Make life easy & happy for pets with special needs

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Nitya Ramachandran
Life as the companion of a dog with special needs can often feel like a challenge. But what’s life without challenges and a spirit that doesn’t overcome those challenges with a smile! The rewards of caring for a specially-abled pet far outweigh the challenges.

Like all relationships, life with a healthy pet has its share of ups and downs. However, navigating life with pets with special needs can feel slightly cumbersome. The monotony of supporting them through the nitty-gritty of daily life gets to you. It is no surprise that these seemingly ‘less than perfect’ dogs often languish in animal shelters way longer than their ‘perfect’ counterparts for want of a loving home.

However, it is a myth that dogs with special needs are unhealthy or destined to suffer for the rest of their lives. The societal standards of what ‘perfect’ should look like needs to change now. When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. Likewise, dogs with special needs can thrive in an environment where they are provided attention and love in plenty.

Who is a ‘special needs pet’?
‘Special needs dog’ is a broad categorisation that includes dogs with several different conditions. Injured dogs, paralysed or amputee dogs, dogs suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes or fatal illnesses like cancer, dogs with bladder issues, blind dogs, deaf dogs, dogs with digestive problems, dogs with cognitive dysfunction, and many more fall under the purview of a pet with special needs. This category also includes senior dogs who develop chronic health conditions as a consequence of aging.

Take care with love and patience
The assistance required by a pet with special needs can vary and will mainly depend on his condition. However, pet parents can follow some basic rules to ensure that their special friend lives life to the fullest even with limited physical or cognitive capacities.
Here are a few recommendations:

Weigh your decision: Adopting a pet with special needs requires more than a heart. Such pets require more medical care, lifestyle adjustments, time, and attention compared to other canines, thus, significantly impacting your finances as well as life. Pets, like children, are a responsibility. Potential pet parents should take their time and carefully weigh the pros and cons before taking the plunge. The needs of the dog and the ability of the pet parent to cater to those needs must fit well.

Contact a specialist: While your veterinarian can help you with the basics of caring for your furry friend, it helps to get connected with a specialist to gain further insight into your pet’s condition so that you are well equipped to provide for him. A specialist can help you formulate a day-to-day routine and treatment plan specially customised for your pet.

Follow vet’s recommendations: Your veterinarian and specialist will analyse your pet’s situation and recommend a treatment plan accordingly. They will help you formulate appropriate medication, diet, and exercise schedule. They will also recommend any therapeutic interventions that your pet might require. Diligently adhering to the advice given will help your pet live a fulfilling and happy life.

Chalk out a routine: Having a routine in place will ensure timely execution of tasks such as administering medicines, exercising, and feeding a diet that benefits his health and general well-being. Writing down a schedule and pasting it in a location where you can easily view it will help you remember things better. A routine provides structure to your day and helps your pets predict how their day will play out. It prevents them from acting out or misbehaving. Finding a schedule that works for you and your pet takes some trial and error, so make sure you are patient enough!

Research online resources: Carrying out pre and post adoption research helps to gain insight into pet’s specific disorder or disability so that you can care for him better. Try and utilise every possible resource you can, particularly the internet, which contains information on a wide array of topics. As a companion to a pet with complex needs, you will have to step up, take charge, and be willing to make that extra effort. With the internet being easily accessible, there’s no excuse for not knowing.

Find support groups: At times, caring for a pet with special needs can feel like there’s too much on your plate. You might feel like nobody can relate. Connecting with other people sailing in the same boat can keep loneliness at bay and provide a helpful outlet for your emotions. A support group offers you the necessary encouragement to keep going besides helping you gain advice from people who have been there and done that.

Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make connecting with people easy. Alternatively, you could go to Youtube and check out how dog trainers and behaviorists deal with such pets and put those ideas into practice. Your pet’s veterinarian, specialist, and groomer could help you connect with other pet parents in similar situations and build a network.

Being part of a support group can also help you gain access to second-hand equipment for special needs animals such as harnesses and slings, wheelchairs, hoists at throwaway prices or even for free from other pet parents.

Explore your options: Life with a pet with special needs does not have to be a certain way. While there are adjustments you’ll have to make, it helps to be flexible and constantly be on the lookout for unconventional alternatives that could make life easier for you without compromising your pet’s quality of life. For instance, a common misconception is that having a dog with special needs would necessitate working from home. Or that having such a dog would mean constant visits to the veterinarian. However, none of this is true. Office-goers could hire trusted pet-sitters to care for their pets while they’re away at work. Several veterinarians conduct home visits on call, so you do not need to waste time commuting to the vet’s clinic. Think outside the box.

Keep surroundings predictable: When you have a pet with special needs, keeping the surroundings as consistent as possible will prevent possible situations that could cause him discomfort, stress, or confusion. For instance, if your dog is blind, you should refrain from constantly moving furniture in the house to avoid causing him injury while also helping him navigate his way around the house with ease. Make sure that the pet’s food and water bowls are in an easily accessible location. Avoid startling your deaf and blind pets.

Adjust your home accordingly: Adjusting the interiors of your home as per your pet’s condition will help ensure their safety. For instance, if your dog has a problem that requires constant monitoring, you could have surveillance cameras installed in your house. If you have a blind dog, removing hazardous furniture will prevent unwanted accidents.

Prioritise self-care: You cannot pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your dog better. Take time out from your hectic schedule to invest in self-care activities that soothe your body and mind, whether it is listening to music, reading, or eating your favourite meal.

Celebrate little progress: Remind yourself to look at the glass as being half-full instead of half-empty. Rather than focusing on what your pet does not have or cannot do, focus on what he can achieve with whatever he does have. Every little progress your pet makes must be encouraged and celebrated. With a special needs pet, the little things are the big things. Remember, they don’t view their condition as debilitating the way we do. Their zest for life despite their afflictions can astound you.

Be willing to learn: Living with a special needs pet teaches you patience because it requires you to allow things to unfold organically instead of rushing the process. It teaches you to keep going even when circumstances are not in your favor. You understand what teamwork means. Your ability to empathize and compromising improves and helps you become a better partner and friend to everybody.

Use positive reinforcement: The training process for pets with special needs will require modifications according to their condition. For instance, rewarding your blind pet with a favourite treat for turning towards your voice upon being called will encourage him to repeat the behaviour. Likewise, training pets with hearing impairment will involve visual sign cues instead of verbal ones.

Consider the time and energy you’ll have to expend: Some special needs pets have issues that can take up a lot of your time and energy. For instance, dogs with bladder issues that cannot urinate on their own will require manual intervention to help expel the bodily waste to prevent infection. Determine beforehand if you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for such responsibilities.

Pay it back: Bringing home a pet with special needs is akin to taking the road less traveled. Put your experience to good use by offering guidance and motivation to other pet parents like you. Who knows, sharing your stories might also inspire someone to take home a special needs pet.

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