Pet Exercise Wheel Review

If you search in forums for exercise wheels, there are lots and lots of different opinions about which are better. And I’ve discovered as I’ve researched, different wheels are definitely better for different pets.

So here is my review of exercise wheels

, using my rats as testers.

Nine inch mesh wheel

Mesh Exercise Wheel

When the nifflers were born (I wanted to name one baby Niffler since she’s black, furry, and likes to dig, but my husband won out with Hoot and Annie. So I settled for using niffler as a general term meaning the kids), I had an ordinary 9″ mesh wheel in the cage. It’s all that would fit. For added safety, I hung it from the top. I thought that way they’d be less likely to get their tails pinched between the support bar and the frame of the wheel.

The adults never ventured into it, ever. But the nifflers were on it as soon as their eyes were open. And wow, could they run! You could tell they thought they were actually going somewhere, because when I would reach my hand in to take them out, they would jump on the wheel and run to try to get away.

The two of them would often run at the same time, and they could work together so that the wheel would flip. I counted four revolutions as the record.

One of them also liked to play “ride ‘em, cowboy!” She would climb up the side of the cage, get onto the outside of the wheel, and ride it down. She was so small that she could safely pass between the bottom of the wheel and the floor.

But the biggest problem with this kind of wheel is the pinch factor. If your rat has a tail sticking out of the wheel when it turns, it will be caught between the support bar and the frame of the wheel. It’s even more of a danger when two play. One could be getting on when the other starts to run, which means a head could get scissored.

Although the mesh bottom which allowed for outside-the-wheel play was fun to watch, these wheels just aren’t safe for an animal with a tail or multiple animals. They’re probably fine for a single hamster.

Wodent Wheel Junior

Wodent Wheel

Next I ordered a Wodent Wheel Junior (9-inch). I had read a lot of posts about the Wodent Wheel. It seems that most of the cage pictures you see have a Wodent Wheel in the background.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Wodent Wheel is a totally enclosed wheel with the support bar entering the wheel on one side only through the solid back. This means there is absolutely no way for a critter to get pinched.

The inside running track is also solid, not mesh.

An added bonus is that the entry side of the wheel has holes, making it appealing to animals like rats that like to hide inside little caves.

It’s also the only wheel approved by the ASPCA.

When I first took it out of the box, I was amazed at how sturdy the frame was. I set it up and put it in the grotto.

I must admit, I was surprised at how long it took the nifflers to go inside. They looked at it, approached it, but didn’t enter it for weeks. I know this because I put treats inside that went untouched.

But once they got used to it, they liked it.

One downside is that the solid track means they can’t climb on the outside of it. It also means that any debris that gets inside the wheel will stay in. I noticed some raisins getting ground into the track. And the only way to clean it is to take it apart.

I will mention that it is pretty quiet. You can hear it but it’s more of a gentle rubbing sound than a squeak, squeak, squeak.

Also, here’s one advantage over a traditional mesh wheel: you can replace the inside track with a nail trimming track so your ratties can trim their nails as they run.

Eleven inch Run Around wheel

Run Around Wheel

As the nifflers grew, it became clear that the Wodent Wheel Junior was too small. But unfortunately I couldn’t fit any larger wheel in the Grotto. So I built the Ratty Annex to house a wheel.

I was still under the impression that the mesh wheels are more fun for them. I thought the way they flipped over by keeping the wheel spinning after they stopped running had something to do with how the mesh wheels are built. I wanted the best of both worlds; the safety of a drum-type wheel like the Wodent Wheel but the fun that the mesh surface can give you.

So instead of getting the next size of the Wodent Wheel, I got the Run Around wheel. They sell it in most pet store chains. It’s the same as the standard mesh wheel, but they now call it “tail-safe.” The reason is they redesigned the frame so that there’s a gap between it and the wheel bar.


Here’s a picture of the conventional mesh wheel (about 5/16 of space) and the Run Around (1 inch). If a tail is lingering off the side when the wheel starts to move, there should be enough of a gap so that it doesn’t get caught.
Eleven inch run aroundwheel gap
Nine inch mesh wheel gap
Sounded like a good idea.

When I first took it out of the box, though (not realizing I could get it locally), I was struck by the poor quality. The frame was flimsy and the wheel was lopsided when it spun. I tried to bend the frame straight as best I could.

I also noticed wire sticking up on the inside of the wheel where the mesh track seam was. I pushed it back and it seemed flat enough to be safe.

The box was packaged with Asian newspaper. Not being able to read it, I couldn’t tell you where it was from. Perhaps this wheel is made in China? I won’t make any editorial comment on that here, but you can draw your own conclusions as to the quality.

So anyway, I put it in the annex, still suspending it from the ceiling. (I hung it using teacup hooks screwed into the top).

