Tiny Houses and Pets

One of the first questions my friends and family asked us when we announced our intention to build Big Red was, “What about Angel?”

our Angel

Angel is our 50 lb pit mix, and as you can tell from the question, everyone who meets her becomes a big fan. She’s a rescue, who came to us as a foster with six puppies, all since successfully adopted, and is now a certified therapy dog. She’s the sweetest, most lovable… sorry, I’m sure everyone thinks their dog is the best dog. Angel has papers that say she is, though! She passed tests and everything!

I digress. And I will take this opportunity to post as many Angel pictures as possible.

Pet ownership poses a special challenge for Tiny House aspirants. How do we best accommodate the needs of a pet or pets who did not actively choose the tiny life, the way we did? Possessed of both cats and a dog, I see the challenges of both audiences. Not owners of birds or reptiles or rodents, however, but seeing as how those are mostly stationary animals, all that entails is carving out a single location for them, and perhaps a single trade-off: Bird or Fridge? Snake or Toilet? Fancy Rat or Fancy Wine Cooler? Dogs and cats (and, I suppose, other larger mobile companion animals such as pygmy swine) need room to roam.

Now, I’m mainly addressing urban and suburban pet owners, like myself here. I’ve lived in the country and met many a wonderful yard dog in my time, so if your pet is mostly unfamiliar with the inside of a house, there really isn’t too much to adapt. Also, I make the assumption that the owner and pet are separated for part or most of the day, similar to my situation. If you get to be or plan to be home with your pet, it will be easier to accommodate mid-day walks.

Phooey the catIn the same vein, our two cats are semi-outdoor animals (that’s Phooey to the left; Shucks is camera-shy). Please don’t be mad at me. I’ve had many friends, back when I was a park ranger, who insisted all domestic cats should be strictly indoor animals due to both documented increased cat health and feline avicidal tendencies. Domestic and feral cats kill a shockingly large number of songbirds every year. I kept them indoors as long as it was just me and the cats, but Alan does not enjoy rambunctious felines at 3 am. Since my marriage is apparently more important to me than all of bird-dom, out they went.

I’m not too worried about how they’ll adapt to Big Red, since they’ll have regular, unsupervised access to the Great Outdoors, where they will hopefully adapt to using the Great Outdoors as the Great Litter Box. Otherwise, I’ll place a litter box under the house for occasional use, because Big Red is too small for stray litter to be flying around. I think it’s important to accustom all pets to eating on a schedule (I’ve had a vet tell me this), so there won’t be food left out for raccoons, either. I can have them in when I want a snuggle, or when the weather is bad. I don’t think they’ll have trouble with the confinement for short periods of time, as they also enjoy tight spaces and the security of cubby holes when indoors.

Angel, on the other hand, spends the majority of her day indoors, preferably on our bed where where she is absolutely prohibited. Angel-shaped divots in the comforter reveal she does not observe the prohibition. However, this also tells me that she doesn’t spend her day wandering the house, taking up space. The key is, she’s a low-energy, almost zen-like dog. She’s The Dude of dogs.

Breed and personality is critical here. If you have the choice, and you are considering a joint dog-and-tiny-house project, please think about the type of dog that would enjoy small living spaces. Often, it’s not the size of the dog, but the energy level that dictates it’s space needs, and energy level can vary within breeds, so get to know your new friend before deciding your lifestyle will be a good fit.

Consider having a pet in a tiny house

If you already have a dog, and that dog needs 2 miles of running and 3 hours of ball-chasing a day to stay sane, you might want to consider alternative daytime arrangements for your pooch. I will not personally advocate outdoor kenneling, because many more experienced dog experts have told me it’s bad for them, but the most luxurious kennel probably beats many places I’ve lived myself, so I’m not sure I can judge, given some thought to climate control and socialization. However, dog sitting and doggie daycare are other possible options.

Outdoor  fencing is also important for your dog’s safety during supervised playtime, especially if you are near roads or other hazards. Angel is not the type to go more than 50 feet from the house, unless the neighbors are grilling, but if your dog is the adventurous type, put some thought into containment of a physical sort. The size of one’s house does not necessarily dictate the amount of outdoor space you might have at your dog’s disposal, but adequate play-n-poop, non-concrete ground is pretty important, and that area should be fenced off if at all possible.

