Adopting a special needs pet can change your life in ways you may never have thought possible. Although it’s true that adopting a pet with special needs can come with its own set of unique challenges and considerations, people who take on that challenge often find it also comes with its own special rewards.
A recent poll conducted by PetFinder found that special needs pets are the third most difficult animals to place, behind senior pets and bully breed dogs. Many of these pets can spend up to 2 years (or longer) waiting for their forever homes, which is more than 4 times longer than the average time it usually takes for companion animals to get adopted. It’s often difficult enough for the average “adoptable” animal to stand out in an overcrowded shelter, let alone a pet with special needs.
What Is A “Special Needs” Pet?
The term “special needs” can refer to any pet who has a physical disability, chronic disease or medical condition, behavioral disorder, or is simply older in age (a senior pet). This can include animals with:
- Birth defects or deformities, including blindness, deafness, missing limbs, or conditions like cerebellar hypoplasia.
- Deformities or injuries due to trauma, such as spinal cord injuries causing paralysis, or injuries resulting in amputation.
- Chronic medical conditions or diseases requiring lifelong medication or at-home or inpatient hospital treatment, such as diabetes, epilepsy, kidney disease, chronic allergies, heart disease, cancer, or FELV/FIV.
- Behavioral issues, anxiety disorders, lack of socialization, or PTSD.
Sadly, senior pets are often classified in the special needs category too, even if they are currently healthy with no apparent medical conditions.
Some potential adopters may see these conditions as shortcomings or defects, causing them to overlook special needs pets in favor of more “ideal” candidates. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Although it’s true that some special needs pets may require things that other pets might not (such as wheelchairs, ramps, medications, home management, or additional veterinary care), many other special needs pets do not – they simply look different.
Other special needs pets simply require additional time, patience, and a few modifications to their environment. Blind dogs and cats can often do everything a seeing pet can do, including running, playing, and climbing furniture. Deaf dogs can be trained to learn sign language, and some pets with 3 legs can often run almost as fast as their 4-legged buddies.
Pets who have a past history of trauma or abuse can make great strides with socialization, a calm and stable environment, additional training, and lots of patience and understanding.
Questions To Ask Before Adopting A Special Needs Pet
Although adopting a special needs pet is similar to adopting any other pet, there are additional considerations that should be completely thought through before welcoming a special needs pet into your family. The last thing you want to have happen is to discover that the pet is not a good fit for you, your lifestyle, or your household – forcing you to have to surrender the furbaby you’ve just adopted.
Some important questions to ask yourself before you commit to adopting a pet with special needs are:
Am I able to afford the additional financial costs? This includes veterinary care, medications, special food or diet plans, physical therapy, future surgeries, mobility equipment like wheelchairs, or professional training. Also, some pets may not be eligible for pet insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
Am I able to accommodate the pet’s disability? Can I give medications at consistent times each day? Depending on what the pet needs, do I have any problems with administering injections, changing diapers, or monitoring a feeding tube? Do I have a backup person who can step in to help in the event of an emergency? Am I willing to physically modify my home if necessary to accommodate the disability? Do I have the time, energy, and resources to devote to making sure this pet receives the best life possible?
Is the rest of my family a good fit with this adoption? Will this pet be able to thrive in a home with children or other pets, or would it be better as the only pet in the home? Are my and the rest of my family’s expectations realistic? Are we flexible and truly prepared for a pet who may be a little different?
If the answers to these questions are “yes”, here are some additional tips that may be helpful in making a final decision:
- Seek the help and advice of other professionals before you adopt. This can include your veterinarian, rescue group experts, dog trainers, and behaviorists who can provide insight and advice into the pet’s condition.
- Research the pet’s specific issue thoroughly. Knowing as much as possible in advance will make things much easier on both you and the pet.
- Be honest with yourself. Adopting a special needs pet is a big responsibility, and you owe it to yourself as well as the pet to make sure you have no reservations about everything that decision entails.
Fortunately, many rescue organizations offer “Foster to Adopt” programs, which allow potential adopters to take a pet home for a few days to a few weeks to make sure everything is a good fit and that the potential new pet parents definitely want to follow through on the adoption.
Where To Search For A Special Needs Pet
There are thousands of senior and special needs pets currently waiting for their forever homes, so it’s not difficult to find one to welcome into your family! To start, consider these:
- Your local shelter or humane society. Although it’s true these facilities are often full to capacity with “more adoptable” animals, the great news is that within the last few years many shelters have begun giving more second chances to special needs pets instead of automatically putting them on the euthanize list.
- Rescue groups who specialize in special needs pets. These organizations are experts in placing animals with special needs. This list is but one of many resources you can find online.
- Breed-specific rescue groups. These groups help place dogs of specific breeds, such as retired racing greyhounds, rescues from puppy mills, or pit bulls who had to be surrendered due to breed-specific legislation in their cities.
- Online rescue database networks. These groups (PetFinder is one of the most well-known) manage a database of rescue groups from all over the world that allows people to search by category, including species, age, size, and specific special needs.
Rewards Of Adopting A Special Needs Pet
Despite the challenges in their lives, special needs animals are incredibly adaptable. One of the things that makes them so unique is that they don’t seem to know (or acknowledge) that they are any different from anyone else! Despite their disabilities, injuries, or medical conditions, they can still be highly functional, joyful, playful, and fun-loving.
Like most rescued pets, they also seem to have an innate, deep sense of gratitude to their rescuers, especially those who have waited many months or even years for their forever homes. Ask any parent of a special needs pet, and you will likely hear stories about how brave and incredibly inspiring these animals are to the humans who love and care for them every day.
If adopting a special needs pet is just not the right thing right now for you or your family, there are other ways you can help support these incredible animals. Many rescue groups and animal welfare organizations happily accept donations to help defray the costs of extra medical care or equipment that their special needs pets require. Supporting these organizations can help ensure that a pet who may have been overlooked because they weren’t “perfect” has a second chance at a forever home and a lifetime of love and happiness.
Have you ever adopted a pet with special needs? Please share your story with us in the comments below!