“A House Is Not A Home Without A Pet” is a mantra that many people live by, with 68% of Americans having a pet at home. However some people say that it is not fair on cats and dogs if they have to live in a tiny house, since they will not have the freedom to wander about as they do in a normal sized home. I do not agree with this view-point, however, and there are many furry-friends living happily in tiny houses - bringing joy to their ‘pet parents’. So how do you achieve happiness in your tiny-housed pets?

There are many important changes to make to ensure your pets are happy, but giving them safe spaces and dedicated eating areas is half the battle. Happy pets means happy humans, so ensuring your pets are happy is paramount.

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Benefits of Pet Ownership/Parenting

My other cat perched in a fairly small box! With a blue cat toy in the background too.

You will notice that I say “Pet Ownership/Parenting” in the above heading. This is because some people refer to themselves as ‘owners’ of their pets, whilst other people think of themselves as their (adopted) pet’s parents. To avoid confusion, I will stick to iHeartDog’s views on this and refer to ‘pet parents’.

Anywhoo, the title of this article is “Happy Pets = Happy Humans”. As an owner of two cats, I definitely find this to be true. If my pets seem unhappy or unwell, this has an impact on my wife and I: it is natural to worry about your pets, after all. Beyond this, studies have shown that pet dogs leads to “highly significant reduction in minor health problems” and they “may have positive effects on human health and behaviour”, and that cats can even reduce the chance of stroke and heart problems!

Whilst this might somewhat hard to believe, it sort of makes sense. Walking your dog, stroking your cat and playing with your pets are all ways of taking your mind off future (or past) events and anchoring yourself in the present. In other words, they help you to become more mindful: and mindfulness has demonstrated dozens of physical and mental health benefits over the past few decades.

Tips For Being Successful Cat and Dog Parents

  1. Our first tip is to ensure that your cats and dogs have their own safe space. This can be a simple as a box (which - as the picture to the right demonstrates - pets love boxes), which gives them a bit of psychological safety along with a dedicated ‘territory’ (all 140 square inches of it!) to call their own.

    One of my cats sitting in a big box... because why not? Cats love boxes as it gives them somewhere to 'hide' in.

    Having a safe place to retreat to when they feel a bit stressed or anxious is a positive thing for them, and pets are similar to humans in this sense. Such spaces are their personal sanctuary, where they can feel safe from other animals and humans. Sometimes pets will ‘steal’ each other’s safe spaces - this is natural for pets to do. Sometimes it is harmless, but sometimes it can be malicious so keep an eye on it and take action if it causes the targeted pet to be anxious.

    In terms of where to have safe spaces in a tiny house (which will naturally be lacking on space), areas under furniture can be ideal. Take a small box, basket or fleece-material and put this under beds, tables and desks and then fill the space with your pet’s toys to show that this is their space.

    Because pets can be territorial and ‘steal’ each other’s safe spaces, it is best to have multiple pet spaces (i.e. one per pet) around your tiny home. That way if one safe space is ‘in use’, the other pet(s) can just go to another one.

  2. Secondly, try to separate eating areas for pets - particularly dogs if space allows. Pets are most territorial when it comes to food, and dogs especially can follow a pack order during feeding time. This means that feeding other, ‘lower-ranked’ dogs before the ‘leader’ can cause confusion and even fighting between dogs. Hence it is often better to feed the alpha dog first (or just before the other dogs) where possible, and having separate eating areas can help with this.

    Cats can usually be fed around the same time, and their eating areas can often be kept close together too. But if you have both cats and dogs as pets, you should not have the same eating area for all. Naturally a lack of space makes this harder, so you could always try placing cat’s food bowls on raised areas (such as on the top of wooden furniture) where dogs cannot reach them.

  3. Another tip is that pet socializing should start as early as possible. Getting them used to having friends and other visitors around is key, because an unsocialized pet kept in a tiny home will often just lead to stress and issues for the pet and their parents alike. Socializing should therefore start very early in a pet’s life, meaning that lots of human attention (and games) at the kitten and puppy stages is key. This will help them to get used to other people, but also other animals of all types. If your neighbors or friends have other young pets, consider arranging a ‘pet play date’ so they can all learn to socialize with each-other that way.

