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Is a Hamster Wheel OK for a Pet Rat?

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You may think because your pet rat is in many ways like a hamster that he'd enjoy running in a hamster wheel, but rats can be a little finicky when it comes to wheel-running. Make sure you get a wheel designed for use by rats, as a hamster wheel may not be safe for your long-tailed pal.


A hamster will run for long periods of time in his wheel, but your pet rat may ignore his completely. Unlike other small rodents, rats don't see the point in running to nowhere. Some rats do enjoy running in a wheel, but others may use one only to take a nap. You can always buy a wheel for your buddy and see if he enjoys it. But don't be surprised if he chooses another toy to play with.

Choose the Right Wheel

When you go to the store to pick out a wheel, you'll find a dizzying array of choices. Often, wheels designed for hamsters are too small for rats. Yours will need a wheel that's large enough to accommodate his larger size. Never get a rat a metal wheel with rungs or a crossbar; these provide opportunities for your rat's tail to get tangled, which could be traumatic. Choose a plastic wheel with a solid running surface that secures to the cage.

Play Every Day

Rats need regular play and exercise to stay happy and healthy. Once your rat is used to you, take him out of his cage every day for at least one hour of play. Keep him in a secure room and let him explore a little. He may enjoy snuggling on your shoulders and want to be stroked. He needs this time for mental stimulation, so don't depend on a wheel or other toys in his cage to do the trick. He'll want to be social with you and will enjoy the quality time and cuddles with his human.

Other Toys

When choosing toys to keep your pet rat entertained in his cage, check out toys designed for birds instead of rodents. He'll enjoy paper towel tubes to run through, PVC pipes, ladders, swings and anything he can gnaw on. A tree branch inside his cage will give him something he can climb on and something he can chew on – the best of both worlds. Keeping him stocked with a supply of playthings will help keep him from getting bored and provide mental stimulation. Provide your pal with a wheel and see if he takes to it; but make sure he always has other toys to keep him entertained, too.