Tips for Keeping Pets Happy and Healthy in an Apartment

April 13, 2016

6sqft’s series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. This week we offer up helpful tips on how to live with a furry family member (or members) from choosing the right furniture to actually getting your pet OK’d to move into a new place with you.

Owning a dog or cat in the city is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Not only can small apartments and loud noises be stressful for humans, but animal anxiety can also be exacerbated by these external elements (and de-stressing for them isn’t as easy for them as getting a massage or happy hour). On top of this, pet messes and their manic outbursts can seem exponentially larger when compacted into an home that’s barely 500 square feet. Ahead, with the help of Erin McShane, owner of Manhattan’s new cat cafe and teahouse Little Lions, we’ve rounded up a few tips and things to consider when it comes to making apartment living with dogs and cats comfortable for all—especially humans.

Katris, Papercut Lab, Tetris Furniture, Cats
Katris is a modular furniture system that doubles as scratching posts

What to consider when choosing furniture 

One thing you already know about owning a pet is that pet hair gets everywhere. We all want nice things, but sometimes pet owners feel like they can’t get what they want because it will inevitably be covered in fur. So for this, we turn to Erin McShane, owner of the new cat cafe and teahouse in Soho called Little Lions. “We avoided microsuede in the Cat Sanctuary because fur ‘sticks’ to it and will then transfer on to clothing easily,” Erin says. “High-quality fabrics and thicker canvas fabrics work best.” Another easy-to-manage option is leather.

Keeping furniture in tact is another issue that arises with the presence of pets. For cats, Erin says to make sure there’s enough vertical and horizontal scratching posts unless you want them scratching at the furniture. Some cats prefer one over the other, but it’s important to have both because cats like options. If that doesn’t work, try double-sided tape—this is a temporary solution that deters scratching.

For dogs, try sprinkling cayenne pepper on anything you don’t want them messing with. If your pooch likes to get into your plants (both indoors and outdoors), add cayenne—it’s completely non-toxic to plants and your pet. There are also sprays you can purchase at your local pet store to use as deterrents. Grannick’s Bitter Apple Spray is another non-toxic option that works well, but you should leave the area after use to allow the solution to settle or it can get into your mouth.

Ellie, fox house

Houseplants to avoid 

Speaking of plants, if you’ve got a green thumb and want to decorate your home be sure to do your research. Many popular houseplants like jade, aloe vera and rosemary are poisonous to dogs. Cat owners need to stay away from lilies, carnations, daises and roses. Check out these comprehensive lists by ASPCA for dogs and cats to find out what other plants pose dangers. Some non-toxic house plants safe for your four-legged friends include bamboo, ponytail palm, and Christmas cactus.

Cleaning products, dog, mopping

Disaster-proofing your home 

If you’ve got curious dogs and cats, pet-proofing is essential. For closets, try these handle locks (or these for sliding doors) to keep cats from busting in and napping on your clothes—or worse, throwing up on them. In the bathroom, if you tend to keep toxic cleaning products under the sink, try building a shelf above the door so your pets don’t go rummaging inside when you’re not around.

Live in a tall apartment building? Make sure your screens are secure when opening up windows on warm days. Cats and small dogs suffer from High Rise Syndrome (yes, it’s a real thing) and they won’t realize they’re on a high floor until they scale the building. ASPCA Berg Memorial Hospital says that when the weather is warm, they’ll see up to five cases of HRS each week.

ModKat, litter box, cat litter box, top loader litter box
Little Lions use the stylish ModKat little boxes in their cat sanctuary

How to deal with litter, urine and odors 

Having pets is amazing; the smell, not so much. Be diligent about keeping spaces clean because while your home may smell fine to you, guests who haven’t adapted will find odors much more noticeable and off-putting.

At Little Lions, Erin says she decided to go with ModKat‘s top loaded litter box which allows you to add more litter and encourages the cats to fully cover their waste. This greatly reduces tracking and helps keep odors contained. Another tip is lining the bottom of your litter box with baking soda. It’ll help absorb odors without repelling your cat. Also try shaking baking soda into carpets or rugs once a month. It’ll sink in, absorb odors and vacuum right up.

