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8 Tips for Helping Your Cats Adjust to a Smaller Space

So you've moved out of your sprawling home to a tiny apartment. How do you keep your cats happy?

 |  Oct 17th 2013  |   9 Contributions


Last week when I wrote my post on helping your cats adjust to a move, commenter Kimberly asked if I had any tips for moving to a much smaller space with cats. I do have some experience with that: My new home in Seattle is less than half the size of my previous two apartments. Here are some suggestions to make a small home a fun place and provide everything your cats need to be happy in their new environment.

1. Provide vertical space

Cats view their territory in three dimensions, so whatever you can do to create perches for your cats at various levels in your new home will make them feel less stressed. Cat trees are great, but if your new place has very little floor space you may not have room for a model with a large footprint. Pre-built designer trees are pretty expensive, but there are lots of websites with how-to guides for DIY cat furniture. Catster author Phillip Mlynar built a wonderful cat tree from an IKEA Stolmen closet system, and Kate from Royal Oak, Mich., built these cat shelves with wood and brackets from the hardware store.

2. Provide plenty of escape routes

If you have a cat that gets bullied by the others, be sure that there are no places that cat can get backed into a corner. Cat stairs, tunnels, and even the space under your bed can help your fighting cats steer clear of one another.

Phillip Mlynar built this IKEA-hack cat tree. See how in this article.

3. Keep enough litter boxes, and keep those boxes very clean

Most cat behaviorists recommend one litter box per cat, plus one extra. In my new home I don’t have room for four boxes, but I do have room for three. I put the boxes as far away from one another as possible -- one in a nook under the counter in my kitchen, one by my desk, and one in the bathroom by the toilet. However many boxes you have, scoop at least once a day.

4. Use window perches wherever possible

Even if you don’t have many windows, providing spaces where your cats can observe the outdoors can be very helpful in easing stress. You can get perches that attach to your windowsill and perches that stick on with suction cups.

My cat, Bella, enjoys surveying her domain from this suction cup-mounted window perch.

5. Keep your new place clutter-free

When you move into a smaller space, you’ll have to get rid of a lot of things that have been part of your life for a long time. If you don’t, the resulting clutter will make life more stressful for you and your cats, so sell, trash or donate anything you don’t absolutely need. When I moved, I ditched everything except what I could fit in the trunk of my car and in a few boxes I shipped to my friend. I found this experience wonderfully liberating.

6. Plug in a pheromone diffuser

This product releases a synthetic “happy cat” pheromone that can reduce stress, fighting and inappropriate elimination problems. I use a diffuser every time I move to a new home, and I find that my cats settle in pretty quickly.

Play works wonders to reduce stress -- your cat's and yours. Cat playing, (CC-BY) by Randi Deuro

7. Provide regular play sessions

Nothing eases stress and territorial anxiety like a good interactive play session. If you have a bully cat, play can use up his excess energy in a way that doesn’t intimidate the others. Less confident cats build up their self-esteem through play. Check out this post on how to play with your cat LIKE A BOSS for some tips.

8. If you feel good, they’ll feel good

A lot of people feel stressed and perhaps even guilty about having to downsize, not just because of their cats’ comfort but because of all the other stuff that may surround it, such as financial problems, a relationship change, or kids moving away from home. If you can remind yourself that downsizing is not a disaster, your cats will be more relaxed about it.

Try not to stress about your downsizing. Your cats need you to be as relaxed as possible. Cat under couch cushion, (CC-BY-NC-SA) by Timothy Valentine

Have you ever moved to a much smaller living space? What did you do to get your cats through the transition? Do you have photos of furniture you’ve built or bought to help your cats adapt to your new home? Please share your tips and pictures in the comments!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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