Looking after a disabled animal can be a frustrating experience if it’s something new for you.
Fear not. Pets with disabilities are no less affectionate than their peers, and you don’t have to do something extraordinary to take care of them.
Here’s what you need to know about caring for a special needs pet.
Animals don’t process their impairment in such an emotional way as we do. Nevertheless, a sudden onset of disability may make your cat or dog uneasy.
Not being able to see, hear, or move properly is anxiety-inducing to pets because it makes them vulnerable. While you know that there are no predators that might hurt them in your home and that you’ll take care of their needs, pets can’t process that, so it’s expected for a disabled one to feel out of place at first.
Most cats and dogs, however, quickly adapt to this new way of life as the alternative would make them even more vulnerable.
In any case, your pet will benefit from emotional support and mental stimulation. Experts advise that enriching the lives of cats and dogs comes with benefits for the animal such as reduced anxiety and correction of behavioral problems.
Here are some ways to enrich your pal’s life by engaging all of its senses.
- Talk in a soothing voice. Cats and dogs are sensitive to the tone of your voice; speaking calmly is relaxing and a sign of appreciation.
- Make your pet work for its treats. You can use treat balls for this.
- Let it explore its surroundings. When taking a dog for a walk, bring it to new, but safe, places and let it sniff and engage with the new environment.
- Teach it new tricks and commands. Despite popular belief, cats are also trainable.
- Organize play time with other pets (see below for tips on how to introduce a new animal or person to a disabled pet).
Creating a Safe Space
Cats and dogs are curious creatures and prone to getting injured. They run, jump, and tip things over without paying much attention to the possibility of injury.
It’s not that cats and dogs will purposely harm themselves, on the contrary, they are on a constant lookout for dangers but sometimes play time is so fun that a vase or a nose pay the price.
Creating a safe environment for your furry companion is like safe-proofing your home when having a little kid.
But if you are living with a pet with special needs, there is some extra care to take to make up for its situation.
You can read more on it here.
A deaf cat or a dog won’t be able to hear your commands. Cats pretend not to do it even when they have perfect hearing anyway.
For both pets, sounds are warning signals for danger and a way to avoid getting hurt when the threat is not visible. Cats and dogs will usually get into a fight-or-flight mode before setting their eyes on sharp noise—which might be anything from the vacuum cleaner to an oncoming car.
There are two main things to pay attention to when providing a safe environment for a pet that’s hard of hearing.
- Don’t let it go out on its own to avoid your pal from getting lost, run over by a car or ambushed by an aggressor.
- Try to keep moving things (including yourself, other people, pets, vacuum cleaners, etc.) in sight of your pet to avoid stressing it. This includes not picking up a deaf cat or a dog from behind—it will scare the animal, possibly leading to injuring both itself and you.
While sight is an important sense for cats and dogs, they can rely on smell and sound to take care of their daily needs, at least when they’re at home. This doesn’t apply when they are outside—don’t let your blind pal go out without your supervision—they might hear impending danger but won’t be able to orient themselves in the situation.
When taking a blind dog for a walk keep it on a leash (preferably a short one) and be on the lookout for dangers—ponds, lakes, sharp objects, other animals, etc.
When you and your pet are at home, making your house safe involves the same steps as when you are having a baby that has just learned to crawl or walk—secure sharp edges and objects, furniture, stairways, windows, external doors, pools, and patios.
Here’s our post on how to keep blind cats and dogs safe.
Physically Impaired Pets
Cats and dogs with missing or paralyzed limbs can still be as active as their fully-abled peers.
At the same time keeping active with a physically impaired might give your buddy some balance troubles and make it more susceptible to injury. To keep it safe you need to think about its mobility and the safety of its surroundings.
There are several pet mobility devices that will help your physically impaired cat or dog stay active despite its shortcomings.
Prosthetic wheels are used to take the place of missing or disabled limbs—they are like a wheelchair for the animal and allow it to move freely by its own.
An alternative, which involves your help, is a “lift harness”—a vest-like harness that lets you lift your pet to help it walk. Different models exist depending on its needs—for example, some lift harnesses are meant to go on the dog’s backside for pooches with limited or nonexisting mobility in their back legs.