For urine accidents, always blot up as much as possible (do not rub—it will only make things worse). Avoid using any detergents with ammonia in them. The “pee smell” of ammonia may encourage cats and dogs to remark the area. Look for a cleaner with enzymes that will break down and neutralize the uric acid. Basic cleaners will only mask the smell temporarily.

Dogs that don’t go out during the day may benefit from Fresh Patch’s Disposable Potty Grass. It’s real grass, fully disposable, and absorbs urine and odors. Though this can be great for your dog’s potty emergencies, we do suggest getting a dog walker so your dog can appropriately relive themselves outside, get some fresh air, and exercise.

barking dog

Barking, un-neighborly noises and stress 

Barking is enough to get you ousted from apartment building in NYC, if not immediately, then at renewal. Close quarters and loneliness can result in destructive behavior and a very vocal dog. Be sure to get to the root of the problem when dealing with barking. Is she bored? Does he have separation anxiety? Maybe it’s time to enroll in doggy day care. Is she getting enough exercise time outside? Hire a dog walker to take your dog out for a mid-day stroll.

Like humans, dogs are social animals and can’t be cooped up inside all day. They need exercise and to be stimulated in an environment outside of the home or they can become anxious (as they say, “a tired dog is a happy dog”). If you don’t live near a park or dog run, join a MeetUp for dog owners to get them around other canines. We don’t recommend medicating your dog to deal with the problem (i.e. doggie Xanax), but if you think your pooch could benefit from a holistic calming approach, try Bach Flower Rescue Remedy for Pets.

Pets running back and forth across hardwood floors can also create hell for downstairs neighbors. Try putting down some rugs on your hardwood floors. Go for heavy, densely woven, high-pile wool rugs—these insulate noise the best and can withstand wear. Avoid cheap synthetics and thin rugs—they damage easily and will have to be replaced frequently. If your cats seem to be acting up because of a recent change (moving furniture, loud noises, guests staying over, etc.), try a Feliway. This plug-in stimulates your cat’s natural pheromones to help them cope with stress.

Benji, dog park, dog meetup
Benji (second from the left) and his pals enjoying a fall day in the dog park

Things to consider when deciding where to live

Assuming you’re currently seeking a a home that will allow you to host a pet, what follows are some housing issues to consider…

Co-op boards are notoriously critical of potential human tenants, so you can imagine how many eyebrows a dog must raise. CityRealty has rounded up some great tips on how to prep your dog for any interview, which includes putting your dog through a training program. However, for many, barking is the primary concern and you’ll want to prove that your dog can keep calm and quiet when around loud noises and unfamiliar people.

While co-ops may pose great challenges, the good news is that many new condo developments, particularly of the luxury persuasion, understand how important pets are to families. For example, MiMa, a rental apartment at 350 West 42nd Street, purchased canine spa Dog City and integrated it into their amenity offer so residents get everything from grooming to playgroups. One Carnegie Hill, a cond-op with rentals at 215 East 96th Street, has a pet spa to keep your dog in tip-top shape.

If you absolutely can’t find a great apartment that allows pets, it might be worth bringing in an outside expert. Pet Friendly Realty NYC uses federal and state real estate law to advise owners on how they can keep their pets with them, regardless of a building’s policies.

Apart from the above, dog owners should also consider what sorts of outdoor and green spaces are in the vicinity. You can search nearby dog parks and runs using


Sash, Nola, Little Lions, cat cafe

If you’re interested in adopting a cat (like Sash and Nola above) or just want to hang out with some, head over to Soho’s new cat sanctuary and teahouse, Little Lions located at 40 Grand Street between Thompson and West Broadway. To learn more about Little Lions, visit their website.


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  1. N

    Feliway is like magic for my cats. That ModKat litter box looks amazing but at $120?! No thanks