Setting up an enclosure for a new pet is exciting! You probably already know the basics; food dish, water bottle, bedding, and shelters, but what about a wheel? Do gerbils need a wheel?
Yes, gerbils need a lot of exercise, and a wheel is an easy way to get them active. It’s important to buy the right type of wheel for your gerbil or you might be doing more harm than good.
Why Gerbils Need a Wheel
In the wild, gerbils stay active by running from predators, playing with other gerbils, exploring, and searching for food. When domesticated gerbils are put in a cage, they no longer have the space to run like they normally would.
A wheel is a space-saving way to give your gerbil the exercise they need, but it also makes their enclosure feel less empty. Having something to hide behind can help make your gerbil feel less nervous, making them a happier pet.
Choosing The Right Wheel
Choosing a wheel for a gerbil isn’t as easy as going to the store and picking up the first wheel you see. Gerbils shouldn’t be using a wheel made for a hamster or they can end up seriously injured.
When buying a wheel for your gerbil, you need to make sure it is the right size, the right design, and the right material.
A wheel for a gerbil should be at least 8 inches in diameter. Unlike hamsters, gerbils have a long tail, and if the wheel isn’t big enough, the gerbil will fold its tail up over its body causing Wheel Tail.
Their tails aren’t meant to be bent backward for long periods of time, and doing this can cause lower back pain or arthritis.
Your gerbil should be able to run with a nearly straight back. If their back is bent too much the wheel is too small and you’ll need to replace the wheel with a bigger one.
The running strip of a wheel for a gerbil should resemble a treadmill. It should be solid, smooth and there should be absolutely no gaps between the rungs.
If a gerbil gets its tail stuck in one of the gaps while they are running, they could develop tail slip; a condition where the skin of the tail is ripped off leaving the bone exposed.
Gerbils will chew on anything, and any wheel you put in their enclosure is no exception. A wheel for a gerbil should be made of wood or metal.
A plastic wheel is dangerous for gerbils who like to chew.
A wood wheel makes a great chew toy for gerbils, but they do need to be replaced.
Metal wheels are chew-proof and don’t need to be replaced, but they make more noise than wood wheels.
What To Do If Your Gerbil Won’t Use The Wheel
There could be many reasons why a gerbil won’t use a wheel. As long as your gerbil is getting exercise in other ways, there’s no reason to worry.
If the wheel is the only exercise option you’ve given your gerbil, try these:
- Creating a gerbil-safe space in a closed room for them to run around in
- Get your gerbil a running ball and block off any stairs
- Add lots of bedding to the gerbil’s enclosure and hide treats, toys, and food underneath
Gerbils are active at night and your gerbil may be using the wheel while you’re sleeping and you just don’t know it!
Your gerbil may also not like exercise. Just like people, there are going to be some gerbils who love using a wheel, and some who would prefer to sleep all day and eat snacks.
The wheel might also be hurting your gerbil. If the wheel is too small, but it was being used anyway, your gerbil might be suffering from back pain and doesn’t want to use the wheel anymore.
If your gerbil used to use the wheel for long periods of time without stopping, they might have sores on their feet from the friction.
Some obsessive runners may even keep running through the pain and these sores can start bleeding.
If you notice blood on your gerbil’s wheel because they won’t stop running, remove the wheel immediately and give your gerbil a few days to recover.
When their feet heal, put the wheel back in their cage for an hour-long period each day so they can get some exercise.
What size wheel do gerbils need?
Seven to eight inch wheels are perfect. This allows your gerbil enough space to run without it having to be at an uncomfortable angle or trap their tails.
Can gerbils have a plastic wheel?
We would prefer that you didn’t use them as they can be chewed and cause sharp edges. Metal wheels are chew-proof and don’t need to be replaced. On the downside they can be a little squeaky.
Can a gerbil wheel be too big?
Not really as long as your Gerbil can make it turn. If it’s too big it could harm itself trying to make it work. Too small though, is far more dangerous.
Do Gerbils Need to Exercise?
Yes, exercise is good for your gerbil but it also keeps them entertained and stops them getting bored.
Gerbils need to be active. Wheels are a great way to give your gerbil the exercise they need, but choosing the right wheel to avoid injury is important!
If you can’t find an appropriate wheel, there are easy alternatives to keep your gerbil active.
You know your gerbil best, and a happy, healthy gerbil is better than trying to force one to use a wheel.