The Best Pets for Apartment Living

by David F. Kramer | Featured on PetMD

Apartment living certainly has its advantages, such as not having to mow the lawn or take care of a myriad other home maintenance projects that might be needed if you owned your home. According to a 2014 National Realtor’s Survey (1), 39% of those polled do or would prefer to live in an apartment as opposed to a single family home.

The downside to this for pet lovers is that certain pets simply aren’t allowed, and others are too large, too active, too noisy, or just plain unsuitable for a small living environment. We all want our pets to be healthy and content, and an apartment may not always provide for that. So, what’s an apartment-dwelling prospective pet owner to do?

In the case of any pet, it’s imperative that you check the lease before you decide, as even pets quite suitable for apartments still may not be allowed for any number of reasons. If you are looking to move into a pet friendly building, an internet search for “pet friendly apartments” and your zip code should reveal potential apartments where your future animal companion will be welcome.

Cats Rule

When it comes to pets, cats are king, with about 85 million in the United States alone. They make for a perfect apartment-bound pet. They don’t need to be walked and they groom themselves, not to mention the 15 hours the average cat will sleep each day. Most of this down-time will likely be while an owner is at work at a nine-to-five job or running errands, as cats tend to be most active at dusk and dawn.

Cats also are unique in that they make use of vertical space, be that your furniture, shelving, or window sill. So, however small your apartment might be, it’s exponentially larger for our feline friends. Much like their owners, some cats are social creatures and will appreciate other pets, while others are content being left on their own to rule the roost.

Dogs – Size Matters, But Not Always

If you’re a dog person, there’s no reason to despair. Many breeds will be perfectly happy and healthy in an apartment. Small breeds such as the Pug, Shih Tzu, King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua, Bichon Frise, and Boston and Yorkshire Terriers will all flourish in your one or two bedroom walkup. Even large breeds like Great Danes and Greyhounds, believe it or not, are known as the couch potatoes of the dog world, and many do indeed live well in an apartment setting—though they may be considered furniture as much as a pet. Small dogs may take up less space, but some can be quite noisy, so make sure you have tolerant neighbors.

Whatever the size of the breed, having a yard (such as a courtyard) or a place to exercise is the best option. “If you have a yard,” says Dr. Adam Denish, a veterinarian at Rhawnhurst Animal Hospital in Pennsylvania, “it’s definitely more acceptable for activity and exercise for both you and your pet. It can help the dog to forge long term relationships with other animals and can lower their stress levels.”

Some quality time in a safe and clean dog park on a regular basis can also build these canine social skills.


When it comes to reptiles, there are pretty much two categories: snakes and everything else. Many people are completely unhinged by snakes, no matter how docile they may be. There is also the possibility of having to feed them live animals, though most snakes can be easily transitioned to frozen food.

“Snakes have a long lifespan, can be handled, and can be left alone for periods of time,” says Dr. Denish. “However, they do need to be fed fairly often and need sufficient heat and light to survive.”

Turtles, tortoises, and small lizards such as geckos, bearded dragons, and chameleons are small, quiet, and can be very social—and less intimidating—in your household.

Fish – Good for Mental Health

For adults, just watching fish swim around in an aquarium has been shown to lower blood pressure and stress. For the kids, doing the same has been shown to improve hyperactivity disorders. Perhaps the most startling of all, Alzheimer’s patients who watched aquariums had improved appetites, required less medication, and had reduced violent outbursts.

While an aquarium might seem like the perfect setup for an apartment, there are some things to consider. A beginning aquarist might opt for one of the many all-in-one micro, mini, or even nano aquariums. These generally hold between one and five gallons and come complete with a ready-made plug in filter, heater, and other needed items. The downside of these setups is that such a small environment is easily disrupted. Even the addition of a single fish, plant, or decorative piece of coral can throw things off balance. So, you will need to check pH, ammonia and nitrite/nitrate levels, water hardness, and alkalinity pretty regularly. The water will also need to be changed often, as a single overfeeding can cause quite a mess.

Aquariums of ten gallons and larger are ideal, but of course these will also need diligent maintenance. Read up on your wanted aquarium choice and consult a pet care professional or petMD for more information.

