Balancing a multi-species household
Many households have multiple species. This dynamic can make for fun relationships and interactions in a family, but can also cause added stress if not managed correctly.
When you have a household that consists of several different nonhuman species, there are a few important things to have in place to ensure everyone’s safety and happiness! Here are some tips:
Safe Space Zones. Especially if you have dogs and cats (or other small animals), it is very important that the smaller species have accessible zones where they can get away from the larger animals. For example, cats love vertical space. In a home that consists of both dogs and cats, I recommend at least one vertical space option (cat tree, high up piece of furniture” for the cat in every room. This ensures that the cat will be able to safely get away from the dog if they wish. In addition to options in each room, I also recommend that cats and small animals in the home have a safe space room that the dog does not have access to, such as a guest room with a baby gate, or an area blocked with an exercise pen.
Access to Resources, Activity & Attention Time: While many animals who live together enjoy their time together, it can be healthy to give them time apart! Play with your cat with an interactive wand toy when your dog is outside in the yard. Give your small animal companion some time to roam around in the house when your dog is out for a walk.
Many animals may become stressed or agitated if they try to seek human attention at the same time as another animal in the house, so I recommend giving your companion animal individual time for attention when there are no other nonhuman housemates around.
In addition, I always recommend having several food/water stations in the house so that everyone has free access to what they need.
Species-Specific Enrichment And Management. It is important for every species to have opportunities to do behaviors that are normal and healthy for their species. Sometimes, this can be tricky in a multispecies household. For example, my cat loves to look out the window and watch the squirrels and birds. However, my dog also looks out the window and barks at people going by, which can be stressful for her and for other household members. I added window film on the lower part of my window to prevent my dog from being triggered by people outside. I then added a window perch above the film so that my cat could still watch the critters outside. This set-up is featured in the photo for the blog post and is a perfect example of finding the right balance to meet everyone’s needs in the home! Similarly, when it is time for my boisterous dog to play a wild game of fetch down the hallway, I make sure that my cat is occupied with a mouse toy so he is out of the “line of fire” of the game of fetch.
At the end of the day, it is most important that everyone in the home, no matter what species, feels safe, and has regular access to what they need for their physical and behavioral health.