Furry Friends and Tiny Houses

Are they a good idea?

by m.j. boyle

According to the Humane Society, 62% of all US households have at least one pet and in 2012 more than $50 billion dollars (yes, with a “B”) was spent on their care.

Do you have a dog? Then you have a lot in common with the 47% of the population who own one.

Prefer a more mild-mannered companion? The number of cat owners reflects, rather amusingly, that we are as likely to own a cat as a dog; since 46% of us do.

If you’re thinking of downsizing, and moving into a tiny house you probably have a pet. And given that 82% of you also have children, this makes the decision just that much more complicated. Where will they all sleep? Eat? “Go”? We worry about all the little details of their lives. It’s no wonder why so many of us refer to our pets as “our children”.

I am an animal person. I love them all. I have owned and raised horses, cats, dogs, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, goats, chickens, geese, ducks, rabbits, and even raised pigeons for a time. Given, however, my currently hectic raise-kids-work-build-tiny lifestyle I only have two cats now. One is mine, and one is my daughter’s.

A cute little gerbil in a tiny little sweater…

I guess you could say that having animals in my tiny house is a given. I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t have at least one, and I sincerely appreciate the “life” they add to a household.

So, where will they all sleep? Eat? “Go”?

Litter Box or Yard? – From the start of my tiny house design, I thought my litter box would hang on the outside of my tiny house (envision a “removable” shed) and accessed via a cat door. But, as the design has morphed, I recently discovered that I have enough space under one section of the stairs to add a litter box there. Easier to clean and access. Yay! And even though my cat loves the outdoors, he won’t “go” out there. So, an indoor litter box it is. Sometimes I think about getting another dog. (my 13 year old Golden Retriever died last year) And while the where-to-go decision is obvious (aka outside) I have to admit that having marmoleum flooring in my tiny house makes the idea of having another dog closer to a reality. Carpets and dogs (and especially puppies) don’t mix. Accidents happen. And, dare I say, wood floors don’t always fare well either.

Dinner Time! – When floor space is at a premium, constantly stepping over pet bowls will not only be a minor inconvenience, it’ll be a flat out pain in the ass. After you’ve accidently kicked a full pan of water across the floor for the fifth time, you will no doubt be scanning the pet catalogs online for a more stable and visible option. But, bowls are only part of this equation. Consider a pet feeding schedule. You put the bowl down, they eat, you pick it up. Repeat, twice a day. It provides them with a sense of stability and routine (good for both pets AND children) and eliminates the possibility of your pet becoming overweight. You can more easily control their intake and adjust it as needed. Yes, it takes more time than filling a large free-feeding bowl a few times a week but when you live in a tiny house you have time to spare. (that’s the idea anyways) An Added Bonus: If your kitty is an indoor-outdoor one like mine, they’ll come running home at the sound of a rustling food bag!

cat furniture

Climbing cats are happy cats.

Size Doesn’t Matter – When it comes to tiny houses, the size of your pet doesn’t really matter as much as the temperament of the animal. Great Danes are well known for their laid back persona, but they may not literally FIT into a tiny house. While an Australian Shepherd is a comparably small dog, they’ll drive you NUTS in a tiny space because they are bred for herding and require a LOT of space to run. Even a tiny Jack Russell terrier may not be a good fit given their proclivity to dig and jump and bark. Small animals may do well in your tiny house but I can tell you that even parakeets can make a huge mess. If you love ferrets or other rodents, they may love the nooks and crannies a tiny house will provide but their natural coat oils will have your tiny house smelling like musk in no time flat. Consider not your pet’s size but your pet’s smells, environment, personality and exercise needs; before considering a drastic move to less than 200 square feet.

Bored Animals are BAD Animals – Cats are a good option for a tiny house pet but make sure yours is well mannered and easy going before subjecting them to such a small space. They’ll scratch and tear apart every surface of your house if they’re unhappy or bored or do not have an adequate scratching post. Door posts, floors, upholstery, towels, etc… Trust me. It’s not pretty. In a larger home, you may have the option of skipping a walk or two, with your loving canine companion, when it’s raining. In a tiny house, that just won’t do. Any dog, large or small, will need to be walked at least twice a day. Don’t even THINK of owning a dog, in a tiny space, without understanding this very important part of their developmental and social needs. If you think a cat can turn your tiny space into a smelly, destroyed space; dogs will do it faster. Birds need mirrors and swings and chewing blocks or you’ll never sleep. Incessant. Tweeting. Day. And. Night. (and not the online kind) Rodents need running wheels. (Side note: Have you ever tried to sleep in the same room as a hamster running on his wheel? It is akin to torture in my world.)


