Living Small With a Furry Friend: Best Pets for Apartment Dwellers

Some cats, dogs and reptiles do well in smaller spaces

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Apartment living may not seem ideal for pet owners, but don't be deterred — there are ways to make it work. Some cats, dogs and reptiles do well in smaller spaces.


About 85 million people in the U.S. own cats, according to PetMD. Cats groom themselves, don't need to be walked and make use of vertical space. This means they find creative ways to entertain themselves indoors, like climbing on windowsills or shelves — but don't forget, claws can damage furniture.

Because cats are solitary creatures, "generally speaking, they do better being alone" than other animals, said Michael Rueb, associate director of adoptions and resident care at Bideawee, a pet welfare organization and adoption center with locations in Manhattan, Westhampton and Long Island, New York. Cats also sleep a lot.

Trainers like Rueb serve as matchmakers for soon-to-be pet parents looking to adopt cats and dogs. Websites like and offer surveys to help potential cat owners to find out which breed may be best for them.


When it comes to indoor dogs, size isn't the only thing that matters.

"I think sociability and the energy characteristics of the dog are more important than the size," Rueb said.

Rueb gathers a wealth of information when meeting prospective dog owners at Bideawee, such as how often the owners are home during the day, the length of their work hours, if they want a high-energy or low-energy dog and if their new pup will be sharing the home with other pets.

"It's a pretty comprehensive process," Rueb said.

Before bringing a dog into your apartment, it's important to consider how much attention your furry friend will need. Puppies demand more time than older dogs. Also, "small dogs may take up less space, but some can be quite noisy," according to PetMD. 

Other important factors include dogs' needs for mental and physical exercise and their interest in socializing. Some pet owners who work long hours may consider hiring dog-walkers to ensure their pups get a healthy amount of exercise.

Owners should also take into account in the environment in which the dog will live.

"Noise sensitivity isn’t often mentioned as a factor in choosing an apartment dog. But how a dog reacts to noises from the building’s hallway or the sidewalk out front hugely affects his quality of life and yours," dog trainer Jolanta Benal explains on Quick and Dirty Tips.

Rueb recommends cleaning the apartment before introducing a new pup into your home and making sure valuables are tucked out of reach.

"The shelter environment, for the most part, is a very sterile environment. We don't have couches and slippers and eyeglasses laying around," said Rueb. "I always recommend that people go under the assumption that your dog is going to chew something up."

Fish and Reptiles

Fish occupy minimal space and are a low-maintenance choice for apartment dwellers. According to PetMD, there are also health benefits to owning a fish.

"For adults, just watching fish swim around in an aquarium has been shown to lower blood pressure and stress," PetMD says on its website. "For the kids, doing the same has been shown to improve hyperactivity disorders."

Other tank pets, like snakes and geckos, "are excellent pets for kids and apartment dwellers alike," according to But think twice before choosing a turtle, which can carry salmonella and generally requires a larger tank, the site warns.

Pet-Friendly Apartments

Before city dwellers bring home their furry friends, Rueb checks with landlords to ensure residents are permitted to have pets. Many buildings either prohibit animals or impose restrictions on the breeds and sizes of pets allowed to live there.

For those seeking pet-friendly apartments, suggests preparing documents to show you're a serious pet owner.

"Gather proof that you’re responsible," the site recommends. "The more documentation you can provide attesting to your conscientiousness as a pet owner, the more convincing your appeal will be to your future landlord."

Helpful documents include a letter of reference from a current landlord, proof that your dog has attended training classes and veterinary papers showing that your pet has been vaccinated, spayed or neutered. 

Other available resources include companies such as Pet Friendly Realty NYC, which connects clients with mental health clinicians to determine if they are candidates for emotional support animals.

Those who qualify receive help from real estate agents in finding suitable homes — not only in pet-friendly buildings, but also those that don't traditionally accept animals.

The service allows people to have an "advocate" throughout the process, said Matt Sutton, a spokesperson for Pet Friendly Realty.

For those seeking a home through more traditional means, rental sites such as and allow users to search specifically for pet-friendly apartments.

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