A disabled dog standing at the park in a dog wheelchair.

Disabled Pets: Unconditional Love Comes in All Shapes, Sizes and Abilities

Disabled pets might look a little different and may take some extra TLC, but they can still be happy and much-loved members of the family. To educate pet owners (and potential pet owners) about caring for disabled pets, National Specially-Abled Pets Day is observed on May 3 each year. The national day also aims to promote the adoption of disabled pets that are currently waiting to find a fur-ever home. In this post, we take a look at what it means to have a specially-abled pet as part of the family.

Common Pet Disabilities

Pet disabilities take many forms, including visible deformities (e.g., loss of a limb or an eye) and less obvious impairments such as deafness and anxiety. There are many reasons pets may be disabled, including birth defects and lifesaving amputations due to cancer or fractures that were beyond repair. Also, unfortunately, some rescued pets may have suffered injuries due to neglect by their previous owners.

Disabled Pets Have Special Abilities

Many pets successfully adapt to their disability and live life to the max as much as any pet. We have all seen that three-legged dog at the park who can play fetch just as well as the other dogs. Pets that are blind can generally navigate around their house perfectly well as long as the furniture isn’t rearranged too often, and they can also be trained to follow sounds (e.g., claps, clicks or whistles). Similarly, dogs with hearing loss can be trained to follow signals instead of verbal commands.

Pet Mobility Solutions

For pets that have lost their mobility, veterinarians and other animal health specialists can work with manufacturers to design custom solutions that help maintain movement and improve the pet’s quality of life. Most prosthetics are made for dogs, but they can be made for many other species as well. Generally, a partial limb is needed for a prosthetic to fit, but for pets with full amputations or birth defects, a fitted vest with a wheel can also be used.

Other mobility solutions include portable slings or wheelchairs for pets with complete loss of function of their back legs and orthotic braces for pets that have their limbs but have deformities or have suffered an injury that prevents the use of the leg (e.g., ligament or nerve damage). The orthotic braces are customized and have hinges that encourage movement and range of motion to help keep joints and muscles functioning and healthy.

Financial Help for Pet Mobility Devices

Disabled pets have the lowest adoption rate, along with senior pets, of all pets. Some people may not consider adopting a disabled pet due to the perceived high cost of the pet’s care. However, while some pets may require extra care, some just need some extra time, patience and a loving home. If a pet does require an expensive device to maintain their mobility (e.g., a dog wheelchair) there are foundations that can help with these costs. For example, dog wheelchair manufacturer Ruff Rollin’ works with three foundations (Mango on a Mission, Joey’s PAW and Gunnar’s Wheels) to provide free dog wheelchairs. The Handicapped Pets Foundation is a nonprofit corporation that also donates wheelchairs to pets in need.

Pets with Chronic Disease

Pets with long-term diseases such as diabetes may also find it harder to get adopted due to the extra attention they need. However, through daily care, an appropriate diet and regular physical activity, diabetic cats and dogs can live healthy, active lives.

Disabled Pets Need Foster Pet Parents Too

As well as adoptions, shelters with disabled pets may also be looking for pet fosters who can provide hospice for pets that are disabled or need extra care that can’t be administered well at a shelter.

Adopting a disabled pet doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it first seems. With appropriate veterinary care and patient owners, many specially-abled pets can enjoy long and happy lives with their family. They may even develop some super-abilities of their own.


RELATED POST: The Many Ways That Dogs Assist People

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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