Living in a small apartment or condominium, or even a tiny house, can sometimes deter people from owning a pet. There are actually many species of companion animals that can do well in a small space, provided that its behavioral, physical and environmental needs are met.
Dogs can do well in small spaces although choosing the right breed for you is the key to your success. While many places have size restrictions, the truth is a large dog can live fine in an apartment if you provide them with their regular daily exercise needs and with environmental enrichment during the day. The key factors you should look at is the breed's tendency to bark and disturb neighbors and its exercise requirements.
Considerations for Dogs in an Apartment
- If you're not able to take the dog out enough during the day and can't afford a dog walker, you're better off choosing a calmer, smaller dog like a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or a Pug.
- If you have your heart set on a larger dog, pet care expert Morgan Weber of Lucky Pup Adventures suggests a greyhound. "These dogs are couch potatoes who enjoy snoozing on the couch all day and are generally calm and quiet."
- Check with your apartment or condominium management company as many will have restrictions not only for size, but on breeds as well, and some may require you to have extra insurance or a larger deposit.
Cats can be the perfect pet for a small space although not every breed and personality is a good fit for a small space. Cats generally do well in apartments because they spend a good amount of their day sleeping curled up in a favorite spot. They don't need to be walked and they can be an indoors-only pet. They do need attention when you're home but that can be a low maintenance activity, such as cuddling in front of the TV, brushing the cat, or playing with toys.
Considerations for Cats in an Apartment
- Some cats breeds like the Siamese are very vocal, so you may want to keep two if you're gone long hours and don't want a lonely cat howling and irritating your neighbors.
- Cats such as the Bengal and other larger cats may not do well in an apartment as they have much higher needs for physical and mental stimulation. You will need to be ready to provide them with a lot of interaction and exercise to keep one happy in a small space.
- Weber recommends providing cats with fun things to do when you're not home, such as a cat-safe window perch and cat trees or shelves so they can explore. If you have a very active cat and work long hours, she suggests having a pet sitter come in during the day and play with the cat to prevent behavioral problems from developing.
- Just as with dogs, your management company may have restrictions on cat ownership. Some facilities require the cat to be spayed or neutered to prevent spraying and heat-related behaviors like howling.
Parrots and Other Birds
A bird can be a good pet in a small space with some caveats. Many parrot types require a lot of interaction and stimulation to be happy. If you are away for several hours each day, behavior problems can develop from stress and loneliness and a common reaction is to scream, which will no doubt damage your relationship with your neighbors. Smaller parrot species, as well as non-parrots like finches and canaries, can do well in smaller spaces with the proper cage setup.
Considerations for Birds in an Apartment
- If you're new to bird ownership, research your desired breed to make sure you can provide for their daily care. This includes not only feedings, cage cleanings and cage set up, but behavioral needs like human interaction, toys and other forms of mental stimulation.
- Most parrot species also require time out of their cage each day to be happy, so you should factor that into your review of your lifestyle when choosing a bird.
- Some parrots that may be good choices are the cockatiel, budgies AKA parakeets, parrotlets and lovebirds. Finches and canaries are also good picks as they don't make excessive noise and their needs aren't as intense as with a parrot.
An aquarium stocked with fresh or saltwater fish is an excellent choice for an apartment. You don't need to worry about noise bothering your neighbors or having to provide exercise for your pets. Fish have also been shown to help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even improve the demeanor of people with Alzheimer's disease. There's also a wide variety of fish you can choose from and create your own personal look with your aquarium set-up. Bettas and guppies are popular fish for beginners. You are also not limited to just fish in your tank, as you can also include some species of shrimp, snails and even African dwarf frogs.
Considerations for Fish in an Apartment
Taking care of an aquarium is generally low maintenance although your workload will increase with fish with more elaborate water and environmental needs. Make sure you research your fish choices thoroughly so you know how many water changes you'll need to do and how often, feeding requirements, and also making sure your fish are compatible with each other. You may also be limited in the size of tank you can have based on your apartment or condominium complex's requirements.
There are several types of reptiles that can do well in a small apartment. These include:
Snakes, particularly smaller snakes like a corn snake or ball python, do not have large tank size requirements and do not need to be taken out for exercise. They also do not require interaction with you to be happy and many prefer to be seen and not handled.
Lizards like the bearded dragon and leopard gecko are easy to care for and can do well in a medium to large tank that can still fit in a smaller size apartment. Like snakes, they do not need to be walked or exercised and won't suffer from separation anxiety if you work long hours each day. They can be a bit more willing to interact with humans than snakes as well.
Frogs and Toads
Frogs and toads can also make good pets for someone who wants a pet that's more for "looking at" than interacting. There are several species that can be obtained as pets such as the fire-bellied toad and horned frog. The tank requirements for a frog can range from about 10 to 20 gallons for a single amphibian which makes them easy to keep in a small space.
Considerations for Reptiles in an Apartment
As long as you choose a species that doesn't require a very large tank, you can keep a reptile quite well in an apartment. Research your choice of species as many have very particular care requirements including specific lighting, humidity and temperatures. Another drawback to reptiles is that most need to eat live prey such as crickets, mealworms and rodents. Others can eat frozen dead mice and rats. Some potential pet owners may find this very unappealing.
