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What To Know About Caring for Specially-abled Pets

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Just like some people require accommodations and assistance to complete day-to-day activities, pets are no different. Whether it's a physical disability, chronic illness, severe injury, or another long-term health condition, pets who are specially-abled can lead happy, productive lives with the right care and equipment.

Specially-abled pups and kittens are loveable and tend to melt our hearts. However, adopting such a pet isn't for everyone, and it’s not a decision to take lightly. Pets with special needs take lots of time, energy, and financial resources to provide the proper care they require.

Before Adopting

Before you decide to bring a specially-abled pet into your home, you need to make an honest assessment of yourself and your lifestyle to ensure you are currently in a position to commit to a successful adoption.

It's okay to decide that maybe now is not the time or that your lifestyle isn't one that could accommodate a pet with special needs. What’s important is that the pet finds the right home where they can thrive and experience a high quality of life. This means it is crucial to make an adoption decision using your head rather than your heart.

For anyone interested in adopting a specially-abled pet, their heart is probably in the right place, but it takes much more than that to provide a special needs pet with a strong and stable home environment. Here are a few things to evaluate before you decide to adopt:

  • Research – No pet is the same, and they all have their own unique needs (and personalities). Before you adopt a pet with special needs, do your research and understand the ins and outs of the cat or dog’s condition, their care requirements, and anything else they may need on a day-to-day basis.

    Will your new family member require any equipment like a ramp or perhaps a dog or kitty wheelchair? Will they need to be fed a certain diet? Do they take daily medicine? Will you need to make modifications to your home layout? You will want to know as much as possible before you decide to move forward with the adoption.

  • Time – Between daily walks, grooming, and playtime, pets are time-consuming, and depending on the need, a specially-abled pet can require much more attention. For example, if your pet has gastrointestinal issues, they may require assistance going to the bathroom or need to wear a dog diaper. This requires changing, cleaning, and, of course, putting the diaper on your pet.

    If your pal has mobility issues, special exercise or equipment may be necessary, and either requirement will take time. For some pets, the needs may be a bit more demanding – physical, emotional, or both – and can consume considerable chunks of your time.

  • Finances – From food to routine medical check-ups, sharing your home with a healthy, well-adjusted pet costs a decent amount of money – it's just part of being a pet parent. But caring for a specially-abled pet that may require medication or specialized equipment can be downright expensive.

    A doggie wheelchair can cost more than $500 by itself. If your cat or dog has a medical condition requiring frequent trips to the veterinarian, that can also add up. Even smaller items, like diapers or medication, will cost money you normally would not spend on a pet.

When combining the factors of spending more time and money on your pet, in addition to learning more about and caring for their unique needs, it becomes much more transparent why pet parents need to take these items into consideration before adopting a special needs cat or dog.

That said, if you find a pet with unique needs, and you know that you’d be financially ready to support them, feel free to talk with the animal shelter’s staff about the pet’s condition, symptoms that may arise, any current treatment, their current lifestyle, and any treatment that may be on the horizon. These professionals can help provide valuable insight to what your daily routine could look like if that pet were to join your family. These individuals that work and spend time with these cats and dogs may also be able to answer your questions and help you better judge if you’re ready to add a new best pal to your home.

orange cat with one eye laying down

General Care

The type of care your special needs pet requires will obviously depend on their medical issue, be it physical or psychological. In general, it's a good idea to know and discuss your pet's particular needs not only with a veterinarian but also, based on necessity, a trainer, a behaviorist, and anyone else who may be of assistance or support when it comes to the care of your pet.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when caring for a specially-abled pet:

  • Routine – Establish a routine for you and your fur kid. This creates a sense of comfort and gives them reasonable expectations for their daily activities. This can include when they eat, go to the bathroom, have a treat, exercise, and so on.

  • Training – Specially-abled pets and their people may both need to go through some training, so they can work together to have happy, productive lives. Consider this: Deaf or blind animals need to communicate through different methods, and their pet parent will need to learn specific ways of speaking with them. Pets with amputations or others issues, like obesity, require nontraditional exercises or even physical therapy.

    Learning new behaviors and skills may be a part of a specially-abled pet's care, not just for the pet, but the pet parent too.

  • Patience – We all know that patience is a virtue, and this may never be truer than when living with a differently-abled pet. The daily activities and care for such a pal will, simply put, just be different. They may require more from their pet parents. They may do things more slowly. And they may even have emotional issues or exhibit behaviors that are, well, unusual. It’s important to be patient when working with them and setting expectations – for you and your pet.

As with any new pet, there will undoubtedly be an adjustment period when you first bring your specially-abled pet home. The same can also be true even if you’ve had a pet for years and they recently had a change in their health, something that may now be a disability. However, with a positive attitude, the right support, and some delicious treats, you and your best pal can establish a lifestyle that works best with their needs.

Pet Insurance for Specially-abled Pets

Although specially-abled pets may look or act a bit different from their fellow four-legged friends, they are still lovable, loyal companions, fun adventure partners, and some of the best pets anyone could ask for. Wanting to return even just a fraction of this unconditional love, pet parents no doubt want to provide their cats and dogs with happy, easy-going, and healthy lives. A fantastic way to prioritize your specially-abled pet’s health, especially since they may have more unique needs, is to sign them up for a pet insurance plan.

Rest assured, just because your pet has a disability, they can still be eligible to be covered under a plan. Before signing your canine or feline companion up for a plan, it’s important to note that all pet insurance providers do not cover pre-existing conditions, which are injuries or illnesses that come up or show symptoms before your plan goes into effect or during a waiting period.

Although if you adopt a pet that already has a disability, that specific condition will not be covered, future illnesses or accidents that arise can be. Once you sign your pet up for their plan, you can rest assured that they can have coverage for the rest of their life. Pet insurance can also be helpful if your pet ever needs assistive devices, such as wheelchairs for pets.

As you shop around for an insurance plan for your specially-abled best pal, consider a provider offering customizable plans that will best fit and reflect your cat or dog’s unique health needs. Some providers, like the ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance program, also offer add-on options such as preventive care.

Being a pet parent to a four-legged (or maybe three-legged) friend who could very likely have changing health needs also means that each year when you renew your plan, you will have the opportunity to change items to reflect your pet’s new needs better.

three-legged white dog standing on grass

Success Stories

All this talk about pets with special needs requires some true stories of success and well-being! Here are some inspiring tales of specially-abled pets and their pet parents:

Tuna Melts My Heart

With more than 2 million social media followers, Tuna is a very famous Chiweenie. This is because of his unusual looks: an extreme overbite, recessed jawline, and an incredibly wrinkly neck.

People have fallen in love with Tuna, and his adopted pet parent, Courtney, has turned his unexpected fame into a mission. Through his social media platforms and, of course, charm, Tuna and Courtney promote animal rescue and adoption, while also showing everyone that beauty comes in many shapes and sizes.

Lil Bub

Lil Bub, who was the runt in a litter of feral kittens found in a shed in Indiana, was born with several genetic disorders, including dwarfism, which affected the size and proportions of her body. As a result, Lil Bub had a long, slender body, short legs, six toes on each paw, an underbite, a protruding tongue, and some gloriously green bug eyes.

Shortly after turning one, Lil Bub was also diagnosed with a rare bone disease that caused her bone density to increase with age. Despite these medical setbacks, Lil Bub lived a happy life with her adopted family. Bub also advocated for special needs and homeless kitties and was able to raise more than $200,000 for several charities.

Tuna and Lil Bub are just two examples of the many specially-abled pets who have overcome their unique challenges and gone on to live happy and healthy lives with the helping hand of their generous pet parents.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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