I thought that after a year of having no wheel they might have forgotten how to use it. But within minutes, the nifflers were back in action. They loved it!

I discovered two things, however.

  1. Even though this is basically a bigger version of the same wheel, the nifflers were now too heavy to play the flip game. No matter how the two of them worked together, they could get enough momentum to flip over. So the “meshness” of the wheel had nothing to do with it. It probably flipped so easily before because they were so light.
  2. These wheels are really noisy! I know how much they loved to run in them because I could hear it at night from the upstairs bedroom (the ratties are in a downstairs room).

And the extra gap made an injury less likely, but not impossible. A head or foot could still get pinched if Hoot got in when Annie started to run. So, I kept looking.

By the way, I finally got some video footage (hard to do with nocturnal pets.)

This gives you an idea. If you watch closely, you’ll see Hoot start to do a jumping run at the beginning of the video, but it puts her too high up on the side of the wheel, so she changes to a trot. I’d love to find a wheel that lets her go as fast as she wants. When she runs across the floor with a hopping step, she can really fly!

Chin Spin

As the name implies, this wheel is big in the chinchilla world. It is another drum design, but is really solid and has ball bearings. It’s made of powder-coated metal.

But I never got as far as letting the nifflers try. It would have been way too heavy for them to run in easily. The thing weighed four pounds! I knew that I could return it if they didn’t actually touch it. (I ended up selling it on eBay anyway so I wouldn’t have to pay a restocking fee.)

I’m sure it’s great for chinchillas, but it’s too heavy for rats. Well, at least for my female rats. Maybe if you have a gigantor male, it would be a different story.

Twelve inch Stealth Wheel

Stealth Wheel

This is a wheel that I had never heard of because it is used mostly by different critters: sugar gliders. The people on the sugar glider forums swear by this wheel.

A sugar glider is a gliding possum native to the Australia area. It glides through the air like a flying squirrel and is extremely acrobatic.

But I’m interested in how these wheels do with pet rats, so I ordered the 12″ size.


It’s similar to the Wodent Wheel in that the support is only on one side and it has a solid back. You can also purchase a nail-trimming track separately.

Here are the differences:

  • Ball Bearings
    Ok, this is totally cool about the wheel. The internal bearings means two things:

    1. It is incredibly quiet.
    2. It spins really easily.

  • Slightly Wobbly
    I did notice, however, that it seemed to shake slightly when spun unlike the Wodent Wheel which is extremely stable. This is probably due to that fact that is has no support bar going all the way through. Good segway into…

  • No Internal Support Bar
    The inside of the wheel is totally flat. There’s no internal support bar like with the Wodent Wheel. For rats, I can’t see that this makes a difference either way and I think the lack of support contributes to the shakiness. But I did pick up from the Sugar Glider forums that they could injure their tails on the Wodents. This is because they’re a lot more acrobatic and they grab onto the support bar with their tails. (Note: the makers of the Wodent Wheel came out with an internal tail guard for sugar gliders that is supposed to alleviate this problem). Again, I don’t see this as a problem with rats. They have a totally different style of play.

  • Plastic Mesh Track
    The Wodent Wheel has a solid track, but the Stealth has a mesh track. This means that any debris and poop inside the wheel will fall out. To be honest, the track was flimsier than I was expecting. It seemed similar to the material of those orange plastic construction fences. I guess I was expecting something more like sturdy plastic needlepoint canvas.

    I also noticed that when I spun it, I could see a place where there was a little dip in the track. (The Wodent Wheel track is a lot more sturdy.)

    The flimsiness aside, the mesh track is a big selling point for sugar gliders. They love to cling to the track, both inside and out. I’m including a video below that I found on YouTube that really shows how much sugar gliders love to cling to the track.



So how did the nifflers like it? After I put it in the cage, Hoot checked it out. She walked in it a little, but has yet to get into a full-fledged romp. She did start to chew it, though. That’s the one thing I’m worried about—this could turn out to be a really expensive chew toy. (Even though the Wodent Wheel is also made of plastic, they never chewed it—maybe because the solid track and enclosed area didn’t allow them to see out as much. I noticed they tend to chew things they can see through.)

A few weeks later: Well, Hoot didn’t seem interested in chewing it after all after the initial check-out.

And I got a running demo on video. It seems to me that Hoot can get more of a hopping step in since the wheel spins easier than the others, due to the ball bearings. Here also is the cool video on YouTube of two sugar gliders playing in it.



Flying Saucer Diameter

Flying Saucer

This is a “wheel” that I’m still hoping to test. It’s really expensive, though, but it’s a complete unique concept (I also believe it’s patented). It’s really big in the chinchilla world.

