Sometimes new hedgehog owners buy a cage complete with food bowls and other important essentials. But they forget about the exercise wheel! In this post, among other things, we’ll take a closer look at what makes a proper exercise wheel and when is the right time to allow hoglets on the wheel.
Yes, hedgehogs absolutely need an exercise wheel! It’s an essential part of their cage. Running is very important to burn the energy, relieve their stress, and spend the nighttime actively. But not all wheels will do. Mesh or Runged Wheels are just a disaster waiting to happen. Your hedgehog could get seriously injured or worse because these wheels aren’t designed with hedgehogs in mind.
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What are hedgehog wheels?
Most of the wheels available on the market aren’t exactly hedgehog wheels. Generally, the products are marketed for all rodents and other small animals. For example, hamsters need quite a lot of physical activity. But since they are so tiny, their enclosures tend to be small as well. Wheels allow them to get enough physical strain even though there isn’t much room in the cage. While the underlying structure is the same in all wheels as they rotate on their axis, the materials, colors, shapes and sizes offer a stunning variety. But all that variety does open up the buyer to risks of different degrees.
Why would hedgehogs need wheels?
For understanding the need for wheels, we should look back at where hedgehogs are exactly coming from. While we have domesticated varieties as pets, they have still the same instincts as the ones in the wild. African Pygmy Hedgehogs are nocturnal, which means they wake up and start to look for food during the nighttime. Each night, they can cover an astounding mileage for such small creatures. During this scavenging, they expand quite a lot of energy.
Now, when they are living in a cage, there’s not much room compared to the great outdoors. Wheels provide a way to compensate for the lack of intense physical activity. Otherwise, your hedgie could become obese, which is a real health hazard.
How to pick a proper wheel?
Picking a proper wheel is essential. Just buying a random rodent exercise wheel could be a really bad idea. For example, it could be built in a way that it becomes dangerous for the hedgehog. And some wheels don’t offer very hygienic materials. Look at the following list of things to keep in mind when picking the perfect wheel for your prickly buddy.
- The running surface should be free of mesh or holes that easily trap nails or entire toes
- No sharp edges that could injure the hedgie
- The wheel size should comfortably accommodate your hedgehog
- Removing the wheel needs to be easy enough for regular washing
- The actual spinning motion should be smooth without creating jolting or jumping sensations
- Ideally, the center bar won’t constantly pressure the hedgehog’s back
- The base needs to be stable enough in order to avoid tipping over
- It should be non-toxic, odorless, and resistant to a quick corrosion
- For the owners’ sake, it’s better to have a wheel that makes minimum noise
- There should be enough space under the wheel to have a tray catching all the poop
What are the typical wheel problems?
Since there are so many products available, the amount of problematic wheels is quite high. Comfort Exercise Wheels are very popular for small animals. But this typical wheel comes with many-many disadvantages. They tend to be noisy, the center bar starts to rub against bigger hedgies’ backs, and the grooves aren’t exactly a cleaning-friendly design element.
Then you have the Wodent Wheels. It’s an interesting structure, but might not be the best for hedgehogs. For some hedgies, the holes can be too small and they just can’t properly fit inside. Also, hedgehogs have a tendency to finish their exercise mid-run. Doing this on a Wodent Wheel could be life-threatening. Another point to consider is that it’s not the best design for draining of the accumulated poo and urine.
Are there any wheels to completely avoid?
Mesh or Runged Wheels are absolutely the most dangerous contraptions for hedgehogs. The spacing between both the mesh or rungs is terrible for hedgehogs’ bodies. In the case of mesh, their nails or toes could get stuck. But their entire leg could get caught between the rungs. Also, the metal bars prove to become hazardous in some situations. The best option is to avoid these types of exercise wheels completely. In an unfortunate case, your hedgie could even die when they use these wheels.
How do I introduce my hedgie to the wheel?
Usually, you just put the exercise wheel in the cage and the hedgehog will start using it pretty soon. Some owners get paranoid that their hedgehogs aren’t using the wheel at all. This is a rare case. Don’t forget that most of the times they run after dark and during the night. You may not see them running at all, but that doesn’t mean they ignore the wheel. One of the giveaways is poop on the wheel. If you constantly find such signs on the wheel, then you can be pretty calm. Your hedgie is definitely using the wheel! In the unlikely case of your hedgie using the wheel only for pooping, you should consult with a vet to find ways for them to discover the wheel as an exercise method.
What is the minimum age for starting to wheel?
Of course, there’s no universal guideline for starting to use the wheel. But it’s clear that wheels shouldn’t be used by hoglets under 5-6 weeks. They could get easily hurt. Usually, it’s better to start introducing them to the wheel after being weaned from their mom. At first, it might be smart to allow them to use the wheel under supervision. Just to make sure everything is good. At 7-8 weeks, they should be completely ready to hit the wheel whenever they feel like it.
Is using the wheel bad for pregnant hedgehogs?
Yes, online guides suggest removing the wheel around day 20 into her pregnancy. She could get hurt or even give birth to the litter while on the exercise wheel. After the birth of her pups, it’s important not to let her go back on the wheel. People have noticed that she might be interested in exercising instead of properly taking care of her litter. Moreover, there’s a danger that she’ll try to put the little hoglets on the exercise wheel while doing the nightly running. That’s just setting up a disaster because the little ones could get seriously hurt.
Why does my hedgehog poop on the wheel?
Hedgehogs really get into the running and exercising zone while on the wheel. In their mind, they are actively running, which means that all the expelled poop and pee is just left behind. But as we can see, it’s just right there on or under the wheel. It’s an automatic reaction and there is no way you could teach hedgies not to do that. When they start running, then the metabolism kicks in and the poo comes out. The solution is to clean the exercise wheel on a daily basis. Also, hedgehogs tend to have their feet a bit dirty, so you should clean those as well.
The bottom line: do hedgehogs need a wheel?
Hedgehogs need an exercise wheel because it helps to burn off the extra calories, satisfy their natural need to move during the nighttime, and probably lower the stress levels as well. But you need to be careful when picking the exercise wheel for your hedgie. Pet stores, both online and offline, carry many different types of wheels. Many of them are designed without keeping the unique needs of hedgehogs in mind. As a result, hedgies can easily get injured or worse when they run on these wheels. Especially, ignore all the Mesh or Runged Wheels that you find in the store.