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Adopting a Special Needs Pet: What You Need to Know

Understanding the impact your new special needs pet will have on you and your household is vital.

September 29, 2021 4 min read
Adopting a Special Needs Pet: What You Need to Know

Every day, an astronomical 70 million homeless dogs and cats crowd animal shelters and wander streets struggling to live just one more day. Just a tiny percentage of them will be adopted into the relatively few homes that are available and willing to adopt a pet. This becomes an almost impossible issue for animals with disabilities who are, sadly, mostly overlooked as adoption candidates.

You’ve decided that you’re ready to adopt a pet into your family, and you’re thinking of bringing a special-needs cat or dog into your home. It is indeed magical to watch a pet who has, at best, had a rough life flourish in your care, but it’s essential to fully understand the impact your new charge will have on you and your household.

Here are a few facts about the different types of pet disabilities.

  1. Pets with vision impairments have keenly developed senses of hearing, smell, and touch that compensate for their lack of sight. Once they become familiar with the layout of their world, and hopefully, things stay in the same place, they navigate just fine.
  2. Pets with hearing loss learn to read your signals and can be taught some basic sign language. Plus, they have no thunder-fears!
  3. Pets missing limbs learn to walk, run, and play just like they had all four.
  4. Pets who are paralyzed may need a custom-designed “wheelchair” to help them get around.
  5. Pets with a chronic illness may need a variety of unique treatments and frequent visits to the vet.

Now that you have a broad-picture view of some of the potential pet disabilities you may encounter, take the time to honestly answer the following questions to ensure you are ready to take on a pet with a disability.

Why a Disabled Pet?

It’s time for soul-searching, as well as time to talk to a lot of people: vets, people who have a disabled pet, family members, and more. Spend time researching on the Internet. Find everything you can about special needs pets and study, study, study. The thing you need is to determine if your desire to adopt a special needs pet satisfies some need you have, or is it about the needs of a special needs pet?

Do You Have the Necessary Financial Means?

Caring for any pet is expensive. Consider annual vet visits and shots, food, flea and tick medication, leashes, collars, dishes: these are a few of the expenses of taking care of a pet without a disability. Now add the medical care your special needs pet will need particular medications, expensive tests, special harnesses or “wheelchairs,” surgery, and more. Will these expenses fit into your budget?

Are You Physically Up for the Job?

Consider whether you can physically handle the job. Let’s say you have a bad back, and the pet you want to adopt is a disabled dog who requires a wheelchair. Getting the dog strapped into the wheelchair every day may put quite a strain on your back.

Are You Emotionally Up for the Job?

Dealing with a disabled pet can be heartbreaking. To be sure, some pets, such as those that are deaf or blind, can live as long as other pets. But if you are interested in adopting a special needs pet with a progressive or terminal disease, you are in for some painful and sad times. Are you emotionally prepared to deal with a tragic outcome?

Have You Talked With Others in the Household?

Everyone in your home needs to be on board with introducing a new member into the household, especially when it is a disabled pet. To some degree, others will probably be involved in the pet’s care, so you need to get a buy-in.

Do You Have Other Pets?

The big question is, do you have other pets and how will they react to this new addition? Especially with dogs – before you bring a disabled dog into your home, you need to have a pretty good idea about how your dog will react initially. If your dog is by nature very aggressive, bringing in another dog may not be a good idea, or will at least take lots of training to ensure other dogs will be safe together.

What About Your Lifestyle?

Think carefully about how your special needs pet will, or will not, fit into your daily routines and overall lifestyle. If you are an active family, a dog in a wheelchair may not be a good option, whereas a deaf cat might do just fine. Thinking about your lifestyle should also include a realistic assessment of how much time you will have to dedicate to your special needs pet. Once again, a deaf pet will assimilate easily and require less care than, say, a pet who comes to you with a debilitating disease that requires a lot of daily care.

Have You Found a Specific Pet?

Assuming you have done your soul searching and located a special needs pet with whom you want to share your home, now you need to get focused on gathering information. Talk to people who have or had a pet with the same disability as the one you are considering. Likewise, do more internet research, but now focus on the specific needs of the pet you are considering. Have an in-depth conversation with the shelter folks or the foster family to learn as much as possible about the special needs pet you are considering. Spend time with the pet before you take her home. If you are considering a dog and you have a dog at home, ask if you can bring your dog for a meet-and-greet.

Adopting a special needs pet requires genuine commitment and dedication. However, it’s important to do your homework to ensure your potential new pet will be happy and thrive in her new home and that you will find it a truly rewarding experience to care for your special pet.