SPCA New Zealand

City living: The rise of pets in apartments

26 July 2019
City living: The rise of pets in apartments

It’s a crisp April morning in Auckland and SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen is walking her dog Jack at their local dog park. Bounding across the field and chasing after balls, then dashing into the lake, Jack adores his daily walks at the park. After an hour of fun, Andrea and Jack head home. To her apartment.

As New Zealand’s major cities become more urbanised, more Kiwis are opting for apartment-living over houses. As a result, more pets are living the high life in high rise apartments.

“Apartments are a reasonably new phenomenon in New Zealand, and I believe that people are only beginning to think about how pets and apartments can work together,” Andrea says.

“Overseas it is very common for pets to live in apartments. People just need to adjust their thinking here.”

But how do you make it work?

For Andrea, living in an apartment with a furry family member is easy. It’s all about being a responsible pet owner no matter if you live in an apartment, urban home, or rurally.

“Being a responsible pet owner means that you need to have the right pet for your life situation. This includes where you live, how much time you have to take care, enrich and enjoy your pet, how often you go away for work or holidays,” she says.

Apartment living with dogs

Managing small space with a dog

Andrea says, as long as you take the right steps, having a dog in an apartment with you can work really well. However, she says that canine roommates can present unique challenges, and there are extra considerations to make to ensure you and your dog live happily.

“In an apartment a dog can take more of your time as it is not as simple as opening the back door to let them outside!” Andrea says.

“Regular toilet outings, and exercise at least once and ideally twice a day is necessary, along with enrichment toys to ensure they don’t get bored. Of course, this is something all dog owners should do regardless of where they live – but it’s absolutely essential in an apartment.”

With neighbours in such close proximity, Andrea says you may need to do specific training with your dog too.

“Fortunately, my dog Jack is not ‘a barker’, but if your dog is, then some specific training to minimise this noise is vital. But again, this is important wherever you live.”

Considering your neighbours

Being a responsible pet owner includes considering how you pet impacts others. For Andrea this means making a couple of small changes.

“When Jack and I go walking and it is raining I make sure I put a towel outside and wipe him down and clean any muddy paws.”

“Also, you need to think about how you manage poop bags to ensure the smell doesn’t impact on others. If you only have a weekly rubbish collection, then source another way to dispose of these.”

When Jack first came home with Andrea, the fellow dwellers in the apartment block were a little nervous.

“Now they thoroughly enjoy seeing Jack about and he loves seeing them too! They feel reassured as their peaceful lives have not been disrupted with noise or smells,” Andrea says.

“I love living in an apartment and also love having a dog, so it was very important to me to make both of these work.”

“Jack is very happy in our apartment. He has a kennel out on the deck where he sleeps each night and has a large cushion/beanbag inside. During the week, Jack comes to the SPCA offices with me where he gets lots of love, attention, and playtime with his best bud Luna.”

“At home we have lots of toys. I also do training with him using tiny treats for things like sitting, shaking, rolling over, and sitting on his mat. This keeps Jack’s brain stimulated during the day and ensures he isn’t bored.”

Giving your pet a stable routine

Living in a Wellington apartment with her dog Ellie, Tess believes that apartment-living with a dog doesn’t have to be difficult.

Tess says it is important to meet your dog’s exercise needs, provide them with mental stimulation and give them plenty of company every day.

Now that Ellie is 12 years old and can’t walk as fast as she is used to, Tess comes up with different ways to ensure she is enriched and happy.

“We regularly hide tennis balls around the apartment for her to find, she really uses her brain. She loves playing that game.”

Tess also ensures Ellie gets plenty of socialisation and interaction by bringing Ellie everywhere with her. You can often find them at a pet-friendly cafe in Wellington together.

What works so well for Ellie and Tess, was ensuring Ellie had a stable routine from the very beginning, particularly with toileting.

Tess took time off work to help Ellie establish routine in her new home, introducing toileting at certain times, and training her to get used to the idea of an apartment so it wasn’t such a big shock.

“It’s really about creating that relationship with your dog, and strengthening your bond, so they are able to fit into your routine with you.”

“Ellie took to apartment living straight away. She just wants to be with her humans. It’s about providing that routine and giving them security, assurance, as well as anticipating any problems.”

For Tess, one of the key learnings was ensuring she knows when Ellie needs to go toilet.

“She will always come and tell you. We have only had a few accidents when she has had an upset stomach.” This involved taking Ellie for a trip 300m from their apartment building at 2am in the pouring rain.

But Tess can’t imagine life with Ellie any other way.

“I’m a complete advocate for apartment living. I will love and care for my dog irrespective of what my house is.”

Apartment living with cats

Regular exercise and enrichment

Like dogs, cats can readily adapt to an apartment lifestyle.

When Diana Wells and her partner first considered bringing home their cat Kuddles from SPCA, they initially struggled with the idea of having a cat in an apartment.

“I felt cruel not letting her have access to the outside,” Diana said.

Although struggling with the idea of an indoors cat at the start, Diana now embraces the idea whole-heartedly.

“Cats can be super happy in apartments. I’ve found that many New Zealanders are just stuck in this weird mind-set that it isn’t possible,” she says.

Indoor housing offers many benefits such as protection from motor vehicles, the risk of injury or infection due to cat fights or dog attacks, and the risk of contracting diseases or parasites from other domestic or wild animals. It also prevents cats predating on wild insects and birds.

However, housing a cat indoors requires extra considerations to ensure their need for exercise and mental stimulation is met.

While Kuddles much prefers the safety indoor-living provides, Diana says it is really important to continue providing your cat with exercise and enrichment.