Keeping Watch.

Communal Beds – I never allowed animals to sleep in my bed until I spent over $1500 on my cat, just a few months ago, for an emergency surgery to unblock his urinary track. I wouldn’t let him out of my sight and I had to be keenly aware of his every sound and his every “movement”. “Confinement” was the name of the game and there was no place better, than my room. I’m not a fan of pet hair in my bed. I’m not a fan of having him sleep on my head, or him waking me up with his cold and wet nose on my cheek at 3 am demanding to be fed. Even the noises he makes when he drinks water, wakes me up. (Maybe it’s the mom in me.) With that said, however, whether or not to allow your pets in your bed is a very personal decision. So, in this regard, it is not really a tiny house thing, it’s a do-I-want-fleas-in-my-bed thing.

Pets enrich our lives. They love us unconditionally. (actually, not sure about cats but dogs certainly do) And even after we’ve cleaned up after them for the seventh time in a single afternoon, we can’t deny that they are an awesome addition to our tiny families. And, like any member of the family, their needs should be a part of any discussion involving major change. If you are considering downsizing into a tiny house and do not know how your animals will fit into your new lifestyle, think about it. Think about it long, and hard, and with kindness and consideration. They deserve to be loved, and cared for, just like your children or your significant other or any other member of your household.

Pets should be treated with respect and doing so will give you all, people and furry friends alike, the best chance of living happily ever after in your tiny house.

m.j. boyle

Michelle is an outgoing single mom, published author, speaker, patented inventor, blogger, craigslist stalker, enthusiastic Glamper, and Northwest native; as well as a tiny house enthusiast, designer, and builder. Her Tiny House, aptly named “My Empty Nest”, is the culmination of a life spent dreaming of a tiny reclaimed space, all her own. If you’d like to follow Michelle’s tiny house build, you can find her at: mytinyemptynest.com

31 thoughts on “Furry Friends and Tiny Houses”

  1. Loved this post! While I don’t plan on moving in to a ‘tiny’ house, rather a ‘small’ (550-850 sq. ft.) house in the not-too-distant future, it’s certainly important to consider your pets. I have a cat and am in the process of adopting a small, easy going and quiet dog.

  2. This is excellent advise. As a person who loves animals, but hates incessantly barking dogs I bear witness to their need for exercise NO MATTER WHAT SIZE HOUSE THEY OCCUPY. But especially if they live tiny. I mean, don’t we all need it?

  3. I’ve got two yellow labs–a large breed, and looking to live in a tiny house. Of course they need their walks, and we go swimming, and play frisbee outdoors in the warmer months, tug of war with each other etc; that will not change. I think they don’t care where they are as long as they’re with their loving owner, shielded from the elements, a comfy area to lay around, and with dog toys in tow.

  4. I live in a small (not tiny) house with an Australian Shepherd and a Siberian Husky who are both 2 years old now. The reason it works with these two is because the house sits within a large, safe, fenced outdoor space. The dogs have indoor/outdoor access all the time (except at night when they are safely inside) and can run, spin, jump, tackle and enjoy themselves fully. Inside is for slow and snuggles. Outside is for full on crazy. We walk a lot for brain and body stimulation and they have each other to avoid boredom when I’m not present. The space is designed for their health and comfort as much as mine and we work well as a (well trained) team. Life in any sized house without their goofy energy wouldn’t be much of a life so my small house life includes their essentials.
    Oh, and there can absolutely be NO FLEAS! Ugh… I can’t even imagine it. I groom them myself so they get regular brushing and cleaning so there isn’t a doggy smell unless they get wet. I hadn’t thought about the possibility of strong smells in a tiny space but I avoid it in my small space with the regular grooming. Great article!

