Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to Build a Cat Exercise Wheel, Part 1

RESEARCH & REVIEW Bengal cat on exercise wheel

Bengal cats are renowned for their energetic antics. You bought cat climbing trees, cat condos, cat toys; you tried scratching posts, catnip and cat calming aids, but for those who live with such a feline, you may want to consider buying a exercise wheel.

 Yes, I said exercise wheel.

Like the one's for hamsters. Except gigantic.

It turns out that many cats enjoy launching themselves into an all out run from time to time. More surprisingly, they are pretty amenable to using the cat wheel. Cat toys and kitty condos provide great distractions, but there's nothing else that really exhausts- and satisfies!- a cat like pretending to chase a gazelle at full speed across the Savannah.

The Da Bird Value Pack (Includes 1 Da Bird Original Single 3 Foot Pole Cat Toy & 2 Replacement Feathers)   3 Pack of Da Bird Guinea Feather Refills

I researched where to find, and eventually, how to build a cat exercise wheel. Initial research proved unsuccessful; although there are other cat wheels available in the ether, it's slim- and expensive!- pickings. I haven't found any yet that fulfill my 3 criteria:

1) Serviceable - e.g. diameter, width of platform, ease of turning, and safe for cat!

2) Inexpensive - $200 or less

3) Attractive - after all, it WILL be an enormous fixture in my living room

My research included reading many forums involving my same question: where can I find one? how can I build one? So here is a compiled list of  several resources for cat exercise wheels:
    • Petzones - $849
      • Price: bad  -  $649 for the 36" diameter wheel, but it could be argued that 36" is too short for an adult cat to fully stretch out.
      • Size: too large
      • Appearance: a wooden work of art!

    •  Cat Wheel Company -  $295.00
      • Price: okay  - reports it as $795.00, so I'm not sure if the company's website is up to date.Size: perfect  -  Tread is wide enough & 41" in diameter is large enough for an adult without taking up TOO much space, relatively.
      • Appearance: bad  -  Plastic and cheap-looking; I mean, it is decorated with stickers that look like fire!
Toy Go Round Wheel Cat Exercise Treadmill
    •  Bundas Cattery Cat Wheels - $275
      • Price: okay
      • Size: too small - I'm concerned about the 30" diameter of the wheel- I feel this is too short for an adult cat to run all out. However, I will email them for further clarification.
      •  Appearance: meh
    • PLANS to build a cat exercise wheel
      • Diameter: 52" or 54" = really large!  
      • In all, these seem like good plans to use as a guide when building a cat wheel. 
      • No instructions or materials listed.
    • A supposed PATENT for a cat wheel
      • No instructions or materials listed
      • PDF containing multiple image views of the wheel
    • YOUTUBE:
      • Ringo
        • Ability level: Impossible - requires an advanced engineering degree 
        • Instructions: no
        • Materials: no
      • Rogers827
        • Ability level: unknown - this person was kind enough to offer his email if you'd like to contact him for plans & how-to!
        • Instructions: no
        • Materials: no
      • TheMarbellous1
        • Ability level: unknown
        • Instructions: no
        • Materials: no
        • Homemade, but kind of small and unattractive. Works for them, but not for me
      • Draco
        • Ability level: medium
        • Instructions: no
        • Materials: yes
        • More of a hack than a piece of art, and too small for an adult cat. However, the vid does provide materials
      • Cat Wheel by Richard Norton
        • Ability level: difficult
        • Instructions: no
        • Materials: no
        • This one is hooked up to a food-incentive. It also has a wall-attachment instead of a stand
      • The Karakashkats
        • Ability level: unknown
        • Instructions: no
        • Materials: no
        • Owner is willing to sell you the plans for this kitten-size cat wheel, or one that is large enough for adults


With the goal to achieve a proper size-to-function-to-appearance ratio, I'll be drawing upon the above elements to plan and build one myself...

Based on all this info, what would you do to build one? Post your comments!

Stay tuned for Part 2:



jayholcomb on January 22, 2011 at 9:26 PM said...

Great info! I'm anxious to see part 2, but sadly have no input to offer, just a request for a video of your cat on it once it's done!

joezbest on February 4, 2011 at 10:14 AM said...

Great summary. Thank you for doing the research. What's next and how can I help. I have 2 adult bengals and the female is starting to go chubby.

Jill on February 10, 2011 at 2:22 PM said...

@joezbest: You're most welcome! I'm not sure what you can do at the moment. I've figured out how to make one out of wood similar to the one from Petzones, but I'm still having difficulty finding a way to make the wheel spin, and how to fix it to the post once I find the right piece. I'd love some input on what you think might work!

rogers827 on February 18, 2011 at 2:59 PM said...