Food storage will also be an issue. Just like tiny house dwellers have to think creatively about buying other staples in bulk, pet food is most economically found in large quantities. I’m not yet sure how we’ll tackle this problem with both cat and dog food, but it may involve Rube Goldberg (dog food falling from a ceiling hopper through a feeder tube? Via remote control?).

having pets in a tiny homeMany people have planned for their pooches’ sleeping arrangements to be under a window seat or chair, but Angel has yet to ever sleep in a planned spot. She’s had a number of beds given to her, from my parents or from the rescue group, that she has politely ignored. Therefore, we plan to not have a plan and let her find her favorite spot via her patented decision process of, “Am I allowed to sleep here? No? Ok, perfect!”

We’ve found Angel to be an excellent Tiny House ambassador in our neighborhood as well, so she’s contributed to our house-building efforts by making friends and influencing people. For example, it turns out one of our neighbors is an independent construction contractor who happens to also own a pit bull mix just like Angel. So he’s always happy to see us and answer the occasional question about framing. Tiny house building is community building, even for people who are not actually building a tiny house, it seems.

Pets are a wonderful addition to any life, no matter the size!

Your Turn!

  • How does your pet like tiny living?
  • What changes have you made to accommodate a simpler lifestyle for your pet?
  • Where do you store your pet’s food and supplies?
  • How cute/smart/awesome is your pet?
  1. I’m not a pet or tiny house owner, just an avid follower of both. Loved the extra long article detailing Angel’s attributes. Had to chuckle over the perfect way to decide where to sleep.

    • I have a hard time being concise about Angel 🙂
      I promise, I have plenty of building-related stuff to write about, too!

  2. We designed our tiny house to fit our cat, Piglet. She is nearly 12 years old and has come along with us on all of our crazy adventures. She is an indoor only cat mostly because she is hairless and not quite designed for outdoor living.

    She has always loved being in the car and doesn’t mind moving, but the tiny house was a bit of an adjustment. Her evening crazies took a new form and we think it was because she didn’t have a ton of space to run. Funny part is that no matter how crazy she is being once we are both in bed for the night so is she. No one ever told her she is supposed to be nocturnal.

    We built platforms for her in the tiny house so she could easily access the loft. She did eventually learn to climb the ladder but she still won’t get down that way so the platforms are used frequently. We also built an access door for her litter box which is at the bottom of one of the tiny house closets. We have a Tumbleweed Tarleton which has two small closets on either side of the front door. We keep her food in a container that stores under the sofa. We store a lot of things down there.

    Even though Piglet prefers a larger house with room to run and heat registers to sleep on she does love her people and would rather be with us in a tiny house than without us in a bigger one.

    And, since you asked – Piglet is the best cat in the whole world! She is super smart and we find her exceptionally cute. To know Piglet is to love her. You can check out her cuteness and adventures at her own blog, https://www.9lives120squarefeet.blogspot.com

    • I’ve been considering the cat-platform idea, I’d love to see pictures of how you accomplished it. Phooey and Shucks would probably climb the ladder, but I would want a safer way for them to get down. And Piglet is, indeed, a most exceptionally cute Sphinx kitty, especially in her yellow scarf!

  3. I would like to build my Tiny House in the not so distant future and have a 50-lb mutt that would have to come with on the adventure. Many people believe that large dogs do not belong in apartments even, stating that they need/want room to roam around inside and a big yard to run in. I believe that your dog’s best home is where you are. That’s all my dog wants, anyway. Every dog should get walked a couple times daily (or run, if it has that kind of energy) regardless of whether you live in a Tiny House or a McMansion. Thanks for the post!

    • I agree, I think Angel would be happy with us no matter the living situation, but I’ve had pet experts (rescuers, vets, etc) be very firm with me about fencing, square footage and the like. I respect their experience, while still recognizing every pet is unique in his or her needs. They say the best dogs for small spaces are 80-lb Great Danes, after all!

