Running wheels are one of the most important items for enriching the lives of gerbils. They offer your gerbil exercise, even if they can be a little noisy for their owners.
Gerbils can’t run fast in their enclosures, so a running wheel provides plenty of exercise. Wheels are also good because they make the enclosure less bare, which makes your gerbil less nervous. They also serve a third purpose as a chew toy, so wooden running wheels are recommended.
Even so, you might see your gerbil refuse to use a running wheel. All gerbils have different personalities, so while some like exercise and others are lazy.
Do Gerbils Need an Exercise Wheel?
Exercise wheels are advertised as a must-have item for gerbils/rodents. But they’re used as a metaphor or symbol for something pointless: running around on a wheel means going nowhere.
But despite seeming so pointless, gerbils do need running wheels. Or, more accurately, gerbils need exercise and wheels are perhaps the best way to ensure they get it. Being stuck in a small enclosure, gerbils can’t run around like they would in the wild.
However, if your gerbil gets its exercise other ways, it may not need a wheel. So, for example, it may get its exercise from running around your room. Or, it may not seem to want to exercise at all.
Do Gerbils Need to Exercise?
In the wild, gerbils get lots of exercise. They have to run away from predators, explore their surroundings looking for food, and play with other gerbils. While they don’t think of this as ‘exercise,’ it does keep them active.
In captivity, sometimes the picture is reversed. Some owners who don’t care much for their pet don’t offer any enrichment or exercise opportunities. The gerbil’s cage will be almost bare.
When gerbils are kept this way, it does seem to affect them. They get bored easily, and will bite the bars of their cages or scrabble at the floor. These behaviors are known as ‘stereotypy,’ and are seen in both zoo animals and pets.
A running wheel offers your gerbil much more opportunity to run around. They can run around their enclosure, but not very fast. A wheel allows your gerbil to reach its top speed, which it will enjoy doing, and will do frequently.
And according to the journal Neurophysiology, exercise may also prevent seizures in gerbils. So, there are lots of ways it helps. Molecular Medicine Reports think it may help after a stroke or general aging, too.
Gerbil Wheel as a Chew Toy
Gerbils need to chew to keep their teeth in check, and the more things there are in its enclosure, the more things it can chew.
So, what you’ll notice is that when your gerbil isn’t using its wheel, it might gnaw on it. It will sit next to it and chew around the wheel’s edges. According to PLoS One, this is known as stereotypy, where the gerbil repetitively displays the same behavior.
Most owners will try and prevent their gerbil from doing this. After all, you’ll have to buy a new one if your gerbil ruins its wheel. But you can’t stop a gerbil chewing things.
That’s why so many wheels are made of wood. Wood is the perfect chewing material for gerbils, being neither too hard nor too soft.
What Size Wheels Do Gerbils Need?
Hamster wheels are the wrong size for gerbils. Hamsters are smaller than gerbils. So, most wheels sold as ‘hamster wheels’ aren’t big enough for gerbils to run in.
The issue with this is that your gerbil can’t run at top speed in a wheel that’s too small. It would keep slipping and sliding around, and may even have trouble getting inside.
Fortunately, gerbil/hamster wheels come in lots of sizes. The HEEPDD Wooden Exercise Wheel comes in two different sizes, one that’s small, and one that’s medium. The medium is easily big enough for a regular gerbil to run on.
This wheel is that it’s smooth. Gerbils can get their tails caught in their wheels when there are slats or bars in their construction. A smooth wheel may be more difficult to get purchase on, but prevents injury. Also, it’s made of wood, which is the ideal material for a gerbil wheel.
Problems with Running Wheels
Gerbils can be difficult to take care of. You can’t explain things to them, or teach them things using punishment and reward like other pets. So, your gerbil might ruin its wheel by chewing it for example; or, it might use it as a toilet.
Some of these issues can be fixed, while some can’t. Your options may have to include buying a new wheel altogether.
Gerbils Won’t Use Wheel
There’s nothing more frustrating than buying something for a pet, only for it not to get used. This happens all the time. For example, you might buy your pet a chew toy, but it still chews its cage bars. There are several reasons why a gerbil might not use its wheel:
- The wheel is too small for gerbils. This is often the case with hamster wheels, because hamsters are smaller than gerbils.
- Your gerbil doesn’t need to use a wheel. If it gets lots of exercise from running outside its enclosure, it won’t feel the need to run on a wheel.
- Your gerbil may be using it, but not at a time when you’re around to hear. Gerbils are highly active at night, so you may be sleeping through the noise.
- Not all gerbils like wheels. Gerbils have simple but unique personalities, so what one gerbil likes, another may not.
