My fiancé, Derek, and I recently settled down into a cozy little apartment after four years of moving back and forth between summer apartments and university housing. The first big decision we made in our new home was to open our doors to a cat, since we’re both huge cat people.
Except one cat soon turned into two, since we each fell in love with a different cat at the shelter we visited. Our apartment is great, but it’s also pretty cozy (read: small), so we had to make some adjustments to accommodate the new members of our little household.
Here’s what we found works for us. Some of this information is cat-specific, but a lot of it applies more broadly to keeping any mix of pets in a small apartment together, like multiple dogs, ferrets, or bunnies.
Be prepared, because cats don’t share
At least, ours don’t. Yours might not either. Cats aren’t very social animals — they enjoy company, but it’s on their own terms. Your cats might hop up on the couch to groom and snuggle each other, but they probably won’t want to poop or eat in the same place.
To minimize arguments and spats while your pets are getting used to their new space, pick up one of everything for each pet. Two cats? Get two food dishes, two water dishes or fountains, two scratching toys, and two litter boxes.
This holds true for most pets when they’re in a small-space living situation, not just cats. Plenty of animals that are perfectly docile may decide that they need their own space for certain things when space is short to start.
Your pets might decide that they like to share some things, and that’s completely fine. Just make sure you give them the option to maintain their own separate things if they need to.
Make the most of your small space
Having two of everything seems like a problem in a small home. Where are you going to put everything? The answer is to get creative!
Install a couple of shelves or secure bookcases that can hold your cats’ weight and keep them free of stuff that can be knocked down. Vertical space is just as important as horizontal space, and can make up for having a little apartment.
Put risers on your bed and hide the pet beds underneath — your pets will love the cave-like space, and you’ll love having extra floor space that would otherwise have been taken up!
Keep getting creative and finding new solutions and it’ll keep getting easier. I tend to come up with the best solutions when I’m already on a creative streak, so keep ’em coming until you have every space problem accounted for! Don’t be afraid to search for DIY solutions online, since there are literally hundreds of them just waiting to be discovered on Pinterest and the like.
Let your pets learn to feel at home
This will be a little different for every pet — some thrive in small spaces and others are initially claustrophobic, so you’ll have to read your pet’s cues and adapt accordingly. When you bring your new pet home, the best course of action is to:
1. Put her in a room that’s just for her — litter box, toys, bed, food and water all in one place. Make this room quiet and low-traffic. A bedroom will work just fine. Keep the lights and noise level low, and give your pet time alone to get used to the space before opening the door to the rest of the house.
2. Gauge your pet’s reaction to the new space. Visit often, but be quiet and let her approach you first. If your pet seems overly freaked out by their closed-off room, open the door and let them come out. Sometimes limited space helps a pet adjust, but sometimes it just makes them scared.
3. Talk to your pet, but interact with her on a limited basis and don’t be too pushy. Sit on the couch and talk in a soft voice rather than approaching your new kitty and trying to pet her. Be friendly, but don’t make intense eye contact — it can be intimidating. Your pet will let you know when the time is right to make friends. Until then, let her take the lead and get used to the home first.
4. Consider your pet’s age and personality. Change your approach accordingly. If you’re adopting a high-energy kitten, she’ll get used to you and the home much more quickly than a reserved older cat would, so you can be more forward with your interactions.
These are just a few of the solutions that I’ve found helpful when helping my kitties, Van and Squeaker, adapt to their new home with Derek and me. Offbeat pet owners, what small-space solutions have helped you and your pets adjust the best?