Finding the perfect pet companion for your small home
You might be surprised by just how many pets (even big ones) are quite capable of living happily in a relatively small home. If you can provide the health essentials, including the right diet, exercise and environmental enrichment, you're already well on your way no matter how many square metres you're dealing with.
We're not going to sit here and suggest you house a horse in your studio apartment. But here are some of the best potential pets for small homes.
Cats are a popular choice for apartment dwellers because they are relatively low maintenance and their size allows them to adapt to small indoor living spaces. Many cats can independently entertain themselves, yet still enjoy human company. That's a great combo for living in a smaller home. Cats are also easily litter trained and often content snoozing the day away.
You can ensure your cat gets plenty of indoor exercise by playing games with them and providing stimulating toys and scratching posts at different heights. And you can even put some ‘cat-TV’ on your screen - there are lots of YouTube videos made specifically to keep cats entertained. Don’t allow your cat on a balcony unsupervised, as we've seen many pets injured after falling from such heights. But consider building an outdoor cat enclosure as an extra treat if you have the space and budget.
Many dog breeds are suitable for apartment living, such as the Chihuahua, Bichon Frise and even Great Danes. Greyhounds also make excellent apartment dogs. Sporting breeds and some of the terriers may find apartment life difficult, however this is dependent on the dog’s temperament and your lifestyle. If you have a very active life, you will need to include your dog in the activities to keep them physically and mentally entertained. Older dogs of any breed are generally less active and can potentially cope well in a small space. If choosing a rescue dog, look at a puppy of a suitable breed, or an adult/older dog that has previously lived in a small space.
Ideally, the dog will have access to a small yard or safe balcony outside for toileting. If this is unavailable, many dogs can be trained to toilet on absorbent pee pads or ‘pet toilets’. You need to make sure that whichever dog you choose, you give them at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, plus regular trips outside as often as you can. If you need to leave them at home for longer than a few hours, it’s always helpful to take them on a long morning walk so that they spend most of their day sleeping. Consider a dog walker and doggy day care in situations where your dog will be indoors for an extended period. Providing your dog with slow feeders and food-dispensing toys is a great way to keep them occupied while you are out.
Guinea pigs and rabbits. These are great pets for small living spaces because they can get plenty of physical activity in a relatively small area. They need a large enclosure to call home, but also plenty of time outside of it for exercise and environmental enrichment, as well as daily interaction with you.
Rabbits in particular need space to run and jump, so it’s not a good idea to lock them up in a hutch for hours on end. Since rabbits are easily trained to use a litter tray for toileting, you can consider giving them free access to a safe room in your home. But because they can be mischievous chewers and escape artists, keep all electrical cords and other hazards well out of reach, and ensure that there are no escape routes.
Birds are great options for small living spaces. Even though they don't take up much space, it's important to remember that birds are highly intelligent animals that can get bored and anxious if locked up all day. That's why you need to make sure their cage is as large as possible, and also give them a chance to spread their wings with plenty of time outside of their enclosure. Many birds are happier in pairs, so consider getting some avian siblings if you're going to take the plunge.
Fish are perhaps the easiest pets to take care of on this list, but that doesn't mean you're completely off the hook as a pet owner. Their tank will need regular water changing, potentially filtration and even heating depending on your fish species. And, of course, don't forget that they'll need a few pinches of food each day, too.
As if we didn't know from their unwanted, invasive cousins out there, mice and rats are great at inhabiting smaller spaces. And they can make great pets too! They'll need a suitable cage filled with activity centres, toys and hiding places. Rats seem to enjoy physical contact from their owners more than mice, but both need regular cage cleaning, environmental enrichment and, of course, feeding.
Some reptiles can be great for a small home, but their fit all comes down to enclosure size. Some require quite a bit of living space, which might limit your options. These enclosures also need suitable lighting, heating and habitat features. Plus you’ll likely need to apply for a reptile keeping licence too.
Having a pet of any type – in any sized home – is a big responsibility in terms of your time and finances. Some pets are more demanding than others, but ultimately, it's up to us to provide them with the right nutrition, environment, exercise, healthcare and of course, attention, so that they can live the happiest and healthiest of lives.