Try to figure out what’s causing the issue. You may have to buy a new, bigger wheel.
Gerbil Tail Caught in Wheel
Gerbils have long tails, which are around as long as their body. The tips of their tails can get caught in different things, like cage bars and doors, or in their plastic wheels.
When this happens, the tip of the tail can be severely damaged. The skin may even fall off, leaving the bone underneath exposed. This is an issue known as tail slip, and it can result in infection.
This can occur with certain kinds of running wheel. Those with big gaps between the slats of the wheel, in particular, are bad. Solid wheels which don’t have gaps in the wheel are better, because the tail can’t get stuck at all.
Gerbils Eating Plastic Wheel
Many gerbil/hamster wheels are made of plastic. That’s because plastic is a cheap material to manufacture things out of. It’s also easy to clean, which is vital for things inside rodent cages.
However, plastic is an unsuitable material for anything that goes in a gerbil enclosure. That’s because gerbils love to chew, including on things they shouldn’t. When they chew, they ingest some of what they gnaw on, so your gerbil may unintentionally eat plastic.
Instead, get your gerbil a wooden running wheel, such as the HEEPDD Wooden Exercise Wheel. It may still gnaw on its wheel, but at least it’s not ingesting something bad for it. Also, ensure your gerbil has something more suitable to chew on like a branch.
Gerbils Using Wheel as Toilet
Gerbils don’t know what a ‘toilet’ is. As rodents, they ‘go’ almost anywhere they choose. This means they can mess up the running wheel or other enrichment items in their cages.
You may not realize, though, that gerbils do have a method in their madness. They prefer to go to the toilet somewhere that isn’t their bedding. This makes sense as an evolutionary adaptation, because gerbils can get sick being around their own waste.
So, gerbils pick somewhere that is outside of their bedding. If your gerbil’s enclosure is small, perhaps the only place that is available is the running wheel. So, if this is happening a lot, you may need to get a bigger enclosure.
Gerbil Sleeping in Wheel
Gerbils prefer sleeping in their burrows over anything else. That’s what they do in the wild, and they do so to avoid predators. So, it’s a part of their natural instinct that carries over into captivity.
However, you may notice your gerbil sleeping in its wheel from time to time. If you have one gerbil on its own, this isn’t a problem (although gerbils should always live in groups). There’s not necessarily any reason for this behavior.
If you have a group of gerbils, this might be a problem. Gerbil groups can fracture when one dominant gerbil starts attacking another, or several others. When this occurs in the wild, the gerbil being attacked would usually leave to start a new burrow.
In captivity, this isn’t possible. The gerbil has nowhere to go. Since it’s not welcome in the burrow, it may sleep in the wheel for the time being. If you notice this, look for other signs of declanning like fighting.
Alternatives to a Running Wheel
Some gerbils like running on a running wheel while others don’t. These gerbils need an alternative method of getting exercise. Leaving the gerbil to run around its enclosure isn’t a good idea. The enclosure is too small, so your gerbil can’t go anywhere near fast enough.
Exercise Ball for Gerbils
The main alternative to a running wheel is an exercise ball. These are like spherical running wheels that your gerbil can sit in and roll around outside its cage. They allow your gerbil to exercise, although not quite reach its full speed.
The Giant Exercise Ball by Kaytee is a great example. Most of these balls are made for hamsters. So, like most wheels, they’re too small. This one is made for chinchillas, which are even bigger than gerbils. So, it’ll be more than big enough for your pet.
It’s made of plastic, but that’s not a problem. Your gerbil won’t chew it if you don’t leave the ball in its enclosure. It has slits running down its sides so that your gerbil can sniff the air outside, which it will enjoy doing.
With your gerbil in an exercise ball, let it scamper around anywhere that it likes provided that it’s safe. Your gerbil can run around outside, maybe for the first time in its life.
Let Your Gerbil Run Around Your Room
You have to prepare your room so that there’s nowhere for your pet to hide. Begin by putting away any clothes, games, or anything else on the floor of your room. Then, shut every window and door so that your gerbil doesn’t have the opportunity to escape.
If possible, block off any gaps under and behind furniture. Gerbils love to hide in places you can’t reach them. But even if they do get away from you, they’ll be locked in that room. Either way, this will allow your gerbil to run around at fast speeds and get some exercise.
Bear in mind, though, that gerbils are fine even if they can’t exercise. Gerbils don’t commonly die younger if they don’t have exercise wheels.
The only issue is if your pet feels het up because it’s in a small enclosed space. If this is the case, you’ll notice your gerbil gnawing at its cage bars and scratching the floor. They may then benefit from an exercise wheel after all.