When your pet is diagnosed with an ailment that requires more care than a standard, healthy pet, it can be daunting. We’re here to help you understand what is meant by “special needs” in animals and what you can expect.
Our love for our pets is abundant, but special needs animals require unique care and attention. Caring for their individual needs can be overwhelming and rewarding at the same time.
Keep reading to learn more about common special needs in pets and how to care for them. We also discuss if adopting an animal with special needs is right for you.
What Are Common Special Needs in Pets?
Special needs animals can have chronic medical conditions, behavioral disorders, or physical limitations.
Dogs and cats can have medical conditions such as diabetes, allergies, or cancer. Similar to humans, an animal needs treatments to fight against diseases. They may require medication or surgery. And in some cases, like with allergies, changing your pet’s diet may be the solution.
Animals can also present with behavioral disorders. For example, dogs can have severe separation anxiety or situational fears. Often, abused dogs will have these behavioral issues, which you may find out after adopting a pet that came from a disruptive situation.
Physical limitations are another common special need. For example, an amputated leg on a pet can require extra care and help. Other physical limitations can include arthritis, blindness, or loss of hearing.
Pro Tip: Anxiety can appear in many ways. If your dog pants in the car, it may have car anxiety.
Why Do Special Needs Animals Require Additional Care?
Dogs and cats with special needs may require help walking or going outside to urinate or poop. And in some situations, they may need help getting food down and taking medication.
For example, a dog with arthritis in its legs will likely need to be carried up and down stairs. Or a cat that has hearing loss will need to learn other clues to hear you call it. A pet with cancer will likely need medication or help to recover from surgery.
Animals can’t articulate where their pain is or understand why you’re making them lie down after an event like surgery. So they require additional care, time, and attention.
How to Care for Special Needs Pets
Caring for special needs animals takes a lot of patience. If you have a cat or dog with special needs, don’t be afraid. There are resources to help you and your pet. Let’s look at seven options for caregiving.
Find a Specialist
Your vet may refer you to a specialist depending on your pet’s specific health concerns. The specialist can help you determine a treatment regimen and routine that will benefit your pet.
If you’re considering adopting or fostering a dog with special needs, it’s wise to talk with a specialist beforehand so that you know what you’re getting into. Caring for a special needs pet isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK.
Always Follow the Veterinarian’s Instructions
Following your vet’s instructions is crucial when caring for a special needs animal. Animals can’t tell you how much pain they’re in or how they feel when they wake up, but a veterinarian has studied animals and often knows the best solutions. Obviously, your pet could respond differently to medication than a similar breed, so there may be some trial and error with treatment, but doing what your vet instructs is always best.
Establish a Regular Routine
Special needs pets need routine. It can keep them from getting disoriented or confused. Some examples are feeding your dog or cat at the same time every day, walking your dog at a similar time each day, and doing the same bedtime routine. And try to keep your special needs pet’s surroundings the same when possible, especially if they suffer from separation anxiety.
Pet-Proof Your Home
Pet-proofing your home can help your special needs animals get around without harming themselves. For example, if your dog has sight issues make sure there’s no risk of them falling down the stairs accidentally.
Or if your pet has arthritis or a limb missing but likes to be on the couch with you, put a ramp of some sort from the floor to the couch, so they don’t have to jump. You may even want to consider setting up a separate room for your pet with everything they need.
Take Your Pet to Work (If Allowed)
More companies are adopting remote work options. This can make it easy to take your pet to work. But not everyone has that luxury.
Ask permission to take your special needs animal to work with you. It would allow you to care for your pet and keep them close during a health crisis. And if your dog has separation anxiety, it would put him and you to ease if you’re together all day.
Be as Active as Possible
Keeping your pet active can help them heal and live their best life. However, we strongly recommend an activity level that your vet approves.
A cat or dog with special needs likely needs a unique regimen. Be sure not to overdo it, although you’re likely to get a sense of how much your pet can do rather quickly. For example, if your dog tires and needs to be picked up after a mile walk, try a half-mile walk next time.
Find a Support Group
There are online resources and support groups for people taking care of special needs animals. You can do an online search or look on places like Facebook. For example, there’s a paralyzed dog support group that has an entire website of resources.
Should I Adopt a Dog or Cat With Special Needs?
Unfortunately, animals with special needs are sometimes abandoned by owners who cannot or do not wish to care for them. Fortunately, there are many special needs animal rescues that focus on this subgroup of animals needing extra care and attention. They look for adopters willing to do what the previous owners would not.
Adopting special needs dogs or cats is a personal choice. Consider if you have the time, room, and patience to care for a special needs animal. You may have a lot of love to give, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have the space or resources to care for one of these pets.
If you’ve never cared for a special needs animal before, we recommend fostering one to see what it’s like and if it’s the right fit for you. That said, special needs pets need just as much love as any animal. If you have the time and resources to provide for a special needs animal, they would be eternally grateful!
Find foster and adoption programs for special needs animals on pet adoption websites.
Give Your Pet the Best Life Possible With Proper Care
Caring for a special needs animal can be extremely rewarding. Your pet deserves the best life, and we understand it can sometimes be difficult. Be sure to tap into resources available to you and seek support from other pet parents in similar situations.
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