Readying yourself for life with multiple cats (and other pets) in a small space

Guest post by Lindsey Heimbach
Solomon In Fish Tank; I Caught A Cat Fish

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!

Litter Box Benches

One litter box fits in the bathroom, but not two? Modify a storage container, cabinet, or an end table to hide a second litter box inside.


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?

Comments on Readying yourself for life with multiple cats (and other pets) in a small space

  1. Something that has worked for me in the past is to throw in some of you clothes in the room where you are keeping your pet until they are released in the rest of the house. Dirty gym clothes actually work well because they have lots of your scent on them. This will help pets get to know you a little better. You can do the same with other pets items as well. A toy with your dogs scent on it could help kitty adjust a little to the idea of a dog before being greeted full on by an overly friendly doggy kiss.

    • I find this is really helpful with moving into a new space, as well. My kitty has lived in three different homes since I adopted him two years ago, but the first two (my apartment at school + my parent’s home) already smelt strongly of me when he moved in. The third, the house we are currently living in, smelt like other people and other animals. He may have moved in with his best kitty friend, but he was still a bit freaked out at first. I wish I had thought to postpone buying new bedding until he had fully settled in, but as soon as I brought old blankets out of storage he got a lot calmer and happier.

      I’ve also found that when living with cats in a small space (or any space, really) you sometimes need to rethink how you decorate or store items. I’m the type of person who doesn’t use things unless they’re in plain sight, so I have all my jewellery, make-up, and office supplies out in stands or cups so I remember to use them. This doesn’t really work with my cat, since I let him up on my desk, nightstand, etc, and while he hates knocking things over, he does. I had a “baskets” moment with, well, baskets/boxes and shelves: most of my office supplies sit on a bright orange shelve above my desk contained in cups or boxes, my jewellery is on display on another split-level shelf, and all sorts of miscellaneous stuff is kept in boxes/baskets/cups on a shelf with plexiglass doors. Everything is still in plain sight, so I use it, but the chances of Wheatley getting into anything he shouldn’t is drastically reduced.

    • I also did this when taking my kitty to the vet or the hospital. I used to put my pillowcase in the cat carrier with her and bring (worn) pajama shirts to the hospital for them to put in her cage with her. I hoped that having something that smelled familiar/like me would be comforting.

      • Work in a clinic, love having clients bring in the home smell towel etc to comfort kitty in hospital just don’t get upset if it gets mislaid in the washing cycle before being returned to you. Always make sure it’s not a family heirloom style quilt or something that can’t be lost!

    • YES! Mine go after our dirty clothes if we leave them on the floor too long and try to reclaim them as comfort items. An unwashed bedsheet would work great if you’d rather not leave clothes!

  2. This is a great post! I have a 60 lb dog and 3 cats in my 1500 sq ft house – does anyone have tips for keeping the litter box somewhere the can’t eat the poop but also not enclosed? One of my cats hates enclosed litter boxes, so we did buy a top-entry litter box, but she started peeing in the dog crate (retribution?). Once we took the lid off the top-entry box, she stopped peeing around the house, but now the dog can eat the poop again.

    • Do you have a basement? We put the litter box in the basement, and made a swinging half door with a cat-sized hole in it. We swing it open to go up and down the stairs ourselves, the cat uses the hole, and the dog stays upstairs. As long as we remember to close the door, it works quite well.

      • One of my petsitting families does this. They taught the dog that the basement is a no-no, and leave it open all the time so the cat can go down and do his business whenever. It works great!

      • I think this is going to be the option for my home! We don’t have doors that open to the fenced backyard (they open to the side and front), so no outside option for us, no basement for the other suggestion. The litter box is in a bathroom right now, so this gate would allow easy human and cat entry but leave out the dog. I will be looking for smaller ones that can fit in a doorway. Thanks to all for suggestions, hopefully someone else likes one that didn’t work for me!

    • Can you set up a pet gate? I bought one for $30 at Petsmart. It keeps out my 50 pound dog just fine, but is low enough that the cat can easily jump over it. It’s also easy for us humans to step over and I can still close the door. You could put one over the bathroom door.

    • We have that same problem. We ended up rigging a partition that left a cat-width entry our 45lb dog can’t get through. Us humans can see top-down to see if the food bowl is empty and how the semi-covered litter box is fairing, but the dog can’t get to it. We actually ended up making it out of the wire divider from the dog’s crate (I guess it’s used for puppies to gradually make the big crate small-medium-big over time as they grow), so it’s see through, airy, but still protects the cat’s food/litter box.

      I drew a quick and dirty picture in the Offbeat Home pool but the link is having an issue. Basically go look for the new MS paint upload over there. 😉

    • My friend who has 2 cats & 2 dogs made a litter box out of a big, tall Rubbermaid tub that the cats could jump *down* into but the dogs could not jump *up* into. It’s not just top-entry, it’s got tall sides & my friend put it next to shelf ‘steps’ on the wall that the cats can use but the dogs can’t.

    • We have our litterboxes in a closet in the office, and we have a house that alternates between 3 and 4 dogs. Dog #4 is a poo-hound, so we put a baby gate in the doorway of the office. It’s a gate that has a little cat door, plus a swinging person door. The dogs don’t go over the gate, and the cats can go through, plus it’s not blocking off sight lines or the rest of the house from anyone working in the office. If you have a closet to spare, or a room that your dog doesn’t need to be in frequently, this might be an option.

  3. I have two rabbits in my 2 bedroom apartment (that I share with a roommate). My first recommendation is to bunny-proof as much as you can and keep those systems/habits in place even when your bunny is confined to their pen/condo/large cage. Ideally, it should always take less than 5 minutes of effort for your space to be safe for bunny. Otherwise, you might find yourself giving them less playtime.
    Also, most bunnies can be litter-trained with ease. If your rabbit has the temperament for it, consider allowing them free roam 24/7. I currently have a baby gate across the doorframe of my bedroom and my pair have full run of the place. They’re also selectively allowed into the living room, where I have a separate litter box and toys that I rotate between the two spaces so they don’t get bored. I still have a homemade c&c condo in my room for them, but the doors to it haven’t been closed in months and months and I will probably donate it to a rescue.

    • Yeah – a friend of mine also allowed her bunny in the whole house and it seemed to work well. However, apparently there was one living room chair that was everyone’s favorite, including the bunny’s, and he would try to nudge the humans out of it so he could sit there. 😉

  4. I have found that my cat’s don’t care for fancy cat beds but they love my old pillows! Mostly because they smell like me. We have scattered those around the house and especially in hidey holes that they go to when there is a thunderstorm. Very cheap solution!

  5. If you have pets that don’t get along together, you could try having set times each day for just spending with them. Say if jimmy the cat hangs in the office, in the morning you could get dressed an pack your bag and eat brekkie in there, and cuddle him. And Gerard the dog prefers to sleep in the morning and likes attention after dinner, you could eat dessert with him on the front porch and then go for a walk together. Animals run on daily routines a lot more than we often do and this pattern can make them feel a lot more secure and comfortable.

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