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Special Need Pets are a Special Kind of Love

Special needs pets are among the most challenging for shelters and rescue groups to adopt out, and many never find a loving home.

In a survey conducted by Petfinder, it was found that these dogs and cats often wait four times longer than average to be adopted – a long time spent without a family, security, and unconditional love, and all due to reasons beyond the animal’s control.

These dogs and cats are overlooked because of their age, medical needs, or behavioral issues – including animals who were victims of abuse or illegal fighting rings – even though a missing leg, blindness, insulin-dependence, or emotional scars make them no less loving or lovable. Special need pets still have love and devotion to give, and they can adapt to their new homes and lifestyles better than you might think.

A special needs dog or cat can be no different in most respects than any other pet, though adopting one is potentially more rewarding. After all, you are doing something many others will not: welcoming an animal into your family who asks for nothing in return except for a little extra tender loving care.

Special needs pets are often overlooked because potential adopters do not know what their conditions entail. They may have legitimate concerns about extra medical or training costs, or unfounded biases against a pet that they perceive is less than “perfect.” Yet such impressions or misinformation can be easily overcome through research, speaking with shelter staff who are familiar with the animal, visiting reputable online communities, and consulting a veterinarian to better understand the pet’s actual needs.

“Special needs pet” is a broad term without a universal meaning. It generally includes a range of physical disabilities, chronic medical conditions or behavioral issues that require ongoing vigilance or particular care to manage. It can include animals with obvious physical distinctions, such as missing, deformed, or paralyzed limbs – or those with functional limitations, such as animals who are blind or deaf. Those with chronic medical conditions are often considered special needs as well, such as dogs and cats with diabetes, chronic allergies, and cancer. Still others may have social or behavioral limitations, including severe separation anxiety or extreme situational fears. Previously abused animals may fall into this category.

Special needs pets are not defined by their circumstances and are not aware of how they may be different from other animals of their kind. They are first and foremost a dog or cat – a message often lost to potential adopters.

Although often requiring some type of dedicated care or training, most special needs pets are otherwise just like any other. For example, a blind animal relies on its other senses – hearing and smell – to learn about and navigate its environment. A dog or cat who loses key senses with age, such as sight, often shows no signs of a disability until his pet parent rearranges the furniture and the animal becomes lost in his own home.

A critical responsibility of pet parenthood is providing the care companion pets need throughout their entire lives. They deserve the same loyalty that they give so wholeheartedly to you, and the best thing you can do beyond opening your heart and home to them is providing regular veterinary care.

Prior to and immediately after adopting a special needs pet, meet with your veterinarian to learn about the type of care that will be required at various stages of the animal’s life. Knowledge and preparedness will make for a happy and enriched lifetime with your pet and will help minimize surprises so that you can be prepared for anticipated changes in your pet’s condition.

While you may not be ready to add a special needs dog or cat to your family, there are other ways to support these amazing animals. Animal welfare organizations often have sponsorship programs to defray the costs associated with providing extra medical care or training that these pets require.

Regardless of how a dog or cat became a special needs pet – by dint of birth, illness, accident, the aging process or at the hands of an abuser – they have much to teach us about resilience and love without judgment.


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