Why Do Hamsters Run on Wheels? A Data-Backed Answer

hamster running on a wheel

Although small-sized, hamsters are some of the most active and energetic animals. When living in the wild, they spend their waking hours digging burrows, gathering food, and running throughout the night. When confined in a cage, running does not change for your hamster.

Hamsters run on wheels because they have a natural need to release energy, and reduce boredom. Additionally, they are fulfilling their instincts and curiosity, and they want to keep healthy. The wheels allow the hamsters to cover the distance they could in the wild when living in the cage.

5 Main Reasons Why Hamsters Run on Wheels

When your hamster lives in the cage, they do not need to spend hours looking for food in the wild. However, since the hamster is biologically programmed to be energetic, they will still want to run around even if it is not in search of food.

So, why do hamsters like to run on wheels?

They Are Built To Run

Generally, hamsters are running animals. 

In fact, according to experts, a super-fit and a motivated hamster can run up to 5.6 miles (9.01 km) in one night, which is about 9 kilometers (5.59 miles). When living in the wild, they run these miles in search of food and to escape from predators. 

Nevertheless, their instinct does not change after being confined in a cage. The hamster wheel allows the hamster to cover the same distance when living in a small space. 

Since hamsters are nocturnal animals, let’s put into perspective what distance they can cover over night(s):

Race   Distance Time a hamster would take to cover 
5K3.1 miles (5 km)~1/2 night 
10K6.2 miles (10 km)1 night
Half-Marathon13.1 miles (21.08 km)2.5 nights 
Marathon26.2 miles (42.16 km)5 nights
The 100K62 miles (100 km)11 nights

They Want To Release Their Natural Energy

Besides seeds, nuts, and greens, a hamster’s diet also includes carbohydrates, which build energy in their bodies. 

They are so energetic that recent research shows that they can be a source of electricity when wearing a power-generating jacket. As a result, the hamster will look for ways to eliminate this energy in their body, and running is one of them. 

Unfortunately, the size of the hamster cage may not be big enough to enable the hamster to release this energy. This is why the hamster will run on the hamster wheel to help them cover the mileage covered in the wild, thus releasing their natural energy.

They Run To Reduce Boredom

Given how active hamsters are, they easily get bored, especially if there are few toys in the cage. When the hamster is bored, energy builds up in their body, and there is a need to release the excess energy. 

To help avoid boredom, you should provide your hamster with enough toys, including the hamster wheel. Moreover, the hamster wheel helps to motivate an already bored hamster to use up their stored energy. 

Here is a YouTube video explaining other ways to make your hamster happy when they are bored:

They Are Fulfilling Their Natural Instincts and Curiosity

Living in a cage doesn’t make your hamster any less of a hamster. 

They will still want to exercise their instincts like they would in the wild. Due to space limitations, the hamster might not satisfy these instincts in the cage. 

However, if there is a hamster wheel in the cage, the hamster runs on the wheel, and it makes them feel like they are running in the forest. On the other hand, hamsters are curious animals, and they love exploring. Walking around in the cage doesn’t satisfy the curiosity but running on the hamster wheels for several hours might. 

A study conducted by two researchers shows that besides hamsters, other animals love running on wheels even in a natural setting without confinement. This indicates that running is fun for hamsters, even if it is unintentional. That is, not looking for food or hiding from predators.

To Keep Healthy and Avoid Obesity

As earlier mentioned, a hamster’s diet is rich in carbs. For this reason, if a hamster fails to exercise, they risk obesity due to the unburnt calories in the body. 

Additionally, lack of exercise can cause cage paralysis on a hamster, making it hard for them to move their hind legs.

A study was done on various wild species. The mice that were running on the wheels significantly decreased their body weight. This shows that your hamster will keep a healthy body by running on the wheels. 

Moreover, running on the hamster wheel increases organ and body mass for your hamster, which improves their general health.


From the information above, it’s easy to understand why hamsters run on wheels. Now that we’ve answered ‘why do hamsters run on wheels at night,’ you should strive to create a conducive running environment for your hamster.

Here are answers to some of the questions that you may have about hamster wheels:

Do Hamsters Run on Wheels When Stressed?

Stress can cause hyperactivity for your hamster. For this reason, your hamster may run on wheels, among other hyper behaviors such as jumping around the cage when stressed. However, running on the hamster wheel does not always mean that your hamster is stressed.

why do hamster run on wheels

Is It Normal for Hamsters To Run on Wheels for Hours?

Hamsters are energetic pets and can run for several miles in one night. There’s no need to be alarmed if your hamster runs on the wheel for hours. They are exercising their natural behavior, and it helps them keep fit. 

Having the hamster run on the wheel for hours is a good thing.

How Do I Know if My Hamster Is Happy?

You can know your hamster is happy through behaviors like taking treats without fear, being active at night and grooming themselves. Stretching and yawning around you are also signs of happiness for a hamster.

Should I Stop My Hamster From Running on His Wheel?

If you feel that your hamster is addicted to the wheels, consider buying a bigger cage, so they have more space to move around and provide more toys. This will distract them from the wheel for some time. 

However, the wheel is an essential tool for a hamster, and you should not stop them from using it.


Living in a cage with minimal activities and limited space can make your hamster stressed since they are naturally active animals. Luckily, even in the confined cage, a wheel can help keep the hamster as active as they are in the wild. 

Ensure that you get the right size and type of wheel to avoid injuring your hamster and keep them happy. 


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