Glad you liked my cat wheel - the cats are using it every day.
It is not to difficult to make but you do need to do some wood/metal cutting and a bit of welding so it helps if you know a handyman/engineer. I do not have a plan as such but there is a plan/drawing that I found on the web here: Also, from looking at different wheels on youtube I realised that most have a base that is very similar to an exercise bike stand but I did not know what to use for the drum. In the end I went to a scrap yard and managed to get an old exercise bike and a large cylindrical plastic oil tank. The tank had round and square sections and I was able to cut 3 X 7” sections from the tank. I then attached a sheet of plywood 3/8” thick to one of the sections to make the drum.

I removed the seat post and handlebars post from the bike. I then cut the pedals off the exercise bike bearing and carefully cut the bearing out of the frame. I then got a friend with a welder to mount the bearing on the seat post and weld the seat post to the middle of the frame (between the feet) so that it gave a clearance of an inch from the floor when the drum was attached. The pedal bearing had a pulley attached to it (to drive a belt and weighted wheel on the bike), I drilled through the pulley and bolted it to the plywood backing of the drum.
I then sanded the inside of the plastic drum & used carpet spay adhesive to attach carpet to make the inside track.

The hardest thing to source is the drum – I was lucky to find the oil tank but you could have a drum made from metal. The diameter of mine is about 42” which is fine for our Burmese cats.

I hope this information helps. I wish you good luck. I can always send you a couple of photos of the back of the wheel showing the bearing setup if you need them.


Ralph (Stamford, Lincs, UK)

Jill on February 19, 2011 at 3:59 PM said...

Thank you so much, Ralph!

J on February 20, 2011 at 8:39 PM said...

Actually, I thought about building one too but my currently place is too small (I live in a tiny apt) and if I want to do any machinery (welding, CNC...etc.), I will need to go back to my old college and beg the security to let me use their workshop as an alumni =P

Anyway, the drum is the hardest part, everything else is easy. I found several solutions for the drum:

1) Glue layers of plywood together, this will take weeks if you spend hours a day on it. (About $40-$60)

2) An oil drum.

3) A duct fan (which will cost about $200 for about 40" diameter)

I look forward to see your part II. If I'm still in college, I think I would build one in a heart beat...but now considered I work over 40 hrs a week and living in a small apt w/ no place to do any machinery...I think I'll have to put my plan on hold =(

Jill on February 20, 2011 at 9:44 PM said...

@J: thanks for your informative post!

Since I don't have access to a welder and am in a small apartment myself, I was thinking of using plywood for the drum: First wetting plywood and bending it while it's wet, then holding it in place with straps until it dries and using screws to secure it a circular "back" piece.

I don't think this would take weeks... but I'm not sure where to find the wood. I heard there is "bendable" plywood- perhaps it's something marine-grade?

Would wood veneer work since it's more flexible?

Here are a few source I found per bending plywood:

Lord of the Eeple on February 25, 2011 at 12:57 AM said...

The bendable plywood just has all the plys with the grain in the same direction. You might not even need that, if you use thin plywood (1/16th, 1/8th) because the wheel you're planning is pretty big. We made skateboard ramps with 3/4th inch thick plywood by pouring hot water on it and screwing it, slowly, to our curved forms.

BUT if I may:

Forget the idea that the wheel must be round. The only friction will be the bearing, the rim of the wheel itself won't be touching the ground. So it can be a dodecagon. That's probably more than round enough to give kitty a smooth enough running surface.

This way, you don't need to worry about bending wood, and you don't need to figure out how to get a great big circle of wood for the back, either. You make the back out of twelve long skinny isosceles triangles, and the drum out of twelve panels attached to their short sides. You can buy smaller pieces of wood, which will save you money, you can build the whole thing without ever having to cut a curve, which makes everything easier.

You can use the stitch-and-glue boatmaking technique to assemble it -- here's the basics.

You could make it incredibly pretty this way, by staining the panels and triangles different shades and putting it together in a pattern. The epoxy and fiberglass tape dry quite clear, and you probably won't really need any fillet material. If you do find it needs fillet, the thickness of it will be right where you'd want to cover the inside of the wheel for a grippy running surface, anyway. -- smaller amount of epoxy resin and hardener, also fiberglass tape. Not my recommendation, just what I could find that was inexpensive and not a huge amount, or part of a boat kit.

All that drilling of tiny holes and stitching it together with wire and painting epoxy on will probably take longer than it would to bend plywood, but it won't take as much physical force to accomplish. You'll be able to use a much lighter back and a lot less metal hardware because the drum won't be trying to spring off the backing and thus won't require strong fasteners to hold it on, so the finished wheel will spin more freely and be less of a drag to move when you want to.

Charles on March 16, 2011 at 10:12 AM said...

Rollerblade & skateboard bearings are a good choice--get the cheapest, as you're cat is unlikely to ever hit 30,000rpm!

