A disability can be defined as “a physical, mental, cognitive, or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions, or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.” Like people, pets can experience a wide range of disabilities that may be congenital (i.e., present at birth) or acquired. Thanks to modern veterinary medicine and technology, our pets are not only living longer, but also living better. From high-tech wheelchairs and harnesses, to specific training techniques, pets with disabilities are living their best lives, with a little help from their dedicated pet owners and veterinarians. Is a disabled pet right for you? Learn more about some common disabilities in pets, and follow our tips on caring for this unique bunch. At the end of the article, we provide a link to Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center’s favorite pet rescue, where you can adopt your own special-needs companion.
Mobility impairments in pets
Problems with the musculoskeletal or the neurologic systems commonly cause mobility impairments in our four-legged friends. Unfortunately, some pets are born with issues affecting their mobility, including angular limb deformity, myasthenia gravis, spina bifida, or cerebellar hypoplasia. Affected pets may exhibit signs such as incoordination, weakness, limping, or difficulty getting up and down. If you notice any of these signs in your young pet, don’t wait to contact our Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center team.
Acquired mobility impairments occur after birth due to a traumatic event, such as a car accident, or an underlying condition. For instance, limb amputation is a common treatment for older pets suffering from painful bone cancer. Surprisingly, many pets fare exceptionally well on three limbs, but other, more debilitating conditions or injuries can leave pets paralyzed, and needing assistive devices, such as carts or wheelchairs. Caring for a pet with a mobility disability can be challenging, but incredibly rewarding. Depending on the severity of the underlying condition, disabled pets may need the following, to help them get around pain-free:
- Pain medications — Many muscular, skeletal, and neurologic conditions are painful, which can severely impact a pet’s quality of life.
- Assistive devices — If deemed necessary, a disabled pet can be fitted for a wheelchair, cart, or other apparatus that will help them get around comfortably.
- Environmental modifications — Pets with mobility impairments often have difficulty with stairs, tile floors, and other slippery surfaces.
Sensory disabilities in pets
Sensory impairments in pets most often include problems with hearing or seeing. Like mobility disabilities, sensory issues can be present from birth, or can occur later in life. Deafness, which is generally linked to a lack of pigment in the pet’s coat, is congenital in some breeds, including dalmatians, Australian shepherds, and Great Danes. Acquired deafness is usually due to degenerative changes as a pet ages, although certain traumatic events can also cause deafness. Congenital blindness occurs in pets as well, including conditions like microphthalmia (i.e., a smaller-than-normal eye) and collie eye anomaly. However, most pet blindness cases occur because of conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, which are common in certain breeds such as miniature poodles and schnauzers. Occasionally, pets with severe eye problems need the affected eye surgically removed (i.e., enucleation). While pets with vision and/or hearing loss need a little extra help from their two-legged companions, most will lead normal, happy lives. Here is what you can do at home to help a deaf or blind pet:
- Special training techniques — Bells or clickers can help a blind pet know where you are, and a deaf pet can be taught sign language commands. A professional animal trainer may be the best option for special-needs pets, to ensure their safety.
- Environmental modifications — Deaf pets should never be allowed off-leash near a road or unenclosed area, since they cannot hear cars approaching. For a blind pet, refrain from rearranging your furniture, so as not to confuse them.
Taking care of a disabled pet can be extremely rewarding. At Stone Ridge Veterinary Medical Center, we work closely with our friends at Warriors Educate About Rescue (W.E.A.R.), who do amazing work with disabled pets. If you think a disabled pet is right for you, contact us, or the W.E.A.R. organization directly.