Many potential animal adopters avoid shelter pets who have special needs. In addition, many pet owners choose to euthanize recently disabled pets, assuming their care will be too expensive, too emotionally demanding, or that their beloved companion’s quality of life may diminish. Pets with special needs are not disabled, they are specially abled, because they perform their activities of daily living a little differently than other pets. Although a special-needs pet may look different or need some help with essential activities, they are completely capable of showing love and loyalty, and bringing happiness to your home. Animals have an amazing ability to adapt and overcome adversity, and they do not wallow because they may be different. Our Palisades Veterinary Hospital team encourages you to adopt a special-needs pet, and we are always willing to guide you in the management of their care.

Common special needs in pets

Some pets are born with physical attributes that are different, or as they age, they develop debilitating conditions attributable to illness, injury, aging changes, or degenerative diseases. Pets’ common special needs include:

  • Blindness or missing eyes
  • Deafness
  • Missing or malformed limbs or toes
  • Weakness or paralysis 
  • Congenital anomaly

Managing special-needs pets

Most people who own special-needs pets will tell you that their human-animal bond is strong and fulfilling. Specially-abled pets require a bit more training and care than other pets, but the extra time you spend with your beloved companion forges a close bond that results in unconditional love. As long as your pet’s condition is not painful, you can find ways to adapt your training style, home, and family interactions to accommodate their needs. If your young pet was born with congenital problems, you may be surprised at how little help they need, because their bodies compensate for weaknesses in one area by developing strengths in other areas. You can help your older pet adapt if they have developed any of the following debilitating conditions:

  • Blindness — Blind pets use touch and smell to navigate, and quickly adapt to their home environment. Once your pet becomes familiar with your home’s layout, avoid moving furniture. In addition, you can help them learn to use their other senses to move about unhindered. For example, to alert your pet of a nearby doorway or staircase, install textured mats or permeate the area with a strong scent. If your blind pet’s hearing is good, you can train them by using verbal commands and praise, or a clicker. Allow your blind pet to find their own way in a new area—unless they approach a safety hazard—because picking them up and moving them can cause your cat or dog to become disoriented and too dependent on you.
  • Deafness — Deaf pets cannot hear your oral commands—especially stay, or drop it—so 
  • training them carefully and ensuring they are leashed or confined to a safe fenced area provides necessary protection. You may choose to hire a dog trainer to help you teach your deaf pooch hand signals, and find creative ways to get their attention, such as using a vibration collar. Deaf pets can be easily startled, especially when napping, so become accustomed to stomping your foot or shaking nearby furniture to notify your pet gently of your presence.
  • Paralyzation or weakness — Work with your veterinarian to determine your paralyzed pet’s specific needs. Most pets can be fitted for specialized carts or slings to help them get around on their own, and—with training—they quickly learn to adapt to these mobility aids. Paralyzed pets usually need to wear diapers, and may need help expressing their bladder contents, which your veterinarian can teach you, so you can do this for your pet at home. Paralyzed pets are predisposed to skin sores and infections, and to prevent and treat these issues, your veterinarian should regularly check your furry pal.
  • Amputation — Most pets with missing limbs can function normally—as long as they maintain a healthy weight. Because pets with missing limbs must shift their weight, their remaining limbs experience abnormal forces. Therefore, these pets benefit from staying slim, receiving physical therapy, taking joint health supplements, and receiving complementary therapies such as cold laser, chiropractic, or acupuncture. Pets who are missing an eye, ear, toe, or tail part usually function normally, requiring no special care.

Outlook for special-needs pets

Through proper care, special-needs pets can have a normal lifespan and enjoy a good quality of life. Most of the conditions discussed here are not painful, and simply require you and your family to have some creativity and dedication. The next time you decide to invite a new pet to join your family, consider adopting an animal companion who is specially abled. A pet who is different has likely been in the shelter for years, waiting for someone to make a positive change in their life, and ready for unconditional love. In addition, special-needs pets show the world that their different abilities do not slow them down—and that we are all equally worthy of love. 

If you have recently adopted a special-needs pet, or are thinking about adopting a pet who is specially abled, call us to schedule a consultation with our knowledgeable Palisades Veterinary Hospital team.