Rats, Guinea Pigs, and Other Fancy Rodents

Hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, and rats are uniquely suited to apartment living. Their enclosures can be small and inexpensive, though they do need to be kept clean. They will also appreciate some supervised playtime on the living room floor.

Most small rodents don’t mind being handled and enjoy a good cuddle. Rats in particular have a high level of intelligence and patient owners can even teach them some tricks by offering food as a reward during training.

While not common, there are some allergy issues with guinea pigs and other rodents. Also, guinea pigs make a lot of communicative sounds in the form of clicks, squeaks, and whines. So, if you’re not into having detailed conversations with your pet, you might want to opt for a rodent of a different stripe.

Pocket Pets

If your pet needs turn to the more exotic, you might want to consider one of the new wave of “pocket pets” that have emerged in recent years. While pretty much any pet that can be held in the hand falls into the “pocket” category, these more unique choices have been gaining in popularity.

Sugar Gliders, pygmy hedgehogs and the like make for interesting pets. But as Dr. Denish says, “Remember that these pets are nocturnal and may not be interested in keeping your schedule.” Sugar gliders are best to own in same sex pairs, and the younger they are when you get them, the more likely they will be to bond to their owners. Sugar gliders will likely appreciate a larger enclosure with a hanging pouch in which they can feel safe and protected,

Pygmy hedgehogs are illegal to own in Maine, California, Georgia, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania, and certain conditions for their ownership must be met to keep them in Arizona.

Ferrets and Rabbits

For those who like their pets a bit more rambunctious, a ferret or rabbit (or more than one) might be the way to go. The needed enclosures for these pets vary greatly; there are some owners who simply “rabbit proof” a room and allow their rabbits to have free reign of it. Rabbit cages are widely available, but are often pretty small. Another option is a multi-level “bunny condo,” which offers double the room of traditional cages.

Like any other pet, your rabbit will appreciate some supervised playtime outside of its enclosure. They can also be litter trained, like cats, which can be safer on the living room rug.

If you opt for a ferret, it’s best to do your research. Ferrets are often illegal in certain municipalities rather than under a statewide ban like some other animals. So, you might live just inside an area where they aren’t permitted. Are there roving bands of “ferret police” making house calls to check things out? Probably not, but undoubtedly ferret owners have been cited or fined, and perhaps had a beloved pet removed from their home—which is heartbreaking under any circumstance.

The Creepers and the Crawlers

For those bold pet owners who want something truly exotic, you only need turn to the insect world, especially if you’re more into a pet you can watch rather than handle. Critters like tarantulas, Emperor Scorpions, African centipedes, or Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches all require minimum enclosures and little in the way of care and maintenance.

Tarantulas come in some unique color patterns and sizes. While some folks do interact with their spiders, it’s best to not handle tarantulas—but more for the potential danger to them than for yourself. Die-hard spider hounds might tell you that some species are far more docile than others, but that’s something best determined on your own.

Emperor Scorpions are particularly beautiful. If you throw a black or UV light bulb into your aquarium lamp, you’ll find they glow a beautiful cobalt blue due to the phosphates in their exoskeletons.

As for the downside, most of these creatures will need live food, and that means keeping a supply of crickets, mealworms, or other insect delicacies on hand. Perhaps a more serious downside would be the potential for escape. While somewhat distressing in your own apartment, a lost tarantula in a neighbor’s place is a whole new kind of trouble. So, perhaps it’s best to proceed at your own risk. And of course there is always the risk of a sting or bite, though the effect is less harmful than from their relatives in the wild. Keep in mind, there is a risk of being bitten no matter what type of animal you choose to live with.

Laurelwood Animal Hospital,located near Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a full range of companion animal services, including surgery, nutrition and behavior counseling, parasite control and preventative medicine. The hospital also offers advanced imaging through an all-digital spiral CT scanner, a comprehensive dental program and laser treatment.

If you’re looking for quality, compassionate veterinary care in Beaverton, Oregon, come visit us at Laurelwood Animal Hospital.

Laurelwood Animal Hospital

9315 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
Beaverton, Oregon 97005

Phone: (971) 244-4230
Fax: (503) 292-6808

E-mail: [email protected]