It’s made by a company called Meadowbrook Chinchillas:

http://www.chin-chillas.com/exercisewheels.htm

All the other wheels are, well, wheels. This means that the animal’s back arches as he runs which isn’t really a natural position. It also means, as I’ve noticed with the nifflers and the mesh wheel, that they have to go slower than their full capacity or else they’ll pass the wheel. I’ve watched Hoot (or Annie) start out at a trot, move into a hopping motion, but have to slow down her hops as she starts to run up the side of the wheel.

The cool thing about the flying saucer is that it’s a flat surface like a dinner plate. In theory, it means your pet can run as fast as he wants. And since it’s flat, you can use a much smaller wheel and still get the same equivalent running surface.

Which means that, while the Chin Spin was too heavy because I ordered the 12″ to accommodate the nifflers, I should be able to order a smaller flying saucer. Their 11″ has a running surface equivalent to a 16 – 18″ conventional wheel.

Chin Running
I’m really dying to know if this saucer will work well for rats. I’ve searched the rat forums, but haven’t seen anything.

If anyone has experience with the flying saucer and rats, please post a comment.

If I find myself with any extra cash, I’ll buy one to try and sell on eBay if it doesn’t work out.

Comparison Videos: Run Around, Wodent Wheel, and Stealth Wheel

For rats, the best choice seems to be down to the Wodent Wheel and the Stealth Wheel, so I took videos that compare a couple of things between these wheels. I still think the Run Around isn’t a good choice for animals with tails, but I included it in the video just for comparison purposes.


Rotation Test

This video compares how easily these three wheels spin. My theory is that if the wheel spins easier, your pet will be able to run faster before he catches up with the side of the wheel.


Squeak Test

This video lets you hear how these wheels sound. (Actually, it’s a little hard to hear through the normal hiss of the audio track, but you get the general idea.)

Addendum: Even though the Wodent Wheel is very quiet when it spins, I noticed that it’s louder when my ratties run in it. It must be the noise it makes when their feet slap against the track. It’s still not as annoying as a squeak, but it isn’t as silent as the sound in the video.


Wobble Test

I noticed that some of the wheels wobble more than others. I’m not talking about the stand wobbling because all three wheels sit very stably. I’m talking about the spin axis of the wheel not being 100% straight.

Does it matter? Probably not, but thought I’d throw it in anyway to make my testing complete.

Final Verdict

In my research on various forums and in watching my own pets, I’ve found that different wheels seem to be better for different animals. The best wheel for a pet rat may not be the best for a sugar glider, etc.

So here are my recommendations.

For Rats
The Stealth Wheel or the Wodent Wheel are both suitable. The Stealth spins easier, allowing your rat to run faster. But it’s more expensive (about 35.00 plus shipping). The Wodent Wheel is only about 20.00 including shipping, and rats seem to like the hidey holes of it. It’s like having another little house for them to hide in, but one that moves.

For Sugar Gliders
The Stealth Wheel is the best wheel for these critters. The reason is that they are natural acrobats. They like to leap and jump, and the Stealth Wheel allows them to do this safely. They also like to cling to the mesh of the track (the Wodent Wheel has a solid track).

For Chinchillas
The Flying Saucer is the best for them because it keeps their back flat as they run.

Now Available at CritterWheels.com

Well, all this research of pet exercise wheels has made me want to help make them available. So I’ve opened a web store that only sells safe pet exercise wheels called Critter Wheels.

At the moment I only have the Wodent Wheel and Stealth Wheel, but I’ve gotten permission to sell the Flying Saucer too. I just have to get enough money to be able to purchase a few.

Share Your Comments

I hope these reviews were helpful and that you’ll post your own findings in the comments below.

4 Responses to “Pet Exercise Wheel Review”

  1. Sue Says:

    I’ve got my large wodent wheel set up but so far the rats haven’t used it. They were kind of scrared of it at first but now will stand next to it but won’t go inside the holes. Having read a few comments online, we’ll just wait and see if they use it given more time. I hope so as it’s a great wheel and deserves to be used/tried.

  2. susb8383 Says:

    Yeah, they’ll get used to it and start venturing in. My ratties were the same way at first. It took them longer to try it out than it did the other wheels, probably because it’s something they have to go inside. But once they tried it, they liked it.

  3. Jessica Says:

    I’m going to buy the flying saucer wheel but the one at pet smart is plastic like and it seems to be at a different angle then the metal one do you think it is still good for them to use.

  4. susb8383 Says:

    I bought one of the plastic ones myself. I wanted to make sure my rats would use it before I invested in the expensive metal one. I can report two things:
    1. The plastic one is pretty high quality. I thought it would be cheap and flimsy, but it isn’t. It is pretty well-made.
    2. My rats won’t use it!

    I tried to teach them to run on it by enticing them with treats. They will take walking steps to get the treat, but they haven’t run on it by themselves.
    –Susie

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