Can A Hamster Live Without A Wheel? (How Long?)

Hamsters make great pets – but they are more active than you think. Because they are mainly awake when we are asleep, we don’t often appreciate how much stuff they need to do to stay happy. So if you are wondering if you need a wheel for your hamster – you need to first understand a bit more about hamsters.

Can a hamster live without a wheel is indeed a common question – and in the next few paragraphs – we will explain all.

Wild Hamsters Don’t Have Hamster Wheels?

Of course they don’t – but they have an endless and unrestricted landscape to run through. So like us on a treadmill – if we can’t get out for a run or long walk – we can pace it out on the spot. We actually quite enjoy it too – it’s therapeutic.

They say that a hamster can cover several miles a night – every night – in their natural habitat – seeking new smells and looking for food. They are communicating, looking out for risks and being wary of new things.

However, all of this has been eliminated from their lives when they live in captivity. Yes, we have taken out all the danger – but we have also taken away all the adventure.

There are no commercial hamster cages or hamster tanks that can offer that natural size of habitat to explore. Unless you own a big garden or a small zoo – your hamster is going to have an urge to travel that needs to be met.

Although many people buy crazy tube-filled enclosures that the hamsters can travel around day and night – after a few months the magic is lost. Like being stuck in a duplex – you would have fun for a while travelling between the rooms and going up and down the stairs, sure. But how long before you want more – or start to go stir crazy?

Needless to say, we have all been stuck in our own duplexes over the past year – and we all know how we and our friends and family just wish we had more space, more walks and more things to do. So perhaps this is the ideal comparison to why your hamsters need changing daily enrichment and a great big wheel!

Hamster Habits – What Do Hamsters Actually Need?

Hamsters love space and exploring – and they are great characters – but can be a bit grumpy when it comes to human fingers, right? Hamsters have been popular pocket pets for decades – so we must know all about what they need? We do everything we can to match up the homes we provide with their anticipated needs.

Wrong. It has only been recently that we have started doing research on what a hamster actually wants? What makes them happy?

There was a study done little over 10 years ago that said that a single hamster should have an enclosure no smaller than 1500 square inches (10,000 square cms) on its base. That is around 5ft long and 2ft deep (1.5m x .6m). Any sizes smaller than this (including cages recommended as ‘minimum sizes’ by the RSPCA and ASPCA) were seen to encourage ‘boredom behaviours’ – more commonly known as stereotypical behaviours.

These behaviours are key signs of discontent, boredom and perhaps even anxiety and they include the most common one: bar-chewing. They can also cause ill health and are believed to actually shorten hamster lifespans. Stress can manifest as any of the following:

  • Pacing – where the hamsters walks back and forth along the same route over and over 
  • Biting – bored hamsters can appear very aggressive – but are actually just acting out frustration – like ‘screaming’ out loud
  • Bar Climbing – if the sides of the cage are barred – the hamsters can repetitively climb then up and down
  • Wall Jumping – if you have a bin cage or a plastic- or glass-sided enclosure – hamsters will just bounce up against them
  • Monkey-swinging – where the frustrated hamster can be seen hanging upside-down off the top bars of a cage

So, if you see any of these in your own hamster or hamsters – perhaps you need to assess your enclosure rather than try to stop your hamster acting out any of these by other means. But why are these smaller cages still for sale – and aimed at hamsters? 

Not everyone has room for the largest enclosure – so we must all make compromises of course. There is a huge size range available if you look – but just going for the ‘minimum’ cage size for your hamster you are not really supplying your pet with all the things they need.

This is where a wheel comes in.

Different Types of Hamster Wheels – What’s Best?

As with everything in the pet world – there are different options available to the discerning hamster owner. However, be sure to research things first – not just going on impulse or buying the thing that matches your bedroom. And go silent – there is no point buying a wheel that you have to take out at night. Being nocturnal – that is the very time your hamsters need them most!

If you don’t know which hamster wheel is best – then be honest with yourself and don’t buy anything until you have checked. Use popular forums or other hamster specialist groups or breeders.

Types of hamster wheel available are wide-ranging – and can be plastic, metal or wood, on legs, suspended, enclosed or spoked, even surface running ‘flying saucers’ – all have their own pros and cons. 

What is most important though is the hamster.

Hamsters Need to Run With Their Body Flat

Hamster cages that are more vertical are the opposite of this, so you are looking for a long, wide enclosure – at least 100cm long and with a few low levels. And on one of these levels (or suspended from the ceiling) they need a large lightweight spoke-free solid-based wheel.

Syrians need a smooth-running wheel with a diameter of 28cm+ as this doesn’t cause them to curve their back. Dwarf hamsters (Campbells/Winter Whites, Roborovski and Chinese) need at least 20cm to keep their backs straight – but bigger is always better.

This wheel you need might well be taller than most cage sections, or the entire cage – but this helps you to identify whether your enclosure is too small for your hamster and it needs a good upgrade anyway?

Can A Hamster Live Without A Hamster Wheel?

Yes, but it won’t be the happiest hamster in the world for sure. Unless your hamster enclosure is larger than a basketball court – you should have a hamster wheel – 2 hamster wheels if you have two dwarf hamsters together. Wheels can increase their floor space into infinity – so they can stay active in a smaller space.

As shown above, if your enclosure has a small floor base, your hamster will most likely become stressed over time. And stress can add to existing illness or become health issues on their own. Therefore, by adding a wheel to their enclosure, you are potentially extending the life of your hamsters?

Surely that has got to be worth the money long term. Wheel = happy old hamster?

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