Hedgehogs are accustomed to running long distances in their natural habitat, and a high-quality exercise wheel is necessary for a captive hog to thrive. Traditional hamster wheels (a wire mesh wheel open on both sides mounted on an axle connected to triangular supports) are not suitable for hedgehogs; in fact, these models exemplify exactly what you don’t want. The supports are the first problem. Many hedgehogs like to step off of their wheels mid-run, and the external frame could injure or trap them in the process, while their backs often bump into the central axle while they’re running. The wire mesh wheel often catches hedgehog toes and quills, causing injury. These models can also be top-heavy and are prone to toppling when climbed on.
The ideal hedgehog wheel has a 12” diameter with a running tread that’s 4-6” wide. The wheel should be of a solid material and can be made of either metal or plastic so long as it has enough tread. The entry side should be free of obstruction. To avoid potential falls, the wheel can be attached to the side of the cage or firmly mounted to a weighted or secured base. There are a few different designs that satisfy all these requirements, some of which are radical departures from what you might picture when you think of an exercise wheel.
Regardless of which design you pick, make sure that it can be easily cleaned and removed. Even for litter box trained pets the wheel often serves as a backup bathroom. Running stimulates a hedgehog’s metabolism and causes his body to expel waste. Instinct tells the hedgehog he’s leaving the waste behind as he runs and he won’t show his usual concern for cleanliness. Wheels should be wiped down daily as part of your maintenance routine. Remove and disinfect the wheel at least once a month.
Made of solid, durable plastic, bucket wheels are often made and sold by breeders and hobbyists, and they’re available in a range of styles and sizes online. You can fasten it to the side of the cage or mount it on a stand; it will be quiet and take up very little floor space. The only issues with bucket wheels are that you’re unlikely to find them at your local pet store, and they can be costly ($20-$30 before shipping).
Flying saucer wheels
The flying saucer is an exercise wheel flattened and turned on its side. They feature a broad, textured disc mounted at an angle on an attached stand. They are safe, quiet, and easy to clean. Though they take up a lot of floor space inside the cage, they are great for enclosures with a low clearance. They’re a little trickier to use; most hedgehogs don’t take long to figure them out but older hedgehogs may have difficulty, and they might be hard to use for especially large animals. The main disadvantage keepers find in flying saucer style wheels is that they can fling the waste your pet drops while running around the cage if they build up enough speed, causing quite a mess.
Solid wheels designed for chinchillas—like the steel Quality Comfort models and the all-plastic Comfort Wheels—can be great options for longer and larger hedgehogs. Both models are a bit noisier, generally, than the styles listed above. The plastic Comfort Wheels may be more difficult to clean because of the grooves on the running surface and you should keep a close eye on your hedgehog’s feet when he’s using this kind of wheel (he may run them raw). The solid steel models have a smooth surface but you should check the outer edge frequently to make sure there’re no sharp edges. The main issue with both styles of chinchilla wheels is that they can be top-heavy and have been known to topple. Affixing these wheels to the side of the cage is the best and safest option.