Small "Pocket" Pets
A popular pocket pet is the hamster. If you keep only one, you won't need a very large cage but if you're looking for more, hamsters generally need to be housed separately so this can increase the amount of room you'll need. Hamster don't require a lot of care aside from cage cleaning, feeding and making sure they have appropriate items for play. You can interact with them as well, though you will need to do some work to tame them.
Like the hamster, gerbils are a popular small pet that does not require a lot of room. You can house more than one in the same tank and the general rule is to have at least 10 gallons per one to two gerbils. Gerbils are much more active than hamsters so you may find them more interesting as a pet and they also are less likely to nip.
Guinea pigs are fun pets that have gentle dispositions and can be very cuddly. One Guinea pig needs a minimum of four square feet of cage space but larger is better, and they enjoy company so it's a good idea to have at least two. This may make their cage needs too large for your small space, although you can find Guinea pig cages that are taller than longer and have multiple "floors" for your pigs to roam. They do have some specific dietary requirements but in general are easy to care for.
Although they're adorable, mice need a lot of time and patience to train them to accept handling, and they can be nippy if not handled right. You can house females together but usually not males so this is a consideration for cage size if you want more than one. A minimum 10 gallon tank should be used for up to four mice although the larger you can go the better. You also need to make sure the lid is secure and the mice have plenty of items to chew on. Mice can be escape artists and you'd be amazed at what they can chew through!
Larger than mice, rats are highly intelligent, amusing pets that are easy to care for. They can be tamed to enjoy handling and can be very cuddly. Rats are social so it's a good idea to have at least two in one habitat. The minimum recommended tank size for a pair of rats is a 40 to 60 gallon aquarium or cage.
While some rabbits need a larger cage or hutch than can fit comfortably in a small apartment, there are smaller rabbits that would do well. Breeds such as the Netherland Dwarf and the Mini Satin can do well in smaller homes and they can even be house trained. Rabbits are social and enjoy the company of other rabbits or even a Guinea pig, and they are loving and affectionate. You can even teach them tricks!
Ferrets have larger space requirements than some other popular small pets, although you can set up a cage for them that is tall with multiple levels in order to converse floor space. They are very intelligent pets and do better with another ferret than alone. They can be litter trained which is important as they have exercise needs requiring out-of-the-cage time daily. If you have a busy schedule, you may find ferrets a bit too much work to handle. Ferrets are also illegal in some states and may be restricted by your housing complex.
Some other options that you may be less familiar with are:
A really adorable pet is the hedgehog, although they're not as easy to own as other small pets. They can be very shy and it will take time to tame them to be used to handling. They also are considered an exotic pet so you may not be able to find a veterinarian to care for them easily. On the plus side they are known to be very affectionate once tamed but they can be nippy and you may have to deal with their spines during the taming period. One hedgehog needs a cage that is at least four square feet. Since hedgehogs are exotics, they may not be permitted by your lease and you may also be subject to legal restrictions on owning one depending on where you live.
Degus are not as well known as other small pets like hamsters and Guinea pigs but their popularity is increasing. They are very intelligent and are known to be affectionate with their owners, although you will need to tame them to accept handling. They are social and prefer to live with another degu companion. Degus need to have some time each day outside of their cage to get exercise, and they are also extreme chewers. They may not be a good choice if you don't have time to supervise their antics each day outside the cage. They also need a large cage, similar to what you would get for a ferret or more than one Guinea pig.
These lovely small creatures need a cage that is a minimum of two square feet per chinchilla. You can get them multi-level cages to save floor space. They have particular needs when it comes to their diet, humidity and room temperature, but overall they are not difficult to care for. They will need time to exercise outside the cage and social interaction time with you to be happy.
Another exotic pet is the sugar glider, which looks like a small flying squirrel. Typically they are kept in large size cages designed for large parrot breeds. While these are very affectionate animals, they do require a lot of care, particularly cleaning. They also can be nippy and are known to eliminate wherever they are which can be a hassle. They also may not be legal where you live.
Insects and Arachnids
Bugs are definitely not a small pet for the squeamish, although they do well in small spaces because you can keep them in a small tank. They don't have the same exercise needs as larger animals and for the most part do not need to interact with you at all. Some insects and arachnids that are commonly kept as pets are ant farms, African centipedes, tarantulas, praying mantids, emperor scorpions, and Madagascar hissing cockroaches. While these pets are generally easy to care for, the cons are that they will not be an "affectionate" pet or one likely to endear you to your friends!
Another type of small pet you can keep easily in an aquarium in your apartment are hermit crabs. Hermit crabs do best in groups with at least three as a recommended number. You will need at least five gallons of tank space for each trio of crabs. Hermit crabs are easy to care for although they have some humidity and temperature requirements to keep on top of. They can be handled and are fascinating creatures who enjoy playing with toys and interacting with each other.
Choosing a Pet for Your Small Space
When trying to decide on a pet for your small apartment or condominium, cage size is definitely important if you're thinking about a pet other than a cat or dog. However, most pets have exercise and emotional needs and these may extend outside of their cage. Just as some large dogs may be better suited to a small space because they prefer to sleep on the couch all day, some small pets may not be a good choice because they need you to spend time supervising and playing with them every day when you're home. The best course of action is to look at your lifestyle and your time commitment to see which pet works best for you and you can care for without overwhelming yourself. Make sure as well you check with your property manager as some of these choices may not be allowed by your lease!