  4. Regularly exercise your pets. Dogs have a lot of energy (unlike cats who seem to sleep 23 hours a day!), but a tiny house will not allow them to run around sufficiently to burn this excess energy off. Hence walking your dogs regularly is really essential, and whilst it benefits your dog’s physical and mental health, it will also improve your own well-being as well. A win win!

    Cats are trickier, however. Whilst they do not appear to need specific exercising, they do benefit from running around, and also having access to the outdoor air (even if they are indoor cats). If you do not have space for a catio or protected yard (see below), you could try getting your cat used to a leash. Some cat parents have success with this… but the majority do not, since most cats are not too enthused about being put on a leash and paraded around!

    Even indoor cats love to sniff around outside if possible, so giving them 5-10 minutes in the backyard (or a neighbor's backyard) can be valuable.

    Beyond this, you can naturally play with your cats yourself - they particularly like laser pointers and chasing ping-pong balls. This is a great source of exercise for them. They can, however, get bored when you are not around. Investing in a cat jungle gym (or “cat tree”) - basically a structure that they can climb up and play in - can be a good idea. These could potentially be integrated into tansu stairs, or added as a ‘false back’ onto some tall furniture units. Cat trees are usually made with a form of ‘steps’ along with materials that cats can climb on (such as rope), to allow them to reach the top. This can be a good way of allowing cats to get near windows: cats love nothing better than sunbathing near a window or staring out of one.

  5. Humans have patios, cats have “catios” (cat patios). Catios can be a great thing to invest in for indoor cats: they are essentially screened porches which allow your cat to be outside, without running off or being attacked. This is a good idea if you have space for it, of course. If you are unable to build a catio, a yard around your tiny house could also be a safe option for your indoor cats. However a standard fence probably will not be enough to keep your cats safe, so you will want to block up any possible escape routes and also remove any toxic plants and garden chemicals from the ‘cat yard space’ you set out.

  6. Your cat’s litter boxes should be inaccessible to dogs. The litter box for your indoor cats should always be a safe zone for your cat. Therefore it can be problematic if you have dogs and cats living together in your tiny home, especially because dogs seem attracted to playing (and eating - eww!) in litter boxes.

    To prevent this, try and find the perfect ‘hiding place’ for the litter box which cats can access but dogs cannot - such as inside a small cabinet or closet, or under your tansu stairs (accessible only via a small hole at the bottom). This also has the benefit of the litter box not getting in the way in your tiny house. Alternatively, you could keep the litter box in the bathroom and either use a cat flap in the bathroom door or install a baby gate which keeps out dogs (but cats usually just jump straight over!).

  7. Clean up once or twice a day. Pets are great, but the mess and smells they sometimes produce is not! Plus their hair seems to get everywhere, whilst also forming clumps of hair balls. The fact that you live in a tiny house just compounds matters. Hence to stop your conbo smelling, be sure to clean up regularly. A handheld or cordless vacuum cleaner can make this process a lot quicker. Equally be sure to clean the litter tray daily, use lint rollers as needed and wash their bedding every so often. Doing this only takes 5-10 minutes per time, and it will help to prevent the need for a much bigger (and time consuming) clean once a week.

    Whilst you might not think your tiny home (or your pets!) smells, the truth is that pet parents’ noses often get used to the smells their pets produce - but believe us when we say that visitors to your home will be able to smell the difference! On that note, keeping a stock of pet-friendly disinfectant spray is always a good idea too, along with wiping down areas that your pets live to sleep in.

  8. Make a cat/dog walk along the top of kitchen cabinets. Kitchen cabinets - and other tall wooden furniture - can be the perfect as a walk-way (and sleeping area) for cats and dogs. This can be achieved by having your final wall-mounted cabinet less than a metre away from your loft(s), meaning that your pets can easily jump onto the cabinet. They then have a perfect run of cabinets (or other tall furniture) to walk along, and this can make a great sleeping area too. If you are unable to build a cat gym (see tip #4), using the tops of things that will already be there anyway can be a great way of offering pet-dedicated space without any real extra effort.