Today we are going to take a closer look at exercise wheels for rats. Do rats like wheels? Do they need one? We’ll answer these and all your other questions about rat wheels, as well as making our recommendation for the best wheels available for pet rats – and why.
We’ll give you all the information that you need to make a great purchase to suit your circumstances and your rats. But pay attention – as we reveal the amazing connection between wheel running and longevity in rats!
The Best Exercise Wheels For Rats
Our overall best wheel that will suit rats of all shapes and sizes is actually designed for a chinchilla!
1. Quality Cage Crafters 15″ Chin Spin Chinchilla Wheel
Admittedly, this wheel isn’t cheap, but it ticks every single box for an excellent wheel for rats – and would be a great investment. The handcrafted wheel is built to last and will still be in use for years to come.
At 15″, it is big enough to accommodate all rats – even oversized bucks – throughout their lives and is primarily metal, so won’t get chewed. The solid, wide running floor is ideal for rats.
A sturdy screw attachment holds the wheel to the cage bars, minimizing the amount of floor space the wheel takes up. In use, this wheel is almost silent, which is excellent news if you house your rats close to where you sleep.
Top tip: If you are using this wheel and it makes a lot of noise, either it’s not attached to the cage bars tightly, or the ball bearings are worn and need to be replaced.
Alternative product: If you want a cheaper version of the same type of wheel, take a look at the Felix & Fido Spin Safe 15″ Chinchilla and Other Small Animal Wheel.
2. Kaytee Silent Spinner Assorted Exercise Wheel – Giant
The Silent Spinner from Kaytee is a solid plastic wheel that comes apart for deep cleaning. The running surface is ridged, which can be frustrating to clean while the wheel is still inside the cage. But it’s doable – which some wheels aren’t.
At 12″ diameter, the wheel is only suitable for most female rats and very small bucks. A rat needs to run with a flat back to keep the spine in alignment and avoid injury.
The wheel comes with a stand, so it can be used attached to the bars, or free standing. This is useful as it can also be used at free-range time. Having used these for years, we would say it’s a well-priced wheel with a limited lifespan (around 2 to 3 years).
A plastic bearing attaches the wheel to the cage bars and is pretty robust and relatively quiet when in use.
Top tip: If you are using this wheel and it makes a lot of noise, one of the balancing wheels in the fixing mechanism may have come out of alignment. You’ll be able to see this easily, and it’s a quick fix.
3. Silent Runner 12″ Regular – Exercise Wheel
The Silent Runner is an enclosed design with 3 large entrance holes for access. Some rats prefer this type, while others refuse to enter them. Apart from the base plate and connecters – which are metal – the whole wheel is non-brittle plastic. This could result in chew damage with some rats.
At 12″, the wheel is only big enough for most female rats or very small males. The internal running surface is textured, which gives excellent grip but is a nightmare to clean. However, the whole wheel does come apart for cleaning, so a soak and scrub should do the trick.
Assembly is fiddly but straightforward, and although the wheel is sold on a metal base plate, you can purchase a fixing mechanism for cage bars separately.
Top tip: The running plate can be slightly on the short side, which leaves a small gap in the running surface. Cover this with strong tape on both sides to prevent issues arising from the gap, such as chewing or injury.
4. Kaytee Comfort Wheel Giant 12 Inches
The giant Comfort Wheel from Kaytee is at the budget end of 12″ wheels. It’s made from plastic with a metal base stand and isn’t very robust. However, this wheel is big enough for most does and a few smaller bucks.
The running surface is ridged, which can make keeping it clean a challenge, and the whole thing will regularly need a good scrub. The open design is favored by most rats – and so are the plastic edges that may end up ‘re-designed’ by your rats if they love to chew.
It’s not well-reviewed for quiet action because the wheel sits and turns on a long axle and can bounce around a bit. Stability can also be an issue if you have vigorous runners, so you will need to use the cage fixings.
Top tip: This is a great wheel to use to see whether your rats like to wheel run before you spend more on an upgrade.
5. Suncoast Wodent Wheel Senior & Tail Shield
At 11″ diameter, the Wodent Wheel Senior is too small for most rats to run in a natural position. However, it could be useful for youngsters and very small adults. It’s a good design that is partially enclosed and yet has 5 open doors in the outer shell to allow for effortless movement in and out.
The wheel is on a stand (no fixings for attachment to the cage bars) and held onto the stand by a long axel that goes right through the center of the wheel. The body of the wheel is held in place with a metal pin. This needs to be removed to dismantle and thoroughly clean the wheel, which is all rather fiddly.
