Much like any other rodent, rats are active animals that need a substantial amount of exercise and activity each day. When keeping rats as pets, a wheel provides a moderate amount of this activity for rats, but if a rat sanctuary is large enough, a rat can utilize other ways to get exercise and release stress. A wheel is certainly helpful, but there could also be other substitutions and additions to increase rat activity but a wheel is definitely a necessity for pet rats.
So, does a rat need a wheel? Ideally, yes, rats need a wheel in their cage. A running wheel is beneficial to increase rat activity and improve mental health and mobility. Adding a running wheel to a rat’s sanctuary should be part of a larger effort to provide rats with ample room and activities for overall good health.
In addition to the benefits that a wheel brings to rats regarding activity and exercise, there are many health benefits that a wheel can provide when used within rat housing. This article will explore these benefits as well as the important differences between having a proper rat wheel as opposed to a mice wheel.
What Are the Benefits of Having a Rat Wheel?
Pet rats are incredibly active animals that live their lives responding to one stimulation to the next. While having a rat wheel in a cage is not mandatory, the exercise and activity that a wheel brings will not only keep a rat occupied when confined, but will make the animals feel and act much more positively. The many benefits of having a rat wheel far outweigh leaving one out.
Increased Metabolism and Endurance
Pets rats need a substantial amount of exercise to maintain proper health. If rats were just left to eat and remain sedentary all night in an enclosed space, weight gain and health problems would soon follow. Wheel running results in increased endurance and metabolic functions in rats, which are essential to keeping your pet rat in optimal shape and performance. These attributes from wheel-running naturally lead to an increase in energy.
Increased Energy and Balance
Since rats are naturally inquisitive animals, a great amount of energy is spent each day just exploring their surroundings and interacting with other rats and their owners. When confined to their cages, the need for this activity can be supplemented with a running wheel. Rats gain increases in energy from just small amounts of wheel-running each day.
Additionally, the sustained amounts of wheel-running over time will also create improved balance in rats, particularly with angled running wheels. It is easy to see how this occurs since the requirement to run effectively on these types of wheels requires balance. In addition to these benefits, a wheel will effectively relieve boredom in confined pet rats.
It is crucially important to keep a pet rat occupied when they are in their cage. Wheel-running is actually much more common in rats than pet rats specifically. Scientific research proves that rats will run on a wheel even if the wheel is placed in natural habitats containing wild rats. This shows that the mere activity of running on a wheel is stimulating to rats. Furthermore, wheel-running just seems to be a natural, reward-based response in rats and a fulfilling activity.
Activation of Reward System and Less Erratic Behavior Patterns
Exercise is known to increase endorphins not only in humans but also in rats. Wheel-running increases motivation in pet rats by giving the animals goals to achieve, which may include food or treats as possible rewards for meeting these goals. The more your pet rat runs on their wheel, the more motivated it will become to keep running to achieve a goal.
All of this also leads to a better overall mood and balanced behavior pattern in pet rats. By having a wheel, pet rats have shown increased social behavior in contrast to rats who have no form of activity when in confinement. Rats need a consistent level of stimulation when enclosed in a small space, which is adequately provided with a running wheel. The type of wheel is also important since wheels are designed for either mice or rats.
Is a Mice Wheel Okay to Use With Rats?
Rats are naturally much larger than mice, which is the reason why you will want to invest in a large wheel for pet rats. If a mice wheel is placed in a rat’s cage, the rat will attempt to use the wheel, however, a mice wheel will likely cause a great deal of strain and discomfort to your pet rat. There is also the more obvious aspect that the rat will not even be able to fit inside of a mice wheel.
For better posterity, an angled running wheel is likely the best kind of wheel to purchase for a pet rat. These wheels are more targeted towards rats since the constricting volume of an upright wheel will likely present issues with the rat adequately fitting into an upright model. No matter the type of wheel, it will need to be large enough to both hold and fit a pet rat, which is why a mice wheel is not a good option.
Are There Any Rat Wheels for Purchase?
Since there are so many rodent wheels on the market, it is always best to check product labels to ensure a wheel is designed with rats in mind. Since rats are nocturnal animals, the silence and durability of the Silent Runner 9” Pet Exercise Wheel is built for long-term use and decreased noise for active running at night. This rat wheel is designed with both you and your rat’s needs firmly in mind.
The Bottom Line: Rats Do Need a Wheel
For improved health, positive behavior patterns, and the overall relief of boredom, pet rats do need a wheel. Although you do not have to give your rat a wheel, research has shown that rats as pets live longer and happier lives when they have a form of stimulation in their cage. Rats have more energy and mental sharpness with a wheel, which will provide rat owners with a more content and sociable pet rat.
If the sound of your rat running at night is a matter of concern, there are specially-designed rat wheels that can mask the running noise. All living things need some form of mental and physical stimulation to function at optimal performance; a rat wheel provides this in abundance to pet rats.
It makes perfect sense if you examine the living situation of a pet rat in confinement. Having such a small space to move around in provides a necessity for some form of mental and physical stimulation. We get this at home by watching television or going outside for a walk; rats are more than happy with a little wheel to get this activity.
Rats need a wheel for two primary reasons while in confinement:
- Mental Stimulation: The relief of boredom and inactivity.
- Physical Stimulation: The improvement of overall health due to hours of confinement.
Putting a wheel in a rat’s cage is necessary in practical terms for a healthy and happy rat. Wheels that are designed for rats should be prioritized over more common mice wheels. The benefits of a wheel go far beyond simple exercise. Rats have actually used wheels while out in the wild, which is a pretty clear indicator that these devices are part of a rat’s overall identity.
- Physiology.org: Reinventing the wheel: comparison of two wheel cage styles for assessing mouse voluntary running activity
- Journal of Neuroscience Methods: Using wheel availability to shape running behavior of the rat towards improved behavioral and neurological outcomes
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The use of a running wheel to measure activity in rodents: Relationship to energy balance, general activity, and reward
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Voluntary wheel running: patterns and physiological effects in mice
- The Royal Society Publishing: Wheel running in the wild
- Amazon: Exotic Nutrition Silent Runner 9″ – Pet Exercise Wheel