Learn how to best prepare for the difficult but rewarding task of bringing home a special-needs pet.

By Kathryn Streeter
February 11, 2021
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Life as the owner of a healthy pet will certainly have its ups and downs, but the weight can be so much greater when caring for a disabled pet. Though the rewards are rich and numerous, the challenges can prove overwhelming. We consulted with Adam Parascandola, senior director of animal protection and crisis response at the Humane Society International, to learn what to expect in your pet's care.

You'll share a unique bond.

"There is always a special bond that forms with dogs who have special needs," says Parascandola, who has cared for dogs with a variety of disabilities over the years through both adoption and foster care. The main reason, he points out, is that disabled pets require more from us. They may need to be "hand-fed, rehabbed, or guided through learning to live with their disability." Parascandola says that helping them overcome their disability is a truly rewarding process.

Adjust to situational preparedness.

There's no doubt the needs of your pet will require additional resources and, oftentimes, adjustments in your lifestyle in order to care for them, according to Parascandola. Plan ahead, knowing that your pet may have higher medical costs if their condition necessitates special testing or medications.

Special-needs pets may also require unique in-home arrangements to keep them safe. This could mean installing indoor cameras, like Parascandola did to monitor his dog, Trixie, who suffered from seizures. For his blind dog, Charo, he closed off rooms with hazardous furniture and blocked the staircase whenever he wasn't home to monitor activity.

small dog in wheelchair outdoors
Credit: Getty Images

Implement best practices.

Parascandola advises that having a trusted veterinary partner is paramount. Discuss your disabled pet's needs and how to ensure the highest quality of life possible. "We realized that due to our attachment to our furry friends we might not always be able to objectively assess the quality of life for them and so finding a vet we trusted to have these discussions with was critical," he says.

Second, Parascandola stresses that daily routine is beneficial for any pet, but particularly critical for those with disabilities. Finally, patience is key. "Especially when dealing with a new disability, it takes time for dogs to adjust," notes Parascandola. The good news, he says, is they are incredibly adaptable and will learn to live with their new restrictions, but it takes patience, time, and guidance.

Find out who's got your back?

One key factor when you have a dog with special needs is to ensure that you have some backup, Parascandola says. If you need to leave town, you should have a reliable caregiver. This can be one of the toughest challenges, he concedes: "We work with friends and trusted pet sitters to learn how to care for these special needs dogs in case they needed to step in and help." Parascandola has also consulted with an estate planner to have a plan in place for their dogs in the event something happened to him and his wife.

Join support groups.

Caregivers of disabled pets will do better in the company of likeminded people surrounding them. Parascandola recommends tapping into groups like Paralyzed Dog Support Group, Pets With Disabilities and Blind Dog Support for support.

Access financial help.

Sometimes, the cost of caring for a disabled pet can prove devastating. There are organizations which provide financial assistance for general pet care and some, such as Walkin' Pets, which expressly support special-needs pet owners, Parascandola points out.

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