The Wodent Wheel is quiet and sits solidly on the base, so it doesn’t move around much when in use. The whole wheel is plastic other than the base, so it may not be the best choice for rats who chew.
Top tip: if this wheel gets squeaky, you can oil it with a little edible oil, and it will get a new lease of (silent) life.
Buying A New Exercise Wheel For Rats
The first question you probably need to answer is, do rats really need a wheel? To be fair, not all rats wheel run, however those that do seem to enjoy the activity a great deal.
Researchers found that rats who run voluntarily can outlive their non-running friends and relations by 10% to 15%. That’s the equivalent of an extra 2.5 to 4 months with your rat and a great reason to offer a wheel.
Some rats run obsessively, and some never use the wheel. But offering the opportunity is important – as the study showed – increased exercise inside the cage can extend lifespan.
Wheel Size Matters
Ideally, a rat wheel should be 14 to 16″ to enable even the largest rats to run with a straight back in a natural running position. This prevents the rat from experiencing any spinal or joint issues because of the wheel running.
Many of the readily available wheels are only 12″. These are okay for girls who tend to be physically smaller than bucks but will only accommodate the smallest of boys. If you have male rats, consider investing in the 15″ Chin Spin, which is an excellent wheel with a longevity of its own.
Make sure that any wheel you buy will fit through the door of your cage, and you will need to take it out periodically to clean it properly.
A Noisy Noise Annoys
Some wheels on the market can be very noisy when in use. This can be due to squeaking fixings, imbalanced bearings, unstable bases, or simply vibrations that rattle metallic cage bars.
Depending on where you house your rats, this may – or may not – bother you. If your rats live in a study, family room, or bedroom, you may want to pay special attention to the sound your new wheel makes before purchasing.
Wheel Design – Open Or Closed
There are two basic wheel designs, those with a closed front that includes cutout doors and those that are open. Most rats have a preference for one or the other. The closed wheels are harder for some rats to access, but they make anxious rats feel safer.
If your rat is reasonably confident, we would recommend the open type as they are generally easier for a rat to use. They are certainly easier to keep clean.
Free Standing Or Fixed To The Cage Bars
This is an important decision to make before you buy as not all wheels offer both options. A free-standing wheel is more likely to move about during use and tends to take up quite a lot of floor space in the cage. However, they can be useful for use during free-range.
If you are planning to use the wheel inside your rat cage, we would recommend a fixed wheel as they take up less space, can be hung well off the floor over deep litter, and can’t move about when in use.
Plastic Or Metal
Never buy a metal wheel that is made out of mesh or wire as these can cause all sorts of injuries to a rat’s feet, legs, and tails. That said, a solid powder-coated metal running plate will give a wheel durability and a robust quality.
Our rat wheels are 16″ solid metal Tic Tac wheels (UK brand), and they last forever! Coated metal is easy to wipe clean and doesn’t tend to attract chewers.
Plastic wheels can be brittle or flexible, and both have advantages. The softer plastics can be banged and dropped without damage, whereas brittle plastic can crack. However, rats love to chew plastic, and brittle wheels will deter this.
Plastic is easily cleaned, but plastic running plates are often ridged, which tends to hold dirt and feces.
Ease Of Cleaning
Think about how you are going to clean your new wheel. The enclosed plastic wheels need to be completely dismantled for proper cleaning, whereas open wheels are easy to wipe over daily while still in the cage.
Some wheel designs are particularly fiddly to take apart and put back together again. Because your rats will poo inside them, you will need to be prepared to do this fairly often.
Helping Your Rat To Use Their Wheel
Wheel running should always be a voluntary experience for the rat, but we can do a few things to coax them to use the wheel in the first place. Make sure that the placement in the cage is good, and that the wheel clears the bedding to allow it to move freely.
Ensure the wheel is well maintained so that it runs as quietly as possible. Rats have strong aversions to loud noise, especially in the ultrasonic range often generated from metal on metal. Try to prevent a metal wheel from knocking on the cage bars.
Try smearing a little yogurt or malt paste inside the wheel on the running plate. This will get the rats into the wheel – hopefully, then the movement of the wheel will begin to interest them.
Our pick of the wheels available is the Quality Cage Crafters 15″ Chin Spin Chinchilla Wheel because it ticks every box for a great rat wheel. However, it is very pricey, and if it’s outside of your budget, we’d suggest you took a closer look at the Silent Spinner from Kaytee as the best of the rest.