Best Practices for Caring for Your Specially Abled Pet
Pets are living longer, and many older pets develop conditions that interfere with their daily activities. In addition, some pets are born with a disability. Caring for a specially-abled pet can be rewarding, but involves special attention. Our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital wants to help by offering best practices for caring for your specially-abled pet.
Considerations for specially-abled pets
Similar to able-bodied pets, specially abled pets should receive regular wellness visits and dental care, remain current on their vaccinations, and receive year-round parasite preventives. Other considerations for these pets include:
- Daily physical checks — Physically examine your pet daily to check for injuries. Specially abled pets are at higher injury risk, but may not express their pain or discomfort.
- Assess your pet’s quality of life (QOL) — Accurately assessing your pet’s QOL is important. Use a QOL scale to help determine your pet’s QOL score, and ensure they are continuing to enjoy life.
- Provide mental stimulation — All pets need mental stimulation to prevent boredom and stay engaged in their daily life. Interact with your pet frequently by playing games, teaching new tricks, and offering food puzzle toys to ensure they remain mentally stimulated.
- Find a support group — Caring for a specially abled pet can be stressful and emotionally taxing. Find a local community or online support group to provide advice, encouragement, and inspiration when dealing with difficult situations.
Considerations for paralyzed pets
Several conditions, such as degenerative myelopathy, intervertebral disc disease, and advanced osteoarthritis, can lead to decreased mobility. Special considerations for these pets include:
- Food and water access — Ensure your pet can easily access their food and water bowls and that they can remain in an upright position when eating or drinking to prevent aspiration pneumonia.
- Positioning — If your pet has mobility issues, change their position every four to six hours to prevent skin and tissue damage from pressure and poor circulation.
- Proper bedding — Provide soft, thick bedding as appropriate padding to help prevent bedsores, and keep the area dry and clean.
- Elimination assistance — You may need to help your pet move to an acceptable location to eliminate and also to help their posture to eliminate. If your pet cannot urinate on their own, you will need to express their bladder three to four times a day or maintain a urinary catheter. Most paralyzed pets can defecate unassisted two to three times a day, but you must monitor them for constipation and ensure they are clean after each episode. Good hygiene is crucial after accidents to prevent skin irritation and infection.
- Physical therapy — Most paralyzed pets benefit from physical therapy to reduce muscle atrophy and improve their range of motion.
- Mobility — Body harnesses and slings allow you to reduce your pet’s weight and help them move weakened limbs. Pets affected by rear limb paralysis can benefit from special carts that enable them to move around on their own.
Considerations for blind pets
Age-related conditions, as well as other health issues, can cause blindness in pets. Blind pets typically adapt well to their circumstances and quickly learn to use their other senses to navigate their environment. Special considerations for these pets include:
- A safe zone — Create a safe zone in your home where your pet knows they can retreat if they feel vulnerable or anxious.
- Potential hazards — Block off stairs, pools, sharp furniture edges, and any other areas that may potentially harm your pet.
- Consistency — Blind pets value a consistent environment, so create a daily routine that they can expect. Don’t move your furniture, to ensure they aren’t startled by unexpected obstacles.
- Communication — Speak to your pet often so they can track your movements in the house, and talk to them before touching them to ensure they aren’t startled.
- Awareness — Tell people that your pet is blind, so they won’t accidentally startle your pet. When out walking, your pet should wear a vest or bandana that says, “I’m blind,” so other pet owners know about your pet’s condition.
Considerations for deaf pets
Pets can be born deaf because of congenital abnormalities, while other pets lose their hearing from causes that include chronic ear infections, old age, and injuries. Special considerations for these pets include:
- Safety concerns — Deaf cats should be kept inside since they can’t rely on their hearing to alert them to danger, and deaf dogs should be kept on a leash at all times when on outings.
- Training — Teach your pet hand signals to help improve communication, and train them to sit at curbs to wait for your signal to cross streets.
- Startling — Ensure you are in your pet’s field of vision when you approach or touch them to avoid startling them.
- Awareness — Tell people who contact your pet that they are deaf, and have your pet wear a vest or bandana that says, “I’m deaf,” when on outings.
Caring for a specially-abled pet can be challenging, but these pets provide excellent companions and deserve compassionate care. If you have concerns about your specially-abled pet, contact our Fear Free team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital, so we can ensure they receive the care they need.