    • I currently live in a 25 year old 30′ Avion 5th wheel. That’s pretty close to a tiny house, as Avions (back then) used basic construction and all interior builds are oak, with carpet and oak floor. No molded plastics or whatever. I have 6 cats and 2 med/large dogs. Unbelievably, it totally works. The dogs have a large fenced yard and spend the days outside, where I also feed them. The cats also spend the days outside (their choice), and come in and out at will. I feed them inside. I have three litter boxes, using crystal litter (great dessicant, btw!), but they only lightly use them. All three are very much out of the way. My Neato robot vacuum runs every day or two, the couch is covered with bright colored towels and fleece blankets, and I put a nice slippery-fabric shower curtain liner over my comforter so I can just shake the hair off outside. The cats are amazingly mellow when inside. I put a thick fleece blanket on the carpet each night for the dogs to sleep on and fold it up in the daytime. I dry the critters off when they come in, if they’ve gotten at all wet. No fleas, which is surprising because this area is a bad flea area. (I’m knocking on wood a lot right now.) Probably the only awkward thing is the dog water bowl. I have kicked it a few times, by accident.

      It all works, if done with care. 🙂

  5. Loved your article – couldn’t even consider my life without a dog – and while it was devastating when my old, old beagle died – I didn’t think it was possible to bond so strongly with another . But then along came Lilly – my big goofy mutt – Boxer/Lab/Pitt/Pointer (acc. to her previous owner said)

    Once she is walked, she just curls up all of her 54 lbs. into a tight ball and snoozes – unless she can be on my lap – often under my laptop (it doesn’t get hot) – so even tho’ she’s a medium to large dog, she doesn’t take up much space, and gives back in spades!

    It never occurred to me to consider the floor type to suit her claws – I keep them trimmed and filed since she’s such a ‘lap dog’ – but you make a valid point – also, she has very short hair instead of fur – important for allergies – something that I’m sure that along with smells, will be more intense in close quarters. Living tiny will just mean downsizing to a hand held steamer and a car vac. I’m looking forward to a simpler life and much less house to take care of.

    Great mind visual on kicking the water dish – lol – Now I will definitely consider a space for that when it comes to building my own THOW – tho’ I have to admit, I really like that idea of having a large bottom drawer of a kitchen cabinet for the dog food – I’d line it with sheet stainless steel to deter any mice (sliding cover) After decades of rural living, it’s constant war every fall as they try to get in out of the cold… grrr

    How could we NOT include our pets in our Tiny designs? After all – no matter how long the relationship – they still run to greet us at the door – get excited at meal times – never complain about the menu – give and receive boundless affection – and in many cases with dogs – a security system – and NEVER hog the remote!!!

    I remember when you got your THOW – is there anything you would have done differently now you’ve lived in it?

  6. Michelle – Good luck in your adoption search- it’s worth waiting to find the ‘right’ dog – might not be what you had in mind – but the ‘right’ dog will find you – and you’ll know by the connection you’ll feel when you meet and spend that alone time at the adoption center – so keep an open mind and go more for the dog’s personality traits than looks or ‘type’.

    Oh – and it’s possible to train them to use an ‘indoor voice’ – I get a lot of migraines – so that was one of the most important things I had to teach Lilly – took about 2 weeks, and it’s so funny if someone is over and she barks, then I remind her “indoor voice” and she just whispers “uuf”. I guess I’m so used to it that it doesn’t phase me – but others are amazed… lol I guess that would come in really handy living tiny.

  7. I have been following you for quite a while and I too have been taking steps to make my dream come true …and yes I love my pets….I have seen and been drawing and trying different ideas about having pet bowl containers, or slots or such built into the wall so they can fold up out of the way and building a cupboard with a door in the rear of my unit that opened it leads outside like an outside cupboard and to have it covered [except for the roof, ] in a very heavy safety screening …it can be multi level and they can climb, sun, and go potty….I love the challenges of being creative and enjoy reading about your creativity and progress…my dream starts to come true in Sept. of this year, although I have already purchased the land in southern Colorado, love the mountains and the culture……lots of luck…

  8. I kind of miss having a cat since my poor old kitty died at the ripe old age of 17 a few years ago. I don’t miss the litter box though, and if I had a cat or dog it would complicate getting back and forth between my two part time homes. There are lots of cats everywhere that are happy to share a bit of time with you, dogs too. If you can’t manage living with a full time companion there are things like this http://www.parttimepooch.com

  9. If you put a cover over birds’ and other small animals’ cages at night, they will quickly acclimate to settling down. You can buy these covers, make them yourself, or just put a few old bath towels over the cage. Cover them when you go to bed, cuz even though your house will seem dark to you, they can still see outside the cage. Limiting their environment via a cover will put them into a quiet, nesting-type frame of mind.

