One of the cruelest things pet owners can do to their hamsters is take away their ability to run. Life for caged hamsters does not have to be all bad as long as they have a way to enjoy their nightly exercise. In the wild, free hamsters can run 8 to 10 kilometers every night as they scurry about looking for food and running away from predators. It is woven into their DNA to be fit and fast to keep up the pace. These are animals truly born to run.
Just like many human runners, when hamsters do not have the option to run freely outside, they turn to the next best thing to get their exercise; the treadmill. As nocturnal creatures they put in the bulk of their mileage at night. Caged hamsters go round and round in their wheels without actually going anywhere. The scenery never changes. They are not searching for food or running to avoid being food. They are just running. Are they happy to be doing their runs in a wheel instead of outside? Even with the risks involved, if we could offer them a choice, they would most likely prefer to be free hamsters running around outside. But since there is no choice, they happily spin their wheels and get the exercise they need to stay healthy happy hamsters. Perhaps after a good night of running, hamsters have that great post workout feeling. Maybe they feel calm and comfortably tired before they snuggle in for a full day of sleep. Maybe just being able to run helps them feel more like a free hamster.
This week I nearly became a caged hamster. I have been in Dubai since late January when the weather was wonderful but it started to get warm in April and by the end of May the heat and humidity combined to make running during the day a miserable experience. I have access to a great treadmill at my gym but I am doing everything to avoid it for as long as I can. I want to remain a free hamster for these last few weeks before I move back to the Colorado trails and cooler weather.
If I have to run on the treadmill I will. It is not what I prefer but like a caged hamster in a wheel I will do it happily when it is the only option available. To avoid the wheel, I have gone nocturnal running only at night when the sun cannot bully me. At night I am a free hamster scurrying about my environment avoiding cars and busses and other risks of running outside. Even if I go to the track next to my house and run around and around in circles without really going anywhere, I still feel like I have done what I need to do and that I have satisfied my animalistic need to run. I sleep soundly knowing that my wheel is always there but I do everything possible to remain a free hamster running in the wild like nature intended.