Critters & Wheels

Wheels — Installation & Care

A little lubrication on the side-panel eyelets where they rub the axles and the washer helps keep the wheels quiet and last longer and turn easier. AVOID toxic lubricants like WD-40. Vegetable oil and baby oil are both pretty safe. However, vegetable oil will turn rancid and collects dust and needs to be changed more often. We ship them lubricated with baby oil. Some owners have reported good results using the wax from children's crayons.

If you find yourself in possession of a disassembled Wodent wheel (or you just want to see how one goes together), you can see the Assembly Instructions here.

And, information on Parts here.

Some folks have noted that it appears that the axle is “too short” on their wheels. Actually, the wheel is supposed to be a little wider than the axle is long — this puts the side panels under a little compression and helps hold everything snugly together.

If you lose the little pin that goes through the axle and holds everything together, any stiff little wire — like a paper clip — will do just fine.

On early Jr and Sr Wodent Wheels the axle portion of the stand is not powder coated but bare metal. If there are any indications of rust showing up, wiping the axle with a small piece of paper towel with a drop of baby oil will not only clean the rust but protect the metal. If the rust still remains, rubbing it with a small piece of aluminum foil should remove it.

Some cages are plenty roomy enough for Wodent Wheels but have doors that are too small to get them inside. With a little practice, it is possible to disassemble the wheel and then reassemble them inside the cage.

It's a good idea to resist the temptation to drill holes in the track (or replace it with some form of screen) for “drainage.” Any hole that waste can drop though can also get someone's toe caught. If you wish to make the wheels a little less water tight, the best way to do it is to disrupt the seal along the edge of the track by taking a short (about an inch) piece of masking tape and just folding it over the edge of the track length-wise before popping on the front panel. Doing this in several spots should provide plenty of drainage.

Wodent Wheels can also be mounted upside-down on the roofs of cages. (Nylon cable ties are a good way to do this.) In addition to freeing up some floor space, this usually greatly decreases the amount of clutter that you pet may decide really belongs in the wheel... (Your pet will also be MUCH less likely to set up “home” in the wheel if they have some sort of nesting room in their cage — which they really should have in any case.)

Some related tips from Cara-lee:

I invented a unique way to hang the Wodent wheels from the tops of our aquariums. Pet peeve number one with me has been a wheel on the floor of the cage gets shavings piled up to it and then it no longer moves. I am attaching two of the photos I took. Basically I take two thin slats of wood which fit snugly on the top of the inside lip of the aquarium and use "cable clips" (like the kind literally used to attach cable wire to a wall) and screw them to the wood slats. Wallah - a hanging Wodent Wheel. We used to use ties to put the wheels on out wire lids, but found they were noisy. The wood strips we use are firm and don't allow the wheel to rattle.

Also, I am not sure if you knew it or not but I have found FAR FAR less dust on the tops of my aquarium habitats since switching to the Wodent wheels. So besides being a safety benefit for the animals they are also an added health benefit by reducing dust! I had used every single kind of wire wheel ever made before switching - apparently the wire or mesh wheels act like a fan and constantly stir up dust as they go around.

And from Mia Wheaton...

The photo shows how easy it is to attach the Wodent Wheel to a wire cage. Occasionally, I hear that the Wodent Wheel can't attach to a cage, but that is not the case! We simply removed the pin, threaded the base through the bars, and re-attached the wheel to the base. One person held the wheel in place while the other secured the base with several black zip ties - which, by the way, are very cheap and easy to find - we bought ours at Walmart! The whole process took just a few minutes for both cages!

And Steve Jacobsmeyer adds...

When I cable tie a wheel to a cage, I use releaseable cable ties. (Home Depot, Menards.) They have a little tab on them so I don't feel so bad clipping the old ones and throwing them out.

And another method from John J Starr Jr...

I simply used a piece of poplar scant wood from Lowes measuring 1/4 inch x 5-1/2 inch x 2 ft. (Listed as 1/4 x 6 x 2.) This is enough to make two mounting boards for about $3. The quarter-inch thickness is just perfect for fitting beneath the screen wire lid. For a 20-L aquarium I cut the board 11.5 inches long. For a 10-gallon aquarium I cut the board 9.75 inches long.

Looking at the bottom side you can see two lines that run down each side. Those lines are 7/16 inches from the edge. You should also see three lines that are perpendicular to them. The ones on the right are at 1 inch and 3 inches. The one on the left is at 4 inches. They mark the locations of three 1/4-inch holes. The holes just come up to the edge of the longer 7/16 inch lines.