The CHEAPEST, is to check w/a skateboarder or shop for someone who's bought new equipment & is putting in better bearings (which are a waste of money for 99.99% of users--the bearings aren't designed for the side-loading they get in boarding or skating, so they all wear out relatively rapidly in that use. They're std industrial bearings designed for radial loading.)

These bearings are a force-fit, so they will still need attachment point to the hub, if you can find an cheap pair of used skates, you can use the wheel to build a connection to the hub.

Remember that the wheel doesn't have to be uniform inside, so long as the weight is fairly evenly distributed (the cat will cause the weight to be unbalanced anyway.)

This means you can put hurdles, different terrain & such inside the wheel. Make them detachable so you can move them around--make them out of foam & plastic and you won't have to worry about balance.

It is also possible to use the outside of a wheel...

If the axle is mounted with support on both sides, you can mount a platform inside the wheel, thus making use of the upper wheel which is otherwise lost.

There are a lot of plastic & metal pans sold for farm & ranch use in varying sizes which could be used as a wheel--they're relatively cheap and can be mounted to an axle plate using bolts--the axle plate would have to be made separately of course.

Anonymous said...

You can get cheap tubing using Sonotube® Concrete Forms. Finding 36" diameter and up is tricky though, I found a supplier in Chicago are called Bracing Systems Inc. that sells by the ft. 36" diameter X 12" long cost less then 20$.

Anonymous said...

You could also look at epoxy, corrugated cardboard & fiberglass mesh. Or potentially even using Corrugated plastic in place of cardboard ( The hardest part of this method would be finding something to use as a mould

Jill on April 15, 2011 at 4:20 PM said...

I'm amazed at all the constructive comments! I'll be getting to Part II on planning when the weather gets better. Living in an apartment means I'll have to do this outside...

M on April 15, 2011 at 7:48 PM said...

I'm currently working on one made from a bicycle wheel that I got for $5 from Craigslist (For Sale - Bicycles: Find a wheel and make them an offer!)
The drum is going to be 48" Sonotube Concrete form. It's VERY sturdy and not too heavy, and is easier than trying to bend plywood. You can get it in 42" round also. I wouldn't suggest much smaller, as it might be hard on the cat's spine if they are too cramped, so they won't use it as much.
Sonoco, who make it, can tell you the nearest distributor to you, call them: 888-766-8823.

I am going to build a base from 2x4s, with an angle bracket on top to mount the bicycle wheel on. No welding needed. This will all be gluing and bolting together. The backing will be 1/4" Masonite inserted into the Sonotube with wood block bracing on the back.
I'm basing mine off this video:

There are some great home-made wheels out there, the 2 biggest concerns are finding or making a base, and the bearings to make it turn.
You'll need a jigsaw to cut the backing, whatever you use.

Will update you with my progress.

Angeleen on April 21, 2011 at 12:07 AM said...

Hi Jill!

I love your metal cat wheel, it is so sleek and beautiful! I also enjoy watching your bengal cats run on it too.

I was wondering, would you be willing to build one to sell? I am not skilled at all in welding, nor know anyone who is. I would be a very happy cat owner if I could purchase to own a beautiful cat wheel like the one you have in your videos. :)

I have two ragdoll cats who are very energetic. I know they would love a wheel. It would definitely help keep the pounds off too. There laziness is stemmed from boredom, so I am constantly thinking of new things for them to do, or the same things in a new light. I have thought about buying a harness and taking them for walks, but then that requires them to go outside. Then that opens the concerns of ticks, fleas, feline leukemia, etc. I also don't want to worry about them finding ways of sneaking outside once they get the taste of the outdoors, so a wheel is the perfect solution to keep them strictly indoor cats. :)


Anonymous said...

I just came across your post, so I haven't put much thought or energy into it. But, while looking at these designs i could not help but to think how much these exercise wheels look like industrial fans, anyone consider buying a used fan and mounting it to a base with a spending mechanism. I would think it would save on construction time.

Anonymous said...

Just a word of concern about using carpet in this--it isn't a very safe choice--if a cat catches a nail in the carpet while running, the nail could be ripped right off.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
You can get cheap tubing using Sonotube® Concrete Forms. Finding 36" diameter and up is tricky though, I found a supplier in Chicago are called Bracing Systems Inc. that sells by the ft. 36" diameter X 12" long cost less then 20$.

I checked with them and they cannot ship since it would cost hundreds of dollars via Fedex or UPS. So if you live in the Mokena, IL or Hanover Park, IL area it's great. They will sell 36" diam. for $14.50 a linear ft and 48" diam for $25.00 linear ft.

Anonymous said...

