Pets with disabilities: care considerations and ways to help

By Charlotte Stiles

Key points

The phrase ‘specially abled pet’ or ‘disabled pet’ refers to our four legged friends who have slightly different or additional care requirements compared to other pets. These needs may be the result of physical differences, decreased use of their senses, or less obvious health conditions related to poor health, traumatic events, or congenital defects.

However, these differences don’t mean that these animals should be any less happy or comfortable in their daily lives. In fact, the demand for products and services to help cater for disabled pets means there is a range of products, medicines, and services available to help make sure disabled pets feel their best, regardless of their condition.

Sometimes, the care requirements, home adjustments, and financial costs involved in caring for disabled pets can make things complicated for pet parents. This is especially the case when pets suddenly or unexpectedly become disabled. Such situations can mean pet parents become unable to care for these animals and may mean they end up abandoned or in shelters.

However, there are also many stories of pet parents who’ve defied all odds to care for their disabled four-legged friend! This proves that caring for pets with disabilities can bring just as many positive aspects to your life as any other pet, if not more.

In this article, we’ll explain the different types of pets with disabilities, things to consider if you’re thinking of adopting or fostering a special needs dog or cat, and other ways you can support these animals.

Types of specially abled pets

As we already mentioned, disabilities when referring to pets, means any physical or health condition which affects their daily life. In this section, we’ll give some examples of these conditions in pets and how they can affect their care requirements.

Conditions affecting movement

Just like us humans, some animals are born with, or develop conditions affecting their limbs. In turn, this can affect the way they move and may mean they require extra help in the form of a special harness or even a wheelchair.

Conditions or diseases affecting a pet’s muscles, bones, or nerves, traumatic events such as car accidents, congenital abnormalities, and aging, are all things which could lead to a pet being less able-bodied.

These pets may require a little extra help in the form of:

Conditions affecting senses

The high standard of care we seek for our pets means that nowadays they often live much longer lives. Naturally, just as is the case with humans, this means that they can develop conditions associated with aging, such as loss of sight or hearing.

However, there are also congenital defects, diseases, and health conditions that can also develop and lead to an animal having a decreased use or absence of a particular sense. These pets can also be considered to have a ‘hidden’ disability because it might not be obvious from the outside. We’ve decided to give them a separate section to talk about them in more detail as we’ll talk more about non-sensory hidden disabilities in the next section.

Animals with decreased hearing or sight, often benefit from aids related to senses they can still use. For example, deaf animals benefit from communication via hand gestures, whereas blind animals will rely on sound.

The circumstances in which a pet loses or has decreased use of a particular sense also affect their ability to adapt. For example, animals who gradually become blind, have been known to avoid collisions with furniture in pet parents’ homes by learning the layout.

It’s also important to remember that pets with a reduced or absent sense may be more at risk within their environment, for example, cars or hazardous objects. This means they’ll probably require you to keep a closer eye on them in risk areas, keep them on a lead and make use of aids such as halo collars.

Home alterations such as fencing off stairs or eliminating sharp furniture in the home can also help to keep a disabled pet comfortable and safe and reduce the risk of accidents related to deprived senses.

Hidden disabilities

Pets can also suffer from conditions that may be less obvious but are very important to cater for. Examples of these are epilepsy, diabetes, and arthritis. These conditions often mean the dog or cat benefits from medication, lifestyle changes, and a home environment that caters for their condition.

As we already mentioned, the additional requirements needed for a disabled pet vary depending on the condition. Some of these conditions may mean that pet parents benefit from training about how to manage their pet’s condition.

To give you an idea, we’ve listed some examples below:

Adopting a dog or cat with special needs: things to consider

Adopting any animal is especially heartwarming and rewarding. When it comes to adopting shelter animals with special needs, there are a few extra things to consider beforehand.

In this section, we’ll go through a few points which may help you to consider whether you could be a suitable pet parent for a dog or cat with special needs.

Making your home suitable

Depending on your pet’s disability, it might be a good idea to make some changes in your home to help them feel more comfortable and facilitate their needs. We’ve listed some examples below:

Additional care requirements

If you’re thinking of adopting or fostering a disabled pet, it’s good to be aware that they may have some extra care requirements that you need to incorporate into both your daily routines. We’ve given some examples of these below:

Caring for pets can be difficult at times, and disabled pets are no different. However, it could even be said, that caring for a disabled pet, can be especially rewarding. It’s good to be aware that you may need to adapt your lifestyle or routine, to suit your pet’s needs. However, in many ways, this can be hugely beneficial to you as a pet parent.

Studies have even shown that pets can boost mental health and help people live healthier and happier lives, and disabled pets are no exception!

Financial aspect

When considering adopting or fostering pets with disabilities, aside from meeting their daily care requirements, you also should be in a position where it’s financially possible for you to cater for all their needs.

The extra care requirements we mentioned earlier, can mean that a disabled pet is more expensive compared to other pets and is often a reason that these animals are abandoned.

It’s a good idea to discuss all care aspects and their associated costs with the shelter and a veterinarian before you adopt or foster the animal. This may include special food, equipment, medication, insurance, and services such as physiotherapy or veterinary procedures.

With our Lifetime Protection Membership, you can access veterinary professionals anytime by phone, email, or live chat. So, if you are worried about your pet, you can quickly get the guidance you need.

Shelter pets with disabilities: other ways to help

If you want to support pets with disabilities but find yourself unable to care for them directly full-time, don’t be put off! There are other ways you can help specially abled dogs or cats, which we’ve listed ideas below:


Pets with disabilities deserve just as much love and care as any other animal. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article and that it has given you some information as to what caring for a special needs dog or cat can involve.