Should I Adopt a Special Needs Pet?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A special needs pet is an animal which requires care above and beyond the conventional for a good quality of life. Examples of special needs pets include handicapped pets, who may be missing limbs, pets with congenital illnesses, or animals with behavioral problems. Adopting a special needs pet can be an excellent way to give an animal a new lease on life, if you are prepared for the responsibility associated with it. You should consider the decision carefully before making it, to ensure that you are capable of handling your act of generosity.

Dogs with behavioral problems might not be able to be let off their leashes outdoors.
Dogs with behavioral problems might not be able to be let off their leashes outdoors.

Budgetary constraints are one of the biggest issues surrounding special needs animals. They are much more expensive to care for, since they may require medication, frequent veterinary visits, surgery, or specialized diets. If you are adopting a special needs pet from a shelter, staff can usually give you honest information about how expensive the animal will be to care for in the long term. In some cases, caring for a special needs pet, may be like owning other animals costwise: animals who are missing a limb are an example of this type of special needs pet. In other cases, such as a cat with diabetes, medical expenses can quickly accumulate.

Many shelters work on socializing special needs pets before adopting them out.
Many shelters work on socializing special needs pets before adopting them out.

Lifestyle changes are also an important thing to think about. A special needs pet requires more attention and care, and generally cannot be left alone for long periods of time. If you go on vacation, you will have to find a caregiver who can handle the responsibility of a special needs animal. You may be required to give shots, provide fluid infusions, or perform other nursing tasks to make an animal happy and healthy. You should plan to commit to the animal for life.

If you have other pets, consider the impact of the special needs pet on the other animal members of the family or the neighborhood. If you adopt a cat with feline leukemia, for example, you will need to keep it isolated so that it does not pose a threat to other cats. If you have a dog or dogs, they may get jealous of the attention lavished on the special needs pet, potentially posing a problem. You may also find yourself overwhelmed by caring for the special needs pet, and unable to dedicate attention to your other animals.

If you are adopting a special needs pet with behavior problems, be aware that these problems may never be able to be corrected. The hope is that gentle loving care will make an animal emotionally secure enough to relax and enjoy life, but this does not always happen. You may be forced to keep an animal indoors, or on a short leash. Dogs can become especially problematic, if they become intensely attached to one person or highly defensive.

Adopting a special needs pet is an incredible act of kindness, and many animal organizations exist to support people who have taken animals who need a little bit of extra love into their lives. These organizations can also assist interested parties in finding special needs pets to adopt, as well as offering referrals to veterinarians, pet sitters, and other individuals who may make the process easier. Ultimately, a special needs pet can be a very fulfilling and enjoyable companion, and you may spend many years together.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I read an article today in the newspaper. It was talking about how pet owners who share the same illness as their pets take care of themselves and their pets better.

Diabetic patients with pets who are also diabetic apparently become more knowledgeable about the disease. They use what they have learned from their experiences while taking care of their pet and what they learned from their pet's illness while treating themselves!

The people who did the study came to the conclusion that individuals with health issues benefit from having pets in general, but also by having pets with special needs.

This gives me a great idea. Why not have a program where patients are brought together with pets? Newly diagnosed patients generally feel down and unhappy, don't they? Pets could help improve their mood and outlook on life. Plus, since they themselves require medical attention and care, they would have greater empathy and sensitivity to special needs pets.


I heard that many shelters euthanize pets who require expensive treatments like heart worms or if their treatment is going to take a very long time and might not resolve their health issues.

Unfortunately, old and ill special needs pets are basically at the end of the line to be adopted. I think most people don't realize the responsibilities of caring for a pet when they buy or adopt pets. So when the pet has some sort of a health issue, they become overwhelmed with the responsibility, both financially and physically and decide that they don't want a pet anymore. Where do all the pets at the shelter come from? Some probably ran away, but most were left behind by their owners.

I get so upset about this. To me, pets are like a member of the family. When you take them in, you should do it with the acknowledgment that this pet needs you to survive and by accepting him or her, you have promised to be there for them.

If your son or daughter was diagnosed with an illness or had an accident, are you going to throw them out? Maybe we need to impose some requirements before allowing anyone to adopt a pet. Every pet has the potential to be a special needs pet when they are older, we need ways to protect them when they do.


I have a friend who has adopted two dogs from a shelter. The dogs had suffered from accidents and had a missing limb each. Their previous owners had thrown them out into the street and the shelter took them in.

These dogs are wonderful, they are just as loving and devoted as any other dog and since both of them were adopted at the same time, my friend has not had any attention issues with them.

I haven't seen that these dogs require anything more than a regular pet, just food, some exercise and love. I really wish that everyone looked into adopting a special needs pet before other alternatives. These animals are waiting to be rescued and they have so much love to give in return.

I haven't been able to adopt one because I am traveling way too much for my job right now. When I'm ready to have a pet though, I'm going to adopt a special needs pet also.

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