Wheels for Rodents.
Most small animals really enjoy a run on a wheel and exercise is essential to good health, so here are a couple of wheels that you can buy for your furry friends. Never use a standard wire wheel with cross spokes that are often sold in Pet Shops (although becoming less common noow) as they can catch their tails and feet in them and do a lot of damage. When I first put together this page there used to be a major problem getting hold of a good wheel in the UK, but there are a number of choices available now. If you find it difficult to get hold of a wheel there are lots of ideas for entertaining your pet at the Environment Enrichment page.
Safety First: When you first get a wheel, one of the first things that they will try is to get on top of it, which usually results in a rodent falling off at high speed - they usually only try this once unless they are stonkingly silly, but it is best to secure it away from anything that your pet can fall against, remove clutter from the cage for a while and keep a close eye on them for a few hours. They will soon learn that it's not a good idea. It can also take a while to learn to stop the wheel and that it's a bad idea to jump on a wheel while someone else is running on it - another reason why solid wheels are best. Try to set up the wheel with a shelf over the top to prevent jumping onto the moving wheel. Some chinchillas and degus, particularly older animals who have never seen one before, may not use the wheel immediately. It's worth persevering and leaving the wheel in the cage and sometimes, just as you think they will never use it, they suddenly get the point even after several weeks.
This page is only an information page with some experiences of the wheels concerned. I do not necessarily recommend any of the suppliers on this page, although I've said when I've used them. I've now removed prices as they get out of date. If you want to find out more about wheels and people's experiences with them go to the forums at Chinchillas Unlimited and do a search on Wheel.
John Hopewell, who makes great chinchilla cages, also makes both 12" and 16" wheels. Shown below is the 12" wheel, which is a great degu or jird wheel. The larger 16" wheel is best for chinchillas as they can run flatter on a larger wheel - go to his wheels page here for more details.
I ordered a 12" wheel my degus for about a few years ago now. John kindly made me a custom bracket for my Terenziani cage, which has a lip running round half way up. In fact the standard bracket is fine for these cages. I was told that this would take 3-4 extra days - and as promised my wheel turned up in just over a week.
It is a large wheel for a degu, but Pumpkin was soon rattling round on it and by the evening she was using it pretty much constantly so I could get the photos below. Because of the size of the wheel she can run flat out, at full stretch, rather than having to lift up her head and tail. This reduces stress on her spine and stops her rubbing the fur from the base of her tail. It gets up quite a bit of momentum, but she's soon learnt to slow down to stop it. It does its job very well and was a fraction of the cost of the Leo Braun even before considering import costs. It's taken several years of constant use and degu pee (which is seriously corrosive) and still looks as good as new. It also acts as a favorite sunbathing spot as the metal warms in the early morning sun (never leave your degu's cage in full, hot sun). I haven't heard of anyone having problems with chinhchillas chewing this wheel and it certainly looks like it would stand up to it. John also sent me a disc wheel at one point which was very popular with the degus as both could run on it at once, but I don't think he went on to sell these.
Flying Saucer Exercise Wheel.
The Flying Saucer Exercise Wheel is an amazing looking wheel designed to have no openings or spokes that a chinchilla can get its legs caught in. It's worth following the link above to see the wonderful animated gif of a chinchilla running on the wheel! I bought one for the degus last year - they ended up with two wheels, a John Hopewell and the flying saucer which meant they could both run at once. You can even get two degus on a flying saucer at once! In the UK they can be brought from fsWheels. I bought my wheel from there and it arrived promptly and the site has been running for some time now.
I haven't tried the Flying Saucer with my chinchillas but Stan kindly emailed me to tell me about his experiences with a flying Saucer Wheel for his chinchilla Einstein:
"When I was reading it said that some chin have problems learning how to run it, but within a few minutes he was "jogging" and now sprints. I don't know if it is common but it also changed his demeanor. We had owned him a few months and both my wife and I were disappointed that he wasn't more social. He seemed to be withdrawn and was always skittish. Within 2 days he was coming to the door and waiting for us to rub him and crawl on us. I would have never thought that adding a wheel would make that kind of difference. As far as Einstein is concerned, if he could talk he would say he loves it. I find him sleeping on the wheel daily. The first week he didn't get off except to eat, drink, and urinate. So, if asked if I would recommend this wheel, I would give it high marks and say it is a must. My only negatives is that the product was back-ordered for 2-3 weeks and it takes up a large amount of space."
So another happy, wheel obsessed, chinchilla then! I am particularly interested in the fact that several people have reported improvements in their chins temperament after getting a wheel. This applies to both types of wheels. I think bored chins get depressed and withdrawn really easily and so a wheel is obviously worth the money. Other toys to chew and throw around such as cardboard boxes, chews, tubes etc will also help or try the Environment Enrichment page for more ideas.
Flying Saucer or Standard Wheel?
