basketball-size" is more suitable. Similar to the exercise wheel in his cage, using the correct size is best for his back, even though he won’t use the ball for as long periods. Correct sized balls are also supposed to have “suitable” width ventilation slits for each species’ feet, so the largest ball may still be dangerous for a dwarf hamster.
FEET & TOES: If the ventilation slits are too wide your hamster's feet will get caught. Similarly, the toes can also get stuck in narrow ventilation slits. Many hamsters have had to have a foot or leg amputated due to injuries resulting in this situation. The toes can also get squished through these slits if they run on hard surfaces and, depending on the severity of the injury, amputation may result in this case too. It may therefore be safer to let him run on carpeted surfaces instead of on hard tiled or laminated wood floors. If you hear squeaking coming from inside the ball, chances are his feet are getting caught. PLEASE CHECK YOUR HAMSTER'S FEET & TOES every time after using the ball, to make sure there are no injuries.
INJURY/TRAUMA: Balls can bounce down stairs, causing injury to the hamster. If you have any sort of drops in your home, make sure they are blocked off while hamster is rolling. Also, do not allow anyone to "play" with the ball whilst the hamster is in it – spinning it around like a basketball can seriously injure the poor hamster stuck inside, and is not funny! Similarly, don't suddenly stop the ball while the hamster is running (unless there's clear danger ahead) as he he could tumble head-first inside or get his foot stuck. Wait until he's properly slowed down or stopped running.
ESCAPE: No matter how sturdy the lid seems to be, it can come off, and there goes your hamster. Some clever furballs can also soon learn that if they hit a particular spot a number of times the lid will pop off and they can then escape into the big yonder of your house, possibly even to the outside world through/under a doorway! A simple solution is to tape over the lid and part of the ball once your hamster is in. Some balls also completely break in half very easily if the hamster bashes into anything to fast/hard, so taping around the middle of the ball is a good idea too.
NEVER leave him unattended in his ball! They can easily get trapped behind/under furniture and other household items, or can become frightened by other pets (watch out for that neighbourhood cat that sneaks in). If you do eventually feel confident that he has mastered his navigation skills about your house, be sure to keep an ear open: if you no longer hear your hamster rolling, check on him. As you become more familiar with his rolling habits, you can block spaces off where he regularly gets stuck.
OTHER PETS: As mentioned before, other pets pose a risk. Make sure any free-range pets such as cats, dogs or house rabbits are kept well out of the way (i.e. in a different room) whilst your hamster is rolling about. The moving ball could be very tempting for these animals and, whilst they may not intentionally hurt your hamster, simply playing with the ball out of curiosity could seriously injure, stress-out, or even kill your hamster.
Stimulation: Again, a roll-around ball can be a great toy for your hamster if used correctly/carefully... Just remember a hamster has a great need to explore, and a ball will NEVER be an equal substitute for free outside-time. Playpens are increasingly popular and are perhaps much healthier and less stressful options once s/he's used to the space, although they do most definitely require constant supervision in such spaces. HSA recommends that you rather make a large fold-up playpen with activities inside for him to explore (see an easy, relatively inexpensive playpen that you can make on the DIY Stuff page).
Travel breaks: Even if you don’t like these rolling balls, they can be useful if you are travelling with a hamster who is used to free-roaming but you don’t want him getting lost in a strange place. Of course, you will absolutely need to keep a constant eye on him while he rolls around unfamiliar territory.
These combo ball-wheels are incredibly dangerous because of the cross-bar, so please don't think you can get an all-in-one!
Similar exercise items, e.g. runabouts for sugar gliders, are also not safe for hamsters. The mesh poses a risk to the feet and, even if lined on the inside with something clear, there is a possibility that it could topple over and then your hamster is even more trapped if you're not watching, and could injure his teeth chewing at the mesh to free himself. While this may seem better than the ball, we're also not sure how well it will turn around corners, and also how good the visibility would be through the mesh for a hamster.