These next two pictures show that the stand is on the outside of the holes. I used three 8-inch black zip ties that were also acquired from Lowes.

This is a top view of the 20-L aquarium with the wheel installed.

And here is a photo of the side view of the 20-L aquarium. The screen wire lid lays down perfectly because of the 1/4-inch thickness.

So far, every gerbil that I have had, even those who refused to get on wire wheels, will in fact get on these and run. I think that it may be that they just can not resist going inside the entry holes in the wheel.

By suspending the wheel from the top this actually gives a little bit more ground area for the animals and IMHO is much more safe than letting them lay on the bottom of tank.

And Heidi Lennstrom offers a whole different way to attach a wheel to a cage:

My two lady rats love their Wodent Wheel Seniors. I have one suggestion. With my original set up, when they ran very fast the whole thing shook and rattled. So, I modified it. I took it off the free-standing metal stand and replaced the whole thing with a single, straight metal rod that goes to the two sides of the cage.
I left about 2 extra inches on the ends and am using wooden clothes pins and removable zip-ties to attach it to the sides. It is not beautiful, and it probably has some aspects that could be improved, but now they run like CRAZY.

Update: I have re-engineered our Wodent Wheels some more. I had placed them on 1/4 metal rods--but attaching he rods to the cage was a problem and they shook loose. So I made little wooden clamps and now they are smooth, quite, and secure. Check it out! I even managed to drill through the rods to use cotter pins to hold the wheels on (the rats suddenly started attacking the rubber bands I had used for months!). It's been fun. The girls run and run and run all night.

Heidi, Nani, and Tango

Some tips from Jane Landis:

I had trouble with the Junior being just a fraction of an inch too tall for some of my cages. I dismantled the wheels and threaded the base through from above, (so the base of the stand is on the outside of the cage) and suspended that way, they were just enough shorter that they now fit in every cage I have. I wouldn't really want the wheels shorter or they'd be dragging substrate all over, so this was a great solution. If I need a bit more room, I slip a couple thicknesses of cardboard between the bars and the base outside the cage to lift it up a bit. I had suspended them from the top and sides before with twist-ties, but this is even easier.

To fit a Wodent wheel Junior in a S.A.M. cage I have a couple S.A.M. Country Clubs as “wheel rooms.” They fit nicely (but take up the whole space). Makes a nice add-on room — if anyone else needs the idea.

Some hams make their Wodent their world. They not only run in it, but eat, hoard and potty in it too. Dried urine leaves a white crusty deposit that's hard to wash off. A soak in cheap vinegar works for even the oldest deposits on Wodent parts, in cage corners, tubes or anyplace else they manage to get crusty. Just disassemble everything, toss all the pieces in the cage pan, and pour vinegar in to cover them. Play with your pet till the toughest spots are loosened, then tackle any remainder with a scrubbie or brush. If you don't have enough ventilation to clear the vinegar fumes, set it outside to soak.

And another tip from Karla Thomas:

My mice (13 of them) love their Wodent wheels!!! I keep my mice in glass aquariums and I was having troubles with the 7 girls moving the wheels around during the night. No amount of bedding material will hold down the wheel against a glass bottom aquarium. Finally I found a solution! (It really seems to tick them off too!) I found some clear suction cups at the local “Dollar Tree” store. (12 for a dollar.) These suction cups had a removable clear plastic cup hook and if you just remove the hook you can push the suction cup's loop onto the metal Wodent wheel stand. It's like these suction cups were made for just this purpose. I push the suction cup up to the top back of the stand, near where it enters the wheel, and then I push the suction cup against the glass tank. They don't move a bit!

And some tips from Jonathan Dean:

I have found that coconut butter/oil is a good animal-safe lubricant. It is solid at room temperature, but liquifies with hot water to spread and during use. (Coconut oil was discovered by Japanese machinists who needed to cut metal, but couldn't use petroleum products due to the war.) Also, a zip-tie on the hitch pin makes disassembly and reassembly easier (along with flagging the small pin to avoid loosing it).

Teflon Tape!

Several people have mentioned using Teflon tape as a very good, and much quieter, way to lubricate the axle. Natalya B. has put together an excellent "how-to" guide here.

