PETS AND AGEING: Harlock Jackson's Virginia Jackson with her friend, 5-year-old Archie.
PETS AND AGEING: Harlock Jackson's Virginia Jackson with her friend, 5-year-old Archie.

Pets and ageing: Planning for pet friendly homes

WHEN renovating a house or building a new one, taking into the account the needs of a pet can make a significant difference to the relationship a person has with their four-legged friends.

Harlock Jackson director and town planner, Virginia Jackson's Four Legs, Four Walls report provides a comprehensive guide for anyone wanting tips in home design when accounting for dogs and cats.

Ms Jackson's recommendations are based on four housing trends -

  • The community will increasingly need to plan for loneliness arising from an ageing population and one which is increasingly living in smaller households and very often in single-person households.
  • It's getting harder to own pets because we are living in a more regulated and a more complaining society, and we expect councils will increasingly require cats be confined 24/7 or in cat curfews.
  • There is a move towards building homes with less outdoor space which means we are living with less garden area and much closer to our neighbours. In some cases, bigger houses are being built, taking up to 75 or 80% of the block leaving little run room for active pets.
  • People are more careful about choosing their pets, looking for those pets that better suit their lifestyle.

As the relationship between people and their pets is often very strong, particularly when it is one-on-one or where there are no two-legged children in the family, setting up the home to be a compatible environment for all who live there can be achieved with some simple strategies.

Maximise the space available for pets

  • The quality of the space is more important than the quantity. This is important for animals living in more compact housing.
  • The more space there is, the more choice of areas within the home they can roam in.
  • Add vertical places or climbing tress for cats, who are naturally climbers.

Ideally, provide pets with outdoor space

  • If available, dogs and cats will benefit from access to some outdoor space.
  • It's not a perquisite for most breeds; they can be kept inside providing care is paid to environmental enrichment, regular exercise and a quality indoor environment.

A safe and comfortable environment

  • Pets need adequate shelter and ventilation.
  • A security screen over an outside access door can help with ventilation while confining a pet.
  • Warm spots to enjoy during cooler days and shade during the hotter days should be considered for both cats and dogs.
  • Quiet places around the home are particularly popular with cats.
  • For aged or infirm pets, consideration should be given to their negotiation of stairs and slippery floors, and the use of an open stairway.
  • Separate where a cat litter tray (laundry, garage, bathroom) and the cat's food bowl are located.
  • Dogs can be trained to use a litter tray.

Environmental Enrichment

  • Provide your pets with toys that stimulate and exercise them.
  • Provide opportunities for a view of the outside world, but be aware of how your pet will react to any outside stimulus with some pets finding it a source of anxiety and frustration.

Noise protection

  • Design can reduce the triggers for some forms of excessive barking.
  • Double glazing or thickened glass can help reduce the effect of barking.
  • Cats will look for quiet and isolated locations around a house so that they can get away from the general noise and other pets.
  • Solid fences can reduce noise.  

Internal courtyards an open space design

  • They provide daylight, sunlight and small confined outdoor space, and if secure, can be left open for ventilation.
  • A courtyard can a good place for both pets and people to share.
  • A fenced front yard provides additional area for a pet.
  • Landscaping should provide diversity in smell and form; and include both soft and hard surfaces. It can be used to reduce boundary frustration for dogs when two dogs live side-by-side.
  • Care should be taken with balconies to protect against cats falling.


  • Well designed and well located windows are important for environmental enrichment, particularly for pets kept indoors for long times.
  • If there are no windowsills, then placing a chair near a window can help a pet gain a welcome outside view.
  • It is important for a person to be able to close off a view with window furnishings if a pet gets distressed by an outside view.
  • Fresh air is important to pets, but securing a window open to protect both the pet and the property is important.

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