    I think the little guy in the sweater is adorable. If he or any other pets don’t mind, then it’s all in good fun and fashion. Plus, the pets like the attention and contact. Some pets even require ‘clothing’ to keep them warm and/or because of medical issues. Obviously, we know they aren’t dolls!

    Thanks for your great article.

  10. Thank you for addressing one of my concerns. I have a VERY calm 8-year-old 4.5 pound poodle. She has always self-fed and is paper trained. She almost refuses to go out if there is snow or wet grass. Where to put her pad and food has me stumped for good ideas.

  11. We built a custom couch over our three dog carriers for our Scotties. They have a quiet spot all their own and the carriers are not in the way. We also invested in a portable play yard for outside time off leashes in areas where they cannot run free. For food and water, we used wall mounted tube feeders with small dishes at the bottom, keeps them out of the way but accessible to the dogs. Our 3 Scotties are Mom, Dad and pup, so this pack has always been together. Scotties are allowed free reign in the house and lofts as well. We opted for vinyl tile floors. I don’t think this would have ever worked with high energy dogs, but we are relieved it works for ours.

    Great article! Pets are something folks sometimes forget about in going tiny, I am so glad to see this addressed.

  12. Great article! However while your idea of a food schedule is great, I believe that the water should be accessible 24/7. Can’t imagine limiting their water access to twice a day.
    I do like what one of the commenters suggested with the wall mounted water tubes. There has to be solutions for giving pets access to water without having the water dish being kicked across the floor.

  13. I love your article but one part just makes me cringe – the indoor/outdoor comment about your cat. I hope when your cat goes out there’s a cat-safe fence or you are walking your cat. Cats are never safe just freely wandering and they can destroy the native wildlife. It’s no more true that they “need to roam” than it is that “dogs need to be in wild roaming packs”. They’re domesticated animals. I have many cats and have a PurrfectFence for them so they can freely and safely go in/out. Please protect your cat. I see way too many dead on the road! Here’s the link if people are interested: http://www.purrfectfence.com
    : )

  14. Love this article. You brought up excellent points. I have a German Shorthair Pointer who had the run of the Arizona desert for 9 years before we brought her to a senior, small home and yard in California. I don’t take her for as many walks as she might like but at her age she is more settled and had already started to stay close to home before we had moved so she’s pretty happy here. If she’d been a young dog it would not have been a good match. The other dogs are small and fit well in our yard and house although they love the walks when they get them too and my cat loves her doorless closet where her food is reachable via the cat tree up to the closet shelf (where even the big dog can’t reach). Her covered littler box is also inaccessible to the dogs at the doorway to the closet. Fitting dogs and cats in is worth the effort to see what each needs and to find a way to get it for them.

  15. I lived in 150 sft for 3 years with a 90 lb German Shepherd dog. It worked well due to our personalities and lots of walks.

    There is no such thing as “urinary track” – it’s urinary tract.

  16. As many times as I have seen this picture of the gerbil in the sweater, I get a full charge out of it every time. What a face!! LOVE IT! Totally precious!

  17. I am considering tiny house when I retire, however I’ll be in a sort of remote with no green areas, so no walking dogs in the hot desert sand. I am thinking I’ll have an indoor cat so the question is, can a cat be healthy and happy being ONLY in the house. If they go outside where I will be living they WILL be eaten be by coyotes and I don’t want that. Or should I just not have pets. 🙁

    • Hi Randy, like with dogs, it depends upon the temperament of the cat. My cats are inside only with exception. I have an old cat who adores being outside, as long as he is supervised. As a young cat he would try to dart after squirrels, but as he aged he loves just sitting in the grass. Another young cat I have is a good candidate for a leash.

      When planning out your home be sure to have a soft, cozy space for them to climb to and watch over the world. Also know that the litter box space needs to be at least 3’x2′ and 2′ high for ventilation, and open enough that the cat will not feel cornered in there. (just keep it scooped and you’ll have no odor problems.)


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