Critters & Wheels

Don't stray too far from the recommended wheel size. Syrians or other large hamsters are better off with a Senior wheel instead of a Junior so they have plenty of room, don't get stuck, and aren't bumping their backs against the axle. (No, the axle isn't spinning — but they can rub a bald spot.) Lady rats are best off with the Senior Wheel. If they're fully-grown a Wobust Wheel will also work just fine — but if they're very tiny or very young, they may have trouble turning the Wobust as fast as they'd like. (To them it would seem like they're always running uphill.) The Wobust is best for male rats and hedgehogs. Pygmy hedgies may also do fine with the Senior. The Senior Wheel is also the best size for squirrels and sugar gliders (again, very young ones can also use a Junior). Large squirrels should have a Wobust.

When introducing any new item into a critter's environment, it's always a good idea to check for possible hazards — this includes Wodent Wheels. One thing to look for with the wheel is to see if there's a possibility for a critter to get stuck between the stand and the back of the wheel. We've tried to make this gap too large to cause problems for small critters on the Jr wheel, and too small to cause problems on the Sr and Wobust wheels. However, if you've got a fairly large critter using a Jr Wheel (or a fairly small critter using one of the larger wheels), it's good practice to make sure the gap isn't just the right size for them to get their heads stuck. If it might be a problem, the best thing to do is just adjust the gap so it's either narrower or wider. This is easily done by removing the wheel and holding the base of the stand down and lifting up — or pressing down — on the axle. This will shift the vertical part of the stand closer or further from the back of the wheel. After the gap is where you want it, bend the axle portion of the stand back to level. (Using a short piece of pipe makes this much easier.) An alternative solution is to position (or, better yet, mount) the wheel in the cage, say up against a wall, so there is no access to the back of the wheel.

Rats generally take a little while to investigate and get used to wheels before they feel free to hop on board. Give 'em some time. (This can take several weeks — especially for older rats.) They're also most likely to do their running at night when they're most active and they have some privacy. (Rats are sometimes a little shy about running if they know you're watching.) Whatever you do, don't try to force them — they're probably more likely to try it if you can convince them it's “off limits.”

The excellent Barron's book, Training Your Pet Rat by Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville suggests that reluctant pets may be enticed into wheel running by placing little bits of Rice Krispies or Cheerios stuck around the inside of the wheel with dabs of Nutrical or Ferretvite.

If your critter seems oblivious to the tradeoffs involved in using the wheel as a bathroom, a lot of users report pretty good success in using the “Hamster Litter Box” (available at Petco and Petopia.com — and probably many other places too) to encourage more genteel behavior.

And a member of the Rat Fan Club suggests: for animals who poop in the wheel, when you put the clean wheel back together you can sprinkle a little baking soda inside the wheel and distribute it around the wheel by spinning it. The baking soda will help absorb the moisture in the feces.

Small animals love and NEED to run! They can run SEVERAL HOURS at a time. If your pet hasn't used an exercise wheel before or has sensitive feet due to lack of activity, please limit their time on the Wodent Wheel until their feet have become accustomed to running.

Hedgies have fairly sensitive skin and are particularly prone to overdoing it when they first get a wheel. Please limit their time on the wheel until their feet have had a chance to toughen up. Some hedgies will "mark their trail" as they run. Please resist the temptation to drill holes in the running track because this will create running hazards. But DO try to keep it dry in there or their feet will remain soft. (Some hedgies will eventually learn to be a little more tidy, but on the other hand, some hedgie-supplicants have found that a poopy wheel in the morning is a happy indication that all is well in hedgieland and a clean wheel is a cause of some anxiety...)

It's safest to remove the wheel if your hedgie has babies. This can create some complaining, but if it's done while they're sleeping, they don't seem to get so upset.

A couple times over the years we've heard of sugar gliders "getting their tails caught" by the axle of a wheel. At first thought this sounds fairly impossible - after all, the axle isn't spinning; it's stationary relative to the cage (and the glider), it's the wheel that's the only thing spinning. If the glider is running along in a "conventional" mode, this is true and all is well in the world. However, if the glider likes to stop short and do a loop-the-loop while the wheel spins on - while at the same time grabbing the axle with his tail, he could be setting himself up for a good tail-yanking. This appears to be a pretty rare situation, but to make things more "glider-proof" we've created a Glider Shield that completely encloses the axle area. Available on our Parts page.

