Bifford for President

Pets with Disabilities: Overview

Disclaimer: Though we HATE using the word “disability” (we favor the term “specially-abled”) for the sake of this article we are going to use that terrible term. Please know that having a “disability” does not have a negative connotation to it and is not a death sentence!

How can I make my pet with a disability comfortable?

No matter the origin of the pet’s disability (whether they were born with it or developed it as they got older), these family members need & deserve for us to plan ahead to provide for their potential unique needs. Not that long ago, if a pet faced an illness, injury or birth defect that seriously altered their body, causing a change in activities of daily living, euthanasia was a common outcome (unfortunately). Of course, everyone’s concerns were for the animals quality of life, and it was very easy to presume that a loss of the normal routine might result in an unacceptable quality of life.

As veterinary medicine has advanced, so has our understanding of how to keep pets comfortable and engaged in the face of previously devastating conditions.

  • Relieving pain is a main priority for any pet facing any kind of disability. Many excellent pain management strategies are available, depending on the cause of discomfort: medication, nutrition, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, physical therapy — the list goes on & on. With so many options we can provide comfort care for a wide variety of pain-generating issues, whether or not they are directly related to a specific disability.
  • Once a pain relief plan is in place between you and your veterinarian, we can focus on any elimination issues (if any) such as urinary/fecal incontinence that may be present. For instance, in the case of paralysis, the pet will need assistance to urinate. Whatever the elimination issue, the veterinary healthcare team will provide whatever guidance & instruction are needed.
  • After resolving pain & elimination issues, we can next focus on mobility. Mobility compromise can occur on quite a spectrum, from weakness to a chronic joint injury to paralysis to limp amputation. Adapting the pet’s lifestyle to accommodate compromised mobility is often limited only by the imagination. Packs & modified infant slings can be used to carry cats & small dogs. larger dogs are often willing to be transported by wagon pulled by their humans. Pets with rear limb paralysis or profound weakness often learn quickly how to use a wheelchair that they pull behind them. Other types of assistive devices can help with everyday mobility as well.

What if my pet has a “hidden” disability?

Some disabilities are not immediately obvious to the outside observer but still require lifestyle adaptations. It is important to think through what these pets need in the way of day-to-day support & then help them live their very best life within their limitations.

“It is important to think through what these pets need in the way of day-to-day support & then help them live their very best life within their limitations…”

Blindness can be acquired or present from birth. Blind animals should not have unsupervised access to stairways, though blind cats can generally negotiate them safely in time. Blind animals can be trained to localize and follow sounds such as clicks & whistles. In a household with more than one pet, a blind pet can rely on another animal in the household to lead the way.

Deafness is quite similar to blindness in many respects. It can be acquired or present from birth. Deaf pets must be protected from traffic and other unpleasant surprises but can otherwise live a fairly normal lifestyle & have a normal life expectancy.

Other invisible disabilities include issues affecting mentation such as cognitive dysfunction & anxiety disorders. These are no less real than the loss of a limb, and they require their own specific management strategies.

If your pet has one of these hidden disabilities, your veterinarian can help you create the best plan to help your pet cope. Looking for a “disabilities” friendly veterinarian? Check out our map to find one near you!

What is my takeaway message?

Your veterinarian is your best source of accurate information, guidance & support when making and executing a plan for the care of a disabled, special-needs animal!

No matter the issue that makes a pet different, difference along need not mean the end of a life. Your veterinarian is your best source for accurate information, guidance & support when making & executing a plan for the care of a disabled, special-needs pet. Enthusiasm coupled with pragmatism can carry the day for these special animal companions!

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