Home tips for special-needs pets


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Inviting furry friends into our lives often demands some modifications to our homes. A littler box here, dog bowl there, leashes hung on a hook — nothing too life-changing.

But if you’ve ever considered adopting an animal with special needs or own a pet who has developed a disability (such as arthritis or an amputation), you may not know how to properly tailor your home environment to meet their needs.

HellaWella spoke with Dr. Deborah Breitstein, a medical director at Animal Health Care of Marlboro, an American Animal Hospital Association-accredited practice in Englishtown, N.J., who offered her tips for taking care of a “differently abled” animal — a phrase she said she prefers over the term “disabled.”

“Differently abled — that’s what animals are,” she said. “They have different abilities.”

And because your animals are just that — animals — they rely on you to make them as comfortable and mobile as possible. “[Differently abled] animals don’t think about that; they just want to go back to what they used to do,” Breitstein explained.

Once you’ve made the decision to care for a differently abled animal, consult the following home-modification tips:

• It’s no surprise that stairs can pose a serious problem if your pet has trouble walking. A small dog or cat can be carried, but larger animals may require a ramp for mobility. Use a harness to help them up and down so they don’t fall and hurt themselves.

• Dogs who have lost the use of their back legs can be made mobile again with a wheelchair. And always make sure there is a clear access route for them to eliminate.

• If you have slippery floors, it’s crucial to provide your unsteady pet with a non-slip surface. Can’t change your flooring? Buy drawer liner that you can roll out in from of them as they walk.

• Place a rubber pad underneath area rugs to keep them from sliding around.

• Heated floors and cushioned areas are helpful for arthritic animals who suffer from achy joints. Be careful with space heaters, as fur can get caught, and forgo heating pads if your pet can’t get up to avoid burns.

• Set up a confined, safe place if your pet has had surgery. According to the website dogswithdisabilities.com, make sure you provide your pet with a quiet, low-traffic “recovery room.” Only disturb for feedings, medication, toilet trips and cleaning.

• If your pet can’t jump on the bed (assuming he or she is allowed), get small carpeted stairs that lead up to the mattress. If you own a cat who can’t jump, make sure the litter box is low enough to get in and out.

• There are also home exercises owners can do with their pets (as long as a veterinarian is consulted first), which includes dancing, walking them on an incline, teaching to step over objects for increased muscle mass, and gently moving a treat back and forth to strengthen neck mobility. If your pet is in pain, they’ll let you know. Even the most docile pup will try to bite — take that as a hint.

Perhaps more importantly, make sure you are prepared and willing to devote the time and energy to a differently abled animal.

“Adopting a pet who needs a lot of care takes a special kind of person,” Breitstein said.

And remember: Always consult a veterinarian (particularly one who specializes in rehab) before making any changes or doing at-home rehab with your pet.