This is a common discussion and to be honest I have no strong opinions either way, having used a standard wheel successfully with chinchillas for many years, but also finding that the flying saucer wheel allows two degus to run at once and doesn't have the running on top problem (although to be honest most animals only try this once). I had both a saucer and a standard wheel in with my degus at one point and they had no real preference.
Transoniq make Wodent Wheels which are super wheels for hamsters, rats and less chewy degus.They are reasonably priced and they will ship to the UK. At the time of writing you can also get Wodent Wheels in the UK from the Pet Planet web site - do a search on Wodent. I have ordered a couple from them and they turned up in good time. These generally do get trashed by degus and it's not a good idea for them to ingest plastic (although they usually don't) so a metal wheel is probably better for them.
There are a number of new wheels available in petshops now. I've noticed a much more solid metal wheel being used with degus - it still has a cross bar rather than bearings so if you are thinking of using one of these makes sure that the gap is large enough to prevent legs and tails getting trapped. There are also larger plastic "silent spinner" type wheels. Unfortunately these are likely to get chewed up by chinchillas and chewed plastic is not very safe. If you spot anything else worth trying let me know.
Leo Braun's Small Animal Wheels
Leo Braun used to make very high quality 12 and 15" wheels for Degus and Chinchillas, but they do not appear to be sold any more. I've left my review of the wheel here as it's quite an interesting study of what happens when you give two young chinchilllas a wheel! I still have the wheel many years later, still being used heavily by Fidgit - never had any problems with the bearings although it did get slightly chewed at one point.
My first impression was that it was a beautifully made bit of kit and absolutely enormous. I had to take the roof off the cage to get it in! The photos above give some idea of it's size - the fluff balls did at least seem interested in what I had leant against the side of their cage!! It has a sturdy, completely enclosed bearing mechanism that runs completely silently and it affixes to the side of the cage with 3 wing nuts. There is so little friction that if one of the chins sits in it any movement causes it to swing higher and higher from side to side until they start to look quite green - very amusing!! It took Spike about 15 minutes to work it out and was walking very slowly in it by the time I went to bed. It was a bit nerve wracking as Fluff obviously thought that the whole point of it was to jump on top of it and run at high speed until she catapulted across the cage landing in a heap. By the morning Fluff was rattling around on it and I took the photo above. Spike can really get up to speed as well. They then spent all day asleep and were not interested in coming out this evening - I think that they had completely worn themselves out on it. I know that the Wodent Wheel people recommend that you limit your rodents time on a wheel to start off with but I have no way of getting it out.
For the first 2 weeks after its arrival both Chinchillas refused to come out for a run in the evening they were so obsessed with the wheel. I got a bit of a scare with Fluff as I would come into the room and she would be breathing really heavily - I thought she might be developing pneumonia again. What was really happening was that she had been running on the wheel but had got off when she heard me coming to beg for a treat!! After the first couple of weeks they started to want to come out again. I am particularly please with the fact that Fluff, who is a picky eater and tended to loose weight really easily, put on weight over the months. Spike was a bit of a porker at the time, but lost a bit of weight with the extra exercise. I am also sure that they are both happier than they were pre-wheel. Spike developed a bit of an attitude problem when picked up - it's like he has become a much more self confident animal and doesn't see why he should put up with the indignity of being held! Fluff also stopped her habit of violently shaking the door of the cage to get attention which I take as meaning she isn't as bored as she was. When I had to go into hospital and they didn't get out for a week and I felt much less guilty than I would have done.
They have both learnt to control the wheel and can slow down and stop without falling out now. They seem to share fairly well and only occasionally think that it is a good idea to jump in when the other is running at speed. Really the only disadvantage I can think of is that it is quite noisy as the back of our cage isn't very rigid. We had to reinforce the bars with strips of aluminum because a couple of them snapped from metal fatigue - this should be less of a problem on a standard galvanised mesh cage as it has the stability of a grid but the bars on our cage are only attached in two places.
So my overall conclusion is that it is a brilliant investment and worth every penny. Both chinchillas love running on it already and get themselves really out of breath which is great aerobic conditioning. They do have plenty of room in their cage and get let out fairly regularly, but I have no doubt that it will improve their general fitness and state of health no end. I have one question though - why does an obviously fairly intelligent animal like a chinchilla get so much enjoyment of running on a wheel? I just don't get the attraction and I could have sworn Fluff would have turned her little furry nose up at it. Now is it just rodents or would something like a dog use one if you had a large enough one?
Seriously Chewy Chinchillas : Abbie emailed me to tell me that her chinchillas had been busily destroying their Leo Braun wheel. At first I thought she must have a different sort of wheel as I couldn't imagine them chewing through solid metal. However, she kindly sent me the photo below. Darren also emailed me to say that his chins chew his wheel (although not as enthusiastically as Abbies!). But these stories do seem to be very much the exception rather than the rule and don't let it put you off getting one as this is a very robust wheel. Having cheerfully written on this site that my two had theirs for 2 years without touching it they did go through a stage where they did chew the edge of it - it was because there was a chube that Fluff slept in next to the wheel and she would stick her head out and have a got at the edge.