As anyone who own gliders knows, two gliders produce ten times the chaos as one glider. If you have two gliders who run together, it's strongly recommended that they do this under supervision. (It's certainly safest that they run individually.) Gliders have been known to do crazy things like link their tails things while running - NOT good.

And Roberta Chandler reports: My degus love their Wodent Wheels, and I have found that if they have a good habitat and enough chew toys they don't chew on their wheel. I have a lot of different things in their habitat for them to chew on like drift wood, wooden blocks, small rocks, and a couple of wooden play houses. Plus I have some wooden bird chew toys and have them hangin' around in there. They love them. So if 'Gu owners want Wodent Wheels for their degus make sure their 'Gus have enough chew toys and they probably won't chew on the wheels. [Your mileage may vary, but for this to have its best chance to work, start this way from Day One - before your guys have developed a taste for wheels...]

Jeff Parker reports similar results with gerbils. Keep them saturated with chewables (in this case, empty paper rolls), and they'll leave the wheels alone.

The December 21, 2001 issue of Science has an interesting paper describing the circadian clock signal pathway that controls nocturnal wheel-running activity in hamsters (and probably many other critters). Researchers at Harvard Medical School were able to turn on and turn off wheel running. A related pathway also controls “masking” behavior — stopping running if the lights are turned on. (An emergency response to assure that they aren't scurrying about when predators can see them.)

Comment in: Physiol Genomics. 2003 Jan 15;12(2):71-2.

Lifelong voluntary exercise in the mouse prevents age-related alterations in gene expression in the heart.

Bronikowski AM, Carter PA, Morgan TJ, Garland T Jr, Ung N, Pugh TD, Weindruch R, Prolla TA.

Department of Zoology and Genetics, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa 50011, USA. abroniko@iastate.edu

We present the first quantitative gene expression analysis of cardiac aging under conditions of sedentary and active lifestyles using high-density oligonucleotide arrays representing 11,904 cDNAs and expressed sequence tags (ESTs). With these data, we test the hypothesis that exercise attenuates the gene expression changes that normally occur in the aging heart. Male mice (Mus domesticus) were sampled from the 16th generation of selective breeding for high voluntary exercise. For the selective breeding protocol, breeders were chosen based on the maximum number of wheel revolutions run on days 5 and 6 of a test at 8 wk of age. For the colony sampled herein, mice were housed individually over their entire lifetimes (from weaning) either with or without access to running wheels. The hearts of these two treatment groups (active and sedentary) were assayed at middle age (20 mo) and old age (33 mo). Genes significantly affected by age in the hearts of the sedentary population by at least a 50% expression change (n = 137) were distributed across several major categories, including inflammatory response, stress response, signal transduction, and energy metabolism. Genes significantly affected by age in the active population were fewer (n = 62). Of the 42 changes in gene expression that were common to both treatment groups, 32 (72%) displayed smaller fold changes as a result of exercise. Thus exercise offset many age-related gene expression changes observed in the hearts of the sedentary animals. These results suggest that adaptive physiological mechanisms that are induced by exercise can retard many effects of aging on heart muscle at the transcriptional level.

PMID: 12429864 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

Other Critter-Related Tidbits

Avoid cedar shavings for nesting material. It can cause respiratory problems. Pine is almost as bad. Aspen is generally pretty good. Many critter sites will have lots of info on various bedding materials.

Rats don't get colds. If your rat is sneezing and snuffling, get to a vet ASAP. It's probably mycoplasma and, if you're lucky, may be at least held in check by antibiotics.

If your pet gets breast tumors you might want to ask your vet about tamoxifen before you agree to the stress of surgery.

Rats are pack animals and are generally happier if they're not “held in solitary.”

The Sept. 12, 1997 SCIENCE contains a very interesting study that demonstrates that rat pups that are handled during their first three weeks grow up to be very adventurous and have low amounts of stress hormones. The secret is in the mother's grooming following the handling.

The December, 1999 Journal of Nutrition and the July, 1999 Experimental Cell Research both contain studies that indicate that a diet containing approximately 1% conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) for pre-pubescent female rats provides significant life-long protection against breast cancer.

Two hamster studies, one in the March 7, 2002 Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, and another in the March 19, 2002 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicate that hamsters' immune systems get a boost when the days get shorter and they prepare for winter. Merely by shortening their exposure to artificial lighting from 14 hours per day to 9 or 10 hours hammies increased their numbers of immune cells, recovered from fevers faster, and had a greater immune response to psychological stress.

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