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5 Tips for Dogs and Cats Living Together in a Tiny Apartment

Canines and felines in close quarters can make for an unhappy family. How do you keep the peace?

Julia Szabo  |  Dec 19th 2012

When I moved last year from a large, two-bedroom apartment to a small, two-room one, I had to make some extra accommodations for the comfort of my dogs and cats. In our previous animal house, the flat was divided clean in half, with the north end designated as the dogs’ digs and the south sectioned off for the cats. Only two of my dogs, Sheba and Lazarus, liked cats the right way. Now, with Sheba gone to the bridge, we’re down to just one dog I can trust not to chase or otherwise hassle the cats.

Laz doesn’t hassle the cats — really, he just wants to be friends! The cats, however, see his overtures somewhat differently. To them, when sweet Laz starts eagerly sniffing and play-bowing in their direction, it’s not cute — it’s a serious hissing offense. Here’s how I’ve established some clear boundaries so everyone feels comfy in our humble new home.

1. Still as a statue

Years ago, I commissioned a bronze bust of my Pit Bull Sam, and this expressive specimen by Philadelphia sculptor Jennifer Weinik occupies pride of place in the “cat wing” of my new place.

The cats sometimes like to assert their authority by walking across the Plexiglas pedestal on which Sam’s likeness sits — but I’m convinced that having such a calm, docile “dog” around the house, albeit an inanimate one, has helped the kitties cope with livewire Laz’s presence.

2. The air up there

Being arboreal creatures, cats love looking down on everyone from a lofty perch. So I’ve installed several semicircular kitty shelves that a carpenter friend crafted for me. The shelves provide my cats with places to go to get away from the dog, or just take a nap at a higher altitude.

Leaping from shelf to shelf gives them a good workout, plus the shelves are a helpful solution to feeding time issues (such as the dog feeling the need to feed on his cat friends’ food in addition to his own).

3. Private loo entrance

In multispecies homes, dogs have a way of viewing the kitty litter box as a cookie jar. To prevent Laz from gaining access to the boxes and snacking on what he shouldn’t, I asked a handyman to cut out a small square near the bottom of the door to my bathroom.

The opening is big enough for a cat, but definitely not for my dog! This allows the cats to enjoy the bathroom as their own private no-canine zone, where they may curl up for a soothing snooze in the sink.

4. Feeding in protective custody

In the cats’ presence, I ask Lazarus to comply with being fed in his crate, and he’s very good about doing this. I’ve seen how swiftly and expertly my cats can swat a bite of food clean out of this sweet dog’s mouth! They can even reach a foreleg all the way to the center of his cage, to shovel kibble out of the bowl. Really, these guys should be auditioning for National Geographic.

So I supervise the crate-feeding by standing by until Laz is finished eating — and when the kibble is in the other bowl, I make sure Laz is either in the other room with his dog friends or in his crate until the cats are done noshing.

5. Your bed or mine?

The felines have unanimously voted with their paws as to their favorite place to take a cat-nap: On Laz’s Crypton bed. (Perhaps it’s retribution for Laz stealing their catnip toys twice too many times?) I’ve since acquired an identical extra dog bed so everyone in my furry family has a nice, comfy sleeping spot. I also make sure to make plenty of cardboard boxes available for those times when the kitties need a plain, brown hideaway that’s too small for big ol’ Laz to usurp.

Is it reigning cats and dogs in your animal house? What steps do you take to cope? Let us know in the comments!

Photos: Top cat and dog shot via Shutterstock.