6 Things You Should Do Before Adopting a Special Needs Pet

Disabled dog in stroller
Thinking of taking in a special needs pet? Make sure you'll have enough time and energy to devote to caring for him.

Though veterinarians often take on the “special neediest” pets on the planet, pets who require work, patience and intensive attention to their unique health care needs are not for everyone.

Consider that ...

  • Deaf and blind pets require owners who can learn specific training methods (among other concessions).
  • Amputees can be predisposed to osteoarthritis and obesity and may require nontraditional exercise regimens or rehabilitation therapy.
  • Pets with chronic diseases need owners willing to become de facto experts in their peculiar home care.
  • And retired working dogs (I have one) need a strong hand and the patience that comes from knowing they’ve never known a true home before yours.

It’s not easy. It takes guts to commit to the needy. Nevertheless, many of us will not be dissuaded from taking them on. For some reason, those are the ones who strum at our heartstrings and beg to come home with us. (Trust me, I know how it feels. I live with seven special needs pets.)

A Few Things to Consider

So what’s a helpless, devoted-to-the-hapless person to do?

Here's a short checklist of advice for those who think they may have what it takes to open their homes to the needy.

1. Get lots of advice before you bite. If you fall prey to the desire, you should know that you’re not alone. You’ll find plenty of allies if you seek them out: veterinarians, trainers, behaviorists and rescue personnel to name just a few. They’ll usually be your best resources for helping you decide whether a pet with A, B or C issue, disease or disability is a good fit for your home.

2. Research your prospective needy pet’s specific issues. As owner, caretaker and buddy to a pet with complex needs, you’ll have a lot on your plate. But it’ll be much easier — and you’ll be far more effective — if you can get up to speed on the disorder or disability you’ll confront and what your charge will require.

3. Examine your finances. No pet is inexpensive, but some special needs pets require far more financial resources than others. What’s worse, the problem your prospective pet currently suffers is unlikely to be covered by an insurance policy. Though I’d still recommend pet health insurance to help mitigate future financial hurdles, recognize that preexisting problems are typically excluded for new policyholders.

Here’s where my first point will come in handy: Ask your peeps how much they tend to spend on care dedicated to your intended’s issues. Tally them up. (Don’t forget the food!) Make sure you can handle them.

4. Consider how much time and energy you'll have to dedicate. Some pets’ problems can be super time consuming. Just imagine, for instance, how much time it takes to deal with dogs who cannot be trained to urinate and defecate in appropriate places. Slumdog, my hydrocephalic Pug mix, is one such tough customer. Diapering him indoors is more of a chore than you might think!

5. Determine if you are physically up to the task. Some pets — dogs especially, of course — can be physically demanding. Consider, for instance, the plight of a client whose morbidly obese Corgi with spinal issues needs a doggie wheelchair. How does she manage it with her own back troubles? It’s not easy.

6. Be honest with yourself. No item on this list should be approached without an open mind and a willingness to be totally honest with yourself. After all, if you’re like most of us, you recognize that the best decisions you ever made weren’t the ones you stumbled into blindly. Remember, you’re taking on a big responsibility. Treat it accordingly.


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