a pet with special needs

Pets with special needs

Pets with special needs or health issues are often overlooked for adoption. But they need a safe and loving environment just as much as, if not more than, any other adoptable animal. And while adopting a pet with special needs can be a challenge, it also comes with a greater sense of fulfillment.

Here’s an overview of some of the challenges and rewards that come with adopting pets with special needs:


Blindness and deafness can be due to a birth defect, disease or illness, or aging. It can be caused by an accident or act of cruelty. However, blind and/or deaf pets can, and do, live healthy, happy lives with some adaptations. Some of them do very well living with other animals that act as “guides” to help them navigate the world. Overall, these physical challenges can be overcome with specialized equipment or training methods that are adapted to the pet’s specific disability.

Amputations/paralysis/mobility issues
Image sourced from: wikimedia.org

Animals who have mobility issues can go on to live a happy, healthy life. They will need physical therapy, and in cases of partial limb amputation or irreversible paralysis, they may need adaptive devices such as prosthetic limbs or “wheelchairs” – slings fixed into a frame with wheels. In cases where complete amputation of a limb is necessary, most animals adapt to living on three legs quite well.


As a pet ages, they may develop some serious health issues: dementia, mobility issues, hearing/vision loss, and eventually organ failure at the end of their life. This is a natural progression, and can be managed with medication and adaptive devices. Adopting a senior pet can be the best thing for an animal. In this way, we can fill the rest of their lives with joy, love, and care.

Neurological disorders

Some neurological disorders present with common symptoms:

  • Seizures
  • poor balance
  • muscle weakness/atrophy
  • a general lack of motor coordination
  • Regurgitation of food and/or water

Different neurological disorders can present with similar symptoms and dysfunctions, even if the root cause of the disorder is not necessarily neuological. Some common disorders are:

  • Megaesophagus
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Vestibular disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Certain types of brain tumors, particularly in cats

Cerebellar hypoplasia is a rare neurological disorder. It is a condition where the cerebellum is underdeveloped, or not properly developed at all. This disorder causes a lack of balance, muscular tremors or weakness/atrophy, and various other balance issues. It can also cause vision/hearing issues. Some symptoms include:

  • Generally poor motor coordination
  • Walking in circles
  • Inability to raise the head
  • tremors

A pet with cerebellar hypoplasia may need physical therapy and/or medication to control symptoms. This is what the disorder may look like in some puppies:

Puppy Oona, owned by Phil PerroVideo credit: Luke Ewald

Adopting a pet with special needs

When you adopt a pet with special needs, it can be challenging. You’ll have to adapt your lifestyle to accomodate caring for your pet. You will need to make time for physical therapy and administering medications. You’ll want to find ways for your pet to experience the world in a safe way. Your new pet may need a special diet, or a special type of bed or feeding stand. But, in spite of these challenges, life with a special needs pet can be very rewarding for both you and your pet. Your pet will be able to live a healthy, happy, and fulfilled life.

For more information about adopting a pet with special needs, contact the Jackson County Animal Protection Society. For information about a specific disorder or health issue, contact your local vet. *Feature image credit: Tony Werman on flickr.com used under Creative Commons license.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.