Cats like viewpoints where they can watch life within and outside their home so provide lots of shelves, window sills, cat hammocks and/or bench tops to provide them with a ‘high rise’ option.

Cats, particularly timid cats like Kuddles, also benefit from lots of hiding spots to help them feel safe and secure.

Some apartment-living cat owners even turn part of their balcony into a “catio”, to allow their cats some safe outdoor time.

“We try to make it as interesting for her as possible. We don’t want her to get bored.”

Diana’s partner is particularly passionate about keeping Kuddles healthy and makes sure she gets plenty of exercise.

“To keep her trim, we do CrossFit and she does pull-ups on a high pole for treats.”

“When I go down to take the rubbish she comes with me and runs down the stairs and back up again,” she says.

“Kuddles is so happy in an apartment, we couldn’t have it any other way.”

Regular stimulation and interactions

Living on a busy Wellington street, Zephanie Locker-Lampson never thought she was going to have an apartment cat. Until she met Poopy. Yes, that’s her real name! It started as a nickname then stuck!

Zephanie adopted Poopy when she was seven months old. Poopy was terrified of everything, and Zephanie believed keeping her in the apartment was the best thing for her.

“She was the sort of cat that was so terrified of the outdoors, she would have gone outside, and I would have never seen her again.”

Apartment living can be a great option for any cat, but may have extra benefits for those with disabilities, neurological conditions, and who are timid like Poopy, she says.

“People should be encouraged to look for these animals with health issues and give them new opportunities.”

Zephanie ensures that Poopy gets plenty of enrichment and exercise throughout the day. It is important to rotate toys regularly to encourage more interest and increase their novelty value.

“She has plenty of things to climb on, she absolutely loves her toys and runs around and around the room after her ping pong balls.”

“She has lots of toys. I always introduce different textures to her like sheets of cellophane, and a cardboard box with holes in it,” Zephanie says.

Zephanie works as a foster parent for SPCA, which means Poopy also gets plenty of interaction with younger kittens.

“She becomes absolutely fascinated with them and takes on a mothering role.”

This allows Poopy to get plenty of stimulation throughout the day.

Living the high-rise life

When people think of apartment living with a cat or dog, they initially question how it is even possible.

Now as we move away from the era of quarter-acre properties, this becomes even more common.

For many animals across New Zealand, apartment living provides them with a safe place that allows them to live happy and healthy, and close with their humans.

Whether you live in an apartment and are considering adopting a furry companion to your family, or already have one and are planning on moving into an apartment, high-rise living is possible and may work for you and your pet.

Apartment living with other animals?

You’re certainly not just limited to cats and dogs when living in an apartment, there are plenty of other animals who can become your high-rise companion!

Having an aquarium with fish is perfect for an apartment. However, to meet basic fish welfare requirements it is important to monitor and maintain water quality and lighting and provide places to explore and hide.

Guinea pigs and rabbits can also be great apartment pets but need the same level of care and commitment as a dog or cat. Ensure they have a large hutch to roam around in, and even let them free inside your apartment where they can roam and explore - just be sure to make your apartment safe by keeping dangerous items, such as electrical cables, out of reach. It’s important they can graze, so make sure to have plenty of food available for them. Both guinea pigs and rabbits are highly social species and must be kept with some of their own species.

Things to consider when having a pet in your apartment:

Your apartment:

·It is important before getting a pet to check if they are permitted in your apartment building. Many body corporates may not permit animals and housing is one of the main reasons for animals being surrendered so it is important you check before committing to adopting an animal. You may also need to check if there is a limit on the number of animals you can own.

·If you have a balcony or windows that your animal will have access to, it is important to ensure that they are secure and safe for your animals, so they cannot jump off or fall. Owners should ensure they have some sort of netting, fencing or other barrier around balconies and windows that open, even if they don’t usually permit their pets to have access to those areas. It is essential that all doors and windows are secured against escape.

Your pet:

·Apartment living is not for every animal and it is important to consider and research their needs before bringing them home to an apartment.

·If your animal will be spending a lot of time within your apartment, then less active animals may be more appropriate for an apartment lifestyle.

·Consider adopting an adult dog or cat rather than a kitten or puppy. Young animals are very excitable and energetic in the first few years and may struggle with a more confined space.


·All animals need to go to the toilet during the day, and you need to make sure they have access to this at all times, so they aren’t in any discomfort.

·Ensure your dog is regularly taken outside and if you have a cat, ensure you are regularly changing their litter tray.

·Living in an apartment with a dog is a lot different than living on a quarter acre property, where you can just let them outside to go toilet. It is important to establish a toileting routine, both during your daily walks and when you are home.

·If you live a few floors up in an apartment building, it is also a good idea to have a toileting area available for your dog on a balcony if you have one. This can be useful if they urgently need to go and you are unable to get them out of your building in time.


·Animals in apartments are more dependent on their owners for mental stimulation and exercise. Give your animal plenty of toys and enrichment activities for them to play with throughout the day and rotate these regularly to keep them interesting. Looking for more enrichment tips for your pet? Read our Winter Safety article to find out more!

Monitor how they are doing:

·You can’t be at home with your animals all the time. If you are working long hours during the day, and can’t take them to work with you, consider popping home during lunch for a walk, taking your dog to doggy daycare, or book in regular sessions with a dog walker. This will help guarantee your dog gets the regular exercise and interaction they need while you are at work.

·Not home but want to check on how your animals are going? Consider getting a pet camera where you can regularly check up on what pets are doing while you are away.

Make time:

·With everyone living busy lifestyles, it is important that you make time and invest in your pets. This interaction is so important and will give you time to play with your pet, exercise them, and ensure they know they are well loved.

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