Happy Specially Abled Pets Day!
Way back in 2006, a lady named Colleen Paige decided we needed a day to celebrate pets who may have birth flaws or injuries that make them "different" from normal.
Why Specially Abled Pets?Originally named Disabled Pets Day, as the holiday gained international acclaim, Colleen decided that the name didn't fit any more because these pets are not really "disabled" but in fact very able! Just as with humans, the challenges they face make their other senses much keener.
The observance encourages people to adopt animals with special abilities. Some refer to cats with disabilities as "handicats."
Types of DisabilitiesCats with special needs may be blind, missing an eye, or may have lost the use of one or more of their legs. They may have a brain disorder such as cerebellar hypoplasia that causes them to wobble. They may have lost limbs to amputation. They may have been injured by accident or abuse. Or they may have a disease that limits their lifespan and abilities. Some shelters consider cats who are FIV-positive to be disabled.
Whatever the case, cats with disabilities typically get overlooked at shelters. They may sink into depression over this and become even less appealing to people. Some are even put down immediately upon arrival, deemed "unadoptable." And yet, these precious kitties have enormous amounts of love to give.
Some cats with a disability can make excellent companions for people with similar disabilities. This is especially true for children. They can also make excellent companions for older adults who may have mobility issues of their own.
What to Know About Adopting a Specially Abled CatWhile many cats with disabilities can live life as a normal kitty, some will need special care and consideration. This depends on their type of disability.
Cats with three legs can typically get around just as well as if they have all four. When it gets tricky is when both legs in either front or back have been amputated. They may need some help with grooming, if they're unable to reach areas they'd normally keep clean. Watch the growth of claws on any paralyzed legs and make sure to keep them trimmed so they don't grow down into kitty's pads.
Weight control is also important, so a pudgy puddy doesn't overtax the remaining legs. Jumping up onto things may be easy for these cats, but not as much jumping down if the forelegs are compromised. Ramps or steps can help them. You can find a few options for those in Old Maid Cat Lady's Senior Cats section. Cats without use of their forelegs may also benefit from a raised food dish if they like to eat sitting up on their hind legs.
If a cat has lost the use of the back legs, a wheelchair may help. There are several places that sell custom-made wheelchairs for pets; a few are listed in the sources at the end of this post. You'll need to keep an eye on wheelchair-bound cats and help them up and down stairs. They will likely only use their wheels during certain times, not always.
Cats with incontinence may still use a litter box to poop, but may pee wherever they are when they need to. Keep some good cleaning supplies on hand to control the urine odor. You may be able to get some of these kitties to wear a diaper. Once the cat gets used to that, it's only a matter of keeping it changed when it becomes soiled.
Cats with hypoplasia appear wobbly and uncoordinated, as though their body is not getting the correct signals from their brain on how to move. If they stumble, these cats may use their claws to grasp onto the surface. Because of this they walk best on carpeted floors, not tile or hardwood. They may benefit from a carpeted ramp or steps to help them get up onto beds, sofas, or other perches where they can see out the windows.
Some cats with hypoplasia may not want to be up off the floor, especially if they suffer from vertigo. Placing heavily padded rugs or cushions under favorite perches to pad kitty's falls may be advisable. A higher-sided litter box not only prevents overspray, but can provide something for kitty to lean on while in the potty. Some of these cats need closer monitoring than their fully abled feline counterparts, while others get along just fine. They should remain indoors, going outside only on a leash and harness, or in an enclosure to protect them from harm.
Blind cats often have an uncanny ability to get around within a familiar environment. They learn quickly where things are and have heightened senses of hearing and smell. Some have even attacked and fended off burglars who have entered their homes! Cats whose blindness or partial blindness may not have been diagnosed can exhibit behaviors deemed anti-social. Geriatric cats may have impaired vision due to cataracts or cumulative light damage, just like people.
To help a blind cat navigate your home, keep things in the same place, and don't rearrange the furniture or placement of the litter box and food/water dishes. If you introduce a new item, call your cat over to it and introduce it so kitty knows where it is. Use toys with a bell or crinkly sound to help kitty find them. Talk to your cat as you approach, so as not to startle kitty. Take extra care to make sure a blind kitty doesn't get outside without being on a harness and leash or inside a fully enclosed "catio."
Deaf cats may also be misdiagnosed as "anti-social" because they don't respond to aural stimuli. Some older cats can lose their hearing. They may become more dependent on their owners and seem more aggressive because they're constantly being surprised by possibly hostile stimuli. White cats with two blue eyes are often (but not always!) deaf.
Helping your deaf kitty is a little easier than with blind cats; make sure the cat stays indoors and wears a collar to tell people kitty is deaf...just in case. Deafness is not as obvious as blindness to someone who may find your deaf cat. They can feel vibrations, such as your footsteps or loud noises.
Cats who are both blind and deaf will rely more on their nose and whiskers for feedback about their environment. While these cats may need some adaptations on our part, they are like most specially abled cats in that they have a certain sense of ego and do not like to be babied too much! Let them do things for themselves as much as they can and resist the temptation to become a helicopter cat-parent.
Some shelters consider cats with diabetes or arthritis to be disabled. Diabetes requires careful management and frequent visits to the vet. You'll need to monitor kitty's blood sugar with blood testing and perhaps give insulin injections. Most diabetic cats need to be on a special diet. Be prepared to do these things if you adopt a diabetic cat.
Arthritis often occurs in older or geriatric cats. They may need help grooming and often benefit from raised dishes, lower-sided litter boxes so they don't have to step up, and ramps or steps to access perches off the ground. Be careful when handling these cats, to avoid causing pain in the affected joints.
With any disabled cat, it's advisable to have a microchip implanted and keep your contact information updated. This will help kitty find his way home to you, and may also alert any veterinarian or shelter to the cat's disability or medical condition.
Where to Find Specially Abled CatsMany of the sources listed below have listings of disabled cats available for adoption. You can also check with your local shelter or humane society to let them know of your interest. If they don't have any special-needs cats available at the moment, ask if they can contact you when they get one. You may save that kitty's life!
To learn more about living with a specially abled cat, there are a few books you can read:
Adopting a cat with "special abilities" does require a little extra care and likely involves some expense. But if you are prepared to invest a little time and money in the endeavor, your payback will be immeasurable.
Sources: Pets with Disabilities.org; "Living With a Disabled Cat" by Sarah Hartwell, MessyBeast.com; "Adopting a Disabled Cat", CatChat.org; "I Am Still a Cat: I Photograph Disabled Cats To Show They're Still Awesome" by Monika Malek, BoredPanda.com; "Animals With Special Needs", HEART Animal Rescue & Adoption Team Inc.; Special Needs Pets.com; National Specially Abled Pets Day's Facebook page.