  4. I love your writing style, Marie! It’s going to be great fun following your blog, I can tell. My honey & I have a slightly different puzzle to solve, as applies to living in a (someday SOON, I hope) small house. It’s not gonna be a tiny one, as at 5’9″ and 6’2″, we’re not very tiny, and also we have a 12-y-old boy and 3 feline kids, as well. Sigh. However, I know that when the time is right, it’ll all fall into place, and in the meantime I’ll live vicariously through you guys. 🙂

    • Thanks, Abbie! What an adventure you have ahead of you, too! Tiny house living, excluding the physical building, is mostly in the mind, how we re-arrange our priorities, I think. It would be fascinating to experience that as a teenager like your son. I look forward to hearing your perspective!

  5. Hi Marie,

    Every time I tell someone about our tiny house plan one of the first questions i get is “What about the dogs”? We have a 20lb schnauzerx and a 45lb pitx. I find it frustrating that some automatically assume dogs need more space than people. I work from home and my dogs spend 90% of their day sleeping in my office, a 10×10 room. We have a large back yard and nice neighborhood for walks. I honestly don’t think they’ll even notice a change once we get into the tiny house.Thanks for addressing this and I look forward to continuing to read about your adventure!

    • It’s true. Some dogs might need space, but Angel’s favorite spot (when not ninja-ing the bed) is curled up under the office desk, which is probably 3×2 feet. She also likes to be under the coffee table. Some pets are just more comfortable in tight spaces.

    • Kelly, I’m so jealous that you work at home because I’ve been wanting to do that for YEARS! What line of work allows you to do that? Only thing I’ve ever seen is a software engineer. …and so I’m not yet qualified for that! :/ Seriously, what DO you do? (If I may inquire.) 🙂

      • I found some ideas for working from home @ “about(dot)com” enter “work from home”…:)

  6. Check out my video on ” the whittled down caravan” when it visited our last tiny house building workshop….they have a VERY clever indoor/outdoor walk for cats…..


    • I love the use of the tongue for a pet walk, but I don’t think Alan will want to give up the valuable real estate. I’ve been considering a cat door in the front door, though. As long as it doesn’t penetrate the insulated envelope of the walls, and it’s under the Fencl’s porch, it would work pretty well. Thanks for the comment, Deek. Alan and I enjoyed your workshop in DC last year!

  7. How strange. In Europe, most people would consider it very cruel to keep a cat indoors permanently – they are outdoor mini-tigers!! And anyone with any sense (at least in Europe!) considers that you simply don’t have a dog if you work away all day – again, it’s cruel. No wonder we often feel Americans are very weird.

    The cat is an independent creature and the dog is a more dependent one – both sleep around 20 hours a day if they get the “normal” amount of exercise they need. My cat goes out through a cat flap whenever she needs to, but she happens to be one who doesn’t go out much or far beyond necessity or a sun spot.
    My dog may sleep many hours a day and snoozes the whole time if I leave her alone for any amount of time as I go about my day, but I wouldn’t dream of leaving her all day every day to go out to work – I would have to do without a dog, I guess. She takes part in as much of my activity as possible and is always interested and willing to interrupt her many naps. But I don’t think a dog needs a lot of space at home at all, as long as they have their own corner they can lie in without being stepped on every 5 minutes. Even a big dog, given the requisite exercise, is fine in a small home (including a Great Dane!) – they just want to be with you!

    • How interesting! I didn’t realize there would be different schools of thought on the indoor/outdoor cat premise. I learn something new every day. It also seems, based on our small sample, that Tiny House people tend to have very self-contained, relaxed dogs 🙂

    • Very odd. Dogs sleep 20 hours a day but it’s cruel to leave them. So we stay home and watch them sleep? I prefer to believe that my rescue dog is happier waiting at home for her evening and morning walks and playtimes than she would have been waiting to be euthanized in the shelter. I think she’d also be just as happy in a tiny house as a big one. I can attest that when I work from home she sleeps in one spot most of the day till its “go time”.