You need to keep your special needs pet away from stressful situations to give it a more secure and enjoyable life. Same goes for non-disabled animals.
Here are the main stressors to pets and how to avoid them.
Cats and dogs have much better hearing than us, and this sense might get even more sensitive in blind or deaf pets.
Sharp and loud noises may startle your furry friend and cause it to hide or act aggressively.
To bring comfort to your pet, place its safe-zone (favorite blanket, bed, or carrier) feeding bowls and litter box away from sources of sharp and loud noises such as multimedia devices, alarms, and doorbells.
If you are using sound cues to help a blind cat or dog navigate its surroundings choose distinctive but non-threatening jingles.
When you are taking your disabled dog for a walk notice which sounds make it uncomfortable and jumpy, and try to avoid them.
Another thing to consider when setting up your pet’s sleeping, eating, and toilet areas as foot traffic.
The space around the front and back doors are not suitable places. Neither are kids’ rooms and other areas that see lots of activity and noise.
This does not mean that you should isolate your furbaby and keep it away from people. On the contrary, cats and dogs love being around their people, and you should make an effort to bring them in as many activities as possible, showing them they are a part of your “pack.”
If your pet feels more comfortable sleeping and eating in places with heavy foot traffic, then obviously you should let them, provided it’s safe and convenient for everyone living in your home.
Introducing Other Pets and People
Socializing your special needs pet with other animals or people should happen gradually and on your pet’s terms. Tell your guests about your companion’s condition and that they should wait for the pet to approach them first.
If you are meeting your pal with other pets, the same rules apply—do it gradually, especially if you keep other animals at home.
When walking your dog outside, you can put a sign or a vest to show your pet has special needs.
Your pal might attract special attention from kids—most of them love pets and seeing an extraordinary one like yours might prompt them to get close.
In such situations, a dog’s behavior can be unpredictable. An otherwise gentle pooch might perceive an approaching group of children as a threat. Most kids won’t know that so it’s up to you to keep them and your pet safe.
What to Do If You Can No Longer Take Care of Your Disabled Pet
If despite what you just read, or maybe because of it, you’ve decided that you no longer can or wish to care for your pal, there are some steps to take before giving it up.
First, consider why you want to surrender your pet—if it’s because of behavioral issues or because you cannot afford the vet bills, you don’t need to give up your buddy yet.
Second, if you are certain that you want or need to relinquish your special needs pet, read below on how to do it responsibly.
Just like any other animal, disabled cats and dogs can develop behavioral issues. This might be because of their disabilities or might not have anything to do with them at all.
In any case, behavioral issues in cats and dogs are correctable.
To find the underlying cause and the right solution you need to bring your pet to the vet or an animal behaviorist. There, the specialist will determine whether your pal is acting out because of an underlying illness or something environment-related like not getting enough activity.
In both cases, you’ll learn what steps to take to calm and keep your friend.
Affordable Vet Care
Inability to cover vet expenses is one of the leading reasons for pet owners to surrender their pets.
Disabled, ill, and elderly cats and dogs are at the highest risk of having to go more frequently to the vet.
If you are considering giving up your pet because you cannot cover its vet bills, you might not know that there are organizations that can help you cover the costs so you can keep your companion.
The “Humane Society of the United States” has an extensive list of national organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. You can access it here. You can find more such pages here, here, here, and here.
It’s not rare for pet owners to leave their pets on the street when they no longer can or wish to take care of them. This is cruel, inhumane, unnecessary, and illegal under many jurisdictions.
If you wish to surrender your pet, there are ways to do it responsibly and give it a chance to find a new home.
The obvious step would be to give up your pal to a local shelter. However, they might not have the capacity to take your pet at which point you can ask them for alternatives.
You can also contact the Animal Humane Society and book an appointment with them.
Other places where you can get guidance on how to responsibly surrender your pet are vet programs at universities and the relevant local authorities.
It’s time to wrap up this post, and we’ll do it modifying a quote by psychologist and dog lover Karen Davidson.
Caring for one disabled pet will not change the world, but surely for that one pet, the world will change forever.
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