Great Ideas in here. I saw some big cat scratch posts for a few hundred dollars. Instead of buying one I built my own out of 54" high by 8" diameter mailing tubes and sisal carpet remnants. I think an exercise wheel is a great follow on project. I would line the drum with sisal carpet remnants. Cats seem to really like it, and it has a nice, hard open weave unlikely to hang a claw.

Anonymous said...

Have you thought of e-mailing editors of Popular Mechanics for help? They sell plans for items they feature pretty cheap I believe, and even rate the difficulty of the project.
I bet a reader or someone from Popular Mechanics themselves would have fun figuring out how to do a cat wheel; if so, you'd just have to buy the plans and voila! Let the "experts" do the R&D for ya :P

Anonymous said...

Maybe a sturdy kiddie pool could be used as the drum? Not pretty but could be painted over I suppose and it certainly is cheap!. For the grip, I recently saw that big name home improvement stores also sell a rubber 'paint'. Can't remember what it was called but the picture showed you could use it for re-coating tool handles, etc. It was in the spray paint area. They should also sell a bearing thing that I used to make a lazy susan for my TV, should be able to adapt it to the kiddie pool. Should probably use a small circular piece of wood behind the pool to screw it into to give it stability and strength. I want to say it might have been in the area for drawer slides but not sure. Sorry I don't know the actual name of anything. I'll probably attempt to build it soon since I'm getting a Cheetoh kitten in a few weeks.

Anonymous said...

What about a large used tractor tire, edges trimed and attached to a wood circle? just a thought

Cat Wheel Company on June 30, 2011 at 1:14 PM said...

As an update from the Cat Wheel Company:
Our new wheel will be available in 3 weeks. It is now made with more durable plastic, 43 inches W/ a 10 inch tread. We do not offer stickers anymore. We have molded our name into the plastic. (We noticed the author of this site was quite opinionated about the stickers.) However, we have had several customers ask why we don't offer stickers anymore, because they liked them. We offer the best price for the hard durable plastic we make our wheels with. It lasts longer than the materials that other companies or homemade crafters make their wheels out of and you don't have to pay a whopping $800+. Our website is up to date. We have our own distributors that sell our wheels,they can list the wheels on Amazon or whichever sites they choose.

Thanks for listing us on your blog Jill.
You can check out our website

Anonymous said...

Is there an email address you could be reached at concerning this. I have designed a cat exercise wheel that cost me about $60.00 in materials. I have the ability to make 3d models and complete drawings. but I don't really want to show it to the world yet. I would like to get some input from others first. My cats really like it.


Jill on July 5, 2011 at 10:57 AM said...

Wow, I am so grateful that all of you have come posted these ideas. I started writing this not knowing if there was even ONE solution, and these comments have shown me that there are actually many.

I also want to say thank you, Cat Wheel Company, for engaging in the conversation and updating us on the aesthetics you cat wheel! Can't wait to check out the site. (I will also amend this post at that time) =)

@Brandon: I would LOVE to hear about what you did. When you are ready to reveal it to everyone else, would you consider linking your own post to this article, or providing a guest-post here in response?

Email: jillyotz(at)gmail(dot)com

Buck on July 29, 2011 at 10:21 AM said...

I see somebody else had the idea of using a kiddie pool for a base. It's been in my head for about a year now but I haven't been able to find the right one...But I think I found the perfect pool for 10 bucks at K-Mart. They're very big and the plastic is very sturdy. Haven't had a chance to check the size measurements, but it's certainly over 50 inches. I will definitely share if and when I get around to building it.

Chelsea said...

I was thinking the same thing to build my own, my idea has come as getting a large circle of plywood and paint it, then taking chicken wire and putting it around it to make the bottom and do something like paper mache to make it sturdy enough to run on and also carpet around it to make it more comfortable to run on and making a mount like an A frame for it to spin upon. I'm not sure how well this would work as it is an idea I've come up with. :D

Carla said...

Jill --Have you built a wheel yet? I too have been searching through the internet and was excited to come across your information because you have nicely summarized information. I have three heavy male cats that really need something to peak their interests and get them moving. I'm interested in your progress and also in what Brandon has come up with. Please update us on your progress or, email me directly at Thanks!

clovis said...

Jill, check this out... I will build one like this one... I liked better without a side support or wall mounted... looks prettier. It only need a safety device I will draw for whoever wants it to prevent one cat to get "squished" under the wheel while other cat is running.

My email is


Anonymous said...

I've seen the ball barring center for a lazy Susan in a catalog..just an idea. I saw one made from bicycle wheel..again ball barring.....

Anonymous said...

I am getting a bengal kitten and someone recommended I get one of these but found them too expensive to purchase. I was using my imagination and thought maybe you could use an old bass drum.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps with plywood you could putty the joints or something to make the inside more round/curved. Not sure what to line the inside with though (somebody posted a cat's nail could get caught in carpet).

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