  8. When we first moved into our converted bus we had a black and that worked ok for a while, though eventually he disliked city life so we sent him to live on our parents’ farm. He was happier there and it was kind of a relief for us in terms of keeping the house clean (dog hair, mud etc.).
    6 years later, we just got a chihuahua and she seems perfect for our tiny living situation. She has more than enough space, she doesn’t create a lot of mess, she’s not always underfoot, we don’t have to devote a lot of space just for her bed, and there’s always someone home with her.
    I agree with the above about indoor cats and dogs when you work during the day.

    • About the “underfoot” issue, it will probably be hazardous when we have two people, two cats and a dog all inside at the same time. My cats have an unfortunate affection for both my shins and the top of the stairs… maybe we need a schedule.

      • Our most recent addition, kind of a brindle, long-haired cat, has a serious problem with being underfoot. After a few times of tripping and her getting somewhat injured (It’s gotta hurt!), we finally accepted that before anyone moves their feet, they must look down first. Yeah, she’s not the sharpest crayon in the box, but she’s ours. LOL

  9. I love the idea of downsizing my housing (when I retire in a few years) yet have several pets. A smaller home for me would be 999 square feet. So I will have to make outdoor living accommodations for my big dogs and average-sized cats. This most likely would consist of a fenced yard and screened patio area. I currently live in an incorporated city with a sizable home footprint on a small tract lot. I ultimately want a larger lot with a smaller home in an unincorporated area.

  10. Thanks for this article! Angel looks like a sweetheart!

    Ha! I’m a proud parent of a 15-month-old “pygmy swine”. I’ve been drooling over tiny houses for a few years, and just recently a guy in town offered to sell me his unfinished 176-square-foot cabin on wheels for $3,000 (with top-of-the-line radiant floor heating installed, no less!). The temptation is almost unbearable. I just don’t know where my 100-pound potbellied pig, Terk, would hang out (and he’s not done growing)! Currently, he spends the day in a room that shares the dimensions of the cabin structure (8.5 x 20), but he has a big backyard to play around in, also, when I’m home.

    I keep thinking that if I buy this cabin thing, I would have to move to a friend’s rural property, and then build a similar structure for him for the daytime (so we’d have our own tiny houses) and he could sleep in mine at night. I dunno… We’ll see what happens.

    Thank you for a really informative aricle!!!

  11. I have a great dane and 3 parrots. We live in a 210sf tiny house that I designed and built. Because I was the one who designed it I built in places for them to have their own space. Food storage is certainly the hardest part. But is easily overcome with some ingenuity. I have a gavity feed system for her food and I ran a waterline directly to her water bowl. At night she does climb into the loft with me to sleep but during the day she sleeps where she happens to pass out. By birds are up high on a shelf in front of the windows. Or outside in the atrium i built during the short summer.

  12. How do you heat the home when you are at work?I have two small dogs and i live in ohio where it gets below zero. I would be scared leaving a dickerson heater on when i am not there.Any thoughts?

  13. I have to comment on one thing : no pet is supposed to be “stationary”. I know some of us keep caged animals and caged birds but it’s incredibly irresponsible to do so. They live depressed, boring, stifled lives.

    If you own a tiny home, I urge you to get a dog or cat or some animal that can live a fulfilling life WITH you rather than in a cage or small container. You wouldn’t want to live in solitary, stationary life, would you?

  14. We leave our pup at home when at work. We plan to travel with our Tiny House, so if we’re in a climate that requires heat/cold to keep our fur baby comfortable, what would your recommend? Of course, we will take him everywhere, but there will be those places he can’t go.

  15. I am retired any considering getting a tiny house. Unfortunately taking a dog for a walk is not possible during the summer because it would burn their paws, so I’m thinking of a strictly indoor cat, because I’d rather deal with a litter box then dog waste inside all summer long. My question is I want the cat to be happy living inside all of the time because again, living in the desert, it WILL get eaten if it goes outside by itself and I don’t know anyone who can successfully walk a cat, so can a cat be happy being ONLY an indoor cat in a tiny house?

  16. This seems to work for you because it appears your Tiny House is stationary. What would you advise for the Tiny House on the Road Living with two cats who are indoor/outdoor for their 10+ years of their lives? Looking to transition from ‘Mainstream Homeownership’ into a Tiny House on wheels to travel but am in a Huge dilemma about my cats adjusting….

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