Are exercise balls safe for hamster?
Hamster “exercise balls”, yay or nay?
You can get a playpen instead.
More often than not, hamsters are regularly depicted with exercise balls. However, it’s actually a very common misconception that hamsters enjoy and thrive in hamster balls, and that it is a safe form of enrichment. It is not.
It is more of a stressful experience than it is fun and can lead to exhaustion for the hamster.
There’s a considerable amount of reasons as to why hamster balls are NOT recommended as a form of stimulation for hamsters:
1. Hamster balls cause disorientation and stress.
As hamsters are naturally prey creatures in the wild, their instinctual reaction when let into a large, open area is to run away and hide. An exercise ball, however, prevents this natural instinct, and hence results in added stress. A hamster running in their ball is more likely a stress reaction and not actual enjoyment.
The thickness of a standard hamster ball is roughly 2mm. This prevents the hamster from relying on its senses, such as using their whiskers, to get around. This can result in disorientation.
2. Most hamster balls are too small. But, bigger ones are still unsafe.
Most exercise balls advertised for hamsters are very small, as compared to the recommended hamster wheel sizes. The minimum wheel size for dwarf hamsters is 21cm and 25-30cm for Syrian hamsters. However, most exercise balls are about 13cm in diameter! As a result, hamsters end up arching their back while running, which result in consequences such as massive spine problems, back pain and injuries and a general feeling of pain and discomfort.
However, big hamster balls are still not safe!
3. Hamster balls could cause injuries and even death.
As the hamster has difficulties using its senses very well in an exercise ball, it is unable to manoeuvre or stop whenever it needs to, often colliding into walls or crashing into furniture around the house. It could even roll off surfaces that are not levelled, resulting in serious injuries like sprains, trauma, fractures and even internal injuries that are likely unnoticeable. A hamster’s feet can also get stuck in the ventilation slits of the exercise ball, which could lead to the leg being injured when the ball rolls or in serious cases, being amputated.
4. Hamster balls can cause infections from urine and faeces build up.
The small ventilation slits of the hamster ball allow faeces and urine to build up over time. Hamsters under stress often urinate and defecate more, which leads to a very dirty interior, in which the hamster will continue to run in as they are unable to leave the ball. Over time, this can lead to bacterial infections. Overexposure to urine on the hamster’s skin could also result in ammonia burn, another serious medical issue that could arise from the use of these exercise balls.
5. Hamster balls provide limited ventilation and trap heat.
The ventilation slits of an exercise ball are extremely small, and are often clogged by faeces when in use. As a result, the ventilation inside the ball is actually quite poor, leading to more stress for the hamster inside. Moreover, the dark translucent colours of the ball absorb more heat, increasing the temperature inside the ball. The hamster is unable to neither cool down nor get water, which could lead to dehydration.
Given the hamster’s natural instinct to scavenge and hide when in danger, it would never willingly get into a ball with very limited ventilation and no access to food and water to run around. They would much rather, and love to, explore their environment first-hand.
Hamsters always need a wheel (not a ball) in their cage where they are able to run freely with a straight back on a closed surface. They should be able to get in and out of their wheel any time they want. A smaller wheel or a ball could result in injuries, stress or pain.
Hamsters cannot evaluate the danger they are in – it’s your responsibility to do so as their owner. Even if your hamster seemed to love to run in its ball to explore your home, it is ultimately dangerous for them to do so in this manner. There are plenty of other safe ways for your hamster to get enrichment outside of their cage without the use of an exercise ball.
Alternative safer solutions
Please always ensure close supervision of your hamster.
- Foldable playpen – 95cm x 95cm x 40cm ~$5 – $10
- GEX grill playpen – 90cm x 90cm x 23.3cm ~$20 ++
- GEX Petit circle – 56 cm x 23cm ~ $20 ++
If you want more helpful advice on looking after your hamster, including tips on food, toys, accessories and accommodation, add a comment below to let us know!
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