Petra takes to the high life

My cat may not look like Albert Einstein, but in her own quiet way she’s constructing a theory to explain the universe.

You can see her at it, perched at the window, peering out at a dramatic world of buildings, cars, trams and people… and a number of temping pigeons on the rooftops opposite.
Then she ventures out of our front door, to encounter a comparative void of white walls, grey carpet and metal doors which slide mysteriously open at random intervals. “Why is it so?” you can sense her thinking.

My wife, myself and out cat live in an apartment in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. And aside from occasional vet visits and her ‘corridor adventures’, as we call them, young Petra has never been outside.

When we decided to get her, Narrelle and I agonised over whether it would work. Would the cat go stir crazy? Would she scratch up our sleek inter-city furniture? Would she interrupt my work? Would she be safe living high above the street?

Then we remembered that people in cities like New York have been keeping pets in apartments for generations, and started to do some research.

Disturbingly, we discovered our paranoia about heights was justified. Cats and dogs do fall out of apartment buildings and injure themselves. Cats have a profouind hunting drive, which can lead them to take chances when spotting a bird or insect through an open window. Energetic dogs, of course, can also take dangerous chances in their enthusiasm.

When can be done to avoid the risks? There are some obvious answers: installing sturdy screens on windows, and making sure gaps between balcony railings are covered with strong mesh. Barring pets from open balconies is even better.

Life in a confined space can also lead to boredom and behavioural problems. If considering a high-rise dog, check out the accessibility of local parks and gardens first, and the rules about walking them there. As always with a pooch, don’t get one unless you’re willing to exercise it regularly.

Also consider size: is an Irish wolfhound really suitable for a two-bedroom apartment? Some research into the temperaments of different breeds is an excellent idea, whether it’s via your bet, pet shop or the internet.

The key with cats is to keep their environment interesting; one animal behaviour expert told me he encounters neurotic cats who live in homes that are kept obsessively tidy, and get bored as a result.

Cats living in apartments are likely to be far more interactive with humans than those who roam the great outdoors, or have other animal companions. SO be prepared to enter a moggy-driven dialogue. If the cat feels like playing, then take part and chase it round the house. Also make sure it’s got plenty of cat toys, and invest in a ‘cat tree’ which incorporates scratching posts.

Beyond cats and dogs, bird may work better in a limited space. But it’s still essential to consider the species and its temperament. A big bold cockatoo or macaw can make more than enough noise to annoy the neighbours, and may need an enclosure too big for the available space. These larger birds can also be very destructive to wooden furniture. Again, talk to experts and do your own research.

Which brings us to fish. You can’t have as much playful fun with them – no games of chasy around the sofa – but they’re the easiest pet to keep in a confined space. All sorts of factors have to be considered for your finny friend’s continuing health: tank types, filters, hoods, heating, soils, plants, water testing, water changes and feeding. But once the tank is set up, with regular maintenance you have a visually-appealing pet who won’t wake you up in the middle of the night.

Which brings us back to Petra. When she’s not meowing for a play around 5.30 a.m. (remember what I said about interactivity?), she’s carrying out devilish experiments on her tame ape-creatures. She’s now training me to stand between the kitchen bench and the cupboards when she meows loudly, so she can jump on me to reach a shelf that’s otherwise too high.

And when she’s not training her live-in staff, she casts a curious eye over the lofty world outside our windows. Her research into the “why?” of it all continues.

Helpful Links

PetNet is an excellent online guide; its Selectapet section is designed to help you match an appropriate cat or dog to your lifestyle.

Visit the Bird Health pages for information including profiles or different birds and their suitability as pets.

You can learn more about the care of fish from other fish owners at