Adopting Special Needs Cats

Posted: Aug 5, 2016
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If you have read my previous blogs then you are aware of my addiction to caregiving and that I tried to stop rescuing. I did my best to stop but the special needs cats always pull so hard on my heartstrings that I cannot say no. In the two years since I wrote 'How I Learned Enough is Enough" I have rescued a handful of cats. Most of them were hospice cats and only in my life for a short time.  My two most recent rescues are Mortimer and Agnes who are both very special indeed and exemplify the definition of special needs cats.

black cat

Mortimer came into my life as a kitten last year and has a physical disability. I prefer to not look at him as disabled but as a cat with different abilities. Mortimer’s hip bones did not form normally and due to this the femoral heads do not have the normal sockets to rest in. His legs splay out to the sides and he scoots around on his rear. When he was a kitten I tried hobbles, splints, silly outfits, hydrotherapy, carts, and physical therapy. All attempts failed at making him able to walk consistently. The use of devices to assist an animal to walk can go really well for some but for others it can be more of a hindrance than a help. Mortimer is so fast and acrobatic that an assistance device held him back from being a cat. As he matured he gained a lot of muscle and can walk a little but it is very slow and with a wide stance. Mortimer prefers to scoot and go fast. He flies around the house and scurries up the furniture. He has no idea that he is special. He will never walk and run like an average cat but that doesn’t matter to him, me, or his feline housemates.

black kitten

Agnes arrived in my life four weeks ago and is also physically challenged. Agnes weighed 0.8 pounds when I first met her and appeared to be the size of a 4 week-old kitten but her eye color and the fact that she had all of her molars told a different story. I estimated her to be about 7-8 weeks of age. She was tiny, dehydrated, and her back legs dangled behind her. Her physical abnormality looked like Swimmer Kitten Syndrome. I took her in and immediately started physical therapy. It has been four weeks and she is now 1.85 pounds but still very small. Her legs have only improved by gaining a small amount of muscle. She leaks urine and due to this she wears diapers to prevent infections.  As with Mortimer, all attempts at hobbles and other devices to help her walk have failed. This is partially due to her small size and low body weight. I am continuing her physical therapy and hopefully as she grows she will be able to improve. Mortimer is very protective of Agnes and they have become the best of friends.

grey cat in a basket

I have other special needs companions including Edgar who came into my life nine years ago. He was a small kitten and was diagnosed with megacolon. Due to having a CVT background I have been able to manage his care mostly at home. He is the most gentle and patient cat and has allowed me to perform enemas on him since he was a kitten. Luckily, he does not require them often and his disorder is stable due to diet changes and medication.  

I focused on only three of my special needs cats to show that each case has a totally different level of care and time required. Rescuing a special needs cat does not mean that you will have to break the bank or devote all of your spare time. When considering taking on a special needs animal, there are many factors to take into consideration including time and finances.

Time is the most important factor. Special needs animals require more time and attention than your average companion. The time involved will vary from cat to cat. Agnes needs her diapers changed. When I am not home she is in her kennel and allowed to be without her diapers but she requires bedding changes to avoid infection. Her physical therapy is time consuming and must be done daily. Due to her small size I spread out her physical therapy throughout the day as to not tire her out too much. Special needs animals also can be a bit messy and I do a lot of laundry, vacuuming, and washing of floors. Take into consideration that the more time that an animal requires is time that may be taken away from family, friends, and potentially work (i.e. veterinary appointments- unless you are lucky enough to work at a veterinary office). If you cannot devote the time required to take care of their needs then it would be wiser to not take on that responsibility. If you do have the time you will not regret it and you will be greatly rewarded. You are giving the gift of life and a chance to an animal who would possibly be euthanized. These animals are educators. You will learn patience, empathy, new skills, and how to problem solve creatively. You will also become an advocate and teach others that special needs animals make great companions.

two black cats

Special needs animals can be costly but creativity can help reduce those costs.  I built Mortimer a cart out of PVC pipe from instructions that I found online.  The cart came out great and worked but Mortimer wouldn’t use it. I was grateful that I didn’t buy that shiny expensive cart that I wanted for him!  Instead of using disposable wee pads near the litter boxes I use washable underpads to protect the floors because Mortimer has poor aim. I am making Agnes a “drag bag” with fabric and supplies that I already have in my house instead of purchasing one online. Thanks to the internet and social media you can find a wide array of solutions and suggestions to help almost any disability. There are a lot of websites with supplies to help special needs animals but they don’t have solutions to help every animal’s situation. Being creative with solutions not only can save you money but you may create the one thing that may significantly improve their lives. I have spent many hours being the crazy inventor.

There are other types of costs that are involved in this kind of rescue. Compassion fatigue is a side effect of being a caregiver especially to animals that are high maintenance. I spend a couple hours every day bathing, medicating, cleaning, changing litter boxes, and trying to create solutions to help the animals. It can be very exhausting devoting so much time to caring for others. I have to be home at certain times to medicate and feed the animals. It is very difficult for me to take vacations away from home. I am lucky that my family and friends understand my time commitments.  It is very important that you make plenty of time for yourself and find ways to take the occasional vacation away from home.

Social media and YouTube have really helped to bring a lot of attention to special needs animals. Animals that would have otherwise been forgotten and euthanized in animal shelters are now being shared online and finding homes. There are still so many out there that do not get their time in the spotlight or who are more difficult to be considered adoptable. My house is full of animals that were once considered unadoptable. I find great joy in proving people wrong when they say that about an animal.

kitten in diaper

Questions to ask yourself if you are considering adopting a special needs animal:

  • Will they have a good quality of life?
  • Do I have the financial resources to provide veterinary care, prescription food, medications, specialty supplies, etc.?
  • Do I have the time and flexibility to dedicate to their care?  
  • Do I have the skill set required? Each animal and their challenges require different skill sets. Being a veterinary professional comes with a wide range of skills.
  • Am I prepared for the emotional aspects of caring for a special needs animal?
  • How will bringing another animal, especially a special needs animal, affect my other animals and the people I live with?
  • Can I provide a lifelong commit to the animal? Re-homing a special needs animal can be difficult, depending on the severity of the disability.
  • Are you willing to make accommodations to your home if they would benefit the animal?

As a rescuer I have to remember that I cannot save them all but that doesn’t mean that saving one is insignificant. I have tried to save some that were beyond saving but I was able to sleep at night knowing that I tried. I think the relief you feel knowing